CHIPLEY — The Washington County School Board heard a year-end report on the school’s cafeterias and got a first look at plans for the new Kate Smith Elementary School on Monday.
Robert Russell of Chartwells School Dining and Connie Walker, director of Dining Services for the district, were on hand to present their year end report to the board members.
“In comparing like for like versus last year, Washington County is within $200 of last year’s numbers,” Walker said. “This is in spite of lunch counts being down due to the new USDA meal pattern changes.”
Walker’s report stated that as a result of the USDA changes, the national average shows lunch counts down 4 to 6 percent, with Washington County doing much better at only 2.1 percent.
Russell said that next year, the USDA was making changes to breakfast which may result in fewer children eating their first meal at school.
“If they didn’t like lunch, they’re really not going to like breakfast,” Russell said. He said taking protein out of the meals was a trend with the USDA changes. “I told them we’re in the deep South. Down here breakfast is bacon and eggs, not a muffin and granola.”
Russell said that last year began with the USDA setting a calorie limit on meals. “After five or six months, they got away from that, but by them a lot of kids had quit eating lunches.”
“I’m still hearing that children aren’t getting enough to eat,” Board member Susan Roberts said. “I want to make sure they are getting enough food.”
“A hungry child is not a good student,” Russell said. Roberts asked Russell if Chartwells had contacted the state Department of Agriculture, but Russell said the changes to the menus were federally mandated.
“We had to cut back due to the federal guidelines,” Russell said. “It was very frustrating.”
“This is just another example of the government overreaching,” board member Vann Brock said.
The Dining Services department was also involved in holiday meals for the community and raised $4,000 for the Washington County Relay for Life, Walker told the board members. “We achieved Silver level and were honored with Paint the Town Purple Team of the Year.”
Walker also noted that Dining Services had added a new Deli Station at Vernon High and Vernon Middle schools, implementing new menus to comply with the USDA regulations, including flax seed pizza crust.
“The kids seem to like it,” Walker said of the flax seed pizza crust.
“With enough Ranch dressing, it’s okay,” joked Vernon High School Principal Brian Riviere.
Greg Kelly of CRA Architects also showed drawings of the proposed Kate M. Smith Elementary School.
Superintendent Joe Taylor said the school construction is expected to cost more than $33 million, and will be funded over a three-year period. Of that $33 million, $7.6 million is the cost of removing the old elementary school, Taylor said.
In January, the school board approved the 22-plus acre site between South Boulevard and Brickyard Road as the future home of Kate M. Smith Elementary School.
At the January meeting, District Maintenance Director Mike Park reviewed the process the Site Selection Committee had gone through in choosing the new location for the school. “This has been an ongoing process of about 20 years,” Park said, “and over the years, some of the names on the committee changed.”
In October 2012, the Department of Education visited the elementary school to determine the need for a new facility. Five days later, DOE issued the finding that there was a “critical need” for a new elementary school in Chipley, Park said.
With that information, the selection committee met in late December and again on Jan. 3 to discuss the choice of school site, which came down to either stay at the current location, or move the school to the 22-plus acre tract of land the district owns that stretches between South Boulevard and Brickyard Road.
The board selected CRA Architects to create plans for the new school, and Kelly said these documents are necessary “to hold our place with the Department of Education.”
The new school will accommodate 993 students and has 150,000 square feet, Kelly said.
“Just to give you a number, it is 600 feet from the end of one wing to the other,” Taylor said of the drawings.
“It is a big school, it fills up that lot,” Kelly said.
Park told the board that the drawings were the result of CRA working with the Kate Smith Elementary staff. “They aren’t just something he drew up,” Park said.
Kelly said he met with faculty and staff at KMS twice a week for about six weeks in preparing the drawings. Food Services personnel were also involved in the development of the school plans.
“We’re moving ahead,” Kelly said, adding that the initial submission of drawings to the Department of Education will be made on June 19.