Ask David Lewis, the director of Arlington ISD’s food and nutrition services, what he likes best about the newly renovated food and nutrition services building, and it might not be a quick conversation. He has a whole list.
That’s because the improvements to the district’s food headquarters on Arkansas Lane, funded by the 2019 Bond, are significant and were badly needed. The project – a complete renovation of the building and the addition of a new freezer – required the food and nutrition services staff to vacate their building at the end of 2019 and take up temporary residence at another district building during construction.
The temporary displacement was well worth it. The renovations are now complete, and the staff moved back into their home building this spring. But it doesn’t look much like their old building anymore. It has a completely new look and feel inside.
It’s a look and feel strategically designed to meet the needs of the department. The right facilities for a feeding operation the size of Arlington ISD’s is critical. They provide 37,500 lunches on average each school day. Plus, they feed breakfast to thousands on a daily basis and cater many district training meetings and events. And it doesn’t stop in the summer, as they offer free breakfast and lunch to anyone 18 and under.
“In 2018-2019, the year before COVID-19, we served 9.96 million meals,” Lewis said. “And we can expect numbers like that again this coming school year.”
Arlington ISD’s food and nutrition department now has the right facilities to do this, thanks to the support of our community through the 2019 Bond. Here are nine of the top improvements that Lewis and his team are most excited about:
1) Parent engagement area
Thousands of parents come through the food and nutrition services building every year to apply for meal benefits and handle issues related to breakfast and lunch for their children. The building’s new parent engagement room, just off the front desk area, includes computers the parents can use to apply for benefits.
Prior to the renovations, the building did not have an area like this. During the first few months of the school year – when 10-15,000 parents come in – the conference room was used for parents, rendering it unusable for the department for about four months.
Yesenia Chairez – described by Lewis as the face of food services – is thrilled with the new area. She greets and assists all the parents who come in and makes it her personal mission to make sure everyone gets the help and support they need.
“Being able to help the parents right here is so much better,” she said. “We’re all together here and I have easy and quick access to help them.”
2) Conference room
When the old conference room wasn’t occupied by visiting parents, it was used for training and meetings. But it could only hold about 40 people.
The new conference room can hold 110, the number of managers and leads in the department. The room is perfect for training as it opens up to the new catering kitchen, which includes the exact kitchen equipment used at schools.
The conference room is also available to the entire district. It includes its own entrance and restrooms for easy access to other district departments.
The conference room opens up to the new kitchen for training and demonstrations, but the kitchen is also used for catering district meetings and events.
“The renovated catering kitchen is a dramatic improvement over the old, smaller kitchen, which was on two levels,” Lewis said. “Now on one level, chefs don’t have to go up and down stairs to navigate the entire space.”
Plus, the kitchen has a new loading dock, perfect for transporting food to campuses and district events.
A new 7,400 square-foot freezer addition has five tiers of shelving and keeps the temperature between -5 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. It replaced three old, less-efficient freezers, and has more space than those three old freezers combined.
“We don’t miss them,” Kevin Burgess, the maintenance coordinator for food and nutrition services, said about the old freezers. “Thank you for the bond!”
5) New offices
The renovations created a new floorplan that includes offices for each of the six food and nutrition area supervisors. They previously all worked together in one room. As the supervisors have busy jobs with lots of phone calls and coordination throughout the day, having their own space is more efficient and effective.
6) Parking lot
The parking lot is still in the same place, but it was redone with new concrete.
“The drainage was so bad it used to be a river when it rained,” Lewis said. “They completely fixed everything. To our team, it’s huge.”
7) IT Suite
With 500 points of sale across the district, 200 digital menu boards, about 300 security cameras, dozens of computers and multiple software solutions, the food and nutrition services IT team runs a huge operation. Their new IT office suite gives them the space they need to ensure everything runs as planned each and every day.
8) Break room
The new staff break room might not seem like a big deal at first glance. It’s a typical break room. But it’s a huge improvement over what they had before because it has much more space. The old break room was so tiny that only one person could fit in it at any one time.
9) Front-entrance security vestibule
Security for the staff and parents who visit is of utmost importance. The new security vestibule at the front entrance allows Chairez at the front desk to see who is coming to the door and control their access.
“We’re really thrilled with all the renovations,” Lewis said. “These upgrades allow us to be more efficient in providing services to our students and families and enables us to take better care of our team,” Lewis said. “We are really going to benefit from this.”