Who said university life was easy? Certainly not Howell Cummings Catering Equipment Ltd, which has just worked its socks off to successfully deliver a complex, multi-area catering project for the University of Liverpool.

Handing over the project to the client in time for the arrival of the 2012/13 intake of students was no easy task, particularly as the fit-out at the university’s Vine Court Residences was divided into five separate parts.

It was also carried out in tandem with a wider student accommodation building project heralded as one of the most sustainable in the UK due to the use of features such as grey water systems and solar-thermal heating to achieve energy savings of 30% compared with traditional buildings.

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But HCCEL is not one to shirk a challenge and when the chance came to enforce those green principles on the catering design, it seized the opportunity with both hands.

“When we design a Howell Cummings kitchen, the focus is on what it delivers in performance,” declares the company’s managing director, Paul Surtees. “Liverpool University is a prime example of how efficiency is at the forefront, both in terms of productivity and in the wider sense as the industry aims to raise its game in terms of environmental impact.”

HCCEL’s Mark Robson, who joined the company just prior to the deal, was handed the job of managing the project and overseeing the installation, and he used his 20-year experience of the commercial catering industry to ensure that everything ran smoothly with the suppliers and main contractor.

At the heart of the Vine Court catering operation is the main back-of-house kitchen where the majority of preparation and cooking activities will take place to provide meals for the 250-seater student restaurant. One of the immediate design challenges that HCCEL faced when taking on the project was making sure that it accommodated the proposed building structure and the limitations of floor to ceiling heights with regards to co-ordinating services installations.

“The building footprint and floor to ceiling heights had been pre-determined and storey heights were set early in the pre-construction phase of the development,” explains Surtees. “This placed design constraints on the catering scheme design, particularly regarding the design of the main extract kitchen intake and extract canopy.”

The canopy was designed by Bridge Air Systems to fit within the given storey heights. The building’s ceiling and slab heights meant the design principle of the canopy utilised similar principles for the ventilation from a ventilated ceiling.

“The canopy design included a number of rows of filters, with the added benefit of an increased capture area,” says Surtees. “The air input to the canopy was formed around the perimeter of the canopy as a featured plenum box, which included downlights to finish off the aesthetic look of it. Through these design principles, the overall depth and construction of the canopy allowed optimum floor to ceiling clearance.”

From a cooking perspective, a Hobart Bonnet Advancia bratt pan was selected to handle the volume of food that the kitchen needs to produce. Surtees insists the energy efficiencies and energy regulation control that the heavy duty unit promises will provide almost instant payback for the university.

“Its precision control offers excellent cooking results every time, coping with the high food production that universities deal with on a daily basis,” he says. “It is durable and robust, with a multi-functional SS pan base, which is why it is very much the chef’s choice.”

Hobart’s 305G pressure steamer, meanwhile, allows the kitchen to steam cook a large quantity of fresh food without compromising goodness or flavour, and features excellent portion control to reduce food waste and, therefore, save costs.

“What’s also important on an investment like this is the free life-time training from Hobart Cooking Solutions,” notes Surtees. “Proper training ensures that the equipment is used to its full ability all the time.”

Another manufacturer that had an important role to play in the installation was Foster, with its Eco Premier 1/3 H counters specified for their durability and consistent temperatures during periods of high demand. HCCEL also supplied Foster’s RBC 20-60 blast chiller, featuring soft chill, hard chill and shock freeze options.

Away from the rear production area, Howell Cummings installed the main restaurant servery counters, which were constructed in an oval configuration adjacent to the kitchen. Commercial conveyor and shelving specialist Trak Hupfer made its skills count here, developing and finalising the servery and counter design to meet the clients’ exact requirements from both a practical and aesthetic perspective.

“We selected Trak as they were able to demonstrate their ability to produce a quality product required by the university and react quickly to client change requirements, not only through the design process but also to incorporate changes within the finished design,” says Surtees.

View photos of the project in our exclusive online picture gallery here.

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Elsewhere, HCCEL took care of the catering equipment requirements for a separate cafe and refreshment area, and a mezzanine-level servery reserved for catering during conferences and corporate events.

HCCEL also delivered a wash area containing the latest appliance technology alongside a DDA-compliant motorised tray racking collection facility to service the constant flow of dirty items coming into the kitchen. “Hobart was chosen for its ability to provide one of the most space-efficient rack conveyor dishwasher ranges on the market, when comparing size versus rack per hour capacity,” explains Surtees.

He says the CN Series machine is capable of washing 120 to 220 racks per hour, while a UXTH utensil washer means the university will enjoy more consistent results than if it was to wash utensils by hand.

Surtees insists that completing the project in the fashion it did would not have been possible without working closely alongside the building contractor Ocon Construction. Given that Surtees himself comes from a contract background having previously worked for national construction firm Shepherd, he knows only too well the importance of understanding the requirements of main contractors.

“We are a ‘hands-on’, pro-active sub-contractor, which places emphasis on early planning and co-ordination, and providing high quality information and pre-commencement images,” he says. “We pride ourselves on working closely with contractors and clients, and that was displayed in this project.” It’s fair to say this was one university test it passed with flying colours.

Brief and spec sheet

Area 1 Main kitchen
Area 2 Main restaurant servery
Area 3 Main wash area
Area 4 Bespoke cafe area
Area 5 Mezzanine-level hospitality servery

Bonnet Bratt pans
Bridge Air Systems Extraction canopies
Foster Undercounter refrigeration
Hobart Pressure steamer & warewash
Trak Hupfer Serveries & counters

Virtual reality

One of the most important aspects of the University of Liverpool project was completed before the first piece of equipment had even been ordered: showing the client just how their catering facilities would look through the use of sophisticated project management and 3D modelling software.

Howell Cummings Catering Equipment Ltd (HCCEL) was able to produce computer-based ASTA Powerproject programmes to demonstrate pre-construction and procurement information requirements, along with a detailed on-site construction phase programme.

“We place huge importance on detailed pre planning, good levels of open and honest communication and a proactive, non-adversarial approach to contracting,” insists MD, Paul Surtees.

HCCEL also prepared detailed lay-out drawings, which were then presented to the customer as virtual images to give them an impression of how the finished product would look. (The 3D images of the kitchen can be seen below, next to how the actual version turned out).

This was done with the support of Trak Hupfer, which designed the serveries and counters. “Having the project laid out like that helps to highlight any potential co-ordination issues, sets out queries and provides the client with a virtual representation of the completed project before any work has commenced,” says Surtees.

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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