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Wichita school district hires consultant to study cafeterias improvement

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at 10:03 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, at 7:11 a.m.

Wichita school board members on Monday hired a consulting firm to study possible improvements to school cafeterias.

Superintendent John Allison said the plan is more about improving traffic flow, decreasing wait times and enhancing the overall function of cafeterias than about appearance or decor.

“When we think about our cafeterias, we really look at several objectives: First, providing our students with healthy meals. Second is an environment that students want to be in for lunch. And then, how do we provide that in a quick fashion?” Allison said.

“What we’d like to do is bring in some expertise that can look at this.”

The board voted unanimously to contract with Palmer Hamilton, a Wisconsin-based firm, for up to $250,000. Between $10,000 and $35,000 of that will be for initial consulting services, Allison said.

After that, the district will consider whether to implement any proposed strategies, he said. The consultants will look at up to 10 schools, including East High, West High and South High, and Mead and Robinson Middle Schools.

Funds for the consulting and any renovations will come from the district’s nutrition services budget, which is reserved for cafeteria equipment and related expenses, Allison said.

Part of the challenge, he said, is that many of the district’s cafeterias were designed originally for multiple lunch periods, which “is just not good instructional practice, as we now know.”

At schools with three lunch periods, for example, students with second lunch would be in class for a little while, then go to lunch and return to class.

For high school students, Allison said, “lunch is about social time. So if I have to stand in line for half of my lunch period, students just elect not to get lunch.

“And if you’re not eating lunch, later in the day, you’re not firing on all cylinders. … It affects education.”

At some high schools, students are known to avoid the cafeteria altogether, electing instead to eat meals elsewhere on campus or off campus, if at all. At East High, the district’s largest high school, only 24 percent of students regularly visit the cafeteria, officials said.

Adding “grab-and-go” lines, kiosks or similar strategies could increase participation and make cafeterias more efficient and enticing to students, Allison said.

Also on Monday, board members approved a bond issue project for Riverside Leadership Magnet Elementary, one of the district’s oldest and smallest schools.

The addition, costing just under $1.5 million, will include a new library, kitchen, office spaces and controlled entryway at Riverside, 1001 Porter. The existing kitchen will be converted into a corridor. Current office spaces and the basement library could be later converted into classrooms, said Kenton Cox, of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey.

The addition should be complete by December 2014, Cox said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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