“It would mean so much to my staff to have modern equipment,” responded Laurie Campen, food services director for the Sequim School District.
“They want to provide the students here with fresh, homemade food but cannot do this sometimes due to equipment. They are doing the best they can with what we have. When we go to other school districts and see the new updated equipment that can do so much more than we can, they get excited to see what the future might hold for them.”
I guess if other school districts came to visit Sequim, they’d come to visit their old former equipment. Most of our district’s kitchen equipment is second-hand or used from other school districts.
Any cooks left from World War II can visit a 60-year-old steamer which was declared surplus by the Navy decades ago; although, by now it either stands as a monument to broken promises or rests peacefully in pieces in a landfill.
The broken steamer was never replaced which means the staff cannot cook pasta or prepare homemade soups, sauces and gravies. Campen says that the most updated piece of equipment is almost 25 years old.
Equipment failure is a chronic worry for Campen and her staff. As we all know, old things break down. More often than not, replacement parts are no longer available.
Freezers purchased years ago, when the district fed 1,200 students lunch, are inadequate to store food for the current enrollment of nearly 2,800 students, many of whom depend on the school for breakfast and lunch.
When a freezer malfunctions and requires repair, capacity is further reduced. On at least one occasion Campen reached out to Costco for help in storing frozen food.
I don’t know how the food got to Costco and back, but I am imagining a couple of yellow school buses making the runs.
All of this is bad enough, but since I’m feeling a strong sense of solidarity for the district food services staff that we ask to make do in a dysfunctional, inefficient and limited work setting, let me add unsafe. The floor slants, causing equipment to slide, and the roof of the central kitchen has been known to leak, causing staff to slide.
Not a new problem
I never thought that the central kitchen and its problems and costs to correct was the reason that four school construction bond measures failed. I believe the kitchen got lost in the rhetoric of growth, elementary schools and the differences between needs and wants.
The Capital Projects Levy before the voters of the district meets the most basic of needs, providing nourishment at the lowest cost. District administration and the board, by its vote, agree that a significant upgrade of the central kitchen is essential to meet food service needs and will result in cost savings in the long run.
The central kitchen, despite broken valves and poor circulation, functions as the heart of food services. Different levels of kitchen facilities in the schools cannot function without it pumping the needed food and supplies to each location.
As with any human heart, an improved central operation with improved output, in this case healthier homemade food fare, results in delivering nourishment for growing bodies and brains. Of course, there’s always the alternative of ordering in from Costco in the event of heart failure.
More out with the old
The Capital Projects Levy, if passed, also covers the cost of demolishing the portion of Sequim Community School built in 1949.
The building should be renamed or given a number only since it was found to be unsafe for students in 2012.
The levy information pamphlet we received in the mail has aerial photos that show the unused building targeted for demolition. The building surrounds buildings built in 1979 that now house the central kitchen and Olympic Peninsula Academy, the district’s alternative learning program.
Besides getting rid of a useless eyesore poised to strangle the already struggling central kitchen, its demolition frees up valuable land on the main campus of the school district.
After the last bond failure and during his first year as district superintendent, Gary Neal spent a lot of time listening to the community. Out of those conversations came a new vision for Sequim Schools. Last August, Neal presented his vision of a central campus that holds a new modern elementary school within its borders.
All that’s needed is land and money. Proving the adage, “worth more dead than alive,” the freed-up space would qualify our district for $4.3 million in state matching funds for new construction. Matching funds are made available once the community approves a construction bond.
Neal said in the recent kick-off for the levy campaign that he’s excited about the future of Sequim Schools but recognizes that the district must show the community that it listened and prove it can manage the changes ahead through the fulfillment of these levies.
The district made a good first step to prove itself by focusing on the Educational Programs &Operations levy and pulling a remodeled kitchen out in a funding plan that is far less painful than a construction bond.
Will we, the community, reward the stewardship demonstrated by our school board and administration?
Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at email@example.com.