An inside look at the timber used in constructing The University of Georgia’s new Bolton Dining Commons
Good timber makes good buildings. That seems to be a guiding principle for The University of Georgia’s food services department, who recently erected a new dining commons boasting a sixty-foot tall wood ceiling supported by custom-made douglas fir glulam trusses. To use the word comfortable to describe the environment might be an understatement–one feels like they’re eating in a mountain lodge rather than a college dining hall–but that’s exactly how UGA’s associate director of auxiliary services Mike Floyd (recently retired) describes their impetus for using 92,900 tons of douglas fir in the design: “We know that students want an atmosphere they feel comfortable in. We wanted the wood construction and beam ceilings in the Bolton to make that statement.”
Statement indeed. Constructing 52,000 square-foot Bolton Dining Commons a mere four months after Governor Nathan Deal signs legislation allowing “wood construction projects that are otherwise in compliance with state minimum standard codes” (SB 301) in public school facilities, UGA communicates a sure-sign commitment to using sustainable resources such as timber in their ongoing expansion.
In addition main dining area, principal architect David Wagner and his team at Smith Dalia incorporated douglas fir and granite throughout the building’s other spaces, including the domed rotunda and atrium, the outdoor seating area covered by a reverse-pitch douglas fir roof, and the Hearth Room–a smaller-scale version of the main dining room embellished with two stone fireplaces, used for catered and private events. “The wood has a warm, natural effect, and it just feels right–I hate to say it–but it just feels right,” says Wagner, whose team decided to leave the massive douglas fir beams and tongue-and-groove ceiling unstained. “The natural beauty of the wood itself, paired with the granite, gave everything a better look and feel. It makes you feel like you’re in a special place.”
The building was constructed as considerately as it was conceived. “Wherever we could, we tried to use local products,” explains Wagner, who himself is a LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional). “The granite is from Elberton, the brick veneer on the exterior is local. Though the custom glulam trusses made with douglas firs are from the northwest, the fabricator was out of Boone, NC.”
That UGA’s food services department is leading in the use of sustainable building materials comes as no surprise. Having personally earned an astounding eighty Horton Awards from the National Association of College & University Food Service during his career feeding UGA students, Mike Floyd learned early on that success grows from uniqueness. “When I was first promoted to manager when I was twenty-two years old, someone told me that the key to success was being different. If everyone is serving cereal in little boxes, you serve it in bowls.” Floyd accepted the advice, but went far beyond rethinking breakfast presentations; during his twenty-eight years as the executive director of food services, UGA has implemented several game-changers in the university food industry, including biometric hand-scanning devices for students to gain entrance to dining facilities, the first 24-hour dining hall in the nation (Snelling), and unlimited-food meal plans. “Throughout my career, my goal has been to do things different from other people. That’s how you’re successful. Our food services program at the University of Georgia stands out because we do things differently.”
Without a doubt, Bolton raises the standard on the college dining experience. When most people hark back to their undergrad days, they recall plates piled with greasy pizza and deli-meat sandwiches on stale bread, eating quickly in dusty, dim-lit rooms with low ceilings and rickety chairs. At Bolton, UGA students enter a multi-level cathedral-of-a-building, scan their hand in a star-trek looking device, decide from which corner of the globe they would like to chow, place an order with a real chef at one of the numerous made-to-order stations, and plop down at a solid-wood table with a view overlooking nearby Tanyard Creek. If their iPhone needs a charge, they plug it into a USB port in the wall. If they want know the nutritional information of their meal, they visit one of several nutritional education stations on the premises–an iPad with state-of-the-art software built in-house for UGA’s menu.
The students are responding to the wood construction. “We served almost 10,000 meals our first day open,” says Allison Harper, marketing coordinator for UGA’s food services, “that’s the most we’ve ever served in one facility in one day. We’ve also broken our record for overall meal plan sales.” Harper attributes much of the success to Bolton’s cozy features, “Wooden furniture, large windows, two fireplaces in the Hearth Room. All those things have built a lot of excitement for the customers.”
While the record breaking success of Bolton Dining Commons appears instantaneous, it is the result of decades of momentum garnered by Floyd and stewarded by his recent successor at executive director of food services, Jeanne Fry. “There’s a tremendous amount of detail that goes into a project like this,” says Floyd, commenting on Fry’s role in Bolton’s immediate impact. “Jeanne was the person on the ground making things happen. She focused on the equipment, the workflow, the flow of the inventory, the flow of the dishes, the activity levels so that people don’t cross each other in the kitchen, and more. The opening would not have been successful had it not been for Jeanne Fry.” Floyd, who retired from his post as associate director of auxiliary services a week after Bolton’s opening, is confident that his accomplishments will endure. “I’m retiring. There’s a lot of comfort knowing that I have someone like Jeanne staying here to manage these operations. She’s the right person for the job.”
Setting up UGA’s food services for ongoing prosperity seems to have been a long-time focus for Floyd, who during his thirty-year career at UGA has overseen the remodeling or reconstruction of every dining facility on the campus. Fitting, then, that his final wood construction project involved harvesting massive trees to build Bolton Dining Commons: in the forest, new trees will grow; in the dining hall, his legacy is enshrined as a beautiful ceiling, providing protection and a sense of grandeur to those who eat beneath it.
Editor // Timber Update