Three competitors have emerged in an ongoing bid process for a new 20-year dining services contract at Western Kentucky University, which WKU President Gary Ransdell has described as a $20 million annual enterprise. 

Ken Baushke, WKU’s director of supply chain management, said in an email that three companies will be able to submit proposals after attending a mandatory meeting and facilities tour. The deadline for proposals has also been extended to Oct. 21, he said. 

Those contenders include food and facility services company Sodexo, Chartwells K12 and Aramark, which holds WKU’s current dining services contract that is set to expire June 30. 

Aramark’s food service partnership with WKU goes back to 1997, said Gary Meszaros, WKU’s assistant vice president of business and auxiliary services. 

Efforts to expand on-campus dining began in 1992, Meszaros said. Now the campus features more than 20 campus eateries. 

“It really didn’t get rolling until 1997,” Meszaros said. 

WKU’s partnership with an outside food service provider allows the university to keep up with shifting dining demands from students, Meszaros said. Under its current contract, Meszaros said, Aramark is required to kick in about $400,000 to reinvest into campus food service needs. 

That stipulation will continue regardless of which dining services provider WKU chooses, Meszaros said. 

“We expect a very similar-type program from them,” he said, referring to the level of service currently available to students. 

Baushke said a committee made of faculty, students and administrators will read and evaluate the proposals. 

“We have a decision matrix that each committee member will use to independently score the proposals,” Baushke wrote. “Then those scores are combined to determine the company with the best overall score. We are planning to have proposals evaluated, scored and a decision made before we leave for break in December.” 

The time between the final decision and the contract’s expiration leaves six months for WKU to transition dining services to a new provider if needed, Baushke said. Meszaros added that WKU will work with the chosen company’s management to create a hopefully seamless transition. 

But the chosen dining services provider will have to do more than pick up where the previous provider left off. A key part of the deal is renovation and expansion for the aging Garrett Conference Center, which is more than 60 years old and sits on top of WKU’s hill. 

During this year’s annual retreat of WKU’s Board of Regents, Ransdell admitted it’s “pushing the envelope” to ask a dining contractor to fully renovate a building that’s nearly 50 percent academic and students.

“We’d prefer to renovate Garrett without debt and without using university sources,” Ransdell said at the time. 

Bryan Russell, WKU’s chief facilities officer, has described the building as “crumbling” and “past its useful life by many years.” He’s said occupants face hot and uncomfortable temperatures because of problems with the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. 

Russell provided computer renderings of the completed project, but stressed that they were only concept renderings showing a potential future design for the building. An image of the building’s front – facing the downward side of the hill – shows an enclosed first floor with a balcony on top protruding from the center’s second floor. The side of the building facing the top of the hill shows a more open and level area compared with the current balcony and stairway. 

— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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