Delays in materials delivery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have hampered completion of the new culinary arts complex at Great Plains Technology Center.
Officials launched the $3.735 million renovation project in December to modernize the culinary arts program by converting 14,000 square feet of empty space in the east wing of Building 100 (Great Plains’ main building) into new classrooms, a production kitchen, serving and dining areas. The project not only forced changes in the culinary arts program, it also took Building 100’s dining area out of commission for what was expected to be eight months. To compensate, Great Plains limited its 2019-2020 program to second-year culinary arts students and moved that smaller class to the commercial kitchen in the Business Development Center.
With the expectation that the construction project would be completed when school resumed in August for the 2020-2021 school year, Great Plains accepted first- and second-year students into its program.
Then, COVID-19 intervened. That was bad news. And, fortunate news.
Ryan Herring, with Ryan Herring Construction, said the pandemic delayed delivery of some items, including duct work in many of the project areas, as well as specialized oven hoods (including one needed for the pizza oven). Herring said as a result, the project had to go past its original completion date, as contractors — like contractors across the country — wait for delivery of speciality items from production lines that were shut down for weeks or months before starting up again, while coping with outbreaks among workers.
That doesn’t mean work hasn’t been progressing. Herring told members of the Great Plains Board of Education last week that contractors are “doing as much as we can, some out of sequence” as they waited for delivery of materials needed to complete the teaching lab and production kitchen, the servery area, and the private dining room and dining area. Installed ductwork is waiting for final inspection, as work continues on flooring and ceiling tiles, glass partitions in the bistro and dining areas, wall covering, and equipment installation.
Time frames have been established for some work: equipment installation for the servery and teaching lab/production kitchen is expected to begin this week, while installation of the pizza oven hood and ware wash (cleans and sanitizes pots and pans) in the kitchen will be completed when that equipment arrives (tentatively, Sept. 18). The last major component of the contract will be training on new equipment, expected to take place Sept. 24-25. Afterward, contractors will start the process of handing over the project.
“That will wrap up the project,” Herring said.
Karen Bailey, deputy superintendent at Great Plains, said the training on the new equipment will be done with staff members.
“Once the staff is comfortable with it, we will train students,” she said, explaining some of the new culinary equipment is specialized and the purchase agreement specifies staff training.
“We’re gonna keep our fingers crossed,” Bailey said, saying campus officials hope to move classes into the complex by Fall Break in October.
And, while COVID-19 caused delays, one of the problems is working to Great Plains’ benefit.
Administrators made the decision to pare down the number of students allowed to enroll in programs, to keep classes at manageable levels so the campus can observe the social distancing protocols that health care experts have said is important to controlling the spread of COVID-19.
“We brought those numbers down a bit,” Bailey said, adding while the number of students accepted in culinary arts reflects the popularity of the program, it still is only 20 students more than the enrollment for the 2019-2020 program.
That lower number means students still fit into the commercial kitchen in the Business Development Center. That kitchen is part of the campus’ business incubator program, and Great Plains has made that situation work by scheduling culinary arts classes around businesses that need the commercial kitchen.
“Because of the COVID-19 situation, they are working separately,” she said, of the campus protocol that keeps students arranged for social distancing while still allowing the kitchen to be used to do things that provide meals to students.
It’s also added an element to the culinary arts program, Bailey said, of efforts to teach students how to provide hot “to go” meals and take COVID-19 precautions.
“It throws in a little kink,” she said.