Interim Dining Facility Bridges Construction Gap

Managing a foodservice operation is no easy task, and one that gets more and more complex each year. College and university foodservice operations make this clear year in and year out.

Sleek serveries and fresh marketplaces continue to reign as the eatery of choice in higher education dining; however, students also want full-service restaurants and more mixed, all-purpose spaces to eat, lounge, congregate, study and be entertained all in one place.

Dining Halls and Food Service Programs: One Key to Recruitment and Retention

Students, on average, believe that they’re getting more value out of their meal plans and are more satisfied with the healthy choices and nutritional content of food available on campus. Without a doubt, nutrition and wellness initiatives are paramount in collegiate dining. And, sustainability is an increasingly critical component.

Dining halls and food service programs are noted in several academic studies as one of the strongest recruitment and retention strategies for colleges & universities. A useful and inviting dining area is a factor in the success of college students, and a major retention strategy is to create multiple custom dining environments on campus. This also helps increase student satisfaction and campus pride. Quality and customer satisfaction have long been recognized as playing a crucial role for success and survival in today’s competitive market. Not surprisingly, considerable research has been conducted on these two concepts.

The challenge for many food service operators is accommodating the palette of the well-traveled, well-dined Millennial generation in aging dining complexes. They frequent restaurants outside of the college campus and have begun to expect the same thing when they are on-site.

Bridging the Gap During Construction

Founded in 1908, James Madison University is a public, co-educational research university in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with enrollment of just under 21,000 students. Known as D-Hall because of its history as the first dining hall on campus, Gibbons Hall was built in 1962 when JMU was much smaller. It was decided that D-Hall needed updates to meet the changing needs of the university and students, and it was determined to be more cost effective to tear it down and rebuild than to renovate.

Bridging the gap during construction and providing the same high-quality dining services to the students took JMU beyond the obvious solutions. In any such situation, the alternatives include off-the-shelf, temporary trailers, which can lack a quality, finished look consistent with the university image, or a conventional building, which would have required a significantly longer build out. After much deliberation JMU opted to go with an architectural membrane structure and high-tech modular kitchen structures with finishes and exterior appearance that fit the university’s objectives.

JMU has replaced Gibbons Hall with an interim dining and kitchen facility in a parking lot off Duke Drive to serve students until the permanent replacement is built and chose quality, speed, and sustainability with a frame-supported, architectural membrane-clad modular food service complex. The $9 million project began in October 2015 and D-Hub, a play-off D-Hall, opened in August. Scheduled to be used for two years, the interim space will seat 1,000 and consist of eight food stations.

Maintaining Food Service During Renovation

JMU is not the first to use an interim building solution to maintain food service operations while undergoing a renovation. Harvard Business School, the University of Southern California, the United States Naval Academy, and the University of Mississippi have all utilized similar solutions. Previously, the only options for foodservice during a renovation were phasing or shutting down – both of which can be expensive and detrimental to the customer base. When considering a major renovation, the benefits of an interim stand-alone facility are significant for food service providers requiring flexible facilities to continue or expand operations.

A great deal of comprehensive design effort is required to make the interim kitchen and dining successful. Generally, it can take 12 to 18 months and involves all disciplines required for a permanent foodservice facility. JMU’s dining services partner, Aramark, worked closely with the General Contractor, Consultant, and teams from Kitchens to Go and Sprung on behalf of their client. It was imperative that D-Hub meet specific standards in order to maintain the student dining experience.

According to Stephanie Hoshower, Operations Director with Aramark, student centric programs in the dining halls are their main focus: Their goal is to deliver experiences that enrich and nourish the lives of people every day. From facilities to food services, they make it their mission to know what college students want, and they use that knowledge to create the ultimate campus experience. Maintaining operational excellence and continuing to offer nothing less than what the JMU population was used to was essential.

The result is a 27,000 square foot complex that offers all of the newest “Aramark Vibe Fresh Market” concepts. A concrete patio deck with outdoor seating surrounds the north exterior of the structure with walk up windows featuring a full menu of pizza, pasta and grill items. The windows will be open extended hours providing a “late night” option for the campus community. Also offered at this grab-and-go site each morning will be breakfast sandwiches which students-both residents and commuters- can get on the way to class. Hoshower is very pleased with this aspect of the project since this new area at D-Hub elevates the services and dining experience over what was previously available. A second facility has also been built and is a stand-alone, full menu, Chick-Fil-A with seating for 100. It sits directly across the street from the original D-Hall. The engineered tensioned membrane structure combined with comprehensive code-compliant modular facilities will keep JMU foodservice operations up and running allowing them to maintain quality, consistency, and service excellence and drive increased efficiency without disruption.

Durable Enough for Permanence

The completely equipped structure is so durable that it can be used permanently if desired, and many times these facilities replace permanent site built construction. D-Hub looks like a permanent facility and fits well with the other buildings on campus. Because the equipment and structures can be leased, there are no “extra assets” to be disposed of after the renovation project. The frames and kitchen equipment go back into inventory and are reused at other locations.

It’s a totally sustainable solution. The tensioned membrane structure has been around for more than three decades. Patented in the late 1970s as an alternative to existing construction methods, these permanent, habitable structures were first used for the oil and gas industry in both arctic and desert climes, and eventually adapted for use in virtually every market sector. Architecturally, the interim facility is a tensioned membrane structure that is made up of a series of aluminum frames covered with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) membrane stretched between them. The structure itself, which utilizes a number of 5-foot 10-inch aluminum I-beams to span the 80-foot width, is set up to be a permanent facility (though relocatable in design) and will be on site at JMU for 24 months.

Full HVAC facilities are incorporated to keep occupants cool in summer and warm during the winter months. This works very efficiently due to the 9-inch-thick (r30) blanket of fiberglass insulation within the walls of the structure. Recently, Sprung added new features to enhance the dining experience which include the combination of daylight panels in the peak and glazing walls creating plenty of natural light within the building envelope.

Interim Kitchens: A New Opportunity

Interim kitchens are a new opportunity available to architects, foodservice consultants, general contractors, and the foodservice marketplace as an alternate solution to be able to provide continuity of foodservice operation during a time of planned or unplanned renovation of an existing foodservice facility or in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

All market segments of the foodservice industry utilize interim kitchen facilities, including education, healthcare, corrections, military, disaster relief and recovery, natural resource work camps-oil and mining, business and industry, hospitality and catering, quick-serve (fast food), and senior living.

The fully building code and health code compliant D-Hub complex at JMU includes cooking modules, prep modules, dishwashing modules and cold and dry storage facilities. A key feature of the D-Hub interim dining and kitchen complex are the series of enclosed modular walkways for efficiency and ease of transitioning between task areas.

The enclosed walkways provide a protected environment for the movement of food and production staff and tie the entire modular space together. The interface between the architectural membrane structure and the kitchen modules was given considerable attention and provides open and free access visually, verbally, and physically.

About the Authors
Jim Avery, Vice President of Sprung, has extensive knowledge in the university and college fields and has been a major contributor to Sprung's rapid growth.

Amy B. Lewis, MBA is Director of Marketing & Business Development for Kitchens To Go; she has wide-ranging experience driving marketing, product strategy and execution for companies.