Lessons Learned from the Wounded Warrior Project

A couple of years ago the Wounded Warrior Unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center made headlines for all of the wrong reasons. The facility was outdated and in poor shape. Simply put, the facility was beneath the level of quality that the U.S. soldiers who had sacrificed so much for our country deserved.

Larry-HuberLarry HuberWalter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) was established on November 10, 2011, as a result of Base Realignment and Closure recommendations, which consolidated National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) and Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the grounds of the former NNMC campus in Bethesda, Md.

So as part of this larger program to update the Wounded Warrior Transition Unit, we were recruited to design the Wounded Warrior Café, a facility that would serve the wounded warriors while they were rehabilitating from their injuries. The facility had to be special in that it had to be accessible to people recovering from physical ailments and yet it also had to have a warm and home-like feeling.

From an emotional standpoint, everything we did felt like we were giving back to those people who were protecting our freedom. Prior to the project, we heard a lot of stories about the nature of the injuries of the people that would use this facility.

Today, when you walk into the lobby of that building and look around, you see photos of the people that reside there — men and women who risked their lives fighting for this country. It is really moving. Neither of us served in the military, but this project gave us a chance to let our service men and women know how much we, as citizens, appreciate the sacrifices they made on our behalf.

Like most projects, ownership played a critical role in its success. The government knew how important it was to make sure this facility was first class and did nothing to impede our efforts to achieve that end. As a result, we were met with limited push back from the architect and contractor on the budget, allowing us to design a functional and attractive facility featuring high-end equipment.

Doug-HuberDoug HuberIt was really amazing to see everyone on the design and construction team work so well together toward a single common goal. There were no territorial issues and the team provided the best possible outcome. Everyone went above and beyond to make this a successful project. For example, the hearth oven that is prominently displayed in the servery has a plaque from the workers who built it thanking the warriors who have protected their freedoms. The oven manufacturer's employees, without any prompting, took the initiative to install the plaque on the face of the oven so the warriors could read the message of gratitude every time they visited that serving station.

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to return to the Walter Reed campus for another, unrelated, meeting. Upon entering the room, we were introduced as the foodservice designers that worked on Building 62, which is the home of the Wounded Warrior Unit. This introduction generated a warm response from everyone in the room because Building 62 has earned a great reputation on campus, which is simultaneously rewarding and humbling.

With every design-build project, the individual members of the supply chain lay their reputations on the line. On occasion, however, you get the opportunity to work on a project that stirs your passion a little more and sticks out a little more from the rest. For us, it was the opportunity to work on the Wounded Warrior Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

While this job had an interesting customer, equally appealing was the nature and scope of the work. What we would like to do is share with you some of the lessons learned on this project with the hopes that they will help other design consultants and project teams on future jobs.

Overview

The Wounded Warrior Café is a 9,730-square-foot foodservice facility in Building 62 on Walter Reed's campus. We had the opportunity to work on a $225 million project that spanned several buildings. The foodservice equipment budget was $1.7 million, and TriMark Gill was the dealer on the project.

The café operates seven days a week, serving three meals a day. Lunch represents the busiest daypart, during which the facility handles roughly 1,000 transactions. Family members visiting with the rehabilitating service men and women and other people working on campus also use this foodservice operation. The Wounded Warriors live in apartments with efficiency kitchens, so, in addition to providing meals, this facility also serves as a place where people come together to socialize.

One of the things we wrestled with was to be able to offer a variety of food and service. There are a lot of food options on the menu. We had to create multiple points of service so the facility remains fresh and interesting.

The customers' physical capabilities can vary greatly depending on the nature of their injuries and how far along they are with respect to their rehabilitation. To address these needs we used ADA guidelines on surface heights and reach and that proved sufficient. The only time that would not work is if someone was totally paralyzed and that person would require assistance anyway.

In addition, the tables have crank handles to lower and raise the surfaces depending on the needs of the person sitting there. And the food shields and breath protectors are all adjustable. So if the position of a shield creates an issue a member of the staff can adjust it to make the food more accessible and safe.

And because many of the patrons may have compromised immune systems as a result of treatments or illness, we added a cold food prep room adjacent to the walk-in cooler to help retard bacteria growth during ingredient and meal prep.

Lessons Learned

Get involved with the project as early as you can so you don't have to struggle for square footage. This was a design-build project so our space allocation was pre-determined. Consequently, our job was to make the design work within the space they had already allocated for foodservice.

Look at how much square footage is allocated and understand why it will or won't work. When preparing the initial parameters for this project, another foodservice consultant helped allocate space for the front and back of the house. Unfortunately, that consultant failed to take into account the circulation space — 10 feet or more in some areas — a facility of this kind requires. And because the public eats at this facility, we needed to allocate space for four separate point of sale systems. As a result, we had to explain to the architect how much space was necessary and why.

Put the back-of-the-house portion of the foodservice in the single story section of the building if at all possible. The Wounded Warrior Unit's foodservice operation is located on the first floor of the four-story portion of the building, with a basement beneath. As a result, we had to run ductwork through office and meeting space above it, which can be pretty costly and problematic in terms of having multiple chases through the stories above the foodservice operation.

Examine the function of each point of service. For some seasoned foodservice designers, this point may seem rather fundamental but we can't stress the importance of this enough. You don't want to place one serving line that is expected to have a queue (e.g., a made-to-order sandwich line) next to another one that will. This can be very disruptive to the operation as it impedes the customer flow through the servery, thus lowering customer satisfaction.

Build in as much flexibility as possible. For example, it is important to design facilities with equipment that can serve multiple purposes (such as refrigerated equipment bases with drawers that can hold refrigerated or frozen product). Equipment that can serve a dual function affords the operator flexibility during and across dayparts.

Holding spec matters. Because this was a commercial design-build project we had the latitude to use commercial specs, which made the bidding process much easier on the contractor and the dealers. So we were able to provide brand names and model numbers rather than a performance spec. This minimized the pre-bid questions and made the project flow better.

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