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The pod approach to new school kitchens

(written for Cost Sector Catering)

Lee Vines of PKL Group explains how modular, permanent kitchens can be the ideal solution for schools requiring upgraded catering facilities

Many schools, particularly primary schools, are faced with a need to improve their catering facilities in the face of constraints imposed by existing buildings. In these situations it may be necessary to add a new kitchen as an extension and this can be achieved in two ways. Traditional construction of a new building or extension is clearly one option but this is costly and potentially very disruptive to the school’s activities.

Alternatively, it may be viable to use a permanent, modular kitchen, constructed off-site and delivered fully equipped. This option can be integrated with existing buildings and be up and running within just a few days.

Both methods are eligible for various sources of extra funding (see below)and for a straight capital purchase. However, modular kitchens can also be procured on a contract rental basis, requiring little or no capital outlay. Also, lead times for modular kitchens are often far shorter than traditional building.

For both options there are some key considerations. For example, is there a suitable space that is easily and safely accessible to delivery vehicles? Also, will the new building be stand-alone or linked to existing buildings? In the latter case, is there suitable access already, or will additional corridor links be required? And will it block existing access routes, fire escape routes or fire assembly points?

In the case of traditional construction it will also be necessary to plan for several months of disruption to school activities and make safe arrangements for regular deliveries of construction materials.

In contrast, once delivered to site a modular kitchen pod simply needs to be connected to services and commissioned, taking a few days– often over a weekend.

Aesthetics may also be an important consideration and, if required, modular buildings can be clad to match most building fabrics or, if preferred, made to look completely different.

Clearly, it’s also vital that the kitchen is tailored to the needs of each school in terms of cooking and refrigeration equipment, preparation and wash-up areas, staff facilities etc. Needless to say, functionality such as extraction systems and health and safety considerations need to be included.

Additionally, it’s important to determine whether there is access for a pod to be delivered by lorry, or whether a crane will be needed to lift it into place.

The size of modular buildings – ranging from 10 sq m for a regeneration kitchen for 120 meals per sitting, to 15 sq m for a full hot and cold preparation kitchen for several hundred pupils at one sitting – means that this will usually qualify as a ‘permitted development’ and not be subject to full planning requirements.

Clearly there are some limitations with specifying a kitchen pod. Although the exterior can be finished to end user requirements, this is a pre-finished building so there are restrictions on the size and shape. However, it is possible to have additional space such as cold rooms and dry storage facilities linked to the main pod.

Finding funding

There are various ways to fund such building improvements, at school or local authority level. Schools can use their Devolved Schools Capital allowance or approach their Local Authority for capital funding. Until 2010/2011 Local Authority funding includes access to the Targeted Capital Programme for school kitchens.

Or funding may be available through the Regional Development Agency or the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and the Primary Capital programmes. Gaining government funding may be easier for solutions approved through Buying Solutions.

As noted above, kitchen pods may also be procured through a contract hire arrangement with fixed monthly payments, where the supplier assumes the financial risk for the equipment through the life of the kitchen.

Given all of these factors, it’s clear that this is an area that requires careful consideration, perhaps with the aid of specialist advice. In most cases, if the criteria for traditional construction can be met, a pre-fabrication approach will also be viable, and less demanding on budgets. However, the key is to weigh up all the options, keep an open mind and make an informed decision.

Further information about the KitchenPod concept can be found at www.pkl.co.uk/pkl-ebrochure.html


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