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Dining Group Plans Breakup of Monopoly

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

Aramark's monopoly on food services will be dismantled and dormitory dining halls will be reopened under tentative proposals of the food services working group presented at last night's Undergraduate Association meeting.

Under preliminary proposals, which are subject to revision, outside contractors will be permitted to bid on a variety of contracts for dining operations. Control over the operations will rest with a new dining board, said Phillip J. Walsh, director of the Campus Activities Complex and chair of the group.

The current major dining facilities - Morss Hall at Walker Memorial, Lobdell Food Court in the Student Center, and Refresher Course in Building E51 - will all be bid out independently, said Jeremy D. Sher '98, a student member of the working group and Next House representative to the UA. In addition, other dining facilities, such as the Building 4 Coffee Shop and Networks, will also be bid out on separate contracts.

"While there are advantages to [having] one contract, each area has different needs,"Walsh said. While one contractor may receive several contracts, they will be evaluated only on their performance in each specific facility.

By improving competition on campus, quality and service can be improved without increasing costs, Walsh said. The central food board will control common issues like acceptance of the MITCard, sanitation, and safety, Walsh said.

A group of students, staff members, and faculty will be created to provide oversight on prices, hours of operation, and quality at each site.

The food services working group is currently in the process of creating its final report, which will be delivered to Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 and Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams. If they approve, the plans will be implemented with the expiration of the current Aramark contract in June 1998.

Dining halls may be reopened

The dining group has tentatively agreed to reopen many of the closed west campus dining halls, Walsh said.

In the process of determining what level of support to give to dormitory-based dining, the group found that some dormitories were structured to favor dining halls, while others were structured toward personal cooking.

Under the proposal, six dormitories would become known as "dining hall residences," including Baker House, Next, McCormick Hall, MacGregor House, and Ashdown House. In these dormitories, "the focus of dining in [the] community would be the dining hall,"Sher said.

Unlike the other dining facilities on campus, the dining halls in residences would all be bid to one contractor. Dormitory dining halls have a"different philosophy" than other facilities on campus, and have other needs besides the maximization of profit, Sher said.

In the remaining dormitories, which would be labeled "personal cooking residences," MITwould provide cleaning and maintenance facilities for group kitchens to encourage more community cooking.

In addition, members of all dormitories would be encouraged to "expand beyond its designation" by creating special "community meals" in the dormitory or in other dining facilities, Walsh said. For example, Senior House residents could work together to have an occasional common meal in the dormitory or in nearby Morss Hall.

Over time, the group hopes that the "dining program in a house would become part of the culture of the house" that could be considered by residents selecting dormitories during Residence and Orientation Week, Walsh said.

Concern expressed about dining

Many of those present at the meeting expressed their concern that members of the current dormitories would not support the reopening of their halls.

"We're setting some standards for what we'd like to happen,"Walsh said. "We feel [the dining halls] need to be utilized."

Because serious financial investment may be required for some dining halls to reopen, the plans are subject to change, Walsh said.

The McCormick dining hall is likely to reopen very soon, possibly as soon as this summer or fall, said John S. Hollywood G, a member of the working group. McCormick residents have consistently expressed support for the dining hall, he said.

In other halls, such as Burton-Conner, equipment has become outdated since the hall was closed. In addition, the societal implications of reclaiming space that has been converted to other uses will have to be addressed, Walsh said.

Reopening other dining halls may adversely affect Baker House's dining operation, which is currently almost breaking even, said Jennifer R. Bautista '98, president of Baker.

"If you serve good food, other people will show up and start to use" dining facilities, ensuring their continued profitability, Sher said.