Nearly 20 years had passed since Holland Hall, a K-12 independent Episcopal school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had renovated its refectory. During those years, its middle school was serving meals from a small lunchroom. The other students were being served boxed lunches.
“They were taking those lunches from the cafeteria to, essentially, a glorified hallway,” says Clark Todd Gollotte, an architect with GH2 Architects who took on the project to update the facilities. A decision was made to provide a new refectory to the middle and upper school so the students could eat together simultaneously.
“The scope of the overall project was to have an open servery that mimics a higher education or non- institutional servery for grade levels K-12,” says FCSI associate Lance Brooks, principal of Foodservice Design Professionals (FDP).
The goal was to showcase healthy food options to encourage students to buy lunches at school rather than bringing them from home. Meal selections were to include local and organic foods, gourmet-style pizza cooked in a gas-fed pizza oven, and burgers and chicken prepared on an open hooded grill, and salad bar islands. The design called for a scatter system where students could come in, grab their meals, and pay on their way out. Overall, the dining hall was designed to accommodate 400 sittings.
The project faced numerous challenges to meet the owner’s intent; that is, a servery that incorporated an elementary school (ES) line within the scramble system that did not appear to be an ES or segregated from the other lines; ensuring that overall student queuing would not cross traffic or bottle neck other lines; and providing a tray drop window/dish room.
“The original design was to have the dish room attached or connected to the kitchen,” says Brooks. “But square footage was a problem due to queuing/cross traffic and the tray drop window location. We went through several designs to do conveyor or a longer dish room. Ultimately, we decided to do a remote dish room separate from the kitchen.” As a result, the kitchen became smaller and included a dish room to accommodate kitchen utensil wash.
Budget considerations also resulted in reducing the size of the salad bar. “Overall the salad bar accommodates the student participation and helps the overall space by not overpowering the center of the servery,” Brooks explains.
The project involved installing special equipment. “A gas-fired pizza oven was probably the biggest piece,” says Brooks.
A combi oven was also installed. Particular attention was given to finishes. “The architect stressed we needed finishes that were more than you would typically find in a school refectory,” Brooks says. Countertops were a combination of Corian and stone. “The emphasis was to showcase the offerings to increase participation.”
Collaboration was critical. FDP, which was hired by GH2 Architects, requested Equipment Preference Inc (EPI), a manufacturer’s rep, to come up with a modular counter solution that included detailed specs – all within budget.
“Working those segments into a curved fixture took some significant work to make it fit property,” explains Doug Durrwachter, a consultant with EPI. He regarded this as the biggest challenge facing the project.
“We went back and forth between consultant, client and factory since we had to take a customer’s element and put it into a less customized project,” he says. Add to this the issue of adjusting aisle space and equipment clearances to accommodate ADA requirements. EPI hired Duke Manufacturing, which specializes in food service equipment and solutions in the foodservice industry, to build this product and satisfy all design parameters.
“This was unique for Duke Manufacturing,” Brooks recalls. “Duke traditionally works with standard dimensions, boxes and shapes.” Brooks notes that during the project, Holland Hall also went through an operator change. “That’s always a challenge as we are not sure if the new operator will like the kitchen or the equipment,” he says.
“We did the design based on owner recommendations.” Collaboration is also critical during the project’s overall design. Holland Hall involved adding significant space to a building that wrapped around an existing gym in the middle school. This was necessary because the desired location for the refectory was 12 feet above the roadbed where deliveries were going to be made. Such activities were pushed to one side of the campus to be out of sight.
To eliminate a long delivery ramp to the kitchen, GH2 Architects designed a multilevel dock with a lifter to accommodate food coming into the back door. This generated more structural work for the project, which required additional meetings. “We had several meetings to make sure everything fit into the space,” Clark Todd Gollotte explains. “We designed the servery three different ways until we got what the owner really wanted. “One gentleman on the school board was a restaurateur. He was helpful since his is a full-scale commercial kitchen, but built with the diners’ experience in mind.”
“We put the new servery and kitchen on the other side of gym,” Gollotte says. “I like the idea that when you eat a slice of pizza, you have to see the treadmill.” Every project presents opportunities to learn. One lesson, according to Durrwatcher, is collaborate sooner, particularly when it comes to specific design elements.
“Being able to start with Duke earlier would have helped nudge design towards a Duke product that has a standard profile and is somewhat simplistic as opposed to fully customized,” he says.
Gollotte emphasizes the importance of engaging the health department. “Because we brought the health department in early, we were able to get them on board with what we were doing,” he says. “They were more used to stainless steel lines and one-line placements. We had to show them that our materials were cleanable.”
Communication was key since the project involved coordination between the owner and all stakeholders. “We had FDP in our presentation to answer questions and redesign the room while we were in front of people,” Gollotte says. “There were many coordination meetings with FDP and the construction manager.”
For these reasons, Gollotte emphasizes the importance of engaging a consultant such as FPD early, particularly when it involves a complex kitchen with literally hundreds of pieces of equipment. “They can make adjustments in real time,” he concludes.
Karen E. Thuermer