SGA rejects mandatory meal plan

The short-term future of a meal plan at UTD just went cold.

In a recent meeting, the Student Government Association (SGA) rejected a test plan offered by Aramark, the food service provider for UTD. The plan was intended to determine the demand and feasibility of a dedicated meal plan and cafeteria on campus.

Drafted by SGA President Ryan Davidson and Director of UTD Dining Services Sohail Chand, the proposed meal plan would mandate incoming freshmen living in Waterview Apartments put a minimum of $100 on their Comet Cards.

The mandatory money could only be used at Aramark locations, which does not include The Pub.

According to the plan, focus groups at the end of the Fall 2004 semester would then determine the feasibility of a dedicated dining facility, Davidson said.

SGA members who voted against the plan claimed there weren’t enough benefits to students.

“It wouldn’t be fair to charge the incoming freshmen for a dining plan on campus since they have their own kitchens,” said Senate member Pamela Palagonia.

SGA Vice President Sophie Rutenbar voted for the proposal because she “thought it was the only way to get a residential dining facility on campus.” This said, she acknowledges the plan would require $100 from every freshman “without a guarantee of anything beyond the focus groups.”

Davidson admitted the proposal was not ideal, but it was “the only thing we can do right now.”

He hopes an eventual plan will help “international students (who) don’t have transportation and all the students who live on campus who aren’t good cooks.”

Palagonia disagrees.

?They can still buy their meals at the Comet Café (with or without a meal plan),? she said.

Financial viability may be the deciding factor though.

“For us to build a dining facility it would be a very expensive proposition and right now we don’t have a source of money to do it,” said Robert Lovitt, senior vice president for business affairs. Lovitt said a 20,000 square-foot dining facility would cost approximately $5 million.

“Aramark would be running the facility and making a profit so we’d hope they’d be willing to invest money into the facility,” Davidson said, “and there is always the hope of an alumni who wants to donate (the facility) and get it named after them.”

But Aramark’s financial involvement would have to be negotiated as part of a contract with UTD taking the first step, Chand said.

Revenue bonds could be used, Lovitt said, but “you’d have to make enough money off the facility or money from somewhere else to pay the annual debt service.”

Working on the next step, SGA printed surveys in The Mercury and manned booths Feb. 24-26 to get student opinions on a meal plan and dining facility.

Rutenbar said she hopes to use the survey results to work out a better deal, such as bigger discounts, and prove that a dining facility is possible.

“There isn’t much we can do beyond just offering a discounted debit plan,” Chand said.

“Discounts much deeper will be difficult for a retail operation and the reality of what (students) might do is different than a survey.”

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