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UA to keep control of union food services

By Eric Swedlund
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 29, 1999

After considering a proposal to privatize student union dining, university officials said yesterday they have determined the UA will benefit most by retaining the services.

Dan Adams, director of the Memorial Student Union, said a University of Arizona committee reviewed a proposal to give control of the campus dining services to a private company, but recommended it was in the university's best interest to keep the programs.

"We're already doing financially better than a private company could do for us," Adams said. "The decision reflects that we've become a lot more careful about our expenses to ensure we're providing a quality food service at a reasonable rate."

Adams said the university sent out a request for proposals late this spring and received only one bid by the July 15 deadline.

Chartwels Educational Dining Services, a division of Compass Group North America, submitted the bid.

Adams said the campus-wide committee determined that the proposal would give about a 3 percent return. The dining services currently returns 7 percent - a figure that rises to 11 percent when considering administrative services.

"If anything, this is good news for both student union employees and student employees," Adams said. "We'll continue our operations and we're not looking to affect their jobs in a negative way."

David Galbraith, director of the student union dining services said waiting for the decision created a lot of anxiety among the employees.

"There has been a lot of stress," he said. "In the two years that this has been a hot topic, the staff has wondered what the long term goals are. The most paralyzing thing about it is that employees couldn't make any long term plans."

Galbraith said some employees have been waiting to hear whether they would still have jobs before deciding to take any classes.

"People I think will be just thrilled," he said. "The staff has been very stoic. They've been trusting that we're pretty secure."

Dining services has 93 full-time employees, Galbraith said. Additional part-time staff and about 200 student employees raise that total to about 325.

Galbraith said the dining services average about 12,000 transactions each day, 85 percent of which he estimated are students. These numbers do not include private food services such as McDonalds, Domino's and privatized carts.

"We pretty much have a work force in place that we're quite satisfied with," Adams said. "Our dining services employees do an outstanding job."

"There is a certain amount of pride that the employees take in working here and taking part of the university community," he said. "A lot of employees have a great relationship with students, and those same employees take a great deal of pride in doing a good job."

Adams said the university would have lost about $300,000 to $400,000 annually if the food services had been privatized.

In exploring whether or not to release the services over to the private sector, Adams said university officials were anxious to see if they could bring additional money to the Memorial Student Union construction project.

A lot of the dining services are already handled by private businesses, Adams said, and only about 40 percent of the entire campus food system is controlled by the university.

Adams said Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University both have entirely privatized dining services.

"We always have to look to see what avenue to take in providing the best services to the campus," he said.

Martha Mantione, senior supervisor for dining services, said there were a lot of high-fives exchanged between employees when they heard of the decision yesterday.

"We're excited, thrilled," she said. "We've all been holding our breath."

Fred Acosta, an office coordinator for the dining services who has worked there for more than 10 years, said he is very pleased with the final decision.

"I'm very, very happy," he said. "The first thing that came to my mind is that hard work pays off."

Dick Roberts, UA budget director who served on the review committee, said he found it astonishing that Chartwels didn't even acknowledge the construction of the facility in the bid.

"We're in the process of tearing that place apart and putting it back together," he said.

Altogether, Roberts said, with only one proposal, the committee had nothing to compare the Chartwels bid with.

"Chartwels did a really substantial job, but focusing on the bottom line, it wasn't as good a proposal as what we know we can do ourselves," he said. "The financial numbers just didn't work - it was pretty straightforward."

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