HUNTINGTON - Summer tours and freshman orientation will look a little differently at Marshall University this summer as the heart of campus, the Memorial Student Center, closes as workers transform it from the current 1970s aesthetic to a more modern spot for students in 2019.

The approximately $4.3 million in renovations include an overhaul of the food court in partnership with Sodexo, updates to the campus bookstore in partnership with Follett College Stores, and a modernization of the student center lobby. Sodexo and Follett are covering the renovation costs of their respective areas.

Students may not recognize the student center when they return for classes in the fall. The food court will open into the lobby. The floating staircase on the food court side will be removed and a new staircase will be placed on the other side of the lobby. The new, modern staircase will lead upstairs but also to the basement.

Tootie Carter, director of business operations at the Memorial Student Center, said the hope is more students will end up in the basement, which houses a recreation area, meeting space, the LEAD Center and other student organizations.

"I think students may go down there for curiosity's sake and then join a club, that kind of thing," Carter said.

Built in the early 1970s, the Memorial Student Center, like the fountain that sits outside on the plaza, is dedicated to the 75 university football players, coaches and supporters who died in the plane crash. The memorial fireplace, which burns continually through the winter when the fountain is turned off, will remain but will get a facelift by being reclad in concrete. The memorial mural will be moved and placed in a recessed, lighted area that Carter thinks will make it stand out even more.

One of the bookstore's two entrances from the lobby will be removed to make room for a performance space, which Carter said will allow more events to take place in the lobby and give outdoor events an option in case of inclement weather. He said they anticipate the new space will be a popular spot for events, as other new event spaces always book quickly.

The lobby will also get new flooring, new fixtures, new railings and maintain all the resources students need, like charging ports and a directory for campus, Carter said.

"I think in the long run this will be a huge recruitment tool for our students, but really parents," Carter said. "We have a lot of commuters who stay here all day long, and this will be a comfortable, safe space for them to be. Then we have orientations and this could be a make or break point on what school they will choose."

Along with the new open-concept dining space, the food court will house all new vendors. The Chick-fil-A will become full service and local favorite La Famiglia will provide brick oven pizza and made-to-order pasta. Steak and Shake, which Sodexo tested on campus with a food truck, will move in, along with Huntington Market, a Boston Market-type eatery, and a Simply To-Go station with pre-made food.

When the food court changes were first announced, Taco Bell was included, but the popular fast food chain declined due to proximity of its other already established restaurants, Carter said.

Each vendor in the food court will have its own designated cash register, which Sodexo district manager Mike Greenfield said will increase the speed of service. Greenfield said they will also have more cashiers working as a result.

Sodexo is spending a little over $2 million on the renovations.

The bookstore is also getting a facelift, which is nearing completion. The new store design will be similar to that of the Stadium Store in the Joan C. Edwards Stadium, and a dressing room is being added. Bookstore manager Mike Campbell said the store will remain fully functional for the summer sessions.

Carter said this is just phase one of renovations, with future plans to renovate the bathrooms and other spaces in the student center. He said they dream big.

The bookstore and food court renovations are set to be complete by Aug. 1. The lobby will be mostly finished by the time the fall semester starts, but the new staircase and railings won't be finished until October.

The Memorial Student Center is now closed, but Carter said despite the issue with the stairs and railings, the building will be ready for student access for the fall.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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