Fort Worth bond includes $55 million to upgrade cafeterias and campus kitchens

Posted Saturday, Oct. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Keeping foods fresh Consultants say Fort Worth school coolers and freezers are inadequate. • 51 campuses have no walk-in cooler: 53 campuses are recommended to have a new walk-in cooler that is at least double its current capacity • 30 campuses have no walk-in freezer: 67 campuses are recommended to have a new walk-in freezer that is at least double its current size Source: Fort Worth schools
Proposition 1 kitchen and dining Proposition 1, which asks voters to approve $386.6 million for classroom additions, upgrades in security and technology and prekindergarten for all 4 year olds, includes $55,172,000 for cafeteria and kitchen expansions. A look at those costs: Kitchen expansion: Build a new kitchen next to the existing dining room at 24 schools. Expand the dining room into the current kitchen space. Cost: $41,725,000 • Campuses include Amon Carter-Riverside, Diamond Hill-Jarvis, Paschal, Polytechnic, South Hills and Western Hills high schools; Glencrest, McLean, Rosemont and Wedgwood sixth-grade centers; Como Montessori, J.P. Elder, Kirkpatrick and Morningside middle schools; Boulevard Heights, Charles Nash, Daggett, East Handley, Kirkpatrick, Mitchell Boulevard, Rufino Mendoza, Springdale, Tanglewood and Versia Williams elementary schools. Cafeteria/kitchen expansion: Build new kitchen and new dining room additions at five schools. Convert the current kitchen and dining areas into learning spaces. Cost: $12,472,000 • Campuses include DeZavala, Sunrise-McMillan and West Handley elementary schools; Arlington Heights High School, Young Men’s Leadership Academy. E-cafes: Convert an existing space into a WIFI study area at all 13 high schools. Cost: $975,000 Source: Fort Worth school district

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One in an occasional series about the Nov. 5 Fort Worth school district bond election.

The walk-in cooler at Carter-Riverside High School that is used to store food for hundreds of meals each day is the size of a front hall closet. Some Tanglewood Elementary students eat lunch at 10:30 a.m. because the cafeteria is too small to feed everyone at lunchtime. And district vehicles are required to make multiple trips to campuses each week because there’s not enough cold storage.

Hoping to change that, Fort Worth school officials are asking voters to approve cafeteria and kitchen expansion projects as part of the district’s proposed $490 million bond package. Proposition 1 includes $55 million to expand and equip 24 kitchens and to build additions at five schools for bigger kitchens and dining rooms. Early voting starts Oct. 21. Election day is Nov. 5.

“The goal is to provide better facilities capable of serving those healthier food choices that would benefit our children and to provide fewer disruptions to the school day by having fewer lunch periods,” Dansby said.

District officials say the changes are necessary to update small, aging facilities and equipment, expedite serving times by adding double serving lines and allow for better storage of fresh foods.

Consultants from Foodservice Design Professionals worked with the school district’s Child Nutrition Services department to assess and prioritize the facilities. District staffers then prioritized the projects to include in the bond package. Then staffers worked with AECOM, an international technical and management support services company hired by the school district to manage preconstruction services for the bond, to determine which campuses had enough space available to build additions.

Campuses that are not part of the 2013 bond would be updated using the district’s day-to-day operations budget, a future bond or funds from the 2013 bond that could be realized due to savings, said Superintendent Walter Dansby.

The average age of the campuses where work is proposed is 60 years. Back then, kitchens were smaller and designed for storage of dry goods rather than fresh produce that requires refrigeration. Today’s schools also are required to serve breakfast and after-school snacks to many students.

“You can remodel up to a point. You can add a little thing here. But there is a point where it doesn’t work because it wasn’t designed for this new way,” said Kristabel Lopez, program executive for AECOM. “That’s why we’re taking this more radical approach where we’re saying, ‘Forget about the existing kitchen. Let’s build a brand new one.’ It’s less expensive to do that than to start to accommodate everything.”

School officials have recommended several campuses get new walk-in coolers and freezers that will double their current capacity. At Carter-Riverside, the recommendation is for a new cooler that’s seven times the size of the existing one.

Instead of a walk-in, many schools use smaller, reach-in coolers and freezers that are placed in the dining room because the kitchen is too small to hold them.

School district officials say they can provide a range for the cost of equipment, but not a cost breakdown for each piece of equipment. The type and quantity of equipment will be tailored to each campus based on its size and capacity.

The consultants from Foodservice provided a list of equipment recommended for standard kitchens for each school level. The price range is $325,000 to $450,000 for elementary schools, $450,000 to $750,000 for middle schools and $650,000 to $1.2 million for high schools, with items such as pizza ovens, espresso machines, and a pot and pan sink.

Schools nationwide are revamping food service programs to comply with national requirements to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables. That requires more space to store fresh food and to prepare it for serving, said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman from the Maryland-based School Nutrition Association.

Fort Worth school officials want to have at least two serving lines to get students through the line more quickly. Cafeterias installed at new campuses funded by a 2007 bond, including Benbrook and Jean McClung middle schools, have double lines. Schools officials say the lines make it faster to serve food, so students spend less time in line and have more time to eat and do other things during the break.

Plans also include adding three compartment sinks for washing, rinsing and sanitizing kitchen items. At some campuses where there is not enough space to install the configuration, schools have worked with the Tarrant County Public Health Department to implement procedures for cleaning kitchen items. Workers drain the rinse water from a sink and refill it with sanitizer to complete the process, said David Jefferson, manager of the health department’s environmental health division.

“We can do this, it works, and it is safe,” Jefferson said. “But the staff is having to go through extra steps. This takes longer and a bit more effort.”

In 2007, Fort Worth schools earned the top score in a nationwide Center for Science in the Public Interest study of how well schools kept up with safety inspections and cleanliness reporting.

“It was the work we were doing even with these older kitchens and keeping them in good shape,” Dansby said. “We can’t continue to ask people to do it, and we have to move forward.”

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