Smart fountains debut on campus

Jessie Hellmann

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Students who came back from fall break with the intention of refilling their week-old cup at a fountain machine on campus were in for a surprise – they couldn’t.

The university hired a company, ValidFill, to remodel USI’s fountain machines, which now only fill up cups  that have electronic chips on the bottom.

“We just had a lot of theft going on,” said Food Services Manager Chris Briggs.

He said the university lost an estimated $90,000 a year from drink thefts.

“The equipment will pay for itself in less than a year probably,” he said about the $38,000 system.

Each cup comes with a chip on the bottom, allowing the student only one refill that must be used within 90 minutes.

“If you go to any fast food place, people usually don’t stay longer than an hour and a half,” he said. “Ninety minutes is plenty of time to have lunch and grab a refill before you leave.”

Briggs said the university employed its old system for 10 years with no problems, but lately, it had gotten out of hand.

“The past four years the theft just exploded,” Briggs said. “People were thinking drinks should be free to them.”

Briggs said he noticed students were getting creative about how they would steal drinks.

“People would come in with cups that were duct taped together, putting drinks in plastic bottles, putting them in their own to-go containers. I see some people bring in (a) 60-ounce thermos to fill up,” Briggs said. “We’ve had people keep their cups for weeks or days and keep reusing them, and even bring in cups from fast food places down the streets and use them.”

Briggs said the new system is not only going to save the university money, but it will save the customers money, as well.

“When people are stealing, companies pass the cost onto their customers. Everyone has to do that when there’s theft,” he said.

He said because of the new system, it is unlikely the university will increase drink prices. In fact, they will be able to give discounts on refills.

Junior biology major Ana Curry said she has mixed feelings about the upgrades.

“In theory, it’s a good idea, but it’s poorly planned,” she said. “I think that students should get at least two refills. The prices for sodas are pretty high and to only get two drinks?”

She said she’d rather drive to McDonald’s and purchase a soda for $1.

“I’d still get twice the amount of soda I paid almost $2 for at USI,” she said.

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