The town this week revealed that upgrading the underused kitchen for seniors at the Tolles Parsons Center could be less complicated than anticipated. The kitchen has had serious shortcomings since the senior center opened in 2017, as it has commercial-grade appliances but fails to meet town standards to operate for activities such as serving meals made on site and offering cooking classes or demonstrations.
The ability to offer food service to the senior community is seen as being important both nutritionally and socially.
Wellesley Facilities Director Joe McDonough and associates within and outside his organization summed up results of a $25,000 study about upgrading the kitchen during a joint meeting of the Select Board and Council on Aging this week (see start of Wellesley Media recording).
“The results of the study are very favorable… the proposed scope of the kitchen renovation you’re going to see is much more modest than we thought it might be early on,” McDonough said, referring to concerns about whether the existing building footprint, utilities, and equipment would enable a proper working kitchen for the Council on Aging.
The kitchen study done by partner Crabtree McGrath Associates, which designed the $4M Wellesley Middle School kitchen not long ago, addressed both the physical requirements of the Tolles Parsons kitchen as well as management and operational requirements that the facility will need to address in order to pass Health Department and health code muster.
The COA will need to hire a Serve Safe-certified kitchen manager or hire an organization to operate it. Fortunately, the finishes and equipment in the kitchen is still in good shape, per the study. But the setup will require changes: For example, the three-compartment wash sink is too close to the cooking area to satisfy cross-contamination prevention rules, and a dry storage area will be needed. Crabtree McGrath’s work on this puzzle included recommendations for rearranging some existing gear and the addition of other equipment, such as another hand sink in a key location. Electrical and plumbing reconfigurations will also be required, too.
Original design and construction of the kitchen failed to include adequate Health Department involvement, and certain decisions were made “in a vacuum” during construction that led to issues such as a required dry storage area for food being used instead as an electrical closet, said John Sousa, president of Crabtree McGrath. His firm brought in an architect to ensure that any changes planned for the kitchen wouldn’t mess up other code requirements, such as location of electrical and fire alarm panels.
The COA asked Wellesley’s Facilities Management Department in early 2022 to look at what steps would be needed to get the kitchen into commercial operating condition, and $25K was requested in the fiscal year ’23 cash capital budget. With positive results coming from that study, McDonough said he’s making a $60K request for design and bidding work in the FY25 cash capital budget, and putting in a request for a $400,000 placeholder in the FY26 budget for the construction phase. So yes, we’re talking about the revamped kitchen still being a ways out.
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In the meantime, there’s plenty of work to be done, including development of a plan for kitchen management. Deborah Greenwood, director of senior services at the COA, said consideration has been given to using the same company that runs the food service for Wellesley Public Schools, or possibly bringing in a catering vendor that could operate the kitchen for the COA and possibly its own business. Currently, the COA partners with local restaurants who prep food off-site that can be warmed up on site.
Kathleen Vogel from the COA board of directors said she’s excited that the upgrade looks to be less daunting than expected. “We’re really excited about the idea of having food service, food programming and classes, whatever it is that our seniors are asking for…”