The Juneau School Board tentatively approved plans for a large kitchen at the proposed Dimond Park high school during a work session Tuesday night.
Although board members haven't decided what sort of food program to offer in the future, they wanted the space to be big enough to serve as a central kitchen for the school district.
"I think we'd be pretty hard-pressed to have a program at the high school and not at the elementary," schools Superintendent Gary Bader told architects at a separate work session Tuesday afternoon. "I would not want the ship to leave and not have the elementary kids on it."
The district now offers a cold sack lunch, for $2.50, at all schools. Two elementary schools have breakfast. Juneau-Douglas High School sells soup, salad, corn dogs, chili, pretzels, nachos, pizza and snacks. It also offers bagels, pastries and cereal in the morning.
One reason for the cold-lunch program is to serve reduced-cost or free meals to low-income students. But usage by those students drops as they get older down to about eight students at JDHS because it carries a social stigma, Bader said.
Hot lunches typically appeal to 30 percent to more than 90 percent of high school students, said food facilities consultant Len Bundy of Seattle. A hot lunch program could have a ticket or student ID paying system that didn't disclose whether a student is subsidized, he said.
Voters in October 1999 approved bonds to build a high school at Dimond Park and renovate JDHS. Construction is contingent on getting partial state reimbursement. Meanwhile, architects are designing the two projects.
Additionally, a ballot proposal in next week's election for a 1 percent sales tax would include about $4 million for further renovations to JDHS. The high school planners have said the money could be used partly to enlarge the commons and add a kitchen at JDHS if another high school is built, which would free up some space at JDHS.
The line for food at JDHS now is so long that only 300 students can get through at the lunch hour, said Susan Hennon, a former school district nutritionist. A 1999 survey showed many JDHS students go off campus for lunch and a quarter said they sometimes don't eat lunch.
Student Clare Sanders-Rouget said she and her friends usually leave campus to eat "because they don't have much variety here, and the line is really long." Her friends spend at least $5 and eat as they walk back to school, she said.
Before school board members decide on a food program, they want to know more about annual operating costs and any costs to remodel schools to include serving areas.
Consultant Bundy said Juneau is the only school district of its size he knows of that doesn't have hot lunches. The service can break even or make money if it's marketed well and uses some student labor to save costs, he said.
About two-thirds of Alaska's school districts have a lunch program, but few operate without subsidies, said Kathleen Hays, the school district's nutrition consultant and former director of child nutrition programs with the state Department of Education.
The current cold-lunch program misses out on a lot of revenue because it can't offer variety, and students must order in advance, which leaves out last-minute orders by paying children, she said.