By Kayla Perry
The rumours circulating around campus are true: the 2014-2015 school year will bring the beginning of mandatory meal plans to Laurentian residences.
Meal plans will become mandatory for all students living in the LU residence complex, and will be added on to the residence costs – during the application process, students will select one of the four meal plan options.
“Obviously we tried to make the (financial) impact very minimal, but change does require some sort of funding,” Benjamin Demianiuk, the Director of Housing and Food Services at Laurentian University, said. “We understand there will be some financial hardship.”
Meal plan costs will range from $1,720, which purchases 125 meals, to $4,400, which allows unlimited meals, with upper year students being given the option to buy the less-expensive meal plan.
“We know that students who have been here for a year or two know the lay of the land a bit better – they know if they can or can’t cook, so we wanted to create a meal plan for them,” said Demianiuk.
Each meal plan also includes an amount of “flex dollars,” the amount depending on the plan, which can be spent at all other food vendors on campus other than the cafeteria.
The residences on the “hill,” and the Mature Student Residence, however, will not be affected, as Demianiuk said these residences operate independently.
The mandatory meal plans will go hand-in-hand with cafeteria and great hall renovations, which Demianiuk says will completely change eating on campus.
The new cafeteria will mimic the brand of Marche restaurants – in this style, a person swipes their card at the “checker” upon entry. Once you are in the cafeteria, it is essentially a buffet, where you can eat as much as you’d like as long as you stay within the cafeteria and great hall seating area.
Furthermore, there will no longer be any brand names, such as the current Pizza Pizza and Miso, as they will be replaced by Fresh Food Company stands like the Mongolian grill, vegan station, grill, and all-day breakfast station.
Demianiuk says the cafeteria will be much different.
“Instead of just one thing, it’s a whole meal – you can choose to have an entire meal, or just components of it.”
Demianiuk said the Housing and Food Services department had been doing a number of consultations over the last three and four years and found that “lack of good food and nutritious foods” were a concern students voiced – he said the new cafeteria will create a solution to these problems.
Students who are not on the meal plan will still be able to use the all-you-can-eat cafeteria, and will instead be charged a flat rate per meal: $8 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, and $12 for dinner.
Andy Rollins, who has served as President of the SGA for two years in a row, said the mandatory meal plans are a “step forward” for Laurentian.
“One of the most glaring issues at our university has been the food services – the lack of quality, the hours, the employees when they’re there,” said Rollins. “There are a number of issues. I think the mandatory meal plan is definitely something that is necessary, and I think we need to give a little to get a lot.”
Rollins also said that, after working in the LU residences for a number of years, he’s unsure if people leaving the residences due to the extra cost is something that has been considered.
“I know we have really good residences right on campus – I don’t know if the meal plan will affect it all that much… It will be a benefit to the school.”In the beginning of the planning process, Rollins was among a group that travelled to different universities that feature the Marche style cafeteria, and said that the cafeterias and variety was “amazing.”
Although there may be mixed feelings regarding the mandatory meal plans, Mathieu Labonte, a second year economics and psychology student, believes that the mandatory meal plan will not benefit students.
“The only way this will benefit students is if the school gets rid of Aramark,” he said. “The buffet style does nothing to improve the quality of the food… (The mandatory meal plan) doesn’t help students at all, and the food will still be crap.”
Connor Koch, another LU student, said he supports the change. Koch, who is a concurrent education student currently living in the Lucien Matte residence, said he “feel(s) as if having a meal plan being mandatory brings Laurentian in line with other universities in Ontario.”
Koch also believes that the mandatory meal plan will benefit students in the long run, stating that the meal plan will “provide a larger variety of food options. Keeping money on campus is beneficial, compared to students’ spending money off campus… The mandatory meal plan will bring lots of options to Laurentian food services, which we all know is seriously lacking in its current state.”
Although Koch is not currently on a meal plan, and said he will not be purchasing one next year, he eats at the cafeteria regularly.
The great hall and cafeteria renovations will begin mid-April, and are scheduled to be completed by September 2014, at which point the mandatory meal plans will be implemented.
In terms of the cost of renovations, Demianiuk said that in the 2012-2017 strategic goals had dedicated two million dollars to upgrading food services – part of which went to adding the Starbucks and East Residence bistro, and the remainder of which will go towards the great hall renovations, which Demianiuk estimates to be around one and a half million dollars.
“This is not a decision that I made on my own… (The food services department) talked to students and talked to staff to determine what they would like to see… I think there are tons of benefits for students,” said Demianiuk.