COD trustees agree Waterleaf should be used for student training
College of DuPage trustees came to a consensus Thursday that it would be in the best interest of the school to move forward with using the controversial Waterleaf restaurant for more academic opportunities.
The board was presented with three options for the restaurant in June: rent it, increase its use as a learning lab for students, or close it to make room for classroom space.
Officials say the restaurant has lost more than $2 million since opening in fall 2011. COD Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton has also said the restaurant is used for student training only two days a week.
The board has been discussing the future of the restaurant after the launch of state and federal investigations and questions about the school's spending practices.
While the restaurant could be converted into five new classrooms, school officials said the rooms would be smaller than desired and the location would be inconvenient for most students. Instead of discussing that option further, the board heard more about the two options of leasing the space or using it for additional student instruction Thursday.
Ellen Roberts, COD's director of business affairs, said the estimated lease rate would be about $20 per square foot. Gross income from a lease is estimated to be about $186,000. Expenses, including utilities, legal and accounting fees and a security system, would amount to about $102,000 -- resulting in about $84,000 in net revenue.
But Roberts said renting the space could be risky, considering it could take a long time to find a tenant, due to the location, venue type and recent publicity. She said the board should also consider that many studies say 60 percent of restaurants fail within the first year.
Renting the space for special events is also an option. Roberts said total annual revenue from rentals could be as high as $34,000.
"This is an option that we proposed could be used in conjunction with an academic lab," she said.
Donna Stewart, COD's dean of business and technology, said her role isn't to look at maximizing revenue but instead to look at maximizing "the preparation of our students."
There would be many benefits, she said, with granting students greater access to the Waterleaf, including giving them more opportunities to interact with diners and an overall greater "depth of experience."
"We want to be able to present the best possible graduate to employers to fill those growing culinary and hospitality opportunities," she said.
Stewart said she would like to see events at Wheat Café, the school's 60-seat casual dining room, shift to the Waterleaf, which seats about 130. Students currently are not prepared to serve that number, but Stewart said it would provide a good challenge for them to have more diners.
Stewart added that the kitchens students are training in now are unrealistically big and the cafe is a "very controlled environment." The Waterleaf, on the other hand, would give them a chance to learn in a more "realistic environment."
Board member Charles Bernstein asked how long it would take to narrow down a more concrete proposal. Stewart said it would take several months to get details on what new courses would look like at the Waterleaf.
But Stewart said the space could be used for special events starting this fall with board approval, and she believes current courses in the Wheat Café could move to the Waterleaf by the spring semester.
No one opposed having students use the Waterleaf more, but board member Joe Wozniak said he would like to have the executive chef of the Waterleaf come to a board meeting to get her input before a decision is made.
Hamilton said she would like to see a vote take place in the next month.