JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State University officials spent nearly two hours Wednesday night answering questions from students concerned about campus issues, the primary topic being a proposed new dining hall. Some students have questioned the need and expense of such a facility.
Acting President Don Killingsworth, Provost Christie Shelton and Chief Financial Officer Jim Brigham were among a panel who explained where negotiations for a new food services contract and proposed dining hall stood.
“These things aren’t written in stone yet,” Brigham said.
At a meeting last week, JSU’s board of trustees approved a resolution authorizing Brigham to negotiate an agreement on another 10-year contract with its food services provider, Sodexo.
Trustees were presented with plans for a 63,321-square-foot facility, along with descriptions of a “mandatory commuter meal plan” that would involve a “$275 declining balance” for students who don’t live on campus.
A group of students organized a protest of the new dining hall plan set for Friday, citing the rising cost of attendance and a lack of focused priority by the university among their complaints.
The university released a statement on Friday, stating that neither the $275 meal plan nor the location of the proposed hall next to the Curtiss Hall dormitory had been finalized.
Much of Wednesday’s meeting was spent with officials assuring students that negotiations for the new contract with Sodexo and any building plans will be done in students’ best interest. The plan as presented to trustees called for Sodexo paying approximately $7 million of the total $26 million cost of the hall.
“We’re negotiating from the heart of the students,” Brigham said. “If it’s unfair, it won’t happen that way. If the student body doesn’t want a new cafeteria, we don’t have to build a new cafeteria.”
A heightened cost for students was a concern shared by many students.
“We know cost is a factor,” Killingsworth said. “We’re cognizant of that going forward, but we also want to make sure that we’re planning for the future as well.”
According to Brigham, any meal plan that is either required or offered to help pay for any new dining hall would not take effect until the semester that the hall would open.
Brigham also said that the new meal plan, if it is required or offered after a deal with Sodexo is reached, would feature a declining balance and allow students to purchase food throughout the semester.
“This is not flex dollars,” Brigham said of those funds, which would be separate from plan students currently use. “If you don’t spend it, you get it back. This is a completely different program.”
Brigham said these funds, tentatively named “cocky cash,” could, if enacted, be used at restaurants off campus as well, something not offered by flex dollars.
Brigham said that despite some hesitancy from students, the dining hall could be a great new addition to the university.
“We look at this as an opportunity to provide our students with a first class dining operation,” Brigham said. “When I walk into Jack Hopper, I think that you deserve better.”
Jack Hopper Dining Hall, the current student cafeteria at JSU, would be repurposed if a new dining hall was built, Brigham said. The new hall, if built, could seat around 800 students.
Asked about the termination of President John Beehler during the meeting, Killingsworth read a prepared statement.
“Dr. Beehler has never been accused of any wrongdoing that would cause his termination to be with cause. This is the board of trustees’ decision to move in a different direction,” Killingsworth said. “That’s all we have to say.”
Other concerns were brought up at the meeting, such as the need for new student housing and the ineffectiveness of the university’s bus system.
“I assure you, I learned something new tonight,” Killingsworth said after the meeting. “That’s good. I want to hold these regularly. If we don’t know what the problems are, then how are we going to help be the solution?”
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