The room sits empty and bleak in the middle of a vibrant campus. The walls are stripped bare. The floor is unfinished. In the far corner of the room, a lone volleyball lies abandoned.
The space was supposed to house a café for students, faculty, and staff. Instead, the empty grayness stands in sharp contrast to the bright yellows, oranges, and greens that make up Santa Monica College’s (SMC) newest campus, the Center for Media and Design (CMD).
SMC’s plans to build a café at the CMD campus have ground to a temporary halt after being unable to secure a vendor to operate the café.
Like SMC’s other satellite campuses, the CMD has no operating cafeteria. Should students find themselves wanting to eat or even grab the ever-important cup of coffee, they would need to purchase something from either the vending machines or nearby food trucks.
It’s become a source of frustration for students, and many of them have resorted to bringing a packed lunch.
SMC student Marina Miyasato said, “I bring food from home.” When asked if she would like a cafeteria on campus, she immediately brightened and enthused, “Yeah, of course! If there were, I would buy.”
Fellow student Nathan Lopez said that although he sometimes brings a packed lunch, he would also like there to be a cafeteria on campus. “That way I wouldn’t have to go to main campus just to get something to eat,” he explained.
Plans have been in place for years to build a café in the media wing of the CMD. As stated in SMC’s official website, “the new café [would] provide students, faculty, and staff with a convenient and informal meeting space in the center of the site.”
According to records from SMC’s College (Operational) planning Committee, a “selection for a food vendor was tentatively scheduled for February 2018,” but these plans appear to have fallen through.
In March 2018, Santa Monica College published a legal notice stating SMC was still seeking proposals from food vending firms to operate a retail food service operation at the CMD.
Brad Carpenter from Clive Wilkinson Architects was the Project Manager for the CMD. Carpenter said, “A furnished café was never part of the original construction project. We didn’t participate, but my understanding is that… the College did not receive a successful bid from a vendor to develop and staff the café.”
Chris Bonvenuto, Chief Director of Business Services at Santa Monica College, confirmed Carpenter’s statement. “The District did go out to bid last year to lease space at the CMD campus to a food service provider, but unfortunately, no bids were submitted,” Bonvenuto said.
Bonvenuto clarified why no bids were submitted. For one, the space allocated for the café is small — approximately 1,106 squared feet. More importantly, it is not equipped for a kitchen, meaning that any vendors would be forced to prepare the food off-campus and transport it daily.
Bonvenuto explained the college’s plans going forward, stating, “To improve the possibility of securing a food service vendor… the District is currently evaluating possibilities to make the facility more attractive to potential vendors. Unfortunately, the process to make improvements to a facility is a lengthy one, that may include a required review/approval by the State of California. Because of this, we do not expect that we will be able to go to bid again until the 2019-2020 fiscal year.”
Even if a vendor is found during the next fiscal year, it appears unlikely a café will be completed any time soon. The bleak, gray room that sits near the CMD parking structure will remain empty for the time being.
This story was published as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair Student Newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press.