How the University of Chicago Medical Center overhauled its kitchen

Dana Moran, Managing Editor

university chicago medical center exterior

In 2014, the foodservice operations at The University of Chicago Medical Center got a major surprise. Two floors of its Center for Care and Discovery, which opened just one year prior, that had been set aside for surgical space instead would be used for housing patients. There was no way the current kitchen, built to feed 240 patients, could handle an additional 202 beds.

While technically those new patients could have been fed from other kitchens on the UCMC campus, “I think a lot of it was around making sure we were an efficient kitchen,” says MaryPat Severns, Aramark resident director of food services at University of Chicago. With that in mind, the foodservice team and administration at the hospital in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood headed down the path of renovating the existing space.

Shape and size

university chicago kitchen before

The 4,000-square-foot kitchen was directly adjacent to a loading dock—and, conveniently, another dock already was being built at a nearby site. Because the UCMC dining team wasn’t sure if the entire footprint of the dock was needed, they ran through a variety of schematics, says Elizabeth Lockwood, project manager. And while the kitchen—which serves the CCD and Comer Children’s Hospital—may not currently need to feed more than 500 patients, there’s no telling what the future may hold.

“This was our big chance to rightsize the kitchen,” she says of the eventual decision to use the entire dock. Part of the plan included adding a T-shaped dual tray line so staffers could double their meal production capacity, a suggestion that came from hourly workers, says Daryl Wilkerson, the hospital’s vice president of support services. “Their input made the kitchen flow better,” he says.

Because the existing kitchen was only a year old, UCMC didn’t want to just trash perfectly good walk-in freezers and exhaust hoods. The foodservice and construction teams based many of their schematic designs on whether those items could remain in their current location. “What we’re talking about is the true challenge of renovation versus new construction,” says Connie Dickson, principal at Rippe Associates, UCMC’s foodservice consulting firm.

After six months of debating design and scenarios, the 12,000-square-foot project was approved with a $9 million budget.

Timing is everything

comer childrens exterior

The project’s time frame also was a major factor in the budget. “Our first consideration was not just cost, but the speed,” Lockwood says. UCMC could renovate in place while operating at 100% and complete the project in multiple phases, but that scenario meant additional labor costs and using a dish room that was two to three blocks away from the kitchen. The decision was made to construct a temporary kitchen from four modular units in an open parking lot.

“Ultimately, the multiphase scenario was going to take longer and require a lot of workarounds,” Severns says. “The temporary complex certainly had its own set of challenges for operations; however, it did get us into the new kitchen much faster. That was the value we decided was most important.”

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