Feb 24, 2015

NWC will raise meal costs, but not housing rates

Housing rates at Northwest College will stay the same for the 2015-16 school year, but the cost of meals will increase by 3.5 percent.

Both actions were recommended by Sean Fox, vice president for student affairs. The NWC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to raise the meal rates, but trustees were divided about keeping the housing rates the same.

Voting in favor of keeping rates the same at residence halls and student apartments in Trapper Village and Trapper Village West were Trustees Jim Vogt and Carolyn Danko of Powell, and Paul Fees of Cody. Trustees Nada Larsen of Meeteetse, Dusty Spomer of Powell and Mark Westerhold of Cody voted against.

NWC Board President John Housel of Cody broke the tie by voting in favor of keeping housing rates the same.

Trustees who voted against the measure expressed concern that not raising rates this year could leave the college short of money for if emergency repairs or needed improvements in residence halls or student apartments.

They noted that student housing and the DeWitt Student Center are not eligible for major maintenance dollars from the state, so the college must pay for all repairs an improvements in those buildings.

“My priority is to keep the costs as reasonable as we can for students, but do projects we need to do,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Sean Fox.

Fox made the recommendation to keep housing rates the same.

“I feel very confident that, without a rate increase, we can do these (maintenance) projects as well as put a little bit more into the facility reserve account,” he said. “My priority is to keep the costs as reasonable as we can for students, but do projects we need to do.”

The cost of maintenance projects planned for this summer total $675,000. They are:

• Replace windows in Colter Hall: $225,000.

• Replace windows and doors at Trapper Village West: $120,000.

• Replace steps at Ashley Hall: $30,000

• Public area facelifts in Ashley and Cody halls: $300,000.

Fox told the board he made his recommendation after comparing student housing revenue and costs for the current school year.

Fox said Monday the auxiliary depreciation account — the account used for maintenance and upkeep of student housing and the DeWitt Student Center — now contains just over $2 million. Without increasing housing rates, that account is not expected to grow next year, he said.

“I do want to keep it (housing) as reasonable as possible for the students, but we need to put some money into that fund. We’re going to have to do some major work on that DeWitt Student Center,” said trustee Nada Larsen.

Information Fox presented at the meeting indicates Northwest’s housing rates are lower than some community colleges in the state, but higher than others.

“I think we can safely assume the other colleges wil go up; we will be a little bit better if we don’t go up,” he said.

When asked by board members, NWC President Stefani Hicswa said, “I am a bit concerned about no increase in housing. ... As we look revenue vs. expenses in housing, the Simpson Hall bond payment needs to come out of that revenue ... plus the depreciation fund.”

Larsen added, “I would be even more concerned than Stefani seems to be. ... I do want to keep it as reasonable as possible for the students, but we need to put some money into that fund. We’re going to have to do some major work on that DeWitt Student Center.”

As for the meal plan cost increase, Fox said the 3.5 percent increase was negotiated with Chartwells, the college’s contracted food service provider. It would be a pass-through increase, with none of the additional money going to the college.

Chartwells initially proposed a 4-percent increase, Fox said.

“The negotiated increase remains commensurate with the state of Wyoming’s most recent inflation rate increase for food (3.0 percent through the second quarter of 2014),” Fox wrote in a report to the board.

Traditional meal plans, for 19 meals per week, cost $1,410 for the current school year, or $4.68 per meal. Next year, that will increase to $1,459, or $4.84 per meal.

A weekly plan, for 10 meals per week, costs $1,105, or $6.97 per meal. That will increase to $1,144, or $721 per meal.

Fox said the weekly plan cost is higher per meal because those students tend to eat all 10 meals at the student cafeteria, while students with traditional meal plans tend to miss a few meals each week when they have other plans, such as going out to eat.

President Hicswa said students generally are happier with the food service provided by Chartwells.

A commuter meal plan, for five meals per week, costs $855, or $1078 per meal. That will increase to $885, or $11.16 per meal.

Board members asked why that plan’s per-meal cost is so much higher than the weekly plan. Fox said he will find out and bring that information back to the board.

Commuter meal plans represent only 5 percent of student meal plans, he said.

Hicswa said students generally are happier with the food service provided by Chartwells than they were under Aramark, the previous food service contractor. The increase is needed, she said.

She noted that the Chartwells contract is more expensive, and the college chose last year to absorb the additional cost to improve food service for students.

“We have a (capital) investment with Chartwells of $800,000 over the next four years,” and additional maintenance needs in the DeWitt Student Center are increasing, Hicswa said. “We want to make sure we don’t cut into the auxiliary fund.”

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