Among the projects in consideration at CCSD21 are “finishing kitchens,” which would allow a foodservice site to receive fresh fresh food from a production kitchen so that it is able to finish the cooking process on site.
Currently, the district uses its production kitchen at London Middle School to make food for the 12 schools and a cold snack for Hawthorne Early Childhood School before sending the prepared food in warming boxes, where it is then reheated, assembled, portioned and served.
“[The current format] limits many good menu options,” said Micheal DeBartolo, assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “But we also lose nutritional value and the appealing nature of the food.”
The idea for finishing kitchens comes from the fact that, over the past few years with COVID-19, the district has seen an increase in its foodservice revenue due to federal programs that have permitted the district to feed breakfast and lunch to all students. While that ended this year, the district’s surplus in the foodservice fund means “we’ve reached a level where we can provide this elevated level of food service and nutrition,” DeBartolo adds.
Illinois House Bill 4813, which was passed in June 2022, also limits the exemption from the contract bidding requirements for contracts for goods, services or management in the operation of a school’s foodservice operation only if a good faith effort is made by the district to give preference to, among other things, contracts that procure food promoting the health and well-being of students in compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards.
“It allows us to figure in the relationship or prior experience with a bidder so that the lowest price is not the only factor,” DeBartolo says. “It gives us more creative and better options, and where we don’t have to go to the lowest common denominator of food due to a bidder that undercuts a provider solely to earn business.”
By installing these finishing kitchens, food service management partner Organic Life would be afforded the opportunity to provide better and more nutritious food options. It would also eliminate the worry about storing the food or keeping it at a certain temperature for an extended period of time. One major enhancement would be the addition of hot breakfast items for students rather than the current cold options that are approved by the National School Lunch Program. These current offers do not offer the best start to the day as they are more sugary and less healthy in nature.
Even more additional food options could include panini bars at all the middle schools (London currently has this option), as well as different options that would allow for more creative preparations. DeBartolo noted that some of these ideas are being tested at London, and both Cooper and Holmes have gotten a peek into it.
Separately, DeBartolo indicated that a new lift would be coming to Poe Elementary School. The current lift, parts for which cannot be acquired, will be replaced to allow for the district and the school to come into better compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“In order to make sure we can accommodate any and all individuals, we are going with a new lift that can accommodate the current standards, and one that will be more accessible to individuals,” DeBartolo said.
The district is acquiring the lift under an exemption to the bid statute, which allows it one $50,000 project per year that does not have to be bid on. It just approved the purchase order, and was set to be among the bills approved by the board of education during its Feb. 23 meeting.
The intended timeline is for the lift to be installed no later than the end of the current school year.