Students, staff and faculty alike stand in line during the lunchtime rush to slide their plates, cups and cutlery into the dish room. Some wait impatiently, some groan and some half-heartedly proclaim they are going to leave, as the conveyor belt remains broken for yet another day.
Either silently or out loud, everyone wonders when the belt will run again as they pile their plates.
“This is frustrating,” freshman Michaela Gunther said. “When will it be working again?”
The cafeteria conveyor belt broke Sept. 22, exactly seven weeks ago. As of Thursday afternoon, the belt still had not been repaired.
MVNU Food Service Director Rob Stiltner has been working ever since to get the problem solved. That day, when the conveyor belt stopped, he followed procedure by calling Dennis Dennison, the Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) Lead at Facilities.
When machinery has a problem, Dennison informs Stiltner whether Facilities can fix the problem or not.
“He tells me what to do,” Stiltner said. In this case, Stiltner was advised to call Hobart, a company that specializes in food equipment manufacturing and service.
A representative from Hobart came on Sept. 22 around 8 p.m. to check the conveyor belt.
Stiltner didn’t learn much from Hobart’s initial inspection, and the service technician did not provide a diagnosis.
Stiltner said the Pioneeer Catering supervisor who met with the Hobart technician was “not real confident the guy knew what he was talking about.”
A week later, a supervisor from Hobart came to check the conveyor belt again.
This time, MVNU officials learned the conveyor belt motor was broken and needs replaced.
“The motor which drives the belt was burned out,” explained Denny Taylor, MNVU’s senior director of Facilities Operations. Running continuously for nearly 12 hours every day, the belt “takes a beating” on a regular basis, Taylor said.
MVNU Director of Business Services Steven Jenkins then got with Hobart officials to find out the price for a repair. The University wanted quotes for two options: a total replacement of the machine system, including the track, the belt and the motor, or a replacement of the motor only. The entire system replacement cost was $45,574.
“Both options needed to be weighed,” Stiltner said.
On Oct. 16, a Hobart representative and an engineer from Aerowerks, a Canada food service company and conveyor specialist, arrived to check the conveyor machine again.
On Oct. 18, almost four weeks after the belt broke, campus administrators finally had all the information they needed and determined they would get a new single-speed electric motor, encased in a water-resilient box. The current motor has an alternating speed switch.
Facilities ordered the new motor, but found out the supplier was out of stock.
MVNU then contacted the manufacturer, who said a new motor would be shipped immediately by overnight mail.
“The last I heard, it was shipped out on Nov. 6,” Stiltner said.
By Thursday afternoon, there was still no word on delivery of the part.
Administrators all said they understand the frustration over the ordeal.
A handmade “Fix the Belt” sign was fashioned from cutout letters and strung from the catwalk below the chapel ceiling in October.
MVNU officials took the sign down before students saw it, but a photo was subsequently shared on social media.
That day in chapel, University Chaplain Joe Noonen assured students the belt was in the process of being repaired.
Noonen took the chapel sign in good humor.
“Students have found creative and constructive ways of expressing their concerns and frustrations,” Noonen said.
Dr. Henry Spaulding also has been chagrined about the numerous delays in getting the belt fixed, calling it “unacceptable.”
Overall, Noonen said, he thinks the campus has “displayed patience and understanding.”
Stiltner asked the campus to keep in mind the caf employees who must continue to do their jobs despite the broken belt.
“I know it’s frustrating, but the ones who’ve suffered the most are your fellow students in the dish room,” he said.
Dish room workers have been working extra hard to try to keep the line down during the lunchtime and dinnertime rushes.
“It’s awful,” junior nursing major Karli Stonebraker said. “We try to move as quickly as we can, but students don’t always put their dishes in the proper places. It makes our jobs much more difficult.”