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Durham College’s Food Evolution
Centre for Food nears completion, ready for classes this fall
By Perry King

Oshawa’s Durham College may be a growing institution with many capital projects on the go, but its efforts to expand its post-secondary presence in Whitby, Ontario have been especially innovative and ambitious. Its work on the nearly completed Centre for Food, uncharted territory for the college, has thrown all conventional thinking out the window.

With the third and final phase of construction underway and with the completion of the building’s roof in February 2013, the proposed 36,000-square-foot educational facility will add about 900 additional students to the college’s ever-growing full-time enrolment of more than 9,600 students.

For Durham College, a hub of education that is listening to the heartbeat of the local industries in the region and the Greater Toronto Area, food is both an important part of the college’s economy and evolving. Tastes are evolving; science is breaking down conventional thinking. Hence, matching that innovation and addressing industry needs and challenges were paramount when it began exploring expansion several years ago.

“Industry needs a trained workforce to expand,” said Don Lovisa, president of Durham College. “Through on-going discussions we’re very in tune to what the community needs across a variety of sectors – including food.”

“As our working population ages, in some sectors, we have to replace those who are retiring and bring in a new workforce with a different, possibly more modern skill set [who is] looking at the trends across the continuum of food production, science and preparation.”

Springing from conversations with horticultural, agricultural, and culinary industries, among others, the expansion of its campus in Whitby directly addresses a major concern, an opportunity that Durham Region has been building upon many years.

“The other result that came out of [our conversations], though, was really startling for us,” Lovisa said, “and that was the amount of students who were leaving the Durham Region because the programs they wanted were not available at Durham College.”

Addressing the brain drain, the multi-year $18-million project leaves no stone unturned. Focusing on three principles, sustainability, being green, and demonstrating sustainable practices, Durham College will have the first green-certified teaching restaurant in Canada, which will be open to the public.

“We’ll have four kitchen labs to teach different aspects of cuisine,” said Michelle Darling, project management officer for Durham College, of which one will support the restaurant. “We will have a wine tasting lab, a demonstration and lecture theatre and three 50-seat classrooms with movable walls so we can have a banquet hall.”

The teaching restaurant, as the first wholly evaluated and certified green facility, will house the latest technologies. The equipment used in the facility, the water and energy usage, and how the restaurant operates — its devotion to recycling and waste management programs — will be unique as a facility under one roof.

A125-seat lecture hall will be equipped with a convection oven, gas stove, induction stoves, deep fryer, griddle and grill — with overhead cameras and large-screen projections. A retail store, also open to the public, will feature foods produced by the students including fresh-baked items, meals-to-go, preserved foods and portion-cut, ready-to-cook meals.

“It’s innovative in that what we’re doing is replicating what happens in real life,” Lovisa said. “Our students will replicate exactly what happens in communities within Durham Region, bringing together farmers and growers with food science and the preparation and celebration of food — the concept of field of fork. We’ll have students growing vegetables, fruits and herbs using demonstration plots. There will be flower and landscape plant growers. Our chefs and our food scientists will be working with the various growers, bringing their produce to our kitchens and exploring different product development ideas of food.”

Durham is bringing field to fork to an academic setting, creating a “living lab environment,” matching the practicality and hands-on nature of the trade with technology and real life applications.

“It’s not a desktop or laboratory setting, it emulates real life,” Lovisa said.

In order to construct the Centre for Food, the college took advantage of the expansion capacity of the Whitby campus, finding that establishing site scope and proper architectural design were easy enough due to its relationships with well experienced construction and creative design minds — details however needed to be ironed out concerning the site’s close proximity to Highway 401.

Sprinting to completion in time also provided some environmental hurdles to the project.

“The site has a lot of water on it, so site preparation was a bit of a challenge,” Darling said. “We started construction under winter conditions, pouring concrete during that time. We started the exterior cladding and preparation for that in early spring had to deal with the high winds coming off of Lake Ontario.

“We were aware and respectful of the fact that there is a car dealership just to the north of the property, and timed the insulation spray foam work around the high wind conditions.”

There was an urgency to get these issues addressed effectively while maintaining the project schedule.  With more than 75 per cent of the campus finished, Durham College has also managed to stay within the budget.

“Whenever you build a building and you provide a collaborative approach to defining scope, it’s always about trying to balance the demands, the wishes of everybody with the realities of a budget,” Lovisa said.

This multi-year project is near completion, and Durham College is more than excited to get its students rolling. There is no limit to the college’s technological innovation, and once the centre opens to students and the public, the programs will have wiggle room to explore more ways to set the trend for the region.

“From a general definition of tech, it’s really moving a whole new practice into place,” Lovisa said. “When we began to look at the agricultural lands [in Durham Region], we also looked at some very unique technologies within greenhouse operations, potential robotics, and the opportunity for some very unique growing chambers.

“It all compliments the Centre for Food idea. Right now we are focused on the building itself because we are in the building right stage and that is the obvious piece but there are more pieces to come that aren’t just comprised of bricks and mortar. The building is one component but we’ve yet to start construction of our agricultural/horticultural lands and greenhouse, which will see the entire plan come together.”