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The food itself might nourish the body, but there’s something about a campus dining hall that feeds the soul.

Just ask Dr. Billy Martin, associate vice president and chief student affairs officer at Eastern Kentucky University.

At grand opening ceremonies for Case Dining Hall, Martin recounted the story of observing a student on his first day on the Richmond campus. The student, who seemed at first to be “shy,” moved from table to table, stepping out of his comfort zone and making several new friends.

The three-story hall, which opened in mid-January on the former site of Case Hall and Annex, “represents so much more than food,” Martin said. “It represents community.”

It’s all part of the most comprehensive campus revitalization initiative in the University’s history, one designed to transform the living and learning experience for Eastern students.

The 55,000-square-foot dining hall was financed by Aramark Educational Services LLC, which signed a $37 million, 15-year agreement in 2016 to provide dining services for the campus. It is named for Emma Case, who served Eastern as dean of women from 1932 to 1962. The first floor features four well-known retail food franchises: Moe’s Southwest Grill, Panda Express, Subway and Chick-fil-A. The second floor houses an all-you-can-eat dining hall, with options varying from day to day. Offices, small classrooms and a multipurpose room comprise the top floor. The facility also includes private dining spaces that can be reserved for campus events.

Dr. Eugene Palka, vice president for student success, called the hall a “win-win-win. It’s a win for Aramark, a win for EKU and unquestionably a win for our students. This is a time of incredible progress at EKU. It’s just a great time to be a Colonel.”

Dining services had been located in the Powell Building, which is now undergoing renovations to better serve the campus as a student union. In its first three weeks of operation, the new hall is already a big hit with the campus community, several speakers noted.

“It’s palpable how excited students are about this new building,” President Michael Benson said.

Benson recalled the words of Food Network personality Guy Fieri, who once said: “Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.”

The dining hall and renovated student union are just part of an ongoing effort to energize the center of campus. Ground was broken in December for a new student recreation center on the former site of Todd and Dupree Halls. In addition, on the periphery of campus, two new residence halls, the products of a public-private partnership, as well as the Eastern Scholar House for single parents opened in 2017. The second phase of EKU’s Science Building, now the largest such facility in the Commonwealth, opened in Fall 2017, and the University’s first parking garage opened in January 2018.

“You can see Eastern is changing, and it’s changing for the better,” said Craig Turner, chair of the University’s Board of Regents. “I’m in awe of what we’ve been able to accomplish here. But one thing never changes: Eastern is about the students.”