Commons Update Letter to Students, Jan. 9, 2012

Dear Cornellians:

Welcome back! It was wonderful to see so many of you this morning when we handed out hot chocolate on the Ped Mall. I hope you enjoyed a peaceful and rejuvenating winter break. The spring semester will be a busy and exciting period on campus; I would like to update you on one aspect of this—the upcoming work associated with the Thomas Commons.

The Thomas Commons renovation and addition project is scheduled to begin right after graduation. Over the past year, Cornellians provided significant input that architects molded into concepts which are now being fine-tuned into detailed designs. The concepts have been on display for some time on the upper level of Thomas Commons. Detailed designs will be posted as soon as possible in that space, shared with the Cornellian, and added to a dedicated web page. Using the building during the two-year construction project will test our patience and creativity, but the outcome of having a tremendously welcoming, functional and attractive student center will be well worth it.

At the center of the renovation project will be the total transformation of the dining servery and kitchens. In short, the new concept will feature practically all food being cooked upstairs at various exhibition stations and in smaller batches, rather than in a downstairs kitchen and then held in hot boxes. The current “scramble” area will be completely redesigned into an expanded series of formats for the delivery of fresh cooking with minimal congestion and confusion. There will also be a new dish room (breakdown area) and enhanced seating options with more small tables and even some booths. We will also share these specific plans as they materialize.

With such significant upcoming changes in our dining facility and food service expectations, it is the appropriate time to consider which food service provider would be the most ideal partner for Cornell beginning July 1, 2012. Several companies, including Sodexo, have been invited to make proposals. The other companies include ARAMARK, Bon Appetit and Chartwells. The proposal process begins this week with an information-gathering stage. Representatives from each company will be on campus and will ask students to complete surveys, participate in focus groups, or have brief discussions about your dining needs and desires. I hope you will respond as your input is sought over the next few weeks.

Then, during the week of March 5, each company will return to make presentations about its corporate philosophy and how it would meet Cornell’s dining and catering expectations. These presentations will be open to all students, faculty, and staff. A subcommittee of the Food Service Advisory Committee (which consists of numerous students and is co-chaired by me and Kalissa Holdcraft, Senate Student Life chairperson) is guiding this proposal process and will seek additional student input after each presentation. After the campus presentations, the subcommittee will visit several campuses to see these companies in action before ranking and recommending the potential providers for a decision to be made in late April. One note: If Sodexo is not selected to continue operating here, the new provider will be urged to hire individuals currently working for Sodexo in non-management positions.

If you have questions or comments, I invite you to be in touch with me or to attend a Student Senate meeting where regular updates will be provided. I look forward to your engagement as we continue make our outstanding institution even better.


John W. Harp
Vice President for Student Affairs