Aramark Corp. will slowly change the face of vending, catering, dining and residential food service at the University as it starts moving in this month.
In what is billed as the largest food contract among universities across the country, the University turned over food service operations to the company in a $16.8 million deal approved last month.
The agreement comes nearly a year after the school began to accept bids from outside vendors. University officials said they believe the contract will be compatible with many constituent interests. But some remain skeptical about the deal.
The University’s management transfer to the Pennsylvania-based company will bring an estimated $1.5 million per year to the University.
“What makes it the largest contract is that no other campus this size has outsourced in all areas of food. This deal is packaged,” said Ron Campbell, the agreement’s chief administrator and associate vice president for Housing and Food Services.
Proceeding with the contract could turn around the financial loss the University has been operating under for at least five years — the latest projection predicted a $1.6 million shortfall for the 1997-98 school year.
Students should see full food service operations with Aramark by fall quarter of the next academic year, Campbell said. Students can also expect to purchase items with food cash cards within a year, he said.
Students — who early in the discussion stages were the deal’s biggest critics — are now in support of the arrangement, said Matt Curry, a student representative for the Board of Regents.
The food contract was also rewritten to ensure student input will be weighed throughout the 10-year span of the contract. An evaluation team consisting of student government organizations will be created to oversee the distribution of such funds.
“We are pleased that students will decide on the allocation of net profits. This ensures that our needs are being met,” Curry said.
Several regents said they were especially pleased that the process has been flexible to fit University concerns as they arose. The contract is expected to allow for the same flexibility.
In approving the contract, regents also wanted to make sure that University employees and local businesses would not suffer from the agreement.
“I still feel that the University could have still done this in-house. But I’m pleased we were able to get job security for most employees,” said Sue Mauren, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 320.
The contract allows student food services employees to remain University employees while Aramark assumes management of civil service workers. However, Teamster and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will remain University employees for the next two years under a recently approved contract with the school.
After the two years, contracts will be up for renewal and the fate of union employees’ management will be uncertain.
The food contract will also benefit local businesses that fear they might lose customers, administrators said. Though the contract does not guarantee local businesses will have input, administrators said they will actively seek some local businesses near campus and in the state and invite them to operate on campus.
“Prior to this partnership, there has been no chance for local business opportunities,” said McKinley Boston, vice president for Student Development and Athletics.
“What I want to see is to have local businesses bid on being in facilities such as Coffman so that there are local community businesses and not just national chains,” said University President Mark Yudof.
But some local vendors wonder if such an arrangement is just empty rhetoric.
“They’ve been saying for months that they are going to work with outside communities, but there’s no discernible communication that that’s true,” said Pete Goelzer, chairman of the Cedar-Riverside Business Association.
But University officials have other motives for bringing local businesses onto campus: They hope it will mean a larger market share of people eating on campus.
The University currently holds an 18 percent foothold on the market, which also includes the Dinkytown, Stadium Village and Cedar-Riverside areas.
Vice President Boston said they want the University to hold at least 30 percent of the market share with the new contract.