School food service prompts fracas |

School food service prompts fracas

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The lunchtime food service at the new Aspen Middle School will be ready for business when school begins next month, according to Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko.But some officials involved with the middle school replacement project have admitted that there have been mutterings of dissatisfaction about how food service is going to be handled at the new school.And a Pitkin County health official said that as of July 24, she had yet to receive plans for the new kitchen facilities at the middle school, although she said a county review and license are required before the school opens in just over a month.”Yes, I have concerns,” said Carla Ostberg of the Pitkin County Environmental Health Department, which is in charge of overseeing inspections and licensing of commercial kitchens. “I have not heard anything from the middle school.”She said state law requires that the school’s kitchen facilities be inspected and licensed, and if that does not happen between now and Aug. 28, opening day for the middle and elementary schools, the food service operations may be delayed.The school district is hustling to finish construction of the new, $29 million, 110,000-square-foot school on the Maroon Creek Road campus in time for opening day. This includes some last-minute changes to the new kitchen, such as the addition of a dishwasher that was not planned for initially, said Dave Detwiler of Integrated Construction Solutions, the district’s construction management consultant.Because he was not in his office, but was speaking from a cellphone in the field, Detwiler said he could not specifically identify the equipment at the new school’s kitchen. He estimated that the middle school’s kitchen equipment alone cost more than $160,000. That equipment, he said, includes two ovens, a walk-in cooler and a walk-in freezer, two “serving line setups,” each of which boasts heated cabinets, a refrigerator, steam tables and cold battles, a mild refrigerator and a triple-sink potwasher, as well as stainless steel countertops.”It’s not a full-service kitchen,” he said, “and I know that apparently is a bone of contention for some folks.”He said he had heard that some of the staff working for Lilly’s Valley, the caterer in charge of food service at the two schools, were upset about the lack of certain equipment at the new kitchen, particularly a dishwasher. Detwiler and Sirko both said the original plans called for hauling the dishes back to the elementary school and washing them there.The arrangement at the Aspen schools campus – where lunches will be prepared at the elementary school’s full-service kitchen, then carted to the middle school and served – “is done in lots of school districts, everywhere,” he said. “It’s a way to be economical with their staff, and be assured of the quality of the food, and lots of other things.”Sirko, who noted that the middle school’s lunches have been prepared at the elementary school for years, said that everything is under control and the food service operation at the new middle school will run as smoothly as it did at the old school.Lilly Guns, owner of Lilly’s Valley, said on Tuesday that she had a meeting scheduled with Sirko to discuss the dishwasher and other matters, and that she planned to contact Ostberg about the inspection and the permit to begin operations once school starts.She said that some food can perhaps be prepared in the middle school itself while most of the cooking will be done in the elementary school, but declined to discuss other issues surrounding the new middle school’s kitchen.John Colson’s e-mail address is