New dining RFP includes expansion and renovation of Garrett Conference Center

Plans courtesy of WKU.

John Reecer

WKU’s dining request for proposal will include an expansion and renovation of Garrett Conference Center estimated around $35 million said Ann Mead, senior vice president for finance and administration.

Construction will begin sometime between January and June of 2017.

WKU’s contract with Aramark will end on June 30, 2017 which has led to the creation of a new RFP. The organization which will take Aramark’s place on July 1, 2017 will have to provide funding for the construction on Garrett Conference Center.

The new dining service RFP was discussed during the WKU Board of Regents annual retreat on Thursday as Mead and WKU President Gary Ransdell led the discussion.

In mid-August, WKU will host a mandatory pre-bid conference with potential bidders on the RFP. October 17 will be the deadline for bidders to send in their bids. Bids will then be evaluated in December and a contract will be awarded.

“We would start working with whoever we select on a transition plan to how they are going to be taking over all our operations,” Mead said. “An important variable is their involvement in the design and planning of new dining venues for students.”

“We want, first and foremost, a quality dining program,” Mead said. “We want these bidders to demonstrate that they know how to enhance student recruitment and retention and that they know how to service a diverse student population.”

Mead said that construction on Garrett Conference Center will not be funded by the state as the building is categorized as an auxiliary service building. The state expects WKU to finance it, which is why funding for it will be included in the new contract.

“This is all about competition,” Ransdell said. “Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville all within the last year have signed new contracts with Aramark. We spent a lot time over the last few months encouraging competition with Chartwells who is a division of the Compass Group, which is a Fortune 500 company, and Sodexo.”

Ransdell said that WKU has the attention of those organizations and that there will be a “spirited competition for our (WKU’s) business over the next 15-20 years.”

The potential contract with a business enterprise could be in the area of $400 million spread out over 15-20 years Ransdell said. However, he expects WKU to still make some money.

“If we get 10 percent of that on commission, we get a million or so a year and if we get enough up front money to renovate the Garrett Conference Center, it’s serious money for us as well,” Ransdell said.

The conference center will have work done to the exterior of the building which will include new brick on top of the insulation, energy efficient windows, stone quoins and lintels, a pediment entrance with Ionic columns, brick chimneys on the south towers and much more.

The interior renovation will remove problematic issues of way finding, accessibility, compartmentalization and space allocation.

Major changes to Garrett Conference Center will include a student lounge which will occupy the central portion of level one with meeting rooms in the east wing, academic affairs will move to level two to expand into the location of the old ballroom and dining services on level one will be expanded.

Due to construction on a building with areas not directly related to dining, Ransdell said that “we are kind of pushing the envelope in asking contractors to fully renovate a building that’s 50 percent academics and student life, which doesn’t adhere to their bottom line.”

“We are emphasizing the top of the Hill and the renovation of Garrett because of the growing density of the student population near the top of the Hill,” Ransdell said. “You got a lot more density there now than we did maybe five or ten years ago.”

Chief Facilities Officer Bryan Russell said that construction on Garrett Conference Center will be a “full renovation” as the building has “passed its useful life.”

“Its crumbling from the inside,” Russell said. “You talk with the occupants of Garrett Conference Center and they are miserably hot. The light system is uncomfortable.”

Russell also said that they listened to all constituents of the building on what needed changed in the building. With the new contract, Russell sees a chance to fund construction on a project which could benefit WKU.

“We have academics as part of the building and we have auxiliary services,” Russell said. “This contract is an opportunity to take a prominent location on the Hill and service a very large group of people.”