A kitchen serving new elementary and middle schools brings efficiencies to the child nutrition program at Jackson Public Schools.
In the early 21st century, Jackson, Miss., faced aging school district facilities and greater enrollment due to a shift in the city’s population. The citizens of Jackson passed a school bond issue in 2006 for $150 million, in part to build a middle school and elementary school in the southern part of the city. Today, the second-largest school district in Mississippi enrolls 30,000 students in 7 high schools, 13 middle schools, 38 elementary schools and 2 special schools.
“For better efficiency, the planning committee thought it would be best if enough property could be found to build the elementary and middle schools in south Jackson close together on the same land,” says Fred D. Davis, executive director of facilities and operations for Jackson Public Schools.
The foodservice aspect of the project for the south Jackson schools includes two separate dining areas so the different school populations never see each other during the school day. The elementary dining area also serves as a cafetorium that hosts other activities. The project features four separate service lines to facilitate maximum student flow, and a central kitchen with one common dishwashing system to accommodate both schools and food preparation equipment.
The decor in each school emphasizes color and natural light. School colors were incorporated for both the serving lines and cafeterias. Trays for both the elementary and middle schools feature school logos. Windows at Bates Elementary allow natural light into the dining area. Cardozo Middle School’s large glass windows face the corridor all the way across the entrance to the dining area.
“The kitchen was designed with state-of-the-art kitchen equipment to enhance food preparation and production to meet the new meal pattern requirements from USDA,” says Mary A. Hill, executive director of food services.
One major challenge in the kitchen design was to build the kitchen with limited square footage to meet the production needs for the projected student population. The solution required precise selection of equipment that can produce the required menu and a sensible flow from receipt of food and supplies to delivery in the serving areas.
“We needed an efficient flow that would go from delivery to production to serving areas,” says foodservice consultant Sherman Robinson, principal of Sherman Robinson Inc.
Staff sitting in an office with a glass window located at the receiving area at the dock can see the arrival of deliveries. Staff collect food and supplies and deliver them to a walk-in refrigerator, walk-in freezer and dry storage room with track-type shelving, can rack storage and pallets.
Each day staff bring food from the cold and dry storage areas to a prep area where they wash vegetables, slice vegetables and fruit, use a food processor to make fresh choices of fresh fruits and vegetables more appealing to students, and use a 20-quart mixer to make whipped potatoes.
For cooking, the kitchen includes an island-type cooking battery with a convection steamer, a 40-gallon tilting kettle and a pair of 40-gallon tilting skillet pans. Another line includes equipment such as a four-burner range, roll-in combi ovens that replaced fryers, and double-deck convection ovens. Yet another line features a 60-quart mixer, mobile ingredient pans, a reach-in refrigerator, a utensil rack and a worktable.
“The battery is positioned to allow staff to easily replenish their service lines as needed and therefore eliminates cross traffic and confusion,” Robinson says.
“As the menu regulations change, our production system allows us to adapt,” Hill says. “For example, we’ve added more whole-grain products and fresh fruits and vegetables to our menus, and we are baking all of our own rolls and other baked goods. We aren’t frying and during the past several years have brought in versatile equipment that will handle the menu changes.”
For service, staff place cooked foods in holding cabinets and cold foods, such as preplated salads, fruits and juices, in refrigerators. Before service, staff put the food in wells and display units along the service line.
When students arrive at the servery, they pick up their trays and move them along a slide to select their meal items. Cashier stations sit outside the serving area in the dining spaces. “Cashiers’ units were designed to be mobile so they can be stored inside when service is complete,” Robinson says.
The wall between serving and dining contains half-high glass panels in order to show off the serving area and facilitate supervision.
The dishwashing room sits on the corner of the dining rooms in order to accommodate soiled trays returning from both the elementary and middle school students, while also remaining accessible to the main production area.
In the dishwashing and warewashing area, a disposer handles waste, a three-compartment sink cleans pots and a conveyor dishmachine washes all the dishes. “The conveyor-style machine is the only one of its kind in the district,” Hill says.
The back kitchen also contains a washer and dryer in the receiving area for aprons and towels and a janitor’s closet that holds soap and chemicals.
For sustainability, energy efficiency was pursued throughout the buildings, including in the kitchen. The exhaust hoods feature a makeup air system; the cooking battery has a mechanical electric raceway. “There is enough power so equipment can be changed out as needed,” Robinson says. “In addition, the equipment is on casters so it can be pulled out for maintenance and to meet sanitation requirements.”
“The building of these two schools has truly assisted with overcrowding of students and given us the ability to use new technology that has enhanced the learning and dining environment for the students,” Hill says. FE&S
Photographs courtesy of Jackson Public Schools and Sherwin Johnson, director of media relations