West Virginia University's five-year project brought its dated foodservice facilities into the 21st century
West Virginia University (WVU) goes to great lengths to prepare its more than 29,000 students for successful futures, but, until recently, some of its dining facilities were stuck in the past.
Although its main campus is in Morgantown, WVU is comprised of 13 colleges and schools across 188 buildings on more than 1,000 acres. In September 2005 the 144-year-old university began an overhaul of its foodservice program.
This included renovating three facilities: Summit Caf√© in Summit Hall, Boreman Bistro in Boreman Hall and Hatfields Restaurant in the school's Mountainlair Student Center. The project also included the development of several new foodservice operations including a catering facility in the new Erickson Alumni Center; a pair of coffee shops, Eliza's in the downtown library and Cavanaugh's at the university's Health Science Campus; and Summit Grab & Go in a residential facility. As part of the project, three regional campuses ‚Äî Jackson's Mill, West Virginia Technical Institute and Potomac State College ‚Äî received new or renovated kitchens and dining rooms.
WVU's Dining Services team also targeted national franchises for its food court. The decision to pursue this path was based on data collected in a campus study in which students indicated they wanted access to national brands as well as increased portability for their meals. As a result, Burger King, Freshens and Quizno's outlets were added, and a Chick-Fil-A is scheduled to open this February. In addition, last fall, Taziki's, a Mediterranean restaurant run by WVU's Business and Economics Hospitality Program, was added to the students' dining plans. "Basically, we needed to have contemporary facilities with layouts and designs that allowed us to incorporate the foodservice programs we wanted to implement," says David Friend, WVU's director of dining services.
All of the projects outlined in WVU's original master plan, with the exception of Cafe Evansdale on the school's Evansdale campus, have been completed. "The goal of the renovations was to increase student satisfaction and their perception of campus dining, while building additional sales," Friend says.
The university also hoped the updates would boost its scores in the National Association of College & University Food Services' (NACUFS) Customer Satisfaction Benchmarking Survey. This allows member institutions to compare their campus' satisfaction scores for food quality, menu variety, customer service and cleanliness with aggregated scores from all participating institutions in the sample. The survey measures customer satisfaction at residential dining halls (board plans) and retail units.
Although there were eight projects total, some smaller than others, and three on the regional campus, the five-year timeline was staged to accomplish one to two projects at a time. Even using this measured approach, timing very much remained an issue. "We tried to complete the projects over the summer, when the majority of students were not on campus," Friend says.
This meant that even the more substantial renovations were faced with a 95-day build out. Keeping to the schedule required advanced planning with architects and designers, who formulated schedules, prioritized tasks and kept to the deadline dates in order to not get in each other's way during the projects.
From an equipment standpoint, the plan was to convert the dining hall operations from batch cooking to a cook-to-order format. Much of the equipment in use was at the end of its lifecycle and needed replacement. "We knew we needed to implement more energy-efficient units that were more technologically advanced for this project," Friend says.
Outdated fryers were replaced with automated units. Combi ovens, which had not been used in WVU's kitchens prior to the renovations, were installed. "Durability also was a factor in our equipment purchasing decision, as we were looking for units that would hold up to heavy use and stand the test of time," Friend says. Other equipment purchasing considerations included how easy the items are to use and clean.
In the Summit Caf√© renovation, the main goals were to expedite service and increase menu options, while providing a more aesthetically-pleasing environment for students who dined at the 11,416-sq.ft. facility. This new servery would take the place of Summit Hall's traditional, straight-line dining hall cafeteria.
"The goal was to have this dining hall meet the same criteria as WVU's other updated serveries to create a more level playing field," says Ken Kistler, president of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based McFarland Kistler & Associates, the foodservice equipment designer for the Summit Caf√© project.
To accomplish this in an existing operation that had a confined area for a new food court was a challenge. "We did not have as much open space as we would have liked," Kistler says. "And we had to redesign the food court without doing work in the main production kitchen. Typically, both work together."
Another obstacle the team had to overcome was getting the large pizza oven into the facility. "The oven wouldn't fit through the doors, so we ended up having to drop it through the skylight opening with a crane," Friend says.
Aside from replacing the dish machine, everything in the back of the house remained the same, while the dining area was completely overhauled. "In terms of our design goals, aesthetics, energy efficiency, durability and serviceability were most important with the Summit Caf√© project," Kistler says.
After a number of site meetings where Summit Caf√©'s existing conditions were reviewed, the design concepts were established. Summit Caf√©'s servery incorporated all new equipment, including the large pizza oven, a display cooking area and multiple counters displaying hot and cold food. The equipment for this project totaled $650,000, while $376,142 was spent on new furnishings and fixtures.
"We purchased new equipment for renovation stations, including ranges and grills," Friend says. "In the deli area, we added sandwich makeup tables and panini presses. We also included custom-built casework with attractive wood finishes and Corian tops at each station, including the salad bar, and beverage and dessert stations out front."
As for Summit Caf√©'s design, the mostly self-service operation is conceptually similar to a mall food court. The servery includes a pizza station that offers strombolis, calzones and individual pizzas. The Traditions station provides a variety of comfort food selections, while Chef Express is a cooked-to-order area where students can choose ingredients for a variety of entrees, such as eggs and omelets for breakfast and stir fry and pasta dishes for lunch and dinner. "The caf√© has a customized deli, where students can choose sandwiches, wraps and paninis," Friend says.
In conjunction with the new servery, Summit Hall added Grab & Go, a station that provides sandwiches, salads and other to-go fare, along with coffee and other beverages.
The dining hall's institutional d√©cor was updated to include the school's colors, blue and gold. Natural wood tabletops and chairs, along with booths and cocktail-type tables, provide seating for 250, an increase from the former dining room's 195 seats.
Although the renovation was on time and on budget, more money was allocated to build in efficiencies and to make sure the operation would have what was needed for a 20-year life span. "The project's success was predicated on the design team and input of WVU's foodservice department and staff," Kistler says. "It took a concerted effort to do what we did within the constraints that we had to work within. The WVU staff offered tremendous input, which was paramount to the success of this project."
With this renovation, the dining hall was able to reduce both its plate and labor costs by about 14 percent.
The renovation's success is evident by the increase in student visits. Since the servery's creation, the dining hall has experienced a 53 percent increase in student meal plan participation. It should be noted that this rise also can be attributed to the installation of a 350-room resident hall adjacent to Summit, which increased the bed count this hall serves by 30 percent.
The addition of Summit Grab & Go resulted in a 46 percent increase in the overall foodservice participation at Summit Hall compared to previous levels.
In Boreman's upper level, the servery space was expanded to provide a scattered approach for its updated menu. All of this area's counters had to be custom fabricated.
"The Summit project was easier than Boreman because it was more straightforward and not so dated," Friend says. "Because Boreman was built in the 1940s, there were a lot of problems with infrastructure including plumbing, electric, etc., when upgrading the foodservice equipment."
The 10,540-sq.-ft. facility had the gas and water utilities, but the team needed to increase the capacity and relocate the connections.
"We expected this on the front end, because the engineers conducted site visits before the architects drafted the plans. Fortunately, there were very few things that were undisclosed," Friend says.
Taylor and his team had free reign in terms of altering the kitchen, which featured low ceilings and limited space. Storage and production would remain in the basement, complimented by cooking on the first floor. "This made the design challenging from a logistical standpoint," Taylor says.
Unlike the Summit project, all of Boreman Bistro's equipment needed to be on quick disconnects for portability and versatility. In addition to utility and mechanical updates, upgrading the ventilation was a challenge in the basement. "For this project, we gutted the kitchen and brought in all new kitchen equipment, although the back of the house layout remained the same," Friend says.
Equipment additions included combi ovens, convection ovens, fryers, steamers, walk-in refrigerators and freezers, ice machines and warewashing units. "Flexibility was a top priority in terms of the equipment so it could accommodate Boreman's expanded menu," Taylor says.
Boreman Bistro's front of the house includes more individual stations, similar to Summit Caf√©'s. A customized deli, Chef's Express station, grill area and Traditions comfort food offering are included, along with a vegetarian station. This hall also has a coffee counter that offers pastries. "This servery is fairly compact and retained the 185 seats that the dining room had before the renovation," Friend says.
The dining room d√©cor includes customized mahogany casework with granite countertops and booth and table seating. The school colors replaced the former Southwestern theme that was reminiscent of the 1970s.
The total cost of the Boreman Bistro project was $698,812 for foodservice equipment and $345,142 for furnishings and fixtures. Like Summit Cafe, the Boreman Bistro experienced cost savings and increased student participation. After the renovation, plate costs went down more than 14 percent, while labor costs decreased 10 percent. Student participation in Boreman's meal plan increased 25 percent.
Located in WVUs Mountainlair Student Center, Hatfields Restaurant was formerly a traditional a la carte sit-down operation. "We wanted to take a market station approach with this renovation, similar to the Summit and Boreman dining halls," Friend says.
Hatfields was renovated to include the Corner Deli, Chef's Express station, Healthy "U" station, Soup & Salad Bar, Traditions and Dessert station. There is also a showcase that features retail items for grab-and-go service. Menu items available here include sushi, fresh fruit and vegetables.
"We changed Hatfields' format from a full-service restaurant to a mini scattered concept with a salad bar," Taylor says. "There was no space challenge with this project, as most of the work was in the front of the house."
The focus was on the flow of the servery, since the equipment needed to handle a varied menu. The salad bar separates the food area and dining room. "Another goal was to aesthetically improve that portion of the Mountainlair building," Taylor says.
Hatfields incorporates mahogany custom case work with granite countertops. The dining room features chairs with laser-cut WV's in the backs to promote school spirit.
"We've been able to take labor out of the front and have meaningful interactions with staff and students. This new design provides a more personal experience, enhanced food and reduced labor costs," Friend says.
Hatfields' sales increased more than 8 percent following the renovation. The foodservice equipment package for this project was $600,000, and the furnishings and fixtures were $352,000.
Alumni Center Addition
The new Erickson Alumni Center's on-site catering facility, which opened in 2008, includes a state-of-the-art kitchen as part of the new building. Equipment includes convection and combi ovens and fryers. The back line is primarily comprised of steam-driven equipment including kettles, tilt skillets and steam jacketed kettles. The foodservice equipment costs for this project totaled $656,591.
The operation services events in the center's ballroom, which can be sectioned off to accommodate three separate events simultaneously. The new building also includes an upscale club room with a bar and reception area, a board room that seats 30 and six meeting rooms that accommodate between six and 80 guests. "The center is primarily used by WVU's departments, but also hosts weddings and conferences," Friend says.
The Alumni Center renovation included a state-of-the-art catering kitchen and pantries, in addition to a bar area. "This was a straightforward project where the kitchen flows very well," Taylor says.
The back of the house, located adjacent to the ballroom, is designed to support multiple events simultaneously. "The Alumni Center kitchen is designed to plate up catered meals into banquet carts for a la carte service," Taylor says. "We prefer to work with tried and true equipment, as opposed to units that use new concepts that are unproven."
All facility renovations have incorporated the university's Healthy "U" stations. Developed six years ago as part of an initiative to provide a healthier campus environment for students, the program received first place in NACUFS' National Nutrition Contest as well as a Loyal E. Horton Award for Residence Hall Dining-Multiple Concepts/Outlets. "We wanted to create a doable program within the dining halls that was educational," says Nettie Freshour, WVU's dietician and creator of the Healthy "U" program.
At these food stations, portions are carefully measured out and separate areas provide dedicated grills for preparing turkey, veggie and salmon burgers. "These stations include a lot of special products that take more time to prepare because they are made from scratch," Freshour says.
The program has four components. First, healthy options are provided at all meals in every WVU dining hall. Nutritional information is posted and based off of American Dietetic Association guidelines. Second, wellness centers throughout campus provide brochures, handouts and calorie reference information to students, while the Healthy "U" Facebook page includes podcasts on health-related topics. A third component is that each hall has a wellness coordinator that works with Freshour to create new programs each semester geared to enhancing students' health.
The last program component provides students with free one-on-one consultations with Freshour to discuss healthy eating and food-related topics. "This can include anything their goals are related to, such as addressing weight gain and eating healthier to maintain weight," Freshour says.
After the dining hall renovations, the Healthy "U" options were moved to the front of the serveries. "We wanted to switch the way food was presented, putting the healthier items first in the lineup so students were aware of them," Freshour says.
All in all, WVU's renovations were completed as planned. An unexpected bonus‚Äîcommuter student dining plans increased 40 percent in the last year. "For the most part, we've been extremely happy with the renovations," Friend says. "It turned out like we envisioned, because we put a lot into the planning stages. Although we made many changes before the general contractors began the project, the work sites were closely monitored."
WVU's next major plan is renovating its largest residential dining facility, Caf√© Evansdale. "We plan on turning the facility, which is a traditional dining hall cafeteria, into a food court concept," Friend says. "We can't do this one in a 95-day build out, so we are talking about completing it in a couple of stages so as not to disrupt the students."
The university also is working on finalizing plans for its next five-year dining services facility upgrade. Based on the success of its first phase, WVU can expect even more student participation and cost decreases, which are a testament to a job well done.