GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — The individual refrigerators aren't huge, but what a difference they make: positioned under each of the new 16 work stations, easily accessible from the stove, spacious enough for prepped ingredients waiting to be included in a dish.
And then there's the quiet. Because the compressors for the refrigerators are on the roof, the noise — and the heat — stay up there.
These may seem like small things, but added up in the new, 2,400-square-foot skills lab, they contribute to a culinary arts educational facility unlike any other in the region.
On Jan. 22, students in the Western Colorado Community College Culinary Arts program began studying in expanded facilities and with heightened technology, part of a $1.8 million project to grow the program and the number of students it can accommodate, said program director Dan Kirby.
"About three and a half years ago we did a survey of our students and what they wanted were advanced cooking classes, a baking and pastry certification and degree," Kirby said. "These are exactly the changes we've made."
Since the first seven students began studying in the Culinary Arts program in January 1998, it has expanded to multiple certification and degree programs and to more than 150 students, Kirby said.
More than a year ago, Colorado Mesa University officials asked each WCCC program for a five-year plan. The chef educators in the Culinary Arts program not only submitted one, but included a shovel-ready design created pro-bono by Michigan designer Ed Whitney.
"The idea was to start construction in fall 2014 because that would give us time to fund-raise, give us time for the bake sales," Kirby said. "But they called me in June and said let's do it."
The project, financed by CMU's capital construction fund, began in August. It expanded into space behind the Culinary Arts kitchens previously used by the nursing program. In addition to the state-of-the-art skills lab, it will include a 1,700-square-foot baking and pastry lab, currently under construction.
Kirby said the construction has emphasized energy efficiency, and another phase of the project set for development in spring is a composing project done in conjunction with the CMU Student Body Association's Sustainability Council. There also are plans for an herb garden this summer and a greenhouse in the future.
Kirby emphasized that several of the projects, including the composting and the garden, will be created and run with students from other CMU programs, adding an element of symbiosis to students' education.
But the thing he's most excited about right now, he said, are the new labs and what they represent. The Culinary Arts program soon will be able to offer one-year certificates and two-year degrees in baking and pastry, as well as accommodate up to 350 students.
Because 75 to 80 percent of Culinary Arts students come from outside Mesa County, "I think (the expansion) will make us more known regionally," Kirby said.