Henderson Elementary School kitchen reopens 2 months after rodent infestation shut it down

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ST. CROIX - The Alexander Henderson Elementary School kitchen officially reopened on Tuesday, after closing more than two months ago with a serious rodent and roach infestation.

"We are extremely pleased to be able to announce that Henderson School's kitchen is reopening," V.I. Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said in a prepared statement released Tuesday. "While we understand closing the kitchen may have been an inconvenience, it was extremely important for us to deal with these problems comprehensively and make sure the kitchen was fully equipped to serve our students."

Frett-Gregory ordered the Henderson kitchen closed until further notice on Jan. 21, after receiving word that aggressive efforts to resolve health and safety issues in the kitchen had not fixed the problems.

Issues outlined during a tour of the kitchen Jan. 21 included an increased number of mice and roaches scampering through the kitchen, the food storage area and even the refrigerator.

Boxes and bags of food had been damaged by the rodents and had to be thrown out over the months, and kitchen staff pointed out the holes around the kitchen walls and in the ceiling where the pests had been entering.

Education spokeswoman Ananta Pancham said the reason it took two months for the kitchen to reopen was because the department had to "comprehensively" deal with the issues that forced the kitchen closure.

"There were several issues that had to be fixed. We needed to make sure that every single one was fixed," she said.

The work done included dealing with the infestation, putting new tile floors in the store room, sealing holes, and painting, she said.

"It's completely sealed off," Pancham said. "It's beautiful."

Before its closure, the kitchen at the Concordia, Frederiksted school prepared lunches on a daily basis for more than 450 students and also prepared food for about 80 students at St. Patrick's Catholic School and about 20 students at Community Methodist School.

While the Henderson kitchen was closed, food for its students and for students at the two private schools was prepared at Claude O. Markoe School and transported in bulk.

Pancham said Tuesday that Henderson kitchen staff who had been reassigned while the kitchen was closed were brought back for the reopening.

While she was on St. Croix this week, Frett-Gregory got an update on the kitchen's progress and took a tour with Special Nutrition Programs officials, who gave the all-clear for reopening, according to Tuesday's statement.

Henderson students were served chicken, pasta and fresh vegetables from the kitchen on Tuesday.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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