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Agnes Scott College contracting with Aramark for facilities maintenance

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Agnes Scott College contracting with Aramark for facilities maintenance

Agnes Scott College. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — Agnes Scott College announced to its facilities staff, students and faculty during a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24, that the college is extending a contract to Aramark to be the facilities maintenance partner going forward.

The contract will be for five years with a five-year renewal.

“Continued deferred maintenance, labor shortages and supply chain challenges caused us to look at how other institutions have addressed these issues,” Agnes Scott College spokesperson Danita Knight told Decaturish. “The use of managed services is a very successful solution employed at other colleges, like Spelman and Morehouse.”

The Aug. 24 meeting was meant to be for the facilities staff to get to know Aramark and ask the company questions, but then students and faculty showed up to the meeting with their own questions.

The process of searching for a company to operate the facilities department was a continuance of the initiative in 2020 when the school looked at how to address deferred maintenance, according to Agnes Scott officials who spoke during the meeting.

“Through that process, we decided to extend our relationship with Aramark and Aramark will now be our facilities service partner going forward,” said Scott Randazza, interim vice president for finance and administration.

Knight added that Aramark providing similar services to Morehouse and Spelman carried some weigh in making the decision.

The college has used service companies in the past.

According to the college’s 2019 tax filing, the school has previously contracted with Aramark for food service and contracted with Padgett Services for HVAC and mechanical maintenance.

During the request for proposals process, Randazza said a key priority for him was that the facilities employees would have a job under the new facilities service company.

“The No. 1 thing was all of our employees have a job and are guaranteed a job. Nobody except tenured faculty on campus are guaranteed a job today. The only other people that will be guaranteed a job is the facilities team,” he said. “The second thing around compensation was everyone was going to have equal or better compensation, so nobody was going to have an issue around compensation, and the third was around benefits. Again, everyone will have equivalent or better benefits.”

Subject to performance, the employees will contractually have a job for two years.

During the Aug. 24 meeting, students and staff asked why the college doesn’t hire more facilities employees, but can afford to hire a new company.

“We do not have the money,” Randazza said. “We have a compensation issue. The only way that that is going to be fixed is if we have more money. If we can bring in a company like Aramark that is able to leverage their resources, the reality is we can address these things without costing us more money.”

Knight, who answered questions following the Aug. 24 meeting, said the college will reduce costs by leveraging Aramark’s supplier agreements.

“Addressing deferred maintenance will lower repair costs. Savings will be reinvested into facilities and other Agnes Scott priorities,” Knight said.

She added that the college is currently in a strong financial position.

“This was recently affirmed by Fitch’s upgrade of the college’s bond rating,” Knight said. “A managed services model, which is very common in colleges, will provide the best value for the money spent. This enables the college to better serve our students, faculty and staff by providing more and varied services in a more timely manner and relieve the burden on the current facilities staff resulting from the ‘Great Resignation’ and supply chain issues.”

Randazza also pointed out that the college has tried to hire facilities positions, and others, but has struggled to fill those roles.

“We went a whole school year without the second most important person in facilities and not because we didn’t try to hire them, we could not find a resource,” he said. “That’s the reality of the labor market today. It simply is. We’re seeing across other aspects of campus.”

Bray Brunkhurst, vice president of sales and retention at Aramark, explained that Aramark is in the business of helping universities improve their performance regarding facilities.

“What we do is we leverage our engineering resources, our supplier agreements for supply chain in our world-class programs to improve the reliability and the function of the buildings where people learn and where people work and where people experience their full college education,” Brunkhurst said.

He also told the facilities employees, especially as concerns about reducing pay were raised, that Aramark will not cut wages and benefits.

Brunkhurst said facilities employees will see the same or better benefits and will be paid $15 an hour or greater.

“I would say that the decision by Agnes Scott is not against anyone in this room,” Brunkhurst said during the Aug. 24 meeting. “The decision by Agnes Scott is to say we’re a small, private university. The environment is changing in regard to finding people to come to work, in regard to finding engineers that can help us with deferred maintenance needs, and you’ve got a supplier base that can help bring new companies here to improve the campus life. That’s what this decision was based on.”

Another representative from Aramark said employees will transition onto Aramark’s payroll at their current wages and will have the opportunity to either apply for their current position or a different position. Depending on the positions they apply for, the employees could receive a higher wage.

Knight said the current staff will maintain their positions with the same, if not, better compensation and benefits.

“We are providing for a transition in which every employee may stay in their job if they wish and receive compensation, including benefits, that will be as good or better than they are currently receiving while at the same time providing greater services to our community and more opportunities for our staff members,” Knight said.

Following the meeting, students and faculty still had questions about the contract with Aramark.

“It’s going to definitely impact the sense of community here,” a student who declined to give their name said. “Especially last year, our facilities workers were the closet thing I had to having my family around all the time.”

The student added that the college can’t run without the facilities staff.

“All of their jobs, we couldn’t exist without them,” the student said. “We can’t run without facilities.”

Student Molly Edlein said that students interact with the facilities staff and other staff members daily.

“You walk out of your dorm every day, who do you talk to? You talk to Miss Maria, who’s cleaning the dorm. You talk to Miss Mary, who’s serving you your food,” student Molly Edlein said. “The interactions we have on campus are with facilities and dining workers and all of those people who are the lifeblood of this campus and who have continuously and historically been shown nothing but disrespect.”

She also added that since the college is signing a five-year contract with Aramark, then they should be guaranteeing wages and jobs for facilities employees for five years.

Students were also concerned about the lack of transparency throughout the decision-making process.

“I also want to mention our other concern is this process has not been democratic at all,” Jasper Potts said. “Allegedly they’ve had these decisions in the works since 2020 and people have just heard about it in the last few weeks.”

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