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JSU dining hall plan draws criticism from students

Dining companions

Jacksonville State University students enjoy their lunch break at the food court at the Theron Montgomery Building on the JSU campus Friday afternoon. 

The decision by Jacksonville State University’s board of trustees at Tuesday’s meeting to extend its food services contract has left a bad taste in some students’ mouths.

Trustees approved the awarding of a new food services contract with Sodexo, which includes a proposed new dining hall and $275 mandatory meal plan for commuter students to help pay for the facility.

Petitions began popping up online for students upset with fees and possible parking shortages that would be created by the new facility. One student, communication major Keeley Tibbitts, said she is helping to organize a peaceful protest against the plan on Friday.

“We’re frustrated because it feels like students aren’t being heard,” she said. “A lot of people are more upset for this forced meal plan that commuters are going to have. It’s all about money, most of us live on our refund, so we can’t afford to spend $275 on food we’re not going to eat.”

The resolution approved by trustees Tuesday authorizes Jim Brigham, vice president for finance and administration at JSU, to negotiate a final agreement on another 10-year contract with Sodexo, a worldwide business services company based in Paris, which has operated on JSU’s campus 44 years. 

At the meeting, trustees were given renderings of a new building and a proposed floor plan for a 63,321-square-foot facility, along with descriptions of a “mandatory commuter meal plan” that would involve a “$275 declining balance” for commuters — students who don’t live on campus. Only about 20 percent of JSU’s students live in campus housing.

Attempts to reach university and Sodexo officials to discuss the plan were unsuccessful on Friday.

The university released a statement Friday on the proposed new additions of the dining hall and expansion of dining options at other locations around campus, stating that neither the $275 fee has been finalized nor the location of the proposed hall.

“Until a final contract is negotiated, with the help of Dr. King and Mr. Herrera, all terms are simply proposals,” Brigham was quoted as saying in the release. “We will benchmark our food service plans with other Alabama universities and focus on getting affordable plans and value for all of our students.”

At the meeting, trustee Sen. Vivian Figures asked that the approval come with the caveat that Vice President for Student Affairs Tim King and student government president Ulises Herrera be given input in the negotiation and final decision, which was agreed upon by the other trustees.

“We know SGA worked really hard on trying to not have this dining hall be done,” Tibbitts said.

The release also discussed the proposed expansion of dining options around the campus, including the addition of a Boar’s Head Deli, Einstein’s Bagels and a renovation of the existing Jazzman’s coffee shop, and the conversion of the university-owned Momma Goldberg’s into a WOW Cafe.

According to the Friday release, the SGA will hold a town hall meeting on the dining plans Wednesday at 6 p.m. on the fifth floor at Meehan Hall.

At the Tuesday meeting, growing enrollment was cited as a reason for a new hall.

“It’s a new cafeteria to support increased students, so I think that will be pretty good,” Randy Jones, chairman of the board of trustees, said after the meeting.

In 2009, JSU began requiring students who live on campus to buy meal plans for its existing dining hall, at a cost of  $1,110. Meal plans for the 1,800 students who live on campus now cost $1,705 per semester, according to JSU’s website

Tibbitts said her protest is about letting disapproval be heard prior to a contract being finalized.

“We’re just trying to let them know that we don’t want this before they sign the contract,” she said. “We’re working on trying to get the CFO and Sodexo and some of the more important people to come, too, so they can maybe answer some of our questions and see how many students aren’t in favor of this new plan.”

Tibbitts said one of students’ biggest complaints is the increased cost of attendance.

“We’re just trying to lower the fees, because it seems like they are raising tuition every year, and they’re adding more and more fees, because they want to make money, that’s what it’s about,” Tibbitts said. “Most of the students came here because it was cheap, and now it’s becoming not cheap.”

Students in January began paying a new, mandatory $190 fee for the school’s new recreation center.

Email Daniel Mayes: Follow on Twitter @DMayes_Star.