Peregrine Dining Hall, SUNY New Paltz’s only full-service dining facility, will undergo a $33 million renovation slated to begin in the second half of 2025, according to the school’s Facilities Design & Construction director Megan Smailer.
Construction documents found online reveal that the project will be Peregrine’s first major renovations since the building was constructed in 1964, placing the dining hall at almost 60 years old.
“While there have been regular interior upgrades and maintenance projects over the years, this project will provide a full scale renovation to replace aging infrastructure, improve accessibility, meet the more aggressive current energy codes and reduce the need for carbon-producing fuels,” said Smailer.
“Instead of just updating small portions, this will transform the building as a whole to provide more food offerings and improve the student experience. It has been on our future planning list for many years and has now reached the top.”
While a finalized layout has yet to be determined, Smailer told The Oracle they’re working with a food service consultant to “develop a different experience for the dining hall than we have now.”
The extent of the building’s revitalization will encompass all existing infrastructure, windows, interior walls and finishes. The bakery, which provides all baked goods on campus, was moved into Peregrine about five years ago and will remain there. Much of the exterior walls and main structure of the building will also be left untouched.
The construction documents also mention the “removal of hazardous materials” from the building. “Buildings of this age can contain asbestos inside some of the building materials, which would need to be removed by special processes. We will have the materials tested so that removals can be planned accordingly,” Smailer explained.
Smailer said a start date for construction is currently estimated to be sometime in the latter half of 2025, and the renovation could take about two and a half years. The dining hall will be closed throughout all of the construction.
As for how this could affect the 3,000 residential students who rely on the dining hall for their meals, Smailer expressed, “We are developing a plan for offering all-you-can-eat options elsewhere on campus.”
Student feedback on the project is also being taken into consideration. Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS) held a commuter student focus group on Nov. 28 to get feedback about the future plans, and according to Smailer, there’s a resident student representative on the design committee that will help with developing the layout.
Some students, however, feel that their opinions about the dining hall are not being valued enough in general. Last year, students took to anonymous social media app YikYak in droves to express their problems with Peregrine in what became known as “Perigate.”
Others have voiced their disappointment with the dining hall for failing to accommodate diners with dietary restrictions.
Perhaps one of the most vocal critics of Peregrine is an Instagram account with nearly 600 followers that posts students’ accounts and images of unsanitary and dangerous experiences they’ve had while dining.
Live worms in apples, moldy fruit and hazardous objects like plastic and rubber bands found in the food are just some of what @downhilldiningnp has uploaded to their profile to bring more attention to conditions at the dining hall.
The account, which according to an admin who wished to remain anonymous, was started in May 2022 with the goal of “making a change.”
“Our core issues are the lack of preparation of most foods, especially meat, lack of cleanliness, moldy food that is unsafe for students to eat, inedible items found in food, very rude and unprofessional staff and lack of variety and equality for all students,” said one of the account’s admins.
“The renovation of the dining hall can and will help immensely with a lot of the previous issues we have mentioned, but our food provider, Sodexo, is the biggest issue. Better quality of food doesn’t come from the newest kitchen, it comes from the source.”
Sodexo, SUNY New Paltz’s food service provider, has faced waves of criticism from students regarding unethical treatment of workers and issues committing to sustainability.
During an on-campus protest against the food service company in April 2012, a Sodexo regional manager tore up the signs of several protestors, sparking outrage among students who were already fed up with the provider. Sodexo also has a history of overcharging New York schools for food services.
The admin continued to express that Sodexo is the account’s largest grievance. “We do not feel optimistic about the renovations because the biggest issue at hand is not being dealt with. Students are starving on campus. It’s not about electrical and plumbing issues, it’s about making good quality food in a sanitary environment with more options for students with specific eating practices or allergies. These renovations are not solving students’ issues. The school is blatantly ignoring our voices.”
On top of showing concerning conditions at the dining hall, the account also highlights students who’ve claimed they’ve been ignored or had their problems downplayed by different campus services.
A post from Oct. 17 details the account of a student who was hospitalized for food poisoning after eating “watery and completely undercooked” eggs at the dining hall. They emailed CAS and claimed their response was that they “must’ve eaten something else” that made them sick that day.
The student also posted a screenshot of a voicemail from CAS claiming the service spoke to an on-campus doctor that agreed the food poisoning wasn’t from the dining hall, but according to the student, the hospital “said otherwise.”
Although hopes about the renovations solving the account’s problems are bleak, they expressed suggestions for improving the conditions of Peregrine besides the removal of Sodexo. “We suggest that us students should have more of an input on the changes we expect and deserve.”
Not too long after the protest incident in 2012, the CAS board held a meeting in which three food service providers, including Sodexo, competed against one another to be the school’s food servicer. After two rounds of voting, Sodexo was renewed by a count of six to four.