Altoona students love the variety at new Port Sky Cafe

When Penn State Altoona students stepped into Port Sky Café this semester, some had to do a double-take to make sure they were in the right building.

“When I come in here, I can’t even tell where I am standing compared to last year,” said Stephen Dawkins, Class of 2010 and a former Port Sky employee.  

Planning for the renovation began in the fall of 2010 when administration saw a need to accommodate the increasing population of the campus and make room for new ideas, more variety and better service. Construction began the week after Altoona’s spring 2012 graduation. It was the first major renovation to the dining hall since 1994.

“We had meetings with students and campus groups,” said Alison Bonsell, director for housing and food services at Penn State Altoona. “I pulled in some of my student employees. We wanted to know what their friends were saying. The students hear more wish lists than anyone else.” 

WTW Architects was picked along with contractor Turner Construction to take on the project. Bonsell said she — along with her staff and students — were excited about the project from the get-go.

“We now have a gas-fired pizza oven, three dining spaces and neat flat-screen TVs in each of the dining rooms,” Bonsell said. “There are many more options every day.”  

The renovated building provides a convenient connection from the residence areas to the academic buildings on campus. And within the building there are now two entrances to the service area, optimizing the flow of traffic and reducing the crowding that was a concern before the renovation.  

“We built a whole new dining room and made special meeting spaces. We doubled the size of the service area,” Bonsell said. “We gave the students a lot more space.”

Along with the major changes to décor and layout, new and returning students couldn’t help but notice the immense variety the new dining hall featured on its menus. Penn State Altoona became the first campus to combine products from the Berkey Creamery, the Penn State Bakery and Starbucks at one station, called Shake, Bake, and Brew. Breakfast served until 4 p.m. and a chopped-salad station are other additions to the Port Sky repertoire.

First-year student and psychology major Amanda Hammer said, “There’s something new every day.”  

“I absolutely love the made-to-order salads,” said Marisa Brown, a sophomore studying advertising.

“Breakfast sandwiches at 2 p.m.,” said Kevin McGarrigly, a first-year student in the Division of Undergraduate Studies. "That’s where it’s at.”  

Bonsell said the continued positive comments from students did her “heart some good after all the crazy times” and that Penn State Altoona is an exciting place to be right now.  

“It’s a beautiful site,” she said. “It’s been great to see the returning students come back and see the new place. We’re proud of our new dining hall and we’re excited that the students love it.”

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Last Updated October 02, 2012