By Holly Williams, Current Staff
It was just an ordinary school day for East sophomore Megan Swope until she went to the cafeteria to find that her normal lunch seat near her friends had simply disappeared.
“I had to go and sit at another table,” said Swope. “It was really lonely.”
Occurrences like this one have been happening often this school year. Increasingly, many of the cafeteria tables in both East and West are losing one or more of their round seats. The cause of this epidemic, however, may not be limited to a single issue. Recently, several explanations have arisen as to why the valuable seats have been vanishing.
According to East aide Dawn Cox, “The problem is kids are deliberately breaking the seats. It’s been going on for a while, but it’s worse this year.”
Once broken, the unusable seats have to be thrown away by the custodial staff, leaving empty spaces at the table. While there would be significant consequences for any student caught intentionally damaging the seats, this problem has not been narrowed down to any particular students.
“Pretty soon good kids aren’t going to have anywhere to sit,” said East chemistry teacher Sharon Gazzola, who noticed the dilemma while monitoring second period off hour in the East cafeteria. “It’s sad that some kids are wrecking it for the rest of the students.”
On top of misconduct, a flaw in the seat design could be contributing to the disappearance of seats. Lynne Gross, the director of school nutrition and the person in charge of the tables, discovered this fault while investigating the distressing issue. She believes that the circular screws holding the seats in place are playing a role in cracking the seats.
In an attempt to fix this flaw, Inventory Receiving Coordinator Dale Jung and a coworker have been working during times when the cafeterias are empty to replace the broken seats and exchange the old bolts for more stable, oval-shaped ones. This, however, is not a fast process.
“We have limited time that we can work on it,” said Jung, “and it’s about 15 minutes per table.”
Fifteen minutes multiplied by all of the tables in both cafeterias means that this project will take some time. According to Jung, the West cafeteria is about three-quarters of the way done while the East cafeteria is only about one-third done.
These repairs also come at a significant cost to the school district. A single plastic seat costs around $40, and replacing the broken seats and all of the pins could end up costing upwards of $25,000. Gross has asked a company representative to review the situation and inspect the seats for the design flaws that she believes may have been amplified with the old age of the tables.
“The tables are roughly 10 years old, but there’s no warranty after 10 years,” said Gross.
If unsuccessful at getting the table manufacturer to cover part of the costs, the money will end up coming out of the Food & Nutrition Department’s budget.
For now though, the focus is on making sure that students have places to sit at lunch. Several tables have been brought in from Silverbrook Middle School to provide temporary extra space while Jung and his coworker finish the repairs.
“They’re trying really hard,” said Gross.
(Photographs by Holly Williams, Current Staff.)