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New England News

Springfield Building $21 Million School Food Services Center

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WAMC
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    In a first for a public school system in Massachusetts, the Springfield School Department is building its own food services center.

  A 62,000-square foot warehouse building is being transformed into a state-of-the-art culinary center complete with a commercial kitchen, bakery, and food storage to support an expanding program that provides breakfast and lunch every school day to almost 30,000 students and also serves meals to impoverished children on weekends and during the summer.

The $21 million project, which is expected to two take two years to complete, will consolidate the school’s food service operations at one site saving taxpayers money and improving nutrition with more scratch cooking and an expanded farm-to-table initiative, according to Tim Gray, food service administrator for the Springfield Public Schools.

" This will outfit us for the next 20 years," said Gray.  " It will make us a lot stronger as a food service."

Food services in the schools has grown substantially as a result of streamlined eligibility requirements that allow all students to qualify for free meals because of the city’s high poverty rate, along with the introduction three years ago of one of the country’s first breakfast-in-the-classroom programs. 

Participation in the school’s breakfast program has increased by 30 percent. The number of meals served in school increased last year by 800,000.

Mark Jeffrey, district manager for Sodexo, the school’s food service provider, said the new center will improve the efficiency of the food service operations and the quality of the meals. 

" Right now, for example, we harvest from the 21 gardens we have and send that out-of-state to be processed and then it is brought back.  With this new facility we can process it here ourselves," said Jeffrey.

The facility will also serve as a vocational training center for the food services industry, where large job growth is forecast with the opening of the MGM Springfield casino in 2018.

Mayor Domenic Sarno noted the food services center will create 40 new jobs.

" So, we are very excited about it  not only on the food service side but it is also economic development for a once vacant buildng," said Sarno.

The Springfield City Council approved a $7 million bond for the project. The school department will put up the rest of the money using a number of grants.

Sodexo will provide in-kind services by helping to design the center.

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