By Patrick White 2014-08-25 11:03:28
Expired Equipment: What Happens Next? Some school nutrition operators share how they have disposed of equipment when appliances no longer work or are needed. Understandably, because of the costs involved and the excitement factor, a lot of attention is paid—including in this magazine—to the process of purchasing new foodservice equipment. But there’s considerably less fanfare given when equipment comes to the end of its useful life, either because it no longer works effectively or has become obsolete. Nonetheless, disposing of kitchen equipment is yet another challenge in school nutrition operations, and local districts take a variety of approaches to the task. The operators interviewed for this article describe a few of the methods they have used. A New Life for Old Tools Joanne Kinsey, SNS, director of school nutrition services for Chesapeake (Va.) Public Schools, says she’s fortunate to have three maintenance technicians in her department, and they help to determine the best avenue to take with any broken or outdated equipment. “There are really three possible options,” cites Kinsey. “The first is the easy one: If they determine that the equipment is no longer able to function, and is past the point where we can even get parts for [repair], they will strip from that equipment any usable parts. Chances are we have another similar piece of equipment in another school; that will at least give us some usable parts in our inventory.” After parts have been salvaged, the remaining shell of the equipment is placed in a secure outdoor area to be retrieved by a scrap metal recycling vendor. The district doesn’t receive any payment for the metal, but nor does it incur any costs for the disposal, reports Kinsey. “If we have [items] like steamtable pans or something else with a lot of stainless steel, we will take those to a scrap yard, where they will pay us a small amount of money for the metal material.” If older equipment is still functional but simply is no longer required in that school— for example, when a kitchen is totally renovated and outfitted with new equipment or if a school site is closed completely—all of the equipment that was removed is allocated to other schools within the district where it is needed. “Or, we’ll put it in our storage area until there is a need,” says Kinsey. “That way, as we need certain pieces, we can go and get them, or use that equipment to swap out for other equipment, while repairs are being made.” In a district where some kitchens mainly use gas, while others are mostly electric, it’s very valuable to have an inventory of spare units of each power-type ready to go if replacements are required, she notes. Online equipment auctions are another disposal option. “For example, when we spent about three years removing all the fryers from each school, we just wanted to get any money we could for them, because we didn’t have any use for them and we weren’t going to store them. So, we put them out for an online auction,” recounts Kinsey. “We hand the equipment over to the district’s warehouse and supply division, take photos and give them the specifications, so they can put together a description for the auction. And we tell them what price we’d like to get for the equipment—we usually don’t get that, but it gives them a starting point.” Whatever money is realized from the auctioned equipment is funneled back into the school nutrition operation. The approach taken all depends on what type of equipment is involved, Kinsey emphasizes, noting that she tends to use auctions less frequently than other avenues, because it’s best for equipment that no longer has any possible purpose within the department; there’s no need to salvage parts or store it for future use. So, this is her best option for items like the fryers or cash drawers. “School nutrition people are very resourceful,” concludes Kinsey. “We’re going to get as much out of a piece of equipment as we can, whether it’s to strip it down and use the parts or try to redeem it for a small amount of money that we can throw back into the pot for future equipment purchases; or simply redistribute it to another school that needs it,” she asserts. All About Auctions Connie Little, SNS, student nutrition supervisor for Beavercreek City (Ohio) School District, has had quite a bit of older equipment to dispense with in recent years, thanks to a total kitchen renovation project at her high school, as well as aging equipment that’s needed to be removed from other schools in the district. Little has found success using www.publicsurplus.com, an online auction system designed specifically for government agencies. “It’s very convenient and easy to use. If you have any questions, you can just give them a call,” she reports. Little says that she appreciates having control over the auction listings—being able to set a minimum bid amount, or even to end an auction early, as necessary. While she promotes auctions locally, placing ads in the paper and using blast e-mails through the district, “You’d be amazed at where some of the buyers come from,” she declares, noting that they have come from as far away as Texas and California. Using the online system opens the auction up to a much wider audience than would be possible advertising only locally, she says. Some buyers are restaurants that need the equipment for their operations; others are middle-men who will refurbish and resell the equipment. “The most important thing is to gather as much information as you can about the equipment you’re selling—I’ve found that the more information you provide, the better price you get,” details Little. “And I take loads of photos, because that’s very important, too.” She personally compiles the auction listings. Some of the information she provides includes a piece about the equipment’s condition (“Be honest,” she emphasizes), maintenance history (how often it was serviced and when a motor or major part was replaced), dimensions, whether an operator’s manual is included and so on. One other fact she’s always sure to mention is that the equipment is coming out of a school kitchen. “We’ve had buyers tell us how clean and well-cared for our equipment is—they tell us it looks like it’s brand new. Buyers really like that it was used in a school kitchen,” Little explains. Finally, she makes a point in the auction listing to specify that the buyer must have the “proper manpower, equipment and tools” to haul the equipment away. Typically, district staff will unhook the equipment from any utilities and then have it ready to be claimed by the buyer. Little has sold items ranging from pizza ovens and refrigerators to, just recently, a walk-in freezer that took the buyer several days to disassemble and haul away. The size of the item doesn’t matter—there’s somebody out there who will want it, she asserts. “That old equipment that you’re storing is just money sitting there,” advises Little. Sold to the Highest Bidder At Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Okla., obsolete foodservice equipment is disposed of in one of several different ways. “If the equipment is completely broken down and can’t ever be used again, then it is sent to [our district surplus department] and sold for the metal,” explains Lisa Griffin, director of child nutrition. “If it’s still usable, we send it to an online auction, and whoever bids the highest gets it.” The district has a warehouse to store the equipment, and a staff member from that department handles the process of setting up the auction listings. “We’re fortunate to have someone in the district who can do that,” cites Griffin, noting that it would otherwise be a challenge for her team to handle. She says she’s generally found the auction process to work smoothly, and any revenues realized from the sale of foodservice equipment are returned to the school nutrition budget. According to Griffin, dealing with no-longer-needed or no-longer-working equipment “tends to be feast or famine; many of the schools in our district were built at the same time, and the equipment tends to all break down at the same time.” She adds that the topic of equipment disposal seldom gets discussed among school nutrition directors, because there’s a greater focus on sharing strategies for purchasing the best new product offerings for kitchens. Lessons Learned The way that outdated equipment is handled has recently changed at Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools. For many years, the district conducted its own [onsite] auction for all types of school equipment. But these events required a lot of organization, and “while sometimes there was good turnout, sometimes the participation was poor, so we didn’t get much for our items,” explains Sandy Huisman, MS, RD, LD, director of food and nutrition management. About two years ago, the district changed tactics and began using an online auction system; the purchasing team coordinates those auctions with various school departments, like food and nutrition, which typically have equipment ready for disposal. “Now, we have the opportunity each month to have items put on the auction site, and that works fairly well,” reports Huisman. “It’s a win for us, because we get rid of some equipment that is not needed anymore, and it’s a win quite often for the purchasers.” For example, the district recently auctioned off fryers from its school kitchens. “They were hardly used, but they were just sitting there taking up space,” she recounts. “But a restaurant was able to purchase those and make good use of them.” Huisman explains that the move to an online auction format—the district uses a specialty auction service called www.purple wave.com—has helped to attract a bigger pool of bidders than the previous onsite approach, and, hence, better prices for the auctioned equipment. “They have a representative who comes and takes photographs and coordinates the listings,” she explains. The condition of the equipment is described accurately. Most of what the district auctions off is in good, workable condition, but broken items are sold, as well, with a note made when equipment is no longer functioning. Huisman guesses that some bidders are buying pieces mainly for the value of the scrap metal they contain. “For us, at least we’re getting rid of it,” she states, adding that she will occasionally send some metal directly to the scrap yards, but this process requires more work. “If we can get it cleaned up fairly easily ourselves, we’ll do that, but most of the scrappers want it clean and separated. Quite frequently, it’s not worth our time to do that,” she details. The switch to using an online auction service has been a smooth process for the school nutrition department, reports Huisman. “It really has been pretty seamless for us; occasionally, we’ve had instances where people have bid but haven’t come to pick up the equipment, so we’ve had to re-list it. But the basement of our warehouse used to be quite packed with equipment, and the auctions have been a good way of keeping that from happening again,” she notes. In all cases, the buyer is responsible for claiming the equipment bought at auction—often right from the individual school sites. Occasionally, items are collected and moved to the district’s central warehouse for later pick-up. In either case, Huisman says it’s important to shift the burden of getting the equipment onto the buyer. “We list that as a requirement in the auction specifications—and we make it clear that they’ll need a truck that can access a loading dock-level platform. But occasionally, we’ll get people who come to pick up the equipment in things like a horse trailer!” she reports. From Trash to Treasure The old saying that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is proven time after time when auctioning off obsolete kitchen and other foodservice operation equipment, say those directors who have sold pieces in this manner. While some equipment may no longer have a home in your district’s school nutrition operation, somebody out there is likely to have a use for it. Consider putting the solutions mentioned in this article to use in your own program, rather than letting it sit unused, gathering dust year after year. Patrick White is a freelance writer in Middlesex, Vt., and a former assistant editor of this publication.
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