Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of university life. As a self-sustaining organization, University Residences has been severely impacted, facing close to $30 million in lost revenue. We’ve closed dining locations and altered operations substantially. We also put decisions about the future of dining on hold while the university worked to address the enormous logistic and financial challenges of pandemic operations.
Our current contract with Aramark expires in September of 2021. The decision-making environment has changed substantially, however. University Residences faces a large budget deficit, which is expected to worsen as we do not anticipate returning to full residence capacity in 2020-21. Our ability to negotiate a strong new dining contract, or to invest the $1-$1.5 million necessary to convert to self-operations, has been severely impacted.
In addition to the financial situation, there are several other factors constraining our ability to make an effective decision at present. Implementation of any change is limited by remote work requirements and other health and safety regulations. Our capacity to carry out any of these processes while continuing to perform our daily responsibilities is limited by reduced staffing levels in University Residences.
For these reasons, we have concluded that the most responsible decision at this stage is to extend our current contract with Aramark through September of 2023. This extension will support consistent service through the pandemic and give us the opportunity to make a longer-term decision appropriate to the post-pandemic environment, and which will meet the university’s strategic priorities. We stay committed to an open, participative process for making the long-term decision on dining services. At the same time, delaying that decision ensures that is made in a more favorable business and work environment for the University.
WWU Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services