A model of new design, the Kent Denver School Dining Hall is also a place for learning
By Ray Mark Rinaldi
The Denver Post
POSTED: 04/10/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
Sometimes numbers are the story, and in the case of the new dining hall addition at Kent Denver School, the numbers are impressive: landfill waste down 90 percent, standard energy costs down 42 percent, leafy vegetable consumption up 500 percent.
But here's the bigger news: Working with local architects Semple Brown Design, the school has added to its campus an object of practical beauty and groundbreaking efficiency at a reasonable price; a space that's inviting, well-considered and righteously self-conscious. It is a model of environmental smarts, and on track to become the first school dining facility to be certified green at the highest level — known as LEED platinum, and coveted widely — from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Built for $4.5 million, the now 20,000-square-foot cafeteria aims to educate while it feeds. Students get healthy meals, but they also get a glimpse into the circular process of food production, consumption and waste recycling. There's something particularly green, and wholly appropriate, in the fact that students who pay $20,000 a year for tuition scrape their own dirty dishes into composting bins.
That combination of human effort and the latest building technology is key to the structure's economics. It was assembled for $195 per square foot, plus kitchen equipment, and any builder would be "hard pressed to argue the conventional wisdom that you have to spend a lot to get LEED platinum," said Jerry Walker, associate head of the school and the driving force behind the construction.
Good design makes the building's case, as well. The hall, with its bamboo floors, is wide open and versatile enough to handle 750 meals at lunchtime, and then flex its movable walls to accommodate three consecutive group meetings in the evening.
Rain chains act as gutters, directing runoff to planters. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
The west facade is a wonder of undulating windows and sliding doors that open to one of the best mountain views on the Front Range. The ceiling, lined with narrow maple
baffles, slopes from a low of about 11 feet to a high of 22 feet, and the effect is to direct the room's energy toward the outside where tables and chairs await; it makes you want to go out and play, Colorado style.
The best buildings mark their locations in unique ways, and it is hard to picture this one existing anywhere but on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Only a regional design team with a firm command of its own turf could have pulled it off.
The angled roof also gives the building's overall exterior shape a bit of lift while adding a contemporary balance to the fact that it is clad in copper shingles, a nod to a timeless (or these days, dated) motif that stretches across the 200-plus acre Cherry Hills Village campus. On the upside, the shingles are made from 85 percent recycled material.
Of course, it is the school's 660 sixth- through 12th-graders who will benefit most from the new dining hall. The lunchroom is a quarter-mile from the nearest classroom building, a considerable walk, especially in winter, that is meant to force students to take a mental break during the school day. There are rewards when they arrive, including a new, healthy- options salad bar that has proven popular in the few weeks the cafeteria has been open.
"It's the first thing kids see, setting the tone and sending a message right out of the gate," said Walker.
Students stream out of the dining hall after their lunch break past the copper-clad walls at Kent Denver. The copper will eventually take on a patina that ages it to look like other campus buildings. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
Just ahead from that is an indoor "living wall," a 14-by-18 foot vertical garden where the
school's chefs grow herbs used in cooking. Semple Brown's Dru Schwyhart describes it as a psychic center of the room, a contemporary equivalent to the traditional hearth that mirrors the "cultural values of a new generation."
It's part of a low-impact, earth-friendly strategy that has the building collecting storm water runoff from its roof and transferring it via rain chains into planter boxes on the ground.
The recycling gets more extreme than that. The plan calls for the planting of 100 fruit trees in the backyard. Students will tend to the trees themselves, fertilize them with compost from the lunchroom, and then harvest the apples and apricots for meals. Eat and repeat, kids.
There are photovoltaic energy collectors on the roof and interior sensors that adjust lights up and down automatically depending on the amount of sunshine in the room. Everything from the plumbing to the landscaping is water-efficient. And so that no one forgets all the efficiency, energy use stats will be projected in real-time on a TV monitor. It's a braggy move, but teaching requires a bit of show and tell to sink in.
The school has yet to officially win its LEED certification (it spells out as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): The paperwork can take months. But it meets the criteria with locally sourced and reclaimed materials. It helps that it was an expansion; by adding to the existing 5,000-square- foot building, the project generated limited demolition waste, a LEED plus.
The building's merits go beyond its environmental sensitivities and its abilities to serve up, in quantity, menu items such as shrimp scampi with baby carrots, Cantonese stir-fry with snow peas ormutter paneer with tofu. And they go beyond the behavior it has inspired, things like an updated, campus-wide recycling program and getting rid of lunch trays for that large reduction in landfill waste.
Kent Denver, which traces its roots back 90 years, has a progressive design tradition, which includes, on its current campus, contributions from the late and respected architect Victor Hornbein. It has set its own high standards, but the new dining hall pushes them higher.