Camp Michigania Dining Hall
2010 Build Michigan Award Winner!
Nestled in a mature wood sits a camp. As beautiful as the land it sits on, the serenity of Walloon Lake serves as its boundary. Water laps the shoreline of the destination of thousands of intrepid wilderness and activity seekers each summer. Their blood runs maize and blue. Camp Michigania – it’s where weekends are home to a global reach of The University of Michigan Alumni. For them, attending camp is the continuance of tradition; a right of passage. Generations who have grown accustom to long-established patterns of behavior will tell you…camp tradition can’t be compromised.
In December 1962, following an extensive search by a devoted group of alumni volunteers and Association staff, the decision was made to purchase what was then Camp Huntingdon/Sherwood, a 377-acre site which had operated a camping program on Michigan’s Walloon Lake near Boyne City. At this time, many alumni donated time and materials to renovate the existing camp facilities prior to Memorial Day Weekend in 1963 (when volunteers would arrive and prepare the camp for the summer season – a tradition that continues today).
Many buildings on the site needed structural improvements. Among them was a quaint, 40 year old dining hall perched at the top of a hill overlooking Walloon Lake. This centrally located building would become the meeting place for Camp Michigania – the place where campers dined and congregated for a host of camp activities.
Over the next 44 years, as camp participation grew, the dining hall begged for upgrades, modifications and improvements to meet the growing need of the campers and camp staff. The success of the camp came with growing pains. Each camp weekend, as many as 500 hungry campers were cued through the old dining hall for each meal– which was originally designed for a seating capacity of 250 diners. A typical wait to use one of two restrooms seemed like an eternity. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing for the commercial kitchen was outdated. In 2007, the Alumni Association came to grips - the 80+ year structure was not fit to receive any further patch jobs, nor could it continue the iconic tradition as “the meeting place”. How could this important camp symbol be replaced?
As plans began to unfold for the new dining hall at Camp Michigania, one thing was certain. The traditional look and feel of the old must somehow transform into the new. Campers were overcome with nervousness. They had expressed how important it was to capture the history, memories and charm of the old diner in the new building. The Alumni Association leaders knew the design and construction of a new dining facility would be under tremendous scrutiny. Carrying out time-honored camp traditions within a new building seemed to challenge the integrity of the old dining hall, and this new meeting place began as a thought surrounded by uncertainty and challenges.
Architects at Lindhout Associates came on board to facilitate the design process and Spence Brothers was selected as Construction Manager for the project. The Owner’s needs began to unfold through the preconstruction process. Representatives from Camp Michigania, Lindhout and Spence Brothers managed to savor the aesthetic qualities of the desired “true camp feel” relative to the older facility, while transforming these qualities into the benefit of a new and state-of-the-art commercial dining facility and meeting place. Advantages served to the project schedule from the preconstruction process included early submittals, and the determination of color selections and material choices. Lindhout Associates truly enabled the team’s ability to hit the ground running with their quick turnaround of construction documents.
One of the biggest challenges associated with the project was time. How would an old building be demolished and a new building rise on the same footprint of the old structure? Especially, when camp historically shut down in September after Labor Day…and needed to reopen for camp volunteers to do their set up on Memorial Day – only eight months later. Couple this with adverse winter weather conditions in, undoubtedly, one of the most impacted Snow Belt regions in Northern Michigan. Solid scheduling was imperative to complete the build on time within a very narrow construction window. There was no fall-back option or Plan B should the weather present delays. Plan A, the only plan, was to hand over the keys to camp staff before Memorial Day weekend in 2010. Everyone working at the site knew the complexity of the deadline, and many shared their concerns over the “no wiggle room” schedule.
On Sept 8, 2009, the day after the last campers of the season departed from their Labor Day weekend at camp, the dismantling of the old dining hall commenced. Piece by piece, the structure was taken apart and hauled away with a new purpose. Since the Alumni Association decided to seek LEED Certification for the new building, every artifact taken from the disassembled building was either reused or recycled. The decision to build green also challenged the timeframe to complete the building due to the intricate dismantling process, as well as the daily time requirement to fulfill LEED documentation necessary for certification submission.
Spence Brothers’ Project Manager, John Galnares, and Superintendent Steve Willson were the driving force behind the project. As fall approached, the November rains dampened efforts. Mud and standing water challenged progress and wet crews did their best to mitigate the site conditions and keep the project moving forward with John and Steve’s leadership.
As expected, the winter proved to be the schedule’s worst enemy. The month of December fostered blizzard conditions and heavy snow accumulation. At times, snow was removed from the roof as each structural insulated panel was put in place – a very slow process. Yet, the spirit of the team overcame the adverse conditions, and on January 5, 2010, their effort was marked successful with the installation of the final window, formally enclosing the structure.
With an insulated and heated shelter, work began on the interior and progressed with a storm of activity from mechanical, electrical, plumbing and carpentry trade contractors. It was their chance to gain momentum on the project schedule and get back some lost time, and that is exactly what was delivered with the great coordination from Spence Brothers’ management team.
The desired camp charm began to come to life inside the new building. The 6-inch tongue and grove paneling lining the interior walls and a prefinished wood floor were toughened expressions of the magic of Northern Michigan. In the kitchen, new cooking equipment replaced the old - an unexpected treat for the head chef. Originally, plans called for reusing the older kitchen equipment, but the abundance of contingency monies for the project allowed the improvement - another testimony to the leadership and management of the project by Spence Brothers.
Mother Nature blessed crews with an early break from the clutch of winter’s wrath. The months of March and April hosted beautiful, warm and sunny weather. The construction site was a buzz and subcontractors put more manpower on the project to meet the delivery deadline. It became evident Lindhout Associates nailed the design of the structure as it neared completion. Exposed trusses created a grand hall feel with open views of the 18 foot high ceilings and long, spacious dining area. The rustic feel of the dining hall amplified daily as tradesmen worked diligently to apply the finishing touches.
As John and Steve reviewed their progress in the latter part of March, it was clear the great effort of an outstanding team positioned the delivery date of the new facility within the original delivery deadline. In fact, updated schedules suggested the dining hall would be turned over to the Owners the second week of April…an entire month ahead of schedule! John Galnares attributed the gain to “good leadership, a good Superintendent, and great Subcontractors…all being able to manage the challenges of change very quickly – while getting the best option for the interest of the schedule”.
On April 14, 2010, camp officials were given occupancy for the new dining hall. Shortly after, camp volunteers arrived and they began their preparations for the first camper arrivals on Memorial Day…just a few weeks away. The volunteers were awe struck when they drove over the hill and saw the new dining hall for the first time. The transformation from old to new was nearly complete. Feverishly, they put on the personalized touches of camp - its traditions relating to people, in place.
As campers rolled in for the first official summer weekend of 2010, it was clear something had changed. Reactions to the dining hall were immediate and reassuring. Tradition had been preserved, yet a new chapter for Camp Michigania was unfolding right before their eyes. Afforded to them would be the opportunity to christen this new building by accepting it into their hearts…a passionate story of approval which was shared over and over as they collectively nodded in agreement for a job well done.