Arlington High School's much-needed cafeteria renovation has temporarily left the school with no cafeteria, 2,800 students and a 43-minute lunch period. Cue the Mission: Impossible music.
Not impossible at all, and working out better than expected, says Food Service Director Jackie Anderson. Through her years of experience, Anderson has learned that “there is always a way to make something work.”
And work it does. Over the summer, hallway food kiosks were constructed throughout the school, near the classrooms. Eight feeding stations with hot and cold wells and milk boxes feed about 1,000 students every day, and the students are being very cooperative, Anderson says.
“The kids grab lunches and they love to go outside to eat — the weather here is beautiful right now,” Anderson says. Students also sit on the floor with their friends and even have “working lunches” where various clubs meet in classrooms that teachers made available for lunchtime.
Adding to the challenge of feeding so many kids without a cafeteria is the fact that there is no central kitchen. Fresh food is now made in a small catering kitchen in another building (the usual catering business had to be cut back to do this) and at the main office.
Food is brought in every day and the most popular menu items — deli sandwiches, chef salads, calzones and fresh carrots and broccoli with ranch dip — have worked very well being transported. The only things that don't travel so well and aren't being offered are hot vegetables and oven fries.
Labor was added — four full-time positions — but money was saved in the construction of the kiosks, Anderson says, as they came from another high school in the district where they were recently replaced. “We saved money by using extra equipment,” she says.
What Anderson calls one of the best ideas of the whole project is a pod-style storage system housed outside a door near the kiosks where all the forks, knives, spoons, napkins and paper goods are stored.
“We bring the food over every day, but we didn't want to have to bring all the paper goods too, that would be too big of a volume,,” she says. “Staff can see in the top and get what they need very easily.”
The new cafeteria, which Anderson had a hand in designing, will be ready next fall and will be twice the capacity of the old one. Anderson is excited to see its completion, but is glad everything is going so smoothly during the current school year.
“It was a huge team effort,” she says, citing cooperation with administration, the maintenance crew, parents and the students themselves. She's gotten no complaints and overall, “It's been a very positive situation.”