Proposed dining contract could redefine campus eating

Brianna Sheen

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At the Board of Regents meeting Feb. 12 – 13, board members will review the recommendation for a new dining hall contract, submitted by the office of housing and dining services’ committee.

“We will recommend that we enter into a contract with Chartwells but that contract is not finalized,” said Michael Mills, director of housing and dining services. “We’ll have to bring that back to the board once we get the terms. The board will eventually be the one that approves the contract.”

The current contract with Aramark, who has been the dining hall’s food service provider for 19 years, is set to expire July 31, so the committee has been reviewing bids from other companies, according to Mills.

“We had three companies submit their bids—Aramark, Chartwells, and Sodexo, which are the three major national food service companies,” Mills said.

According to the official agenda for the upcoming Board of Regents meeting, Chartwells was recommended for a few key reasons, like the size of the company, the value to the students and the $5.2 million financial incentive.

“There’s a component where they’ll basically provide you with a capital investment so we can make those changes, but then they’ll also propose retail options in the student center,” Mills said.

If the contract with Chartwells is approved, there will be many changes across campus, not just in the Mesquite Dining Hall.

“There will be name brands that students recognize and are happy to see on campus,” Mills said. “You’ll see a brand new dining hall. You’ll see all new retail in the student center. You’ll see expansion of services in the Dillard college, possibly the library, and at the wellness center.”

According to the meeting agenda, Chartwells’ $5.2-million financial package will provide the capital to fund these renovations to existing facilities and additional development of dining concepts. Mills said this investment by Chartwells will help fund the dining improvements without raising the cost of meal plans for students by too much.

“We don’t want to build all this stuff if it’s going to make the meal plan rates increase for the students,” Mills said. “We want to try and keep the meal plan costs pretty close to what they are now.”

If the contract is approved, Mills said it should take about two years to complete all the changes on campus.

“In one of the years we’ll either totally redo all the retail and leave the cafeteria as-is with some minor improvements and then the next year fully renovate the cafeteria or vice-versa,” Mills said.

The committee, made up of students, administrators and an academic dean, heavily weighed the well-being of students in their decision.

“We had student representation on the committee,” Mills said. “We had two students who definitely were both very important parts of that committee. We tried to keep your cost as flat as we could while still providing a new and improved product.”

Students can expect to see changes by the time they come back next fall, according to Mills.

“You’ll see just a brand new, fresh, totally remade environment,” Mills said. “It’s exciting.”

Many students are in favor of possible changes to on-campus dining. According to Jonathan Woodward, vocal performance sophomore who does not have a meal plan, he might consider getting one if the food changes.

“If I could see the food through the grease, I would buy a meal plan,” Woodward said.

Although Mills said the office of housing and dining services will try to keep meal plan costs down, some students said they would pay more for better food.

Tanaka Madyara, vocal performance senior, said he would be willing to pay more for his meal plan if the food quality improved.

“I want to see fresher food, like the salads and stuff,” said Tanaka Madyara, vocal performance senior.

If the Board of Regents approves the new dining contract with Chartwells, the contract would be finalized within six weeks, according to Mills.

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