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Board to consider spending up to $500,000 on four school cafeterias

By Suzanne Perez Tobias

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) Four Wichita school cafeterias could get a major makeover -- up to $500,000 in new furniture, equipment and overall design changes -- if school board members approve a proposal on Monday's agenda.

Changes proposed for West High, South High, Mayberry Middle and Robinson Middle schools are designed to improve the overall look and efficiency of the school cafeterias, said Darren Muci, the district's director of operations.

"First and foremost (among the district's goals) is a nicer, more appropriate eating environment for our students and our staff members," Muci said.

"We also see the potential of those areas being available for multiple use," such as meeting rooms or study lounges, he said.

The proposal, which school board members will consider Monday, calls for up to $500,000 for design services, furniture, equipment and decor at the four schools. Crews hope to have the cafeterias renovated by the time students return to school Aug. 12 or within the first few months of school, Muci said.

The board voted in November to spend up to $250,000 on a contract with Palmer Hamilton, a Wisconsin-based firm, to study possible improvements to school cafeterias.

Proposed redesigns for West, South, Mayberry and Robinson include different types of seating -- regular tables, high-top tables, "cylinder" eating areas wrapped around columns and "conversational seating" such as chairs and couches, Muci said. The cafeterias will be more functional and inviting, he said, with decorative "skins" on windows and walls and fresh decor in school colors.

Other changes, such as grab-and-go serving stations, also could ease lunch-line traffic congestion, he said. At Robinson and Mayberry, two of the district's largest middle schools, long lines snake down the hall during lunch periods.

"We've been looking at amending that serving flow for a couple years now," Muci said. "We have made some adjustments, but we're still working on it."

The value of attractive eating spaces may not be quantifiable, Muci added, but it's noticeable. He recalled visiting the University of Oklahoma campus with one of his children and marveling at a dining hall there that featured comfy seating and large-screen televisions broadcasting sports, music videos and university news.

"I was blown away. ... I was asking, 'Can I just stay here?' " he said.

If small changes at Wichita cafeterias can entice more students -- particularly high school juniors and seniors -- to stay on campus during lunch, that could prevent parking lot chaos and after-lunch tardiness as well, Muci said.

"If we're able to make this a nice environment, where it's nice for the kids, perhaps there will be some more learning going on," he said.

Also on Monday, school board members will consider a proposal to spend up to $200,000 on new security systems that scan visitors' driver's licenses and check them against a nationwide database of sex offenders.

The proposed Hall Pass system was tested at four schools last month: Southeast High, Christa McAuliffe Academy, Curtis Middle School and Caldwell Elementary. The district plans to implement the system at all schools this fall.

The board meets at 6 p.m. Monday in the North High lecture hall, 1437 Rochester.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle