As you might remember from What’s On Your Plate?, The Neighborhood School (TNS) didn’t have a functioning stove in their kitchen and was having difficulties trying to get one, although not for lack of persistence.
The back-story is that parents at TNS offered to pay for a new stove out of their own pockets, but as it turned out the issue wasn’t simply a question of funds—the real problem was with the ansul system (i.e. fire suppression system) and not the stove itself. The old ansul system is extremely out-of-date and they need to upgrade it in order to operate a stove. This all means that TNS essentially needs to remodel their entire kitchen just to cook with a stove.
There hasn’t been a usable stove at The Neighborhood School for ten years. The vast majority of the kitchen’s food arrives frozen or precooked, so the TNS kitchen is very limited in what they can actually cook (not just reheat) for their students. Jackie Vargas, the head dietician, and the other kitchen staff roast a chicken every month and make sandwiches for the kids’ lunches, but that’s all they can do with their current resources. They’ve come up with many creative workarounds, such as using the oven to sauté foods, but there are still many things that they can’t cook without a stove, like pastas and soups. The kitchen staff is very frustrated because they can’t make food as fresh as they would like.
We found from Helen Martineau, of The Neighborhood School’s Wellness Committee, that in January 2011 TNS was able to get an inspector from the Department of Education (DOE) to come through the kitchen for a feasibility study. The inspector determined that it would be possible to put in not only a new exhaust and ansul system but also a new stove (and maybe even some new floors and counters). TNS planned to go forward with this remodeling, but found out in April 2011 that to get DOE funding, they would need to fill out a capital budget application. The application is very involved (around 120 pages long!) and they needed the feasibility study’s results in order to submit it. However, those results weren’t finalized until mid-May and the deadline was the beginning of April. What a crazy system!
A few of the parents tried to figure out a way to pay for it without the DOE’s support, but it was too complex to accomplish in the time they had left. So, they were unable to complete the application in 2011. As of now, they do plan on re-applying. There is just one more potential hurdle: the DOE prioritizes school renovations according to how much of a direct physical threat the current situation poses. That said, here’s some food for thought: while preventing immediate physical harm is imperative, physical health down the line is just as important. You also have to think about what happens in the long run—this generation may be the first generation of Americans in over 200 years to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to complication from obesity. And that, my friends, is scary to think about.
Anyway, this Department of Education policy would mean that…
It might still take a few more years for TNS to finally be able to cook with a stove, even if their application gets accepted.
We will continue to keep you updated on the progress, and hope to have good news for you in 2012 on The Neighborhood School’s stove and kitchen renovation.
Also, a big thank you to Cat Gund and Helen Martineau for contributing research!