The ARRA funds, otherwise known as federal economic stimulus money, came to Marshal County through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Service Equipment Grant, according to a resolution unanimously approved by county commissioners.
Sponsored by County Commissioner Larry McKnight, the resolution transferred $15,448.11 in stimulus money to the county budget's Food Service Expenditures account for the brand new Insinger dishwasher at Westhills Elementary School.
"It is not like a dishwasher you would find in your home," says Larissa Delk, food service director for county schools, and Westhills cafeteria manager June Flowers substantiates the point.
"We run 800-plus trays a day" through the dishwasher, Flowers said of the oversized plastic plates used by young students who buy a school lunch. "Cooking utensils, too."
Delk says $15,448.11 was the lowest bid for a dishwasher purchased to replace a dishwashing machine that was installed when Westhills Elementary School was built in 1986.
The highest bid was $33,871.26, Delk said. "We had four bids, total. One was about $18,000 and another was $31,500."
"It's about normal," explained Roy Dukes, interim director of schools. "You bid something. The law says you have to take the lowest bid. It's great to get the best bid, and consider, we had an old machine for a long time."
So long, Flowers said, that the machine was obsolete and parts were impossible to find, so there was no repair possible.
And it wasn't working right.
"Once the machine was started, we couldn't stop it because then it wouldn't start back up again," Flowers said.
Cleaning the trays and utensils requires hot water, she said; between 160 and 180 degrees.
"I guess we could wash the trays in the sink, but we'd have to get the water too hot for hands," says the 19-year veteran of the school's cafeteria. "I know of schools in Williamson County that don't have these machines. They use paper plates. I used paper plates when the old machine went down."
Washing trays is cheaper than paper plates, she said; "It's common sense."
Other dishwashing machines have a motorized tray ramp, but Westhills' cafeteria dish room has the same stainless steel counters, Flowers said.
Meanwhile, Delk points out that the stimulus funds "were to be used for food service equipment only."
Furthermore, "They awarded us $30,000," Delk said. "We returned he difference to the state and the plan is to award that money again so more school systems will be able to get money."