The Quakertown Community School District School Directors didn't have any problems with some additional renovations to Richland Elementary, but when it came time to vote on a $419,680 kitchen project, a lengthy discussion began to form.By the end of the night, the board approved a $129,700 ramp so the school could complete the plan for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, and a $211,750 plan to expand the library and faculty rooms by 770 square feet. Both passed unanimously.

The vote to have the new kitchen be a full service production kitchen passed 7-1, with Director Paul Stepanoff standing firmly in opposition to the idea.

The new renovations totaled $761,130, which will be added to the project that has been estimated at $7 million already.

The debate was centered around having the new kitchen in the school be a satellite or a production kitchen.

Sylvia Lenz, District Business Administrator, broke down the distinction between the two types of kitchens, "A production kitchen prepares everything that is served to the students at that location. At a satellite kitchen, some food is prepared off site at a full production kitchen, and some is prepared at the satellite kitchen. In this case, baked goods and sauces would have been prepared at Strayer Middle School and transported to Richland. Everything else would have been prepared at Richland."

The current kitchen is production, but plans had the new kitchen destined to be turned into a satellite, removing the ability to make baked goods and sauces.

Stepanoff saw the issue as "The needs have been met, now it is a question of want. What do we want in addition to that? The want is we want to be able to do it in a full kitchen. Is that good stewardship of taxpayer resources, and when we go out to the public for a need, will that somehow give the taxpayers the idea that we are not using their resources in the best way possible? That is the challenge we are facing tonight."

More than a dozen parents showed up to stress to the board that Richland Elementary is long overdue and deserves its fair share of renovations.

"I am asking that you not cut corners with Richland... don't take away our full service kitchen," said Joan Ocamb, parent of a Richland Elementary student, who spoke up during public comment.

Ocamb also fully supported all of the other renovations proposed. When finished with her comments, the Richland parents backed her with a round of applause.

Stephanie Zajkowski, parent of a Richland Elementary Student, identified her key issue with the cafeteria in what she found to be extraordinarily long lines, "I have to admit I was a little bit on the fence as to whether a full kitchen would really make a difference at

Richland, until I went and had lunch with my son a few weeks ago. I was shocked to see how many children get less than ten minutes to eat their lunch because they're waiting so long in line. Today a few of the kids had to stay extra because they had less than five minutes to eat their lunch."

Following the meeting, Zajkowski said that she would have been all for the satellite kitchen, but that statement came with a big if. The district would need to promise that two lines could exist and the plight of the ten-minute lunch could disappear. But she said she never got a definite answer from the administration.

When asked, Lenz said, that the promises Zajkowski had been looking for could not be made with the current configuration, "Not as the kitchen is configured today. It is wiser to do it as part of the renovation."

Superintendent Dr. Lisa Andrejko suggested that "through scheduling" perhaps something could be worked out for the satellite setup to work.

Stepanoff cited ten years of kitchen capacity with the satellite configuration as another reason why he found it to be a "want" rather than a "need."

He defended the satellite kitchen, using Haycock's fully functional facilities as an example of a satellite kitchen work ing.

He also addressed the line issue as something that could be solved in ways other than a $419,680 project.

"I say we not approach this with a bulldozer," said Stepanoff who suggested that through technology or other ideas, perhaps two lines could be created in the satellite configuration.

Director Manuel Alfonso called for the architect to be present, to answer several of his concerns, but Lenz said that waiting on the decision could throw off the entire renovation process by delaying meetings with the Richland Planning Commission.

"We really need to do this. We've already missed the October deadline," said Lenz, who gave a two week limit to make it to the November meeting of the Planning Commission, "Without that we would be jeopardizing beginning the project in the summer. We do need to move forward."

With the vote passing, the district will move forward on getting the plans to the Richland Planning Commission for their November meeting.

David P. Anderson is the editor of The Free Press. He can be reached at dpanderson@berksmontnews.com.

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