The Tuesday night Board of Education meeting was kicked off by Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner demonstrating some challenges about the cafeteria layout proposed by some members of the RTM. “There has been conversation in the community about the cafeteria, I want to clear up some misconceptions that may exist,” Brenner opened, setting the stage for a presentation on the best way to proceed with the cafeteria. The full meeting video can be seen here with the portion regarding the cafe at the very start.

Recent public hearings featured some RTM Education Committee members suggesting that the cafeteria could be done for much less than budgeted by simply using long, 12-foot tables with benches to seat students, rather than the renovation and tables and chairs accepted by the Board of Education. Jay Hardison, and education committee member, told the board that he had looked himself, gotten a quote for less than $40,000 for furniture, and a few hundred thousand dollars for the renovation.

That plan had been reviewed by the Board of Education according to Brenner. “This plan was first presented on Oct. 21. There were two subsequent conversations. This plan involves a diagram that removed the tiers from the cafe and allowed for a consolidated option.”

The board had reviewed and rejected proposals that involved the elimination of the tier because of the substantial costs attached. All plans that required the removal of the tier would have to first absorb the cost of the removal, which would be at least half a million dollars.

“There was significant conversation about this option and it was rejected. So any indication that this was not spoken about his incorrect,” Brenner said.

“Next I would say there has been conversation from community members about the option of straight tables and putting them into the cafeteria, and at first glance it looks feasible,” Brenner continued, pointing to a diagram on the board. The straight tables, however present some issues. There needs to be wheelchair accessibility and and egress accessibility, which limits the space the tables could use.

Brenner then reminded the audience and board about the ideas from the RTM education committee members, which was twelve foot tables, eight people a side for a total of sixteen per table. “In order to do 16 per side, you need attached benches,” Brenner added.

“If you did all this, removed the tiers, and you put in these tables, remember 16 people per table, you’d be able to fit 450 folks in the cafe. It would cost a million dollars,” Brenner said.

Following this breakdown, Brenner shared a letter he received from the fire marshal regarding discussions of this option. The fire marshal explained the various ways to determine the maximum allowable occupancy based on space and what the space is used for. Brenner read directly from the letter, which explained a seating arrangement like this would is generally used for church pews or stadium seating.

“Asking people to sit in an 18-inch space and eat their meal probably isn’t a reality. There is no personal space,” the letter read.

Brenner also happened to have a 12-foot long straight table in the meeting room. He would ask board members Michael Burke, Jill McCammon, Tara Ochman, and Christa McNamara go so sit at the table, using the middle four seats.

What followed was laughter. The other board members looked on and chuckled as their fellow board members were packed into seats with barely any room to move their arms.

“Now imagine there are eight folks on either side of that table. I would say that’s a far cry from best practices,” Brenner said.

Brenner asked the board members to return to their seats from the lunch table, adding “I’m not feeding you,” to more laughter.

Closing the demonstration, Brenner said, “The board has approved the plan at a public meeting. It is a well thought out plan. It is a plan that considered this when we went through it.”

“It’s a plan the administration at this table and the high school administration fully support, and when we go to the Board of Finance we will be prepared to say the same,” Brenner closed.

The cafeteria is budgeted for almost $1.7 million.

The project was slated to be done as part of last year’s budget, but was delayed in favor of spending time to make sure it was well researched and done correctly to prevent any chance of having to spend more later. The plan approved expands the cafeteria to a total of 420 indoor seats and a total of 468 seats while also addressing acoustic problems.