A scaled-back proposal for the Child Nutrition Education Center that was more in line with Turlock Unified School District’s budget was presented to the Board of Trustees Tuesday, a month after the project was found to cost a considerable amount more than what was originally anticipated.
“As you know we were here a month or so ago and we rejected all the bids for the Child Nutrition Education Center,” said Child Nutrition Director Scott Soiseth. “So we got together and talked about some things we can do to bring this into an affordable budget.”
The Board approved an agreement with FF&J Architects in March to provide architectural services to convert a former Subaru dealership located at 1901 Auto Mall Drive into the Child Nutrition Education Center after the District made the decision in 2015 to move the Central Kitchen Facility off of the Dutcher Middle School campus. On Oct. 4, TUSD administration received authorization to solicit bids; however, all bids were rejected during the Dec. 6 Board meeting.
“We only had two contractors show up with bids and both bids were significantly higher than our budget,” said Soiseth in December. “I was enlightened and jolted back into the reality of where we are at. I realize that I was probably a little optimistic.”
During Tuesday’s Board meeting, Gary Mallory from FF&J Architects presented Trustees with a revised proposal for the Child Nutrition Education Center that he said would not compromise the Child Nutrition program.
“We’ve scaled back the project to the base core facility that Child Nutrition Services needs to operate out there,” said Mallory. “By making some changes to the interior finishes and the production area and kitchen, we were able to bring the project back down into a dollar range that the Board was expecting to see initially.”
Among the items that were omitted from the main project is a freezer, trash compactor, asphalt paving, loading dock, conference room, grease interceptor and backup generator — the latter of which was a cause of concern for Board President Barney Gordon.
“Regarding the generator, I don’t know if we’re insured for spoilage or that, but my bigger concern would be how we feed all those students the next day because all our stuff is bad,” said Gordon. “It is not only a disruption to Child Nutrition Services if we lose power overnight and lost everything, but we’re not feeding ten thousand students the next day. So that is something that I really hoped we’re able to keep in there.”
The Board authorized administration to begin soliciting bids again to carry out construction work for the revised design. Mallory said that while these items, or alternates, are listed apart from the main building proposal, the Board can decide to add them back on at a later date at an additional cost to the base bid.
“When it comes to you for approval, you have to approve the base bid and whatever alternates you wish to approve,” said Mallory. “If you were not to accept any of those, you’re looking at savings of about $1.5 million, which could bring the construction costs somewhere between $2 million and $2.5 million.”
Also on Tuesday, the Board received information regarding a change in TUSD Child Nutrition’s charge policy as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, an amendment which Soiseth said has been in effect for about six weeks now.
In the previous policy, no meal charges were allowed at Turlock Junior High School, Dutcher Middle School, Turlock High School, Pitman High School, and Roselawn High School. Elementary school students were allowed to charge up to certain limits based on their eligibility and no charges were allowed during the last ten days of school.
Under the revised meal charge policy, all K-12 students are now allowed to charge up to 12 meals.
“We talked about it and we didn’t want to have separate standards. We feel that we will serve a lot of students at the secondary level that just didn’t have the money in their account,” said Soiseth. “I’ll tell you there’s nothing worse that our staff has to do than to take a meal away from a child.”
Soiseth said that his staff will no longer have discussions with students regarding how much money they owe or how much money is in their account, rather the school site will communicate with the student’s parent or guardian after the second, seventh, and 12th meal charge. Additionally, the Child Nutrition Department will send out a letter to the student’s parent or guardian bi-annually to summarize expectations and total charges to date.
“I just cringe at the thought of a student going hungry the whole day at school — how can you possibly learn when you don’t have anything in your stomach?” said Trustee Lori Carlson. “I just have every confidence that this is a great direction to go.”