University of North Dakota's Main Dining Center has been Transformed

UND Wilkerson Commons

January 7th, 2016

The University of North Dakota (UND) has reopened the doors to the largest food service area on campus after completely renovating the 46-year old Wilkerson Hall – now Wilkerson Commons – to bring a new level of cost and resource efficiencies and opportunity for student gathering and engagement to campus.

The architectural team of JLG Architects and Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) were tasked with expanding dining services and food presentation while improving efficiencies, increasing natural light to allow students to study and eat in natural daylight even on -30 degree days, and providing amenities that elevate social experiences.

In addition, UND wanted the facility to present a more prominent image along University Avenue, the main drive on campus.

JLG and SCB’s 21,000 sq.ft. addition and 40,000 sq.ft. renovation encourages student, faculty and visitor interaction through open, flexible and colorful spaces. The terracotta-clad addition, highlighted with floor-to-ceiling glass, extends a prominent presence along University Avenue and offers a covered walkway for pedestrians.

The clean and modern character provides a contemporary statement that harmonizes with the other Collegiate Gothic facilities on campus, rather than attempt to mimic them.

“The transformation of Wilkerson has made it unrecognizable to previous generations of students who dined here,” said Jim Galloway, Principal at JLG Architects. “In addition to providing the greatest selection and variety of food options and a dining atmosphere not yet found on campus, the study and social life amenities will set a new standard in higher education in our region.”

In the main dining area, eight display cooking stations prepare a variety of expanded fresh food options, including Allergen-Free dining and Dakota Homestyle cuisine. A chef’s demonstration cooking platform is flanked by two monitors to illustrate healthy cooking techniques.

The daylit, free-flowing design maximizes circulation and comfort and is a dramatic change from the previous feeling of “institutional” dining.

On the operations side, cook and chill operations are now centralized for the first time at UND and allow food service to make soups, sauces and other bulk items for the entire campus, ensuring consistent quality and greatly reducing the amount of processed food utilized. The $4 million kitchen and servery includes 11 walk-in coolers that will monitor the temperature of the individual food in the freezers to help the staff track how products are affected during high-traffic times, as well as specialty equipment such as a meat slicer that will allow staff to cut lunch meats in three hours, rather than twenty.

All of the school’s produce can be washed in a single location in a fraction of the time, and the cook-chill equipment makes hundreds of gallons of pastas and chilis and bring it back down to a cooled state in less than two hours. Said Orlynn Rosaasen, Director of Dining Services, “There wasn’t a model for this type of kitchen anywhere else. We are setting the trend.”

The facility’s direct connection to several residence halls meant that the renovated space had to act not only as a progressively designed dining center, but as a home for Campus Housing offices and as support space for student life. While not intended to replace the UND Student Union, Wilkerson will be relied upon to provide many parallel services on the west end of campus.

The rejuvenated Wilkerson facility provides new features for students based on UND’s strategic priorities for students: Experience, Gather, Collaborate, Expand, Enhance. Multiple study areas provide quiet locations for individuals, meeting rooms for larger groups, and a high-tech Innovation Lab which allows immersive interaction for students to create, share and learn. This lab is directly tied into campus-wide technology to facilitate the highest level of student involvement with no boundaries. Gathering spaces on the lower level are arranged to allow louder activities to be separated from quieter study areas. A comfortable central fireplace acts as the “hinge” between gaming and socialization pods and academic student work areas.

The foodservice and dining services are augmented by an open C-store and coffee bar which flank a raised stage and entertainment space, which in turn is flexible to allow speakers, musicians, or video presentations. A Grab and Go location allows students to get a limited version of the daily fresh food menu in a more carry-out friendly format on the way to and from classes or their residence halls. UND’s plan is to provide as many services to the largest number of students during as many hours a day as possible.

Formerly called Wilkerson Hall, the university elected to rename Wilkerson Commons to better reflect the building’s “revamped purpose as a bigger and brighter central gathering space with a large dining area used by the entire campus community,” according to David Dodds, Media Relations Coordinator at UND.

Said Lori Reesor, Vice President of Student Affairs, "In the past, Wilkerson Hall has always been the building you go through on your way to someplace else. But the new Wilkerson will serve as a magnet – drawing students, faculty and staff together."

Source: College Planning & Management

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