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Featured Concept: Ft. Lewis College, San Juan Dining Hall, Durango, Colo.

Editor's note: This article is part of The Schechter Report and NRN’s content partnership, and the views do not necessarily reflect those of Nation’s Restaurant News.

In the fall of 2010, Ft. Lewis College opened its new main foodservice facility, the $28 million San Juan dining hall to replace an outdated and run-down prior dining operation. San Juan was designed by Ricca Newmark Design, Denver, CO, whose project team included Al Moller, principal, Lona Homersham, project director; and Michelle Maestas, senior designer.

According to Moller, the original plan was to tear down the existing residential dining building and replace it with an entirely new structure. College administrators soon discovered, however, that the cost of a completely new building would exceed their budget, so the plan was modified to include a thorough renovation of the existing facility and the design of a new, multi-level dining space. The RND team worked with personnel from project architect Perry Dean Rogers, Boston, as well as Ft. Lewis’ Brad Hiti, director of Auxillary Services; Wayne Kjonaas, director of Physical Plant Services; and Chris Wilke, general manager of Campus Dining.

This team began planning the San Juan dining facility in December 2007, with design work commencing during the summer of 2008. “Before the renovation, dining options at Ft. Lewis included a dining area for residents and a retail space for commuters,” Moller explained. “Our approach was to combine these facilities into a single operation and make Monday through Friday breakfast and dinner, along with Saturday and Sunday brunch and dinner, all-you-care-to-eat, while Monday through Friday lunch is served a la carte.”

To incorporate these features, Moller, Homersham and Maestas developed a three-level layout. On the ground floor, they located receiving, storage and bakery spaces. The second floor of San Juan contains a marketplace-style servery, a coffee bar and the main seating area, along with a ware washing space, while the second floor features a grill station and additional seating.

“Because the college’s population had outgrown the capacity of the old dining facility, our goals included designing a roomy, modern interior with features, such as our serving-counter cladding, matching the building’s architectural details,” Maestas related.

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“We also had to incorporate Ft. Lewis’ LEED goals,” Maestas added, “so we specified low-energy LED lighting that changes colors and intensities during the day and can be different at each station. We tried to incorporate as many recycled and recyclable materials as possible, including natural granite countertops and bamboo panels on food display tables, but it was much harder to find sustainable and durable products back in 2008 than it is today.”

Nonetheless, after some two years of renovation and construction, San Juan dining hall received a LEED Gold rating when it opened in 2010. Among the challenges Moller and his colleagues faced during this period was routing new exhaust ducts and fans, which had to be accessible on the building’s roof adjacent to a patio dining space. Another test was designing and installing a beetle-kill pine and acrylic “sunburst” décor element, which is suspended beneath a skylight and reflects natural light above the salad bar and grill station. “That was difficult for the engineers to execute,” Maestras remarked. “It was one of the last elements to be set in place.”

Though much production occurs at San Juan’s six FOH food stations, there is a full 3,500-square-foot kitchen on the first floor, where staff do bulk cooking, prep work and prepare meals for special functions. Equipment in the kitchen includes an open-burner range and convection ovens, tilting skillets and kettles, fryers and a char broiler. “Because this was a LEED Gold project, we purposely avoided selecting water-intensive equipment,” Moller commented. “We also ruled out disposers and water-cooled ice makers, and went with low-flow pre-rinse units.” Overall, the equipment package at San Juan dining hall cost $2.1 million.

The station line-up in this facility’s marketplace servery includes the Hearth, where a gas-fired display oven prepares pizzas, breadsticks and baked pasta dishes in full view of diners. There are also a chef-staffed International Melting Pot station with heated and chilled displays; a Pantry serving hot, home-style entrées; The Fresh Zone, where fresh fruit, salads and deli choices are served on house-baked breads; the Fire Pit featuring grilled burgers, grilled sandwiches and daily specials, as well as freshly baked desserts; and a soup area where all selections are made from scratch. The foodservice program at Ft. Lewis College is operated by Sodexo.

Perhaps the most important lesson the RND team took away from the San Juan project was “how to select the most durable and applicable sustainable materials that can stand up to the wear and tear of a busy dining operation,” Maestas advised. “We came to understand that natural millwork products are likely to crack and swell. We have a much better idea now of which questions to ask our suppliers and we have been able to apply what we’ve learned to other designs.”

TAGS: Operations
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