Vassar’s All Campus Dining Center (ACDC), colloquially known as the Deece, is often the subject of students’ derision. “The Deece is not great,” said Nic Gedigk ’19. “The variety of food isn’t too good and the vegetables could be fresher and more flavorful.” Fortunately, if all goes according to the plan that’s been in place since 2012, the Deece will be renovated and Vassar will have a new food service provider by next fall.
“Dining is central to campus life and socialization,” said Assistant Dean of the College for Campus Activities Teresa Quinn, who was instrumental in the development of the project, in an emailed statement, “With an opportunity for renewal, coupled with intentionality and innovation, we can transform and improve the dining experience at Vassar.” In recent weeks, however, there has been talk that the Board of Trustees might put the brakes on the project due to an increase in the projected cost. Dean of the College Christopher Roellke dismissed these rumors via email, saying, “The Board is very supportive of the plan and will vote on the funding for the next phase of renovations at the October board meeting.”
Vassar’s Dean of Strategic Planning & Academic Resources Marianne Begemann elaborated, “The issue was really surprise at what the cost was coming in at.” She added that the concern was more with the reality of budgeting than a reluctance to move forward with the project as a whole. While the Board initially agreed to a $5 million budget, once LTL Architects was brought in and plans were drawn up, the price tag ballooned to $8 to $9 million, Begemann explained.
“We are making every effort to trim costs where appropriate and to fundraise for the space,” Roellke said. Since the first phase of renovations was completed this past summer, there’s no turning back now. The recent changes included removing the dining hall’s lowered ceiling, improving lighting, removing asbestos and building two hoop houses—agricultural structures similar to greenhouses—with the Poughkeepsie Farm Project in order to grow more produce. “[This] will enable our new vendor to purchase fresh produce from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project throughout the year so [the distance from] farm to table will be less than half a mile,” Roellke said.
The remaining renovations, scheduled to take place next summer, include installing new kitchen equipment and insulation, relocating the bathrooms and increasing continuity between the ACDC’s first and second floors. An additional goal, said Quinn, is “[To] accommodate the variety of dietary needs of our students including Kosher, Halal and an ‘allergen zone.’” According to Roellke, phase two renovations are projected to cost between $5 and $6 million.
Perhaps most exciting to Deece diners, however, is the news that in addition to renovating the campus eatery, Vassar will be switching food service providers, from the widely criticized Aramark to Bon Appétit. Roellke explained that the school periodically requests proposals from providers in order to weigh various options. Of the three companies that submitted them, “Bon Appétit’s proposal resonated the most with our community,” he said, “In part because of its strong track record at other institutions and also for its impressive accomplishments on sustainability, farm-to-table and culinary education.”
The new and improved ACDC will have an increased focus on eco-friendliness in both its edible offerings and its design. Vassar Sustainability Coordinator Alistair Hall helped make the plans greener by suggesting ways to use more organic, locally grown produce, reducing water usage in the kitchens and replacing windows to increase energy efficiency.
Additional plans include extending ACDC hours to accommodate students’ schedules. Meal plans will also change from the current Minimum, Standard, Enhanced and Plus options to “all-access,” which all students will have to purchase. However, “This plan will not cost more for students,” Roellke said, adding, “The plan will benefit low-income students, as financial aid will apply.”
Some critics have raised the point that requiring the entire student body, including seniors, to dine at the Deece could undermine Vassar’s assertion that residing in senior housing prepares students to live independently after graduation, which includes cooking for oneself. The change could also impact the Ferry House co-op, whose members prepare communal meals. “One of the binding factors [of Ferry] and something that brings everyone together is making meals together,” said Ferry resident Meredith Ward ’18. “So if people have to pay for food for the house and then also have to pay for the meal plan, this isn’t going to be an accessible space for some people. A lot of people are pretty upset about it.”
Begemann acknowledged that potential consequences of the meal-plan switch need to be further examined, saying, “[We need to] think about what the model is for residential living when you try to project forward 10, 15 years and then again, another 20 years, because whatever we do is going to be around for the next generations of students.” Quinn, however, remains hopeful that the plan will benefit students. “There are many advantages for all students to be on the all-access meal plan in the newly designed ACDC,” she said. “The renovation will create a more open and welcoming environment that will better support student needs and desires for dining, and also for gatherings, meetings and study space.”
Some also wonder why the ACDC is being refurbished before other buildings that desperately need attention. In response, Begemann said, “We have limited resources for doing capital renewal on campus. The extra $3 to $4 million it [will] cost to renovate the ACDC is a whole lot less than it would cost to renovate Main or Raymond, or to even do the bathrooms in Raymond.”
Finally, those familiar with the recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” podcast entitled “Food Fight”—in which Gladwell compared spending on food and financial aid at Vassar and Bowdoin College, concluding that Vassar has such generous financial aid because it prioritizes that over other expenses—may wonder what’s being cut in order to pay for Deece improvements and better food. “When I first heard about the switch, I thought about Gladwell’s podcast,” said Kenji Nikaido ’20. “It got me slightly worried that this could raise the cost [of attendance]. Vassar’s already really expensive.”
Both Begemann and Roellke insist that this will not be the case. “It’s pretty clear that Vassar’s priorities have been on affordability, on access, on inclusion. The new food plan does cost more, but the cost is spread around [the budget],” Begemann said.