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Dramatic University Dining
Planners for the University of Chicago’s Bartlett Hall once doubted whether the magnificent 1901 building at the center of campus could even be a dining hall.

Winter 2005
By Martha O’Connell

DESIGN SOLUTIONS

A lot of history was at stake and the prestigious university wanted it preserved: the building’s gorgeous neo-Gothic architecture formerly housed a gymnasium that was the training center for the first U.S. Men’s Olympic teams.  The first Heisman Trophy is displayed there.

The chance to overcome challenges and convert the turn-of-the-century gymnasium into a foodservice hall was “as good as it gets for a designer” recalls Bob Pacifico, executive vice president of consulting firm Romano Gatland.

Today, diners can still walk on the original hardwood basketball floor that was redone.  They gaze at the 49-foot-tall gabled ceiling and restored two-story, diamond-paned windows.  Foodservice is accomplished out of a three-story area and a 550-seat dining space.

“The idea of three levels is a key piece to all of this,” says Dan Raih, principal in charge of design with architect Bruner/Cott & Associates.  “There had to be some type of compromise to a typical dining operation in order to fit into this building.  I would applaud the dining operating folks for making this decision because clearly the beneficiaries are the students and dining patrons, not the operators.”

The operation’s jewel is on the top level: serving and seating areas to satisfy the tastes of the eclectic student mix.  Eleven stations offer an array of international food choices.  Duplicate 24-foot-long salad bars run on each side of the serving area.  The oak counter stations are made to look like informally placed market tables, but they are moveable for future flexibility.

The dishwashing system prevents unsightly backup.  An oval-shaped accumulation conveyor has 80 stacked slots for diners to insert trays.  Unlike a straight-line conveyor that would stop, the circular conveyor keeps rotating even if it is full of trays.

Three meals are served and cash, credit cards, and meal plan cards are always accepted.  Since student use is highest in the morning and evening, registers process debit meal cards quickly as they enter for all-you-can-eat breakfasts and dinners.  At lunch, registers are moved to the end of the line because diners, including more professors and visitors at this time of day, pay per item as they leave.

The middle level, converted office space, is a preparation area with equipment such as shredders, slicers, blast chillers, kettles, braising pans, ovens, walk-in coolers, and prep sinks.  Catering is also prepared here.

To make foodservice possible, a 2,250-square-foot, two-truck loading dock was required at the mid level for deliveries.  Architects designed the addition of matching limestone and Gothic detailing to blend with the original building.

The basement became the main storage area with walk-in coolers, freezers and dry storage.

Two freight elevators hidden from diners connect the three foodservice floors.

Extensive exhaust and ventilation systems had to be installed without leaving exposed ductwork.  That was solved by running kitchen exhaust through concealed ducts in the ceilings and from there, running ducts up through the corners of the building and out the roof.

After Bartlett Hall was completed, it was obvious that no one got everything they wanted.  But the cafeteria gave the university a dining hall to satisfy students for years to come while preserving the building’s historic integrity.

“There was no room here for one driving force.  Instead, there was a compromise of past, present, and future that can only be achieved in a team effort,” Pacifico says.

 

PROJECT AT A GLANCE  

SPACE

Bartlett Hall, University of Chicago  

OPENED

Winter 2002  

COST

$11.5 million  

TOTAL FACILITY SIZE

64,300 s.f  

TOTAL SIZE OF FOODSERVICE PORTION

11,905 s.f. plus a 1,630 s.f convenience store

NO. OF MEALS SERVED PER DAY

2,500

FOOD SERVED

Mexican, American, Kosher, vegetarian, Latin, Italian, Asian, Middle-Eastern

NO. OF SEATS

550

ARCHITECTURAL FIRM

Bruner/Cott & Associates, Cambridge , Mass.

DESIGN FIRM

Romano Gatland, Woodstock , Ill.

INSTALLER

TriMark Marlinn, Bedford Park , Ill.