BY CAROL ROEHM
When students return to East Park Elementary School after winter break, they will be treated to a brand new dining area where they will eat breakfast and lunch.
Colorful posters promoting physical activity and nutritious food choices and painted positive messages on the walls brighten up the new cafeteria that boasts a seating capacity of 448 students as well as a new, state-of-the-art kitchen.
“With this being an elementary school, we decided to put up positive messages about manners and respect besides nutritional information,” Food Service Director Greg Lazzell said. “We’re trying to promote eating healthier items.”
East Park — which was originally built as a junior high school in 1961 and used as a middle school until 1987 — is the third and final school to be improved in District 118’s three-year, $30 million renovation project. During the last three years, South View and North Ridge middle schools also have been renovated.
The school’s renovations began earlier in the year, with the cafeteria being slated to be finished last. Students have been eating their meals in one of three commons areas in the school, which tended to be disruptive to surrounding classrooms.
“This was the same layout as the middle schools. They served the meals in three commons areas,” Lazzell said. “It made us inefficient and it was disruptive being in the commons areas.”
When students enter the spacious dining area trimmed in gray and blue, they will pass The Healthy Link, an information center on a wall where they can view a couple of the 40 different posters in flip-art frames that depict anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables conveying a variety of messages about nutrition and physical activity.
The state-of-the-art kitchen features the latest kitchen equipment that will ensure the children’s meals are as fresh and as high quality as possible, Lazzell said.
The combi-ovens in the new kitchen are “a steamer and oven combined,” Lazzell explained. The oven steams the food initially and then blasts it with heat to replicate frying.
“It will replicate frying something without deep frying it,” he said. “We installed them at the middle schools, and we’re very pleased with them.”
East Park’s kitchen also has a brand new walk-in cooler and a brand new walk-in freezer that actually are separate self-contained units that were brought in and attached to openings on the outside of the school on Colfax Street.
Having the cooler and freezer units attached to the outside of the school opened up more space inside the kitchen and the cafeteria.
“They save so much square footage inside the kitchen,” Lazzell said.
A new conveyor dishwasher heats water up to 180 degrees to sanitize the dishes, he said.
The dry storage area in the kitchen is furnished with racks and portable canned goods storage units on wheels for easier access to ingredients.
A pass-through cooler and a pass-through holding oven between the kitchen and the serving area ensures hot foods stay hot and cold foods stay cold.
“We want to make sure the kids are served better quality meals and food that’s fresher,” Lazzell said. “This new kitchen will allow food service to serve the kids better quality meals.”
The new cafeteria is equipped with a pull-down screen and a projector so the area can also be used as a multipurpose room.
“The biggest thing is we have a cafeteria — a central area — that’s away from the classrooms,” he said.
East Park Principal Eliza Brooks said students took a tour of the new cafeteria to see how breakfast and lunch would be served before school was dismissed for winter break, but she is eager for the children to be able to use the cafeteria every day.
“It will be a better experience for the kids in the beautiful dining room,” she said. “The kids deserve a place where they can talk freely and where they can interact with their peers.
“Having that all in one area is nice,” Brooks added. “We’ll have an area for other opportunities, too.”