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Organizations to Bid for Dining Services Contract at Warren Wilson College

by Christian Diaz, News Editor

Liz Brace, Conference Coordinator, was appointed by Jon Ehrlich to lead a ten-person committee. The Food Service Advisory Board will screen proposals from organizations seeking to administer dining and catering services at Warren Wilson College once Sodexo’s contract expires in 2013.

Preliminary meetings have taken place with Chartwells and Bon Apetit, food service organizations that will compete with Sodexo for a contract with the college if they choose to submit a proposal for review by September 30.

Once the proposals are pitched, the Food Service Advisory Board will hold meetings with candidate organizations. The final competing organizations will meet with the community at large. Surveys will be conducted to help asses which organization is the right choice. Ultimately the President’s Advisory Committee will make a recommendation to Sandy Pfeiffer before a final decision is reached.

The committee was designed to incorporate voices from all community members who have a stake in the outcome of this bidding war. This includes students Maggie Mae Farthing and Caucus Co-Convener Kyja Wilburn. Stan Cross, of the Environmental Leadership Center, and Farm Manager Chase Hubbard will prioritize sustainability and local foods initiatives in the screening process while Rowena Pomeroy, president’s assistant who coordinates events which host alumni and board members, will keep vested interest in how proposals relate to catering.

The college’s main concern in choosing a food service provider is finding an organization whose culture is in line with the institution’s philosophy and goals. Rather than simply finding a company willing to invest in dining facilities, the college is interested in seeing which organization demonstrates an understanding of sustainability and the work program. A main criterion for each organization is seeing what opportunities each can offer to the student body in the form of training, upward mobility, and scholarship money.

“We are looking for an organization for whom sustainability is not a new concept,” said Liz Brace. “We want an organization that understands the mission of the college and will work with us. We are looking for an organization that already does things that are normal to us, such as composting.”

Aramark was at one point interested in forming a business relationship with the college but has recently dropped its bid due to an inability to commit to basic sustainability and local foods initiatives.

The reformation of the food service program poses several implications for the future of the college. On one side, with the pressure of austerity currently gripping the college, it is possible that a deal can be reached which will be of lower cost than our current model. On the other hand, some staff argue that investing heavily in dining facilities might be one strategy the school can use to address the ongoing retention problem.

A clause included in the request for proposals that was sent out is the addition of a new coffee shop or food retail location on campus, mostly likely in lower Sunderland. This would provide another dining alternative for students, as well as a new common space for faculty and students to intermingle.

A renewal of Sodexo’s contract at the end of the last school year, which included a plan to construct a coffee shop over the summer, was all but confirmed. However, the renewal was offset by a student-led petition which persuaded the President’s Advisory Committee to postpone negotiations until this current semester. Negotiations became an opportunity, according to the board, to review food services in greater depth.

An overwhelming majority of staff and faculty, and to a lesser extent, students contended that Sodexo was providing a satisfactory service that they would like to see continue. According to a survey conducted on the matter, 95% of staff would continue a business relationship with Sodexo.

Nonetheless it is common for students to express dissatisfaction with food services on campus. A salient topic during the semester’s first caucus meeting was the need for alternative meal options for students who feel uncomfortable allotting a part of their tuition to a corporation that is not in line with their values.

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