Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of university life. As a self-sustaining organization, University Residences has been severely impacted, facing close to a $30 million reduction in gross revenue. We’ve closed dining locations and altered operations substantially. We also put decisions about the future of dining on hold while the university worked to address the enormous logistic and financial challenges of pandemic operations.
Our current contract with Aramark expires in September of 2021. The decision-making environment has changed substantially, however. University Residences faces a large budget deficit, which is expected to worsen as we do not anticipate returning to full residence capacity in 2020-21. Our ability to negotiate a strong new dining contract, or to invest the $1-$1.5 million necessary to convert to self-operations, has been severely impacted.
In addition to the financial situation, there are several other factors constraining our ability to make an effective decision at present. Implementation of any change is limited by remote work requirements and other health and safety regulations. Our capacity to carry out any of these processes while continuing to perform our daily responsibilities is limited by reduced staffing levels in University Residences.
For these reasons, we have concluded that the most responsible decision at this stage is to extend our current contract with Aramark through September of 2023. This extension will support consistent service through the pandemic and give us the opportunity to make a longer-term decision appropriate to the post-pandemic environment, and which will meet the university’s strategic priorities. We stay committed to an open, participative process for making the long-term decision on dining services. At the same time, delaying that decision ensures that is made in a more favorable business and work environment for the University.
Contract Extension FAQs
What does it mean to extend the contract? Is it a new contract?
It’s not a new contract with Aramark, but a negotiated agreement to extend the expiration date of the existing contract to September 2023, given the pandemic.
Why extend the contract?
When the pandemic hit, decisions about the overall future of dining were put on hold while the university worked to address the enormous logistic and financial challenges of pandemic operations.
As a self-sustaining organization which does not receive any state funding, University Residences has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We currently project lost gross revenue in excess of $30 million since March of 2020, a loss that constrains many short-term decisions.
The university had not yet reached a conclusion about whether to continue with a contract dining system or convert to self-operation. Our current fiscal and public health situation greatly complicates either decision.
Going out for a new contract takes at least a full year to ensure campus involvement in defining the requirements, goals and parameters of a dining contract. Trying to establish the terms of such a contract during severe disruption, and without the ability to forecast the conditions of operations, would make it extraordinarily difficult to negotiate a solid contract.
Transitioning from contract to self-operation would also require a full year at least, under non-pandemic circumstances, as well as an upfront investment of at least $2 million, and a significant investment in hiring, equipment, and infrastructure. In the uncertain environment of the pandemic, it would be significantly more difficult to carry out that process.
After consultation with University Residences and senior leadership, Melynda Huskey made the decision to extend the agreement for two additional years beyond its previous expiration date of September 2021.
The 2-year extension of our current contract gives us the opportunity to make a long-term decision in a less challenging environment. Our resources are currently directed at providing the best possible environment for the students who live in University Residences, including the isolation and quarantine housing we provide. That will continue to be our highest priority.
What changed the timeline and process?
Up until February of 2020, a variety of students and student groups were part of the dining decision process, including the Associated Students, the Shred the Contract Club, and the Residence Hall Association, whose members are the most directly impacted by the dining system, since they account for approximately 80% of dining revenues. However, shortly thereafter, the ongoing financial and public health impacts of the pandemic made it impractical to delay very substantive decisions that would negatively impact resources.
The decision-making environment has changed substantially. University Residences faces a large budget deficit, which is expected to worsen as we do not anticipate returning to full residence capacity in 2020 – 2021. Our ability to negotiate a strong new dining contract OR invest the necessary $1-$1.5 million has been severely impacted. Our options are very limited at the moment, and there are many high priority items which require time and attention.
The plan had been to review the consultant’s study with interested campus constituents during Spring 2020 to prepare for a decision a year before the original dining contract end date of August 2021. Given the financial impact and workload impact of the pandemic during Spring quarter 2020 and the shift to all remote learning and working, this review could not occur in a transparent and engaging way. The extension now gives time to review the consultant’s report during 2020-21 and into 2021-22, and to engage the campus prior to a longer-term decision regarding the future of dining operations.
What happens after the current extension expires?
We have not yet arrived at any decision. One reason to extend the current contract was to allow us to determine the best model for our post-pandemic situation—what will be most effective and appropriate for our campus.
What steps are being taken moving forward?
Our current plans (subject to revision if our situation changes markedly with regard to the pandemic or the fiscal environment, of course) include:
Establishing a project manager position to oversee planning, logistics, and communication for the decision making and implementation process to be concluded by September 2023.
Creating and charging a consultation group, composed of stakeholders from across the university, to fully review the options, and offer recommendations to Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services (beginning Spring, 2021).
Reach a decision about dining operating system by June, 2022.
The pandemic has impacted so much about the university; the decision to extend the contract was not made lightly, but reflects the constraints of time, capacity, and finances that we face as an institution. We are prioritizing short-term stability in the contract so that we can continue to focus on more urgent needs for now, and make future decisions in an informed and thoughtful way.
Aramark has worked closely with us to adapt operations during this difficult time. They were a full partner in supporting the pop-up food pantries with both resources and expertise in food safety and pandemic response. They have been very responsive to our needs in supporting students in isolation and quarantine on campus. We have also met with Aramark leadership to discuss the university’s and Enrollment and Student Services’ strategic goals and values, and to consider what those mean for our current partnership.
In September of 2021, WWU’s 10-year dining services contract with Aramark expires. Over the next year and a half, we have a number of important decisions to make and opportunities to consider as a community. As we move through these processes, this website will be an evolving resource, with definitions, facts and figures, timelines, and guides to the processes and regulations, and other important information.
Self-operated or a new contract?
Self-operated dining services are wholly-owned and operated by the university.
Contracted dining services are managed by an external organization on behalf of the university, under the negotiated terms of a contract.
Both systems are common in college and university settings. In Washington, Western and Evergreen State College are currently contracted services, and UW, WSU, EWU, and CWU are self-operated. Self-operated campuses may also include some smaller contract services—often independent franchises of national chains.
As we think about the future of dining on Western’s campus, we will explore all the options, looking for the best fit for students.
What's the timeline
Feasibility Study commissioned from Envision StrategiesItem complete
Sept. 2020-Aug. 2021
Dining Community Forums on Feasibility StudyItem complete
February 11 - Dining Community ForumItem complete
February 19 - Dining Community ForumItem complete
Sept. - Oct. 2023
September 30 - Current contract expires indicated by three dots
October 1 - Dining transition complete
How can I be involved?
There will be many ways to be part of the process. Right now, in the information gathering phase of the process, attend one of Housing's Dining Community Forums and provide your feedback—the schedules will be posted on this website, as well as being publicized broadly through Western’s media channels.
If you are unable to attend the forum, fill out our Online Feedback Form with your observations, priorities, questions, and ideas.
If you don’t want to fill out the feedback form, talk to your AS VP for Student Services, Carson Brock, or your RHA representative about your perspective.