An ambitious, $20 million renovation of a treasured historic building provides myriad food platforms on two floors, creating a dining environment unlike anything generations of students and faculty have seen before at this storied Massachusetts school.
Since it opened in 1778, Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., a residential secondary school in Massachusetts, has served generations of students, faculty and staff. Paresky Commons, built in 1930, is one of the school's most cherished buildings. Over the years, refurbishments were made to Paresky Commons, the last of which took place in 1980. Following the turn of the century, it became evident that the school's one campus foodservice venue was underperforming.
"A new foodservice facility was necessary," says Michael Williams, director of facilities at Phillips Academy. "The food and preparation systems were worn out and outdated and weren't representative of how fresh food is prepared today. Mechanical, electrical and other systems hadn't been upgraded since 1980. After much consideration and option analysis, we decided not to build a new, separate community/student center. Instead, we decided to keep the historic building."
"As a school that promotes community and inclusiveness, Andover must preserve Paresky Commons," the school's Web site explains. "This building serves not only as a place for students, faculty, and staff to gather, but also as a reminder of those who have walked before us. Boys and girls often comment that what they appreciate most about the former Commons is the historical aspect—for nearly a century, students have walked down the marble stairs inside the building. That sense of history is unique to Andover and to the Commons experience. It is with respect and appreciation for the past that we preserve Commons for the future."
Though a new building with larger rooms may have cost less to construct, Williams says, "The quality of construction of the original building was outstanding and we weren't prepared to tear it down."
During the extensive renovation, foodservice moved to the decommissioned Sumner Smith Rink, a hockey rink located south of the gym. "We rented four temporary kitchen trailers, put them at the end of the rink and converted the rink into a servery and dining facility. We even set up a dishwasher in the space," says John Galanis, principal of Galanis Consulting, who works with Phillips Academy on many projects. "Logistically this worked well, because two large modular kitchens and seating for nearly 600 were on one floor."
This comprehensive renovation project achieved an ambitious set of objectives which called for the facility to: enhance and diversify the dining experience to support Paresky Commons' function as the primary gathering place for the Andover community; expand and transform student social space in Paresky Commons, and create new outdoor social spaces.
The project's scope also was significant. For example, replacing the building's kitchen and serveries allowed Andover to upgrade the variety and quality of its menu. In order to make the facility handicapped accessible, the building's systems and infrastructure required replacing. Andover also wanted to create an environmentally responsible building that met Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification requirements, while restoring the historic interiors that make Paresky Commons a compelling and memorable environment.
The project created centralized food preparation areas and multiple service stations on two floors. A basement kitchen supports the foodservice on both floors. The project also includes an extended-hours café; a refurbished and expanded Den, a student snack and leisure area with a sunken terrace just outside of it; new terraces and seating areas in front of Paresky Commons and, along its west side, new lighting and other visual enhancements that upgrade the entire dining experience. The facility also features wireless Internet access.
Upon entering Paresky Commons, visitors see a 15-foot-high foyer and servery that presents a sharp contrast to the low ceilings of the pre-renovated interior. "We had to create new elevation on the grand staircase, which was made with limestone," Galanis says. "So, we found Tennessee marble for the floors and treads." Other interior design elements include Georgian-style paneling, chandeliers designed by campus architect Charles Adams Platt, and murals by artist Barry Faulkner, best known for his 1936 rendition of the U.S. Constitutional Convention.
From the entryway, an arched door leads to one of the floor's two serveries, which features the hearth cooking platform. In addition to this platform, the first floor features three other platforms, two of which offer sautéed items and the other, a café bar, offering sandwiches, soups, salads and beverages. The space feels light with the old cracked-style white tiles typically found in mansions built in the 1930s. Two dining areas seat 160 each. In one section on this level, staff can close the servery and use the café bar in the dining room for service in the evening..
The second floor features a lower ceilings. The space feels intimate with the use of white oak and rich woodwork. Three platforms, the homestyle, grill and self-serve action, sit in the space. Staff can use the exhibition kitchen's cooking suite for buffet-style or stand-up reception catered events.
"We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity not to create mirror images of the serveries," says Lenny Condenzio, FCSI, foodservice design consultant and principal, Ricca Newmark Design. "We preferred that students and other guests feel as though this is a restaurant experience and can go to different locations to find what they like."
The inside beauty and extensive food offerings belie the gargantuan challenges required to convert this historic building into a facility that could house a contemporary dining operation. "Many methods of construction and codes have changed over the years," Galanis says. "For example, a terra-cotta wall was supported differently in the past than it must be now. We had to redo window jams and window headers." Can cut if needed
The tight construction schedule and inclement winter weather also contributed to the challenges faced by the design and construction teams. "People don't realize how much effort goes into a renovation project like this," Galanis says. "Just when you think you might be on schedule, a new challenge comes along and then requires folks to work 12 hours a day to meet schedules that were established a year earlier." Can cut if needed
In addition to construction methods and codes changing over the years, the same can be said for the foodservice equipment necessary to support this renovated facility. "The new equipment required new mechanical systems and an upgrade of electrical systems," Williams says. "This was a substantial undertaking because we wanted to preserve the character of the building. We also had to construct a penthouse to hold all the big mechanical items such as air handlers."
"The central compressor rack was placed on the roof to get the noise and heat out of the serveries," adds Scott Benedict, project manager for Ricca Newmark.
Better material handling systems also were installed. "We previously had dumbwaiters so we had to build two new elevators, one for people and one for freight," Williams says.
Another feature that contributes to the new facility's longevity is electrical wiring that accommodates various pieces of equipment.
The dishroom placement also presented a challenge due to space restrictions. "We needed a dishroom and soiled-dish drop-off on each floor," Condenzio says.
The waste-handling system, which includes a pulper-extractor system, also contributes to sustainability efforts. "We've lowered the waste stream by nearly 50 percent," Williams estimates.
"The initial cost of the pulper-extractor system is more, but operators can get a quick return on their investment, so it saves a lot of money in the long term," adds Tarah Schroeder, director of sustainability and project manager for Ricca Newmark.
The building also is on track for LEED certification. "This is especially challenging in an old building," Condenzio says. "Most notable is the installation of the new hood system. We use about one-half the ventilation as we did with a conventional cooking hood. An infrared control system senses heat and adjusts the air flow of the hoods, which reduces our energy consumption. This is significant because dining facilities are so energy intensive."
"The building is beautiful and our goal is to make sure the food is as beautiful as the building it is served in," says Paul Robarge, senior foodservice director for Aramark. Robarge arrived at Phillips Academy a year and half before the building opened and provided menu design, along with Tom Battersby, Aramark's senior district manager.
"Space restrictions are among our biggest challenges," Robarge says. "The building is quite small to produce 3,000-plus meals a day and provide fresh food and more individualized service. We had to keep the possibility of long lines in mind. We wanted to produce an economical menu that would attract equal participation at each platform."
The all-you-care-to-eat foodservice facilities serve 600 guests at breakfast, 1,400 at lunch and 1,300 at dinner. Staff offer continental breakfast on the first floor and a full breakfast on the second floor. They provide lunch and dinner on both floors.
Guests can choose selections at six distinct platforms. The first floor contains four culinary platforms, two in each of two servery areas. The second floor contains three platforms. Lunch and dinner feature several food bars. Entrées change at lunch and dinner.
The first floor café serves sandwiches, soups, salads and beverages, and in the morning offers espresso, cappuccino, upscale pastries and hand fruits (never heard of hand fruits). At lunch, it doubles as a grab-and-go area for deli fare?) such as assembled roast beef croissants and a variety of wraps in display equipment.
One of the action platforms features a rotating stir-fry dish with a protein such as free-range chicken breast, sirloin, tofu or shrimp, up to 18 vegetables and various stir-fry sauces. Staff use a gas-fired range to prepare dishes and serve them directly to guests.
Adjacent to this platform is another sauté action platform, with induction stoves and holding equipment. Here guests can choose from a predetermined menu item such as sopa de tortilla, Moroccan vegetables, a burrito bar, noodle bowls and Louisiana rice cakes. Staff prepare ingredients for this and other stations in the basement kitchen, keep the ingredients refrigerated and deliver them to the platforms for assembly.
The fourth platform, called Hearth, is the focal point of the operation. A hearth oven prepares pizzas, such as fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, virgin olive oil, basil and garlic on wheat dough. The oven also turns out casserole dishes, chicken-tender calzones, cedar-plank salmon, baked haddock and roasted potatoes. "I am proud that Phillips Academy has embraced the hearth oven as a means to serve hot entrées," Condenzio says. "Finally we've evolved to use the ovens for more than just pizza." Guests on this floor also can visit a full salad and deli bar.
In addition, guests can order turkey dinners at the homestyle platform, complete with roasted free-range turkey carved to order with Cheddar-mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing, gravy and fresh vegetables. Combi ovens in the basement kitchen cook the turkeys; holding ovens keep them warm as staff deliver them to the second floor. This platform also includes a mini cooking suite with a steam kettle, steamer, char grill/broiler, flat-top griddle, cook-top griddle, range and fryer. Specialties at the grill station include omelets-to-order, baby-back ribs with cole slaw and cornbread, hamburgers and veggie burgers, blackened swordfish, subs, chili and cheese dogs, Reubens, quesadillas and black-pepper-crusted steak sandwiches. "We're cooking most of the menu right at the station and preparing it so students can serve themselves out of cooking pans," Robarge says. "Students know they are being served fresh food."
The pasta bar area adjacent to the home-style (or homestyle? hyphen or not) platform provides self-serve pasta and a variety of sauces. At breakfast, staff use the flat-top grill to make buttermilk pancakes, French toast, waffles, potatoes and bacon.
A bank of waffle irons between the homestyle and grill platforms allows students and other guests to bake their own waffles. Panini griddles at the self-serve action bar are another do-it-yourself option.
A farmers-market station features local and organic products with cold wells holding salads and deli items.
Simmer (name of something?), which offers soup in hot wells, is available in two places on the first level and one on the second level.
Platforms on the first and second floors receive support from the basement kitchen. Deliveries come into the loading dock and staff transport them to the basement kitchen. "Products flow the way they are produced," Condenzio says. "Products go into storage—a walk-in cooler, freezer and dry storage—then to cold prep and/or hot prep and appropriate holding. Staff don't go back through these spaces to deliver food."
Staff use worktables, storage cabinets, slicers, a buffalo chopper, food chopper, 60-quart mixer, reach-in refrigerators and proofing cabinets in the cold-prep area. This area also contains cart parking space.
In the hot-prep area, a 40-gallon pressurized tilting skillet speeds cooking times. For example, it can cook risotto in just minutes compared to the hour in regular skillets. The 40- and 26-gallon tilting kettles heat clam chowder and other soups and sauces, which staff bag and place in a blast chiller where they keep for up to a week. "The kitchen can operate separately from the servery to prepare mise en place and other items for use upstairs," Condenzio says.
"Two roll-in combi ovens and a blast chiller assist staff with the challenge of high production capacity, working on three foodservice floors and providing the menu diversity required by the Academy," Condenzio says.
Staff also use combi ovens to cook flank steak and dishes such as lasagna, which are also blast chilled and kept until needed.
"Using the combis requires extensive training," Robarge says. "We have 68 employees and only 10 are doing what they did in the past. Nearly everyone had to be retrained in systems and to use the new equipment. The manufacturer of the combi ovens, blast chiller, pressurized tilting skillet and tilting kettles sent five people to their facility for training and trainers came on site after hours to work with the chef and me."
"We had to defend our specifications rigorously," Condenzio says. "Every once in a while, whether in budget discussions or genuine 'cold feet moments,' someone would suggest going back to the comfort zone of using convection ovens only and standard equipment features. The owners challenged us with designing a facility that is state of the art, but they didn't want to be guinea pigs with untested equipment. So, we had to justify the features and benefits of each piece of equipment. The manufacturers were extremely helpful not only to supply the information needed, but also to provide the personnel, site tours, hands-on cooking venue and whatever was required to bring comfort and confidence to the end users."
For grease capture, rather than rely on standard grease traps, a grease recovery and removal system was selected that defies the unpleasant experience of grease traps, Condenzio says. "This system eliminates pumping costs and those nasty odors and reduces grease removal costs," he explains. "The recovered grease and oils are nearly water-free and can be recycled by local rendering and/or biodiesel companies."
Dishrooms presented another challenge. "There were discussions about using a vertical lowerator," Condenzio says. "We eventually built a dishroom and soiled-dish drop on each floor."
Line management continues to challenge staff in the first weeks of the operation's life. "We've spent a lot of time working with Rob White [president of Envision Strategies] and Aramark to reduce lines as much as possible," Robarge says. "We were warned that initially people are so enthusiastic that they will walk around the operation and take food from every platform, so food consumption is high and congestion is created. As people settle in and become accustomed to the operation, patterns develop. Aramark can then know how much food will be needed at each platform and how to minimize congestion at any one area."
Going trayless reduces food consumption and waste. "We got a few complaints so we make trays available for kids of faculty and staff members who eat here," Robarge says. "Otherwise, the students and adults are getting used to doing without trays." Compact fluorescent lighting also contributes to lowering the facility's carbon footprint, in addition to LED lighting in the salad bar and deli bar.
Also contributing to the project's success, Galanis says, was hiring a commissioning engineering agent to work with the construction team.. Condenzio says that "the architects totally embraced the concept of a great dining experience. They studied every new foodservice technology and found a way to make it beneficial to the project. They allowed the food and preparation to be as central and as beautiful as the surrounding furnishings and décor."
Another supportive practice was opening with a soft start. "Don't finish a renovation or new-build project on Sunday night and open Monday," Williams advises. "You need a couple of months to train and allow employees to get used to new systems."
The success of a project, Williams says, "is measured by perception. If you start with problems, you start with a negative perception. If you start with the right attitude, it goes a long way to support a successful operation in the future." Williams also advises that "appearance has a lot to do with perceived quality of food. The kids feel they are in a special place where food is prepared as they watch, and that contributes to their perception of high-quality food."
Phillips Academy was founded during the American Revolution on the principle that it would be open to "youth from every quarter" and with the motto non sibi, which means "not for one's self." The school has worked for two centuries to preserve these ideals of leadership and service. The new Paresky Commons plays a significant part in perpetuating these ideals to the next generations of this academy's students, faculty and staff.