How Bethel School District's Central Kitchen Found a Way to Save Money and Satisfy Hungry Students

Posted by Patrick Maness + | 1 comment

In Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series of graphic novels, a heroic lunch lady battles evil cyborgs, saves the day and still manages to serve up meals to a line of hungry school kids. While this comic book character performs heroic acts, ordinary lunch ladies across the country combine their powers to serve 30 million kids every day; if you stop to think about it, you quickly realize the magnitude and heroism of this feat.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Bethel School District’s central kitchen in Frederickson, Washington. In this 23,000-square foot facility, each day workers prepare food that will serve over 14,000 kids in the district’s 27 school cafeterias.

This central facility was designed for two primary purposes. One was to efficiently produce nutritious food needed to feed all these students, and the second reason was to save money. It’s projected that the central kitchen will eventually save the school district $800,000 a year.

An eye on nutrition

With this kitchen up and running, workers are able to produce the school lunches from scratch. With more control over the ingredients and the nutritional contents of the meals they produce, nutritionists and meal planners for the district are able to provide healthy, balanced meals for the students.

But how it this done?

The answer, in short, is with a lot of big, sophisticated kitchenware — including two 100-gallon kettles and a 50-gallon one — and hundreds of other smaller pieces of equipment. These many different moving parts work together in a system that is able to produce hundreds of gallons of chicken gravy and ranch dressing, prepare many hundred pounds of vegetables and fruit, make thousands of sandwiches and much more.


The chicken gravy, for example, is bagged, sealed, cooled in a chill tank and then placed in a refrigerator. From there it is loaded onto a truck and distributed to one of the 27 cafeterias in the school district.

Produce is washed, cut and bagged so it can be served up right away in the cafeteria.

The idea behind these processes is that once the food is delivered, all the workers in the school should need to do is “pan it up, heat it up and serve.” Using onsite ovens, they simply bring the food to the proper serving temperature. As a result, children are able to enjoy freshly prepared food.

How it was all put together

What’s remarkable about Bethel’s central kitchen is how such a massive operation was able to come together. Imagine being handed a design for puzzle, but instead of having the pieces in front of you, you had to order them and even contract with people to make some of the pieces. Only then could you start putting the puzzle together.

If this sounds like a difficult puzzle, it was. But Spencer Swanson, project manager for TriMark Gill Group, was the man for the job. Put in charge of juggling multiple vendors and ordering hundreds of pieces of equipment, Swanson made sure everything stayed on scheduled and within budget. In short, he was in charge of making sure the design drawn up by the architect and the owner moved from idea to reality.

“There are three major factors you’re always managing with this type of project: money, people and schedules.” says Swanson. “To achieve what needs to happen, you have to be well acclimated to working with different personalities.”

As well as working with the designer, Swanson coordinated with a number vendors and manufacturers to have equipment made to spec and delivered to an offsite warehouse where it was stored before it was installed. This front-to-back process involved working with shipping companies to transport all the specialized equipment. Once delivered, a strict schedule had to be maintained so numerous technicians, plumbers and electricians could make sure everything was properly installed.

Even when everything was ready and the kitchen staff had been trained, Swanson’s job was not yet done. Because TriMark Gill Group offers a full-service package, he still helps them coordinate any warranty issues. 

"It was really satisfying to work on a project knowing it was going to benefit kids. For some kids, the best meal of the day for them was the one coming out of this kitchen," says Swanson. “It really made me feel great about my work.”

Want to know even more? Check out this video produced by Bethel's communications department, "Where does my school lunch come from?"

Great article, and even better video! Well done.
6/2/2016 4:13:40 PM
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