Building Community through Dining

During the summer, the University of Kentucky negotiated a 15-year, nearly $250 million contract with Aramark to create a public-private partnership for dining that will transform this vital service for our students, faculty, staff and the larger community we serve. The partnership is an opportunity to improve service, provide healthier food at lower cost to our students, invest millions in facilities and enhance our commitment to locally sourced food.

Our campus, community and Board of Trustees diligently prodded, poked and asked questions throughout our decision-making process. While the investments and financial returns are important in advancing the transformation of our campus, our decision is not simply one of bricks and mortar.

Our decision to partner with Aramark is about stirring human transformation through community. In doing so, we must ask ourselves, “What is our purpose – our responsibility to each other and the world? How do we support each other in a community?”

Mary Lynne and I are fans of NPR’s award winning program, On Being. The show explores a variety of perspectives, experiences and beliefs that center around human life.  The topics explore what it means to be human – and what it means to be part of a community.

Past guests include Rosanna Cash, who talked about her love of language, quantum mechanics and her search for new sources of creativity and meaning. Vincent Harding – civil rights veteran who recently passed away – shared his perspective on social change in a multi-racial, multi-religion democracy.

Recently, Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber was a guest on the program. She leads the House of All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. Rev. Bolz-Weber disagrees with the notion that God will never give you more than you can handle. She says, “God will never give you more than your community can bear or you as a member of a community.”

Our effort in housing and dining is to build community for a new generation – millennials who grew up at a time when the kitchen never closed. The spaces that will come to life over the next few years are more than dining halls, they are spaces for people to gather, collaborate and create. We are opening new kitchens, so as individuals and community they can grow as a family with bonds that nurture their ties to each other and their responsibility to community and world.

We do so building upon the work of our current dining services, those employees and in a spirit of 150-year proud tradition as a land grant university. Our partnership with Aramark represents exciting progress to strengthen community on our campus. Key provisions include:

·         Price reductions for UK's six current student meal plans, with the most expensive plan falling in price by 26 percent or about $740 per semester.

·         $70 million in facilities investments, including $40 million in new facilities, will be made by 2017-2018, including the new K-Lair at Haggin Hall and substantial upgrades to the Student Center Food Court, which will be ready in fall 2014.

·         A new $32 million Commons for Fall 2015 will feature Kentucky Proud products, sustainable design elements and the nation’s first on-campus Panera Bread Co.

·         Several new food brands will locate on campus, including a new locally owned Common Grounds, Rising Roll Gourmet, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Greens to Go.

·         More emphasis on nutrition and wellness with a full-time dietician hired by Aramark, digital menu boards, a nutrition website and mobile apps for nutrition and fitness.

·         Aramark provides guarantees to increase Kentucky Proud and local food purchasing, including an 11 percent increase in the first year of the contract with $2 million in guaranteed purchases. Over the life of the contract, local food and Kentucky Proud purchases are projected to grow each year and represent approximately 25 percent of total food purchases by the end of the term.

·         Significant sustainability initiatives include LEED certification being sought on new construction, hiring of a full-time sustainability coordinator and implementation of Green Thread business practices, including waste stream management practices, minimizing food waste and supporting composting, energy audits and other energy and conservation initiatives.

·         The creation of a "Food Hub" in partnership with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, including a $5 million guaranteed investment in an unprecedented academic partnership.

·         Current UK employees with dining — about 110 people — will have the opportunity to remain university employees with the same salary and benefits — a guarantee made by the university more than a year ago.

·         Aramark is committed to growing the number of full-time and student employees.

Over the last two years, we gathered in a shared dialogue with campus and community stakeholders whose feedback was critical to negotiating this impactful partnership. I want to thank everyone involved with this process –especially the students, faculty, staff and community members who made this possible. Together, we are building new communities for the UK family.