Cecily Walters 2012-12-22 17:00:44
Is your operation equipped for the challenge of surviving a much-needed, but possibly ill-timed, kitchen or cafeteria renovation? DOES THIS SOUND LIKE A FAMILIAR SCENARIO? The cafeteria team at one school site has been struggling with outdated and failing equipment, cramped space and dingy digs for years. So, it’s great news to learn that the district has approved a much-needed renovation and/or expansion of the kitchen and dining area. It’s exciting to start working with consultants, architects and contractors to construct your dream facility. Everything is going to look great and work smoothly! But…. (Yes, there’s always a “but.”) How are you going to manage when, despite the contractor’s promises and assurances at the beginning of the process, it looks like your facility won’t be open for business when students return after their holiday or summer break? Or when the powers-that-be actually schedule construction for the middle of the school year? Now what? The kids need to be fed. How are you going to make it happen? That’s where this article comes in. School Nutrition checked in with a few school nutrition operators who have survived a kitchen/cafeteria renovation, asking them to share advice about the equipment they found essential for getting through the process, as well as the newly installed pieces that help to make the whole process a lot sweeter in hindsight. They also offer insight and wisdom that just might save you some time—and money. Read on to learn from those who have been there before. Lemonade From Lemons Going into the process of renovating a high school kitchen, Debbi Beauvais, RD, SNS, district supervisor of school nutrition for Gates Chili & East Rochester Schools, Rochester, N.Y., couldn’t have imagined that, as a consequence, she and her staff would wind up prepping meals outside in a parking lot. In January. In a part of the state known for very cold winters, no less. But that’s exactly what ended up happening. Demolition and construction began in June 2007, and a plan was put in place for the school’s cafeteria staff to begin working in the new facility in early fall. However, upon excavating the floors, the project’s engineers found asbestos wrapped around pipes—and out the window went the original timeline! “It was time to plan for the worst-case scenario,” Beauvais recalls. “[This meant] we would be serving 100-plus breakfast meals and 900-plus lunch meals each day without a kitchen.” Beauvais and her team sprang into action, setting up the school’s temporary kitchen prep facilities in the parking lot adjacent to the back door of the cafeteria’s dining area. They had held onto steamtable serving units from the old kitchen and found that these helped to make the temporary arrangement more efficient than thought possible. Beauvais reports, “I would encourage anyone doing a remodel not to dispose of serving line equipment until you have your new completed space. We were able to keep our hot foods hot and cold foods cold using serving lines that were going to be discarded. If we had allowed the contractor just to take the lines away, we would have really been in a bind when it came to creating a [temporary] serving area to distribute 1,000 lunches safely at the correct temperatures.” In addition, the school nutrition team made good use of: • two storage containers in which they stored food and supplies; • a refrigerated truck with a lift gate; • freezer and bread trucks; • a utility vehicle (for quick runs to another school for food and supplies); • a mobile kitchen trailer used as a grill production area; • an additional trailer that was used as an office; • barrels for beverage service; and • walkie talkies. A small portion of the cost of these items was covered by school nutrition department funds, but the majority of the expenses were incorporated into the renovation project costs. Among the most ingenious aspects of the outdoor set-up—which the county health inspector affirmed as a safe and sanitary environment—was a vanity-style sink (purchased from the local hardware store); it enabled the team to maintain handwashing facilities. However, the sink did not have a drain, so the staff fashioned a bucket-based system that needed continual monitoring to prevent overflow. A coffee pot was used to heat water for handwashing, as well as for cleaning and sanitizing serving equipment. Though the temporary arrangement was far from ideal, “Staff and students alike got a feel for what the new style of service would be. I was able to train [both groups] on the new food court concept service area,” says Beauvais, explaining that the makeshift cafeteria featured a taco/ nacho bar station, two cold entrée stations for salads, sandwiches and yogurt and a hot station for grilled items—all similar to her renovation plans. “This proved to be very beneficial when we moved into our new space, as we had a seamless transition with regard to meal service.” Beauvais has quantifiable proof of the success of her inventive solution: Average daily participation stayed very close to rates established in the old cafeteria. And a surprise benefit? “It turned out that our temporary service moved students through the line more quickly than the service we had for years. This was perceived as a real benefit by students, staff and the administration alike,” reports Beauvais. Upon the opening of the new cafeteria, Beauvais and her staff began referring to it as their “school restaurant.” In addition to making the updated facility more environmentally friendly, “[incorporating] new technology in the back of the house allows us the ability and flexibility to prepare a varied menu with ease. The staff loves their new combi oven and food processors. Who knew you could shred 30 pounds of bulk mozzarella cheese in 20 seconds?” says Beauvais. The new serving area incorporates grab ‘n’ go cases, as well as four serving lines and cold food self-service counters. “Instead of having to dissect the menu based on what equipment is need for production,” she notes, “we have what we need to offer what we want when we want.” A Tight Squeeze About five hours southeast of Debbi Beauvais’ Rochester-area district, Cindy Brooks, foodservice director for Seymour (Conn.) Public Schools, has fresh memories after supervising a recent kitchen renovation during a particularly chaotic time in the district. Not only was one school undergoing a complete gutting and renovation of its kitchen and cafeteria—with an inconvenient April 1 start date (no foolin’)—but plans also were underway for the district’s oldest elementary school to close, transferring the bulk of staff, students and operations to the site that was undergoing the renovations. As the date to shut down the to-be-renovated kitchen drew closer, solutions and strategies were needed for prep, service and dining for the remainder of the school year. Brooks and her team identified a small alcove near the music room that would work for service, but not for prep or dining. Without an ability to maintain proper sanitation practices in the makeshift area, they opted to outsource prepared meals from a private contractor. Scavenging from the now-closed kitchen’s equipment, Brooks and her team used milk coolers to store milk, juice and fruit and made use of holding cabinets for when meals were delivered. Two six-foot tables made up the serving area. Students were called to the makeshift cafeteria by class. They picked up their lunches, scanned their identification cards and then headed back to classrooms to eat. It wasn’t the “prettiest” solution to school meal service, but Brooks has put the episode behind her. Fortunately, the new kitchen and dining area opened to the new group of merged students as scheduled on the first day of school in the fall. And now that the renovation is over, she couldn’t be more pleased with her new kitchen—especially since it is equipped with all-new units, including some—like tilt skillets—that are brand-new “toys.” A Well-Oiled Machine For Connie Little, SNS, student nutrition supervisor for Beavercreek City (Ohio) School District, kitchen renovations scheduled in 2010 and 2011 were less about demolition and new construction and more about making upgrades to her existing facilities throughout the district. Project scope varied from kitchen to kitchen, but all the work was scheduled during the summers while school was closed. Changes included long-overdue equipment updates (some units had been in use since the Sixties!), asbestos removal, floor replacements and installation of overhead hoods to pull heat out and circulate air more efficiently, improving working conditions for site staff. Engineers added extra outlets in walls to accommodate new heated and cold pass-through units. In the high school kitchen, direct access between the production and the serving areas was created. Also, “We put in double-stack convection ovens instead of putting them in a row, which saved money in insulation and materials costs because the hoods could be smaller,” Little describes, adding that the combination of steamers with convection ovens was a welcome replacement to a troublesome combi at one site. As Little and her team prepared for each renovation, they maintained a comprehensive equipment roster. Each piece of existing equipment was assigned a number, along with details of where it should be stored during the renovation period and where it would be placed after the work was complete. Then, each piece of equipment was tagged with its corresponding number and the equipment roster was given to the facilities team. As for the equipment that was being replaced, Little arranged to have some turned into scrap, while selling other items at auction, earning $20,000 for her troubles. “That money was a huge help that we could put back in our coffers,” Little asserts, explaining that some of that money went toward purchasing a heat sealing machine that covers cups of fresh fruits and vegetables with a layer of film; these are selling in huge numbers. For the Beavercreek district, the heat sealing machine was a practical way for us “to reinvest in our business and to be resourceful,” Little shares, advising other districts preparing for kitchen renovations to consider incorporating a similar approach to using old equipment disposal to help offset funding for a new equipment wishlist. Overall, she and her team are delighted with the final results, and, Little notes, “A happy staff is a productive staff. Our new equipment has made our operation more efficient and gives our program more integrity.” And school and community groups that rent the district’s kitchen facilities for various events also are “thrilled,” she reports. Words of Advice Each of the operators interviewed for this article were full of words of wisdom for their colleagues preparing to undergo kitchen or cafeteria renovations. In particular, they emphasized the importance of making regular visits to the renovation site to stay up to date on the construction process, answer any questions from contractors and engineers and provide any necessary clarifications. In fact, while contractors may find you a pest, the fact is that you can’t do too much supervision. Consider Little’s experience: “Initially, the blueprint that the engineers designed had our ovens facing the wrong way. I fixed that, but they still got set up that way.” Nonetheless, find a way to be seen as a partner in the process, rather than a nightmare client. “Make friends with the contractors, who can help you by doing things like giving you extra electrical outlets,” advises Seymour’s Cindy Brooks. In particular, maintain a close relationship with the site manager in charge of the renovation. What else to keep in mind? Tips to consider before, during and after your renovation follow in the box below. Challenge Accepted If you’re facing your first renovation, it’s likely that your head is still spinning, even after reading this article. Breathe. While you may not be able to anticipate every change of plan or unexpected hurdle that might crop up, by staying calm and organized and reaching out to colleagues who have seen similar projects through, you’ll be equipped for the renovation challenge ahead. Need extra motivation for slogging through the process? Just remember that a renovated, rejuvenated cafeteria space brings so many rewards, including improved efficiency and enhanced pride. Cecily Walters is School Nutrition’s managing editor. Photography by Jiunlimited.com. Tips from the Trenches • “The equipment that will work best for you during a renovation will depend on the menu that you use. For example, if you’ll still be serving hot meals, you’ll need equipment to maintain temperatures. Ultimately, space determines your menu, which determines your equipment,” Brooks asserts. • “How you organize your equipment [in the new space], such as stacking convection ovens, can save money,” offers Little. • Make use of the training services offered by the equipment manufacturers and dealers. You want staff completely familiar with the new systems once the warranty period begins. • “Stay organized, keep your communication open, maintain a good calendar and timeline and always get information right back to people,” Little states firmly, noting that every site manager whose kitchen is affected by renovations should be involved. • If your renovation extends into periods when school is open, and you have a workforce without a kitchen, think through a plan of where to temporarily reassign staff throughout the district, recommends Brooks. • Little emphasizes the importance of “learning to be flexible. If you expect that things will go wrong, when they do, they won’t be surprises.” Beauvais agrees: “You need to plan for every scenario to have a successful meal service [during] construction.” • While you are likely to encounter a whole host of challenges with any type of cafeteria/kitchen renovation project, if you are constrained by space and equipment to make significant menu changes, even on a temporary basis, be prepared to see a decrease in your participation rates. Although this doesn’t happen everywhere, Brooks advises planning for as much as a 50% participation decline when prepping your budget for that period. • Food safety is of greatest importance. “How will you make sure that meals are prepped safely for your students during the renovation? If you can’t answer that, you need to outsource your meals,” Brooks insists. • Finally, “Reach out to your colleagues at other schools or districts,” Brooks recommends. Find out their advice if they’ve completed renovations and ask if they have any equipment that they can lend your operation. STRANGE-BUT-TRUE EQUIPMENT TALES Veteran school nutrition professionals have seen it all! Imagine coming to work and being greeted by this sight?! A loose fl ap on a roof led to the dishwasher being filled with snow in Emporia (Kan.) #253 Unified School District, reports Jill Vincent, SNS, school nutrition director. An unusual clean-up job, to be sure!
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