City OKs $7 Million For New School Food Service Center
In what is believed to be a first for a school district in Massachusetts, the Springfield School Department is going to build its own food services center. It will be a centralized warehouse and production facility to support a growing meals program in the state’s second largest public school system.
The Springfield City Council voted unanimously this week to authorize $7 million for the School Department to purchase and renovate a warehouse to consolidate all food-related operations at one site in a move officials say will save taxpayers money and provide healthier food for impoverished kids.
School Department finance chief Patrick Roach said the plan is to create a culinary and nutrition center for the schools in a 62,000 square foot building on Cadwell Drive.
" We want to purchase a warehouse in Springfield, build a full kitchen, bring it all in house. It is going to save the program over a half-million dollars a year that we can reinvest in the program," said Roach.
The city will bond the purchase and renovation of the building, which will be leased by the School Department for a 20-year period until the city is repaid.
The vote by the city council was unanimous. City Council President Mike Fenton praised Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick and his staff for a visionary idea.
" It is going to represent a great think, not only for the kids and the lunch program, but the city's bottom line, " said Fenton.
The school’s food service operations are currently scattered at different rented locations, including one site in Chicopee. Out-of-state vendors are used to process produce and supply baked goods. Centralizing the operations will save an estimated $32,000 a month in rents, shipping costs, and fees.
The new culinary center will allow for more scratch cooking, reducing the amount of processed food, and provide learning opportunities for high school students. It will mean 40 additional full-time jobs.
Because of the city’s high poverty rate, all of the roughly 30,000 public school students are eligible for free meals in school. The School Department is reimbursed $1.99 per meal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
" Our program runs really efficiently, so we end up with some extra money on each one of those meals," said Roach.
He said a portion of the USDA money is used to purchase or repair equipment and to make improvements in food service, such as putting salad bars in each of the schools.
The school food service program in Springfield has expanded dramatically. Participation in the breakfast program has increased by almost 32 percent this year. Lunch participation is up 16 percent.
Food service operations are year-round because of summer programs and catering.