Understand equipment procurement with these real-life scenarios!

Purchasing new equipment for a school meals operation can be quite formidable. Because equipment purchases are not the norm, when times comes around to replace a combi oven, walk-in cooler or another large piece of equipment it can be quite the daunting task. Not only does one need to research the kind of equipment needed, but research needs to go into the specs, the delivery, the installation, the removal of older equipment and much more. Not to mention, should the equipment purchase come from your foodservice department’s capital budget, you must follow the federal procurement regulations set for school food authorities participating in the National School Lunch Program and other federal child nutrition programs.

Although these purchases happen on occasion, it is always a good idea to be ready—especially because you never know when an older piece of equipment will “cook its last meal,” so to speak. To pair with the article “Cracking the Equipment Equation” from the September issue of School Nutrition, written by editor Patricia L. Fitzgerald, here are two scenarios to ponder. These were presented as a pre-conference session on procurement at the 2019 School Nutrition Industry Conference.

Keep in mind, these two circumstances could occur in any district of any size and to just about any director. Should a situation like this arise, you and your team should be prepared.

Scenario One: Equipment Procurement Scenario—Reach-in Refrigeration

Sarah is the director for a small suburban school district that needed to replace a two-door reach-in cooler at the high school. Sarah knew it would be a small purchase and only needed three quotes. She talked with three local foodservice equipment dealers about a quality commercial refrigerator that was comparable to the existing one. Based on her research, Sarah estimated a budget of ~$4,800 for a quality level refrigerator. She also obtained detailed specifications from Cindy, the factory representative for Top Line Refrigeration Company, for their reach-in cooler. To meet procurement requirements, she sent each dealer (bidder) a follow-up email with her general specifications based on their respective conversation. Attached in the email was the delivery expectations, generally called “set-in-place,” which included plugging the unit into the existing 120-volt outlet. Sarah received three acceptable prices with a brand name/model number: Dealer A $4,525, Dealer B $4,595 and Dealer C $4,498. All three prices were for the same brand/model number, without exception.

When she approached the district’s Chief Finance Officer (CFO) for approval to purchase from Dealer C for $4,498, the CFO said that his friend, who owns a nearby diner, bought a two-door Delta reach-in cooler for much less ($2,586) from an internet source. Sarah agreed to purchase from the internet dealer, even though the brand wasn’t recognized, and it didn’t appear that the specifications were the same.

The two-door cooler showed up on a day Sarah was away from the district. She got a call from the elementary school manager that a truck was there with a large delivery. The school did not have a high loading dock and the driver informed the manager that the school was responsible for removing it off the back of the truck themselves. After a bit of back and forth, the custodian and a coach were able to get the refrigerator off the truck in the parking lot and the driver went on his way. After moving the reach-in cooler to the covered loading area and removing the packing, the manager found a forklift had put a substantial dent on the left and right door, about 12 inches up, and the doors did not open/close smoothly.

Sarah attempted to resolve the issue with the out-of-state dealer and was told to file a freight claim. The freight company denied the claim because the Bill of Lading was signed “clean” and the reach-in cooler had been moved from the parking lot to the loading area by the time the claims adjuster arrived.

Additionally, as the custodian and the coach tried to move the cooler into the kitchen, they found that the entry was going to be tight and it would need specialized equipment to move it to the final location. Sarah placed a call to her contact with one of the local foodservice dealers and kindly asked if she could hire their install team to assist her. The dealer agreed, since Sarah is a loyal customer, but the price would be a flat fee of $800, and they would not be able to get to her district for two weeks. After the unit was installed and in operation, the staff found that the capacity was less than their previous unit and was inadequate for their needs.

  • What are the issues? Identify each.
  • Based on your knowledge of procurement regulations, what went right? What could have been done better?
  • What best practices can we take away from this scenario?

Scenario Two: EquipmentProcurement Scenario—Walk-in Woes

Columbus #11 School District is a growing community. Jane, director of Nutrition Services, is pulling her hair out trying to find space for USDA Foods (commodities) that are planned for this fall. She knows that there is no way the walk-in freezer and cooler installed in the 80’s are going to hold everything they will need with ADP increasing by 90 students per day. There is no more room inside the kitchen, so the only solution is to install new walk-ins outside of the kitchen; however, the district business manager informs her that there is no way the general fund can cover the purchase of the new walk-ins and that the program has greater than a three-month operating fund balance. How should Jane get the old walk-ins out and the new walk-ins constructed and installed?

  • What are the issues? Identify each.
  • Who can be consulted for help designing the walk-ins and specifying the installation?
  • What construction details need to be completed in order to install the walk-ins?
  • What specifications should be considered prior to the walk-ins’ purchase?

What are the potential road blocks or issues that may need to be mitigated? 

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