Because construction of the new cafeteria at Highland Park Middle School will continue through October, the construction of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches at homes across the Park Cities will also be extended.
Last February, Highland Park ISD officials said the expansion of the cafeteria shared by McCulloch Intermediate School and HPMS would last a month into the fall semester, which begins Monday. But the district announced last week that “design revisions and construction delays” have tacked another month onto the project.
Tim Turner, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, clarified that the revisions involved adding a secure entrance to the cafeteria, based on parents’ requests.
Because no food can be cooked until the cafeteria is completed, the district is asking parents to send their children to school with prepared lunches. Some parents are not happy about that.
“This is going to be a huge inconvenience for me as a working mom to have to make an interesting, healthy, and delicious lunch every day,” said Cynthia Smoot, whose son is in the eighth grade.
Smoot’s beef is not just about the demands on her time. Her son plays on the football team, and she said athletes like him need more to eat than, say, a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips. By the way, that’s exactly what will be brought from another campus if an HPMS/McCulloch student informs his teacher by 8:30 a.m. that he doesn’t have a lunch.
“It wouldn’t matter if I was Tracy Rathbun and whipping up the most delicious meal ever. After it sits in a hot locker for four or five hours, he’s not going to want to eat it,” Smoot said. “These kids involved in athletics, they’re exerting a lot of physical energy. And you have to have a lot of protein to keep your brain energized and ready to learn.”
Karen Jacobsen, the district’s food service coordinator, said a light breakfast prepared on another campus will be available to athletes and other students who arrive early. Only milk, juice, and water will be sold during lunch until the expansion is finished.
The seating area in the cafeteria is still available. Principal Laurie Hitzelberger said a temporary wall separates the dining area from the construction zone.
“We have most of the existing space, still,” Hitzelberger said. “It’s slightly smaller, but we still feel like we can fit the kids – in a very crowded manner – into that space, like we did last year.”
Smoot and other parents have suggested the district allow food trucks to line up outside the school. Initially, Hitzelberger thought it sounded like a great idea.
“But when we really looked at the logistics, it just wasn’t going to work for us,” she said.
Hitzelberger said a food truck can feed 150 to 200 people per hour, and Robin Skinner, who markets Ruthie’s Rolling Cafe and has seven nieces and nephews at HMPS/McCulloch, confirmed that. But more than 1,000 students eat lunch there every hour.
“In a situation like this, you would have to have multiple trucks, clearly,” Skinner said. “You would need, in my opinion, at least four or five trucks to make it work where there’s no waiting.”
Skinner said she talked to other food-truck operators who were willing to get on board. But district officials rejected the idea.
“I cannot imagine the lines that that school is going to have of moms dropping off Mi Cocina and Jimmy John’s and Bubba’s,” Skinner said.
Last week’s announcement said restaurant deliveries will not be allowed. When asked what will happen if a mom shows up to deliver a Burger House meal to her son, Hitzelberger said the campus barred such deliveries a year ago because they were such a disruption.
“The feedback we got from parents was overwhelmingly positive, by the way,” Hitzelberger said. “I think it kind of got them off the hook with their kids.”
Nonetheless, Skinner said Hitzelberger should expect to see plenty of moms and dads ignoring that rule.
“I know these parents,” Skinner said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I went to that school. I am one of those parents. I promise you, they are going to.”