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Food Services Director Ann Cooper is seen through a cart washer during a tour of the new Boulder Valley School District central kitchen in Boulder on Monday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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The large-scale equipment in the Boulder Valley School District’s new central production kitchen was getting a test run Monday, while workers were starting to stock multiple refrigerator, freezer and pantry storage rooms.

The district is ending its summer food bag distribution Thursday and opening the new Culinary Center this week in preparation for the school year. The Culinary Center is near the Boulder Valley Education Center at 6500 Arapahoe Road.

“This will improve quality, consistency and efficiency,” said Food Services Director Ann Cooper. “There’s really not another place like this around.”

From left: Sous Chef Mario Moscoso and Executive Chef Yuri Sanow make a tomato sauce at the new Boulder Valley School District central kitchen in Boulder on Monday.

Construction of the 33,000-square-foot, $17 million kitchen was paid for through 2014’s $576.5 million bond issue for capital construction projects. The central kitchen replaces the district’s regional production kitchens, which were located at Casey Middle, Centaurus High and Monarch High. All schools will continue to use their small finishing kitchens to complete meal preparation for student lunches.

Between breakfast and lunch, Boulder Valley last school year produced about 14,000 meals a day. Between 180 and 200 employees are expected to work in the new central kitchen when fully staffed, with the district dividing workers between two shifts.

In planning the new space, Cooper said, she started five years ago by developing draft school lunch menus, then figured out what equipment and how much space she would need to most efficiently produce those items. She also visited other production kitchens across the country.

She worked with Ricca Design Studios in Greenwood Village to develop the final design.

Food Services Director Ann Cooper stands next to the entrance to a large refrigerated food storage room during a tour of the new Boulder Valley School District central kitchen in Boulder on Monday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The new facility includes a 27,000-square-foot, prefabricated metal building and 6,000 square feet of connected refrigerated and dry storage space. About $4 million of the project’s cost went to equipment to allow the district to cook scratch meals, but on a large scale.

There’s a machine to cook large amounts of meat “sous vide,” vacuum sealed and cooked in a water bath, then cool it to a specified temperature. Another mixes batches of liquids, such as tomato sauce or cheese sauce, then bags the sauce and moves the bags to a cooling tank. There’s also a conveyor belt to allow workers to quickly assemble items like sandwiches and burritos.

All the spaces, from storage to food preparation, are temperature controlled to ensure the food prepared is always at the correct temperature for food safety. There’s even a “warm” freezer, allowing the district to store certain prepared foods at a slushy consistency for 21 days to maximize food quality, Cooper said.

Along with large bays for semi trucks and other commercial trucks to unload products, there’s a smaller unloading bay for the regular trucks of local farmers, who provide the district with seasonal produce. Along with the small loading bay, the space includes a farm produce room with washing stations for both soft vegetables, such as lettuce and root vegetables.

A large space reserved for a professional teaching kitchen will remain empty, for now. Fundraising to outfit the space was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic and plans put on hold.

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