Walla Walla Community College puts finishing touches on expansion

The college's culinary and student services programs soon will have revamped and expanded space.

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Jim Peterson walks from the sealed-up dining area and into the kitchen full of new equipment stations inside Walla Walla Community College's cafeteria expansion project. Work crews are installing the new equipment and finishing up dining area work with the hopes of lighting up for action the week after Thanksgiving break.

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Walla Walla Community College's cafeteria expansion project takes shape on the southeast edge of the campus' main buildings, seen here through a break in trees that line Titus Creek through the college.

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Walla Walla Communty College cafeteria expansion gets cooking. Reflected in the window of a new industrial oven, Jim Peterson tours through Walla Walla Community College's cafeteria expansion project. According to Peterson the kitchen area and part of the new dining area should be completed and ready for use the week after Thanksgiving break.

WALLA WALLA -- A $3 million expansion and renovation at Walla Walla Community College will start to unveil itself with the debut of a redesigned and expanded cafeteria next month.

The latest capital project at the community college is bringing a bigger, more modern kitchen and dining area to the school. The project is also adding 8,888 square feet of new construction, geared primarily for academics, and will remodel 13,678 square feet of existing space, by the time it is all finished in March 2010.

The project is the most recent at the school, which saw completion of two new buildings and a significant expansion to its main academic building just two years ago.

The college first sought funding to expand its culinary program in 2005, when it applied for a state grant to cover a renovation of the kitchen, explained James Peterson, vice president of administrative services. Peterson said the state money was secured in 2007, and then boosted when the college's students agreed to impose a fee on themselves to help match the nearly $1 million from the state.

Through a combination of the state money, which was bolstered with matching funds, and including the student fees, the kitchen renovation then turned into an opportunity to further expand the culinary program as well as the college's student services.

Both the college's Culinary Arts program and Student Services department have since collaborated to bring the latest project forward.

As a result, students will benefit from an ample dining area just off the new kitchen, joined by a nearby student lounge space, in the main floor of the college and on space that is expanding out into what had been an outdoor patio and walk way. A new outdoor patio, where students can eat or relax, will also be built and bring students closer to Titus Creek, which runs behind the campus.

A significant amount of remodeling and new construction is also taking shape on the second floor, above the kitchen. Upstairs, students will benefit from a larger tutoring center, a computer lab, and a student activity room where pool and pingpong tables are to be featured. The new construction, both upstairs and down, will make use of natural light and provide winning views of the Blue Mountains and creek.

But the driving force behind the new construction, and the project's crown jewel, remains the modernized kitchen.

The new kitchen will boast 5,500 square feet of renovated and new space, a marked increase from the 3,000 square foot kitchen built in 1973 that has served students, staff and guests.

Peterson said the original cafeteria was designed with the expectation of serving between 800 and 1,000 students enrolled at the school when it first opened.

With closer to 3,000 students attending the college more than 30 years later, the kitchen expansion was more than overdue.

Culinary program coordinators will likely be hard at work the week of Thanksgiving break to stock the new kitchen and get adjusted to the new space. The optimistic goal is to open for service the week that students return to the college after the holiday, Nov. 30.

"That's our plan, and I'm confident it will happen," Peterson said.

Robert Wood, culinary arts program coordinator, said the size of the old kitchen limited the program. He said among the biggest improvements is multiple stations that will be used for instruction purposes. The stations will provide space for each student to work on dishes without being crowded.

About 40 students will benefit from the new culinary amenities this year, but Wood said the new space is designed with room for growth in mind.

"We expect to double enrollment at some point," he said.

Wood weighed in on the importance of culinary instruction in the Valley, which consistently stands out as a region of quality wine and dining.

"It's a major move forward," he said. "It's a big step forward for the program."

Among the amenities new to the kitchen and culinary program will be a set of walk-in refrigerators and freezers. The college used to rely on a set that was kept in the basement of the college. There is also a gas-burning Wood Stone oven that is known for producing distinctive pizzas.

Wood said the modernized and expanded kitchen should put the Culinary Arts program in a light similar to the Enology and Viticulture Center at the college.

"It's a beautiful facility, and it can handle a lot of students," Wood said of the new kitchen facility. "We hope it will be a magnet for people interested in pursuing culinary arts education."

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