For the first time in Belmont’s history, meal plans will be mandatory for all students living in on-campus apartments to compensate for the costs for the new dining facility.
“It does mean that it is more expensive to live on campus. Some people will not like that. We’re not oblivious to that,” said Anthony Donovan, director of Residence Life.
“But we’re also trying to create a situation in which we can offer the best level of services to the students that are here and live on campus. Having more people on that plan allows us to provide the best services that we can possibly provide.”
The dining academic center costs $90 million in total and will have more than double the seating capacity of the current cafeteria.
“We’re building a bigger, better cafeteria that can serve more people. There’s a certain amount of an economics that comes into that. When you have something bigger and better, it costs more,” Donovan said. “When you have a 900 seating cafeteria you want enough people utilizing it to make it worth spending the money to do that.”
Starting in the fall, the university will require residents of Hillside, Bruin Hills and Belmont Commons to pay for five meals a week in the new cafeteria. Current residents of the complexes will not be required to take the plan if they choose to return to those communities, but only for the 2015-16 calendar year.
Additionally, the mandatory plan in Dickens, Thrailkill, Horrell and Two Oaks has increased from five meals a week to eight, according to the mass email Residence Life sent to students on March 16.
The five meals a week plan will cost students $735 per semester, while the eight meals a week plan will cost $1,635.
The meal plan change was a decision made in order to offset the cost of the new cafeteria, Donovan said.
“I think the biggest concern has been trying to get the cafeteria built. As that has evolved, it has changed the needs for the financing of it.”
The university was unable to find other revenues to pay for the costs of the cafeteria’s new facilities, Donovan said.
“In order for something to be successful and work, it requires more money than people originally had thought. You adjust, and sometimes you have to seek out those sources of revenue directly from the people who are involved in it,” Donovan said.
Specifically, the additional revenues the university will receive from the change in meal plans will help with “cost certainty” as the university negotiates its contracts with food providers, Donovan said.
Sodexo made an agreement with Belmont to make all residents pay for some form of a meal plan, but Sodexo made an exception for two years due to the minimal capacity in the Gabhart dining space.
Now, with the expansion of the cafeteria, the university must honor its contract, said Keith Chapman, managing director of Auxiliary Services.
The new meal plans changes will be permanent for students to come, said Chapman.
Junior Sara Terning currently lives in Belmont Commons and does not have a meal plan.
“Honestly, I was on the fence about living on or off campus, but when I heard about the meal plan change, it moved me toward wanting to move off campus,” she said. “It’s expensive to live on campus. It all adds up, and I know I can eat so much cheaper than that.”
Terning spends on average about $30 to $40 a week on groceries or about $480 to $640 a semester for all her meals, she said.
A five meals a week meal plan costs about $750 per semester, according to the Student Financial Services Cost Estimator for the 2015-2016 school year.
But the new facility will save students time, fuel and “vehicle wear and tear” as well as provide opportunities for healthy foods, environmentally friendly waste disposal and interaction with other students, Chapman said.
For Terning, her ability to buy groceries allows her to buy healthier options, and the social aspect of the cafeteria is not as appealing for upperclassmen as most of her friends live off campus, she said.
And the increase in costs to pay for the new services at the cafeteria causes Terning to fear that Belmont is losing its identity and purpose, she said.
“I do think that Belmont is spending a lot of money on things that students don’t even necessarily want,” she said. “To some degree, this is kind of another ‘Let’s grow and build really fancy buildings.’ Instead of working on getting more students, I’d rather see better education and higher standards instead of just more numbers and better, fancier buildings.”
The university recognizes that many students are frustrated about the financial costs the new meal plan brings, Donovan said.
“I’m sure it’s challenging and upsetting for some folks, but I think that in the end what is going to result from it is a bigger and better cafeteria better to serve more people.”
The university is looking long-term to better the university as a whole, and many students will not experience the immediate benefits of certain policy changes, Donovan said.
“You don’t want to come to a school that doesn’t change in the four years that you’re here,” he said.
“In order for that to happen, an institution has to be able to evolve and make changes to that relationship with students. That means there are going to be some things they love and some things they don’t like. You hope in the end that the overall experience is still a positive one.”