by Christian Diaz, staff writer
During contract negotiations with the college, Sodexo proposed the alteration of dining facilities in order to better meet student needs. Proposals include the renovation of Cowpie and Gladfelter as well as the addition of a coffeehouse in lower Sunderland. The coffeehouse would be constructed over the summer with an anticipated opening for community members in the fall.
The proposals are contingent upon successful contract negotiations. The current Sodexo contract expires in 2013, and it is understood that the company is reluctant to invest in the school without a renewed contract. Jon Erlich, Vice President for Administration and Finance confirms that there are no competing bidders at the moment. The contract with Sodexo will be extended for either five or ten years and is expected to be finalized before the end of this semester.
Student focus groups have emphasized a desire for flexibility in their meal plan. In response, optional ‘flexdollars’ will be added to the meal plan as deductible credit on student identification cards that can be used at both the new coffeehouse and Sage Café.
The unnamed coffeehouse will not compete with Sage Café, according to Sodexo. The coffeehouse will be open during the day when Sage is closed.
The coffeehouse will be designed with the intention to provide a space to lounge for the community, and aims to fulfill a portion of the college’s strategic plan.
“I think it can be a really nice space if it’s done right,” said Brian O’Loughling, directors of food services. “Lower Sunderland is very underused. It will be more of a gathering spot for students that is not right there in Gladfelter. Although rather limited, that would be an alternative to a full meal or a cafeteria style meal.”
The coffeehouse will offer smoothies, fruit, panini sandwiches and prepackaged salads. Sodexo confirms that the creation of a unique coffee blend for Warren Wilson is in the works. Although a deal has not been finalized, Sodexo is looking into the possibility of a business relationship with local coffee roaster Dynamite Roasting Co. A representative from the company has visited campus and expressed interest in developing a Warren Wilson roast that will be fairly local, shade-grown, organic and certified fair-trade.
In preparing for the opening of the coffeehouse, Sodexo has taken into consideration the heightened vandalism that has been reportedly perceived on campus. The design includes a security gate that locks equipment and food up. The area where the pool table is would be remodeled into seating space. This portion of the shop would be accessible at all times.
“I hope that won’t be vandalized,” said O’Loughlin. “I would think that if you make something nice for students they would respect it. It is something I am still trying to wrap my head around at a school like this. I had a contractor here look at the space [recently] and he couldn’t believe the students vandalize their own property. He must have asked me ten times: ‘are you kidding me?’ Why would you vandalize what’s your own?”
Renovations to Cowpie Café, both functional and aesthetic, will take place during the summer. Plans include cutting a hole into the wall of the kitchen so that students deposit used plates and utensils directly into the hands of the dishwashers rather than having employees collect used plates with a cart. A hole would also be cut into the wall across from the serving line, making the space look bigger. The large cabinet behind said wall will be replaced with high chairs and a countertop.
Sodexo encourages students to express their ideas regarding these developments as soon as possible so that renovations will begin as projected this summer for Cowpie and lower Sunderland. Gladfelter is expected to be renovated next summer.
As part of negotiations, Sodexo has agreed to add a full-time local foods supervising position as well as issue a statement underlining its commitment to the expansion of local foods consumption.
It is unknown if these gestures of complicity will placate students who feel that the school does not do enough to fulfill its ideological commitment to local agriculture. Student Caucus contends that the renegotiation process has been exclusive to students as these negotiations are taking place at a time when students are busiest. Co-convener Kyja Sade has begun to collect signatures for a petition that would pressure the administration to hold off on negotiations until next year.
O’Loughlin claimed that students who demand local foods may be most vociferous, but they do not necessarily have the figures to back up these allegations. For all the talk about local foods, O’Loughlin acknowledges that chicken patties are still in top demand. Furthermore O’Loughlin insists that student feedback was actively sought out in the form of focus groups.