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By Josh Echt



Published: Sun, July 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By JOSH ECHT

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

NORTH SPRINGFIELD, Pa. -- Camp Fitch's 13,000-square-foot dining hall on the shores of Lake Erie has at least three new fans.

Rachel Gronvall loves the hall's space, Elena Svenson appreciates its convenience and Tara Freeze enjoys the natural lighting.

Fourteen-year-old Fitch campers Rachel, Elena and Tara are summer participants at the North Springfield camp, which is owned and operated by the Youngstown YMCA.

"The new hall allows us more dining options," said camp director William Lyder. He added the $4 million Leonard T. Skeggs Dining Hall, which opened in March, can seat 520 comfortably. As of Friday, the camp had 378 6- to 15-year-old campers and 140 summer staff members, although it operates year-round.

About 19,000 campers pass through Fitch's doors annually, with about 3,500 attending during the summer, Lyder said.

Lyder said Camp Fitch did not neglect the old hall, which seated 250.

"We still use it for special-needs campers," he said. Eighteen special-needs campers and nine staff members eat in the old hall. The old kitchen will become a classroom.

Hall praises

The hall, which opened in March, has drawn rave reviews from campers and staff.

"I love the hall's space," said Rachel, a third-year camper. "You can move around easier."

Previously, an average of 400 campers in a typical session at the camp had to eat in two shifts at the old dining hall, said assistant camp director Greg Donahue.

"We will still serve meals family-style, or sit-down style, like the old hall," he said. Donahue said family-style serving is convenient because seven campers and one counselor share a table.

Donahue, who has been with Camp Fitch since 1975, said the old dining hall was constructed in 1930.

"We simultaneously renovated the old one as we moved into the new one in March," he said.

Construction workers cleared a hillside during the hall's completion so campers had an unobstructed view of Lake Erie.

"Previously, the campers could only see a little bit of the lake from the old hall," Donahue said.

Dining benefits

Donahue, along with the campers, said the hall also gives campers more food options, such as salad and soup bars.

Rachel's friend and fellow third-year camper Elena agreed.

She said the dining hall's convenience appealed to her. "You can move around more," Elena said.

Eighth-year-camper Tara said she enjoys looking out the hall's glass window facing Lake Erie.

"The natural lighting is great," she said. "It's not normal artificial lighting."

Counselor Stacey Henry, 18, of Bessemer, said she enjoys eating with everyone. This is her 11th summer at Camp Fitch.

"It's really cool we eat together instead of in shifts," she said.

Lyder said the hall, constructed by Davis International of Youngstown, is named for Youngstown native Leonard T. Skeggs Jr., who donated the lead gift of $1 million for its construction. Private donations funded the building.

Lyder said the dining hall represents an important focus of the YMCA camp, which is funded through campers' fees.

Ten-year-old Tori Gilkinson of Youngstown said she enjoyed camp and the new hall.

"I want to come back," she said.




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