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BHS food court in the works

By William Inman Daily Planet Staff
Saturday September 02, 2000

When school opened Wednesday, Berkeley High School students who did not bring their lunch, still had to head for downtown – just as they have for the last decade. 

There was no “food court” on campus to keep the some 3,400 teens on campus. 

Merchants have complained for years about their onslaught, though they appreciate the revenue they bring. Last year the complaints rose to a roar. 

So the school district, working with city government and the Downtown Merchants Association, decided that if merchants provided food on campus, they would not lose the students’ revenue, but would keep the numbers of teens downtown to a minimum. 

The proposed food court could be up and running as soon as next week, Superintendent Jack McLaughlin said. 

He hopes to set the food distribution up in the gallery area of the Berkeley Community Theater. 

Students would then have the option of eating inside at tables the school would provide or taking their lunch outside on the school grounds or at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.  

McLaughlin said the students would still have the option of leaving campus if they wished. 

The superintendent plans to ask the school board to allocate $5,000 for an implementation plan at Wednesday’s school board meeting. 

He said that they may sell the food provided by downtown Berkeley merchants out of the snack shack on campus if the gallery isn’t available.  

The space to serve the food is just one of the details yet to be worked out, he said. 

The district is working with merchants to price food carts that would be used to deliver food from the Good Food Cafe – a culinary arts program and kitchen classroom on the campus.  

McLaughlin said that he hopes to use the Good Food Cafe as a commissary because it is already meets health department guidelines. 

There is also a question of personnel. McLaughlin said it also falls under health department guidelines that district personnel serve the food, and additional servers may have to be hired. 

McLaughlin said the district is negotiating prices with the merchants. 

“The food cannot be more expensive than the food they would buy at the restaurant,” he said. “So we know there are going to be losses in the beginning, but we’re going to try to make it work by the end of September.” 

McLaughlin and Elsie Szeto, the manager of child nutrition services for the district, say that they have made recommendations that the vendors provide students with as many healthy food choices as possible. 

“But recommendations are quite different from requirements,” Szeto said. “And we will view those with healthy choices more favorably.” 

Caleb Dardick of the Downtown Berkeley Association said that he’s talked with some 15 merchants who are interested in participating in the program, but said that they have not worked out which, or how many, vendors will provide food. 

Dardick said that some of the merchants being considered were: La Cascada Taqueria, EZ Stop Deli, Round Table Pizza, KFC, Cancun Taqueria and Mel’s Diner. 

McLaughlin said he’s been perusing the local eateries to get ideas for an ambiance at the food court.  

“We’ll be meeting with students to find out what they want and what suits their needs,” he said. 

The DBA and the school district began talking about a food court months ago after several downtown merchants complained about groups of students disrupting business during their lunch hour. 

The school has been without a cafeteria since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused structural damage to the cafeteria. It was demolished two years later.  

Construction will begin this winter for a new student union and administration building, which will probably house a cafeteria.