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UMaine Dining and Sodexo are failing to fulfill their promises

Wells Dining closed in the summer of 2022. Many students did not even find out about this until they got back to campus in the fall. In the two years that followed, both rumors and promises have swirled around the fate of the dining hall. Last year, students were expecting Wells to reopen in the fall of this year after summer renovations as part of Sodexo’s plans to implement improvements to the overall dining experience. When the improvements never happened, the goal was shifted to spring semester. Now, in the spring semester of 2024, it’s unclear if we’ll even see these changes in the fall. It’s worth noting that Hotel Ursa was able to be fast tracked and completed in less than two academic years due to off-campus investors and partnerships. On top of this, it’s uncertain what direction the transformation of Wells will take due to complications with the technology and a history of false or misleading promises around the building.

The current plan for Wells is renovating it to feature a retail hub, with licensed options and a pub. The location will also be absorbing Hilltop Market, the convenience-store style market located in the lobby of Hilltop’s dining entrance. The Wells Market was said to feature something akin to Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology, which boasts the ability to allow patrons to scan a card to walk into a store, grab their food, and walk out using AI-powered facial recognition software. However, distrust and controversies surrounding this technology have been in the headlines recently. While this technology claims to be entirely virtual, it relies on overseas workers. The extent to which they monitor the footage is unclear, although Amazon representatives deny that they actually monitor the live footage consistently and only check footage in case of errors. On top of this, there is also anxiety around security concerns that might be posed by a virtual database of our faces in the hands of a company. While these claims are somewhat a matter of paranoia around technology in general, it is worth noting that students might not want Amazon as a corporation cataloging their faces while just trying to snag chips on campus. Articles also report claims of being overcharged or improperly charged for purchases.

While Wells Market being hinged on controversial AI technology is one concern, another is with the use of the retail dining concepts that Sodexo has been very adamant about implementing since the inclusion of the Kiwibots service on campus. While this service would be great for grabbing food from the dining hall while sick, for example, it continues to only be available for the retail concepts in the Memorial Union. From the moment Wells closed, students expressed frustration with only having two dining halls on campus. Students in the H2O (Hart, Hancock, Oak) Residential Complex find themselves at roughly the middle of each hall, meaning they’re at an inconvenient distance from both York Dining and Hilltop Dining. During peak dining hours, the halls are crowded and can’t always keep up with the demands of roughly half the campus area. 

Turning Wells Dining into a commercial market rather than a third dining hall for meal plan students represents a disconnect between Sodexo and the student body, as they are electing to ignore the necessity and demands for a third dining hall and instead opting to implement sketchy technology and food that can’t be purchased with a meal plan.

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