Pyle Kitchen Fails Fire Inspection
When Oberlin Fire Chief Dennis Kirin made a routine inspection of Pyle Inn Co-op’s kitchen on Friday, April 7, he did not like what he found. The hood over the cooking range did not comply with recently-updated fire codes, and students living in Asia House faced the prospect of “a flash fire of such intensity that it would go right through the roof and right into the building.”
Kirin had known the hood was in violation for some time, but it had been still been considered “somewhat acceptable.” On this first inspection since the September policy change, however, Kirin gave the co-op a choice: curtail certain potentially hazardous cooking practices or risk being shut down.
“Anything that involves use of oil or grease or produces oil or grease-laden fumes [cannot be used],” he explained.
Following a meeting about this issue this past Monday, Pyle Inn Dining Loose-Ends Coordinator and College junior Emily Spence said, “We have not voted to close the co-op at this time.” Instead, members opted to keep campus’ largest eating co-op cooking.
Since the order, members of Pyle have been making due.
“It’s an inconvenience of the utmost order,” complained College sophomore and fellow-DLEC Zoe Fisher.
College sophomore Sarah Hymanson, a head cook in Pyle, was not quite so put out by the restrictions prohibiting frying or cooking on top of the range. She and the other cooks will just have to be a bit more creative in their cooking.
“I think it’ll be difficult,” Hymanson conceded, “but so far our meals have been good and I’m confident they will continue to be in the future.”
Meanwhile, the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association and the Office of Residential Education have brokered a compromise.
“We’re going to purchase for them several pieces of cooking equipment,” said ResEd Liaison to OSCA, Michele Gross. In addition, everyone who eats in Pyle will get two CDS meals per week until the end of the semester as opposed to the standard of one.
“We were really happy with the way the College handled the compromises,” said OSCA President and College senior Caleb Baker. “Then came the information that they are not planning to fix the problem.”
Baker is concerned the temporary measures, which include both a charcoal and a gas outdoor grill, will not last into next year.
“We’ve already accepted 106 Pyle members,” he said, “[which is] nearly a third of OSCA.” In addition, cooking on the outdoor grills will not be an option come winter next year.
As established by the contract between OSCA and the College, all co-ops are school property, thus it is the school’s financial responsibility to upgrade the hood.
“An upgrade of the hood is probably a two-month project,” Gross explained. “In order to start a project, you have to first design it, put it out to bid, then complete the project.”
This comes at a time when the school is on the verge of implementing its “Phase Two” building plan, a “master plan for housing” which involves converting some doubles to singles and increasing housing for upperclassmen.
“Until that master plan is complete, no major projects are going to be undertaken,” said Gross.
The school is looking into whether or not renovating the oven hood is a major project, but according to Gross the project is not a priority right now.
“Some of the dining and OSCA issues will have to be addressed, but the focus is on housing,” she said.
Baker believes that if fixing the project is not an immediate priority, as Gross suggests, OSCA and the school will have to enter into emergency contract negations preempting the normal round of negotiations set to come next year.
As far as Pyle’s ability to continue operations, Kirin made no indication that the fire department would shut the kitchen down next semester as long as the current restrictions on range-top cooking were not violated.
“That’s a College problem... [but] if an inspector [notices]
prohibited cooking beyond this point, [we have] the option to close the
kitchen,” Kirin said.