French explorer Sieur de La Salle was busy connecting with the Native American Indians and mapping a region of the Mississippi River in 1682. His goal was to explore a water route to the Gulf of Mexico. At one point during his trip, he stopped at a place now known as Arkansas Post.
While at Arkansas Post, he erected a cross and proclaimed the land to be Louisiana in honor of the French king. It would become the first European settlement west of the Mississippi River. During the stay, he met with the local Quapaw tribes and they would soon become allies of the French.
In LaSalle’s maps, the territory that became modern-day Arkansas is spelled Acansa, based on the Native American descriptions. The name may have changed, but Arkansas State University students still see that old-time name when they eat meals inside the Acansa Dining Hall on campus.
The dining hall will be the subject of significant renovations, one of the largest in more than a decade, according to the school. The $3.5 million project got underway earlier this spring and is slated to be finished by August, before the fall term begins.
“The improvements and renovations in Acansa Dining Hall are funded by the Sodexo contract via their annual upgrade/maintenance allotment. What our folks did was to negotiate with Sodexo to utilize that annual improvements now in the form of a more impactful single renovation than small changes or adjustments,” ASU vice-chancellor for Marketing and Communications Bill Smith told Talk Business & Politics. “While we’ve had some changes in the past, nothing to this scale since the opening of the expanded Reng Student Union in the mid-2000s.”
The Acansa Dining Hall area has been demolished down to the bare walls. The goal is to add space and additional serving areas, Smith said.
The hall had seven serving areas and when the work is complete it will have nine. Two notable changes in the nine areas are the addition of a “to go” area and an allergen-free serving station. The new configuration will yield about 200 more seats inside the dining area, too.
“On the other side of the first floor in our food court, we are looking at relaunching one of the current spots into a ‘pop up’ that will host local chefs and different menus each month,” Smith said.
“It may have Southern comfort food for a month, then it may have Asian fusion next,” said Craig Johnson, assistant vice chancellor for auxiliary services. “It will give Sodexo’s chefs a chance to have a variety for our students on campus.”
While the construction is underway, the dining hall will continue to operate for summer school residents and on-campus camps in a temporary tent location on Heritage Lawn. As a part of the renovation, new dining stations are planned, including one that will focus on gluten-free and other special dietary needs.
“While it was time to refresh the look of Acansa Dining Hall, we also took into consideration the requests of many students that want to have wider options for their on-campus meals,” Executive Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Len Frey said.
“The dining hall renovation is the largest project underway, but we are also upgrading student meeting and lounge areas inside University and Arkansas halls. ASU is taking a couple of floors of Arkansas off-line for more complete renovation this fall. It’s part of a process to modernize inside the older residence hall areas,” Smith said.
“We just completed a new energy efficiency project with the Military Science Building that was grant funded. It put a new roof on the flat areas, but on the arched main roof added a standing-seam bronze metal roof that matches other buildings on campus,” he added.
Another major project on campus, the Embassy Suites hotel-convention center was slated to be completed this summer, but workers have lost about 100 work days due to rain, Embassy Suites and Red Wolf Convention Center General Manager Kraig Pomrenke previously said. Work has re-started as the weather has improved and it should be finished by the end of September. The goal is to open the hotel, convention center, and restaurant at once, but one part may be completed quicker than the others, he added.
Construction got underway in May 2018. O’Reilly Hospitality Management, based in Springfield, Mo., is building the 203-bed Embassy Suites Hotel, a 40,000-square-foot Red Wolf Convention Center, and a Houlihan’s restaurant. The hotel will have seven floors and will feature an indoor pool, fitness center, atrium, laundry and valet services, conference space, and many other amenities.
The project is expected to cost about $60 million. About 125 people will be employed by the hotel and convention center.