Schoolcraft College VisTaTech

Culinary Classrooms Feast on the Best Tech



Project Quick Facts

Cost: $28 million ($1.96 million for AV equipment and labor)

Award Winners:
Barton Malow
Ghafari Associates
Bayview Electric Co.

By Julie Eisele

Years ago, students at Schoolcraft College’s Culinary Arts Program relied on some very basic technology to observe their chef instructors knead bread, stuff sausage, or fillet juicy cuts of beef.  Simple mirrors mounted at angles above the instructors reflected their hands as they demonstrated techniques to students gathered in the college’s lone kitchen.

Eventually, the demonstration kitchen was upgraded with several cameras and large data monitors that were state-of-the-art at the time but eventually became obsolete and restrictive.

Today, the Livonia, MI, school is setting trends not just in the teaching of culinary arts but in education in general. Students no longer huddle in a single kitchen to view a chef’s demonstration. Following a $28 million renovation and addition, the Culinary Arts Program is now housed in the VisTaTech Center, where accommodations include six teaching kitchens, each equipped with ceiling-mounted digital cameras, and 72 student workstations connected by wireless AV technology. The result is a high-tech learning laboratory in which students view instructors on ceiling-mounted flat-screen monitors. The learning areas accommodate computers, DVD equipment, VCRs, and streamed IP video that enable the school to record and broadcast lessons within the building and worldwide.

VisTaTech is also home to Schoolcraft College’s Business Development Center, encompassing a 7,400-square-foot multipurpose area for classroom overflow, cooking shows, and other activities, and a 300-seat auditorium for activities ranging from business presentations to orchestra performances. Businesses may rent the space for meetings, training sessions, product demonstrations, and conferences. Among the amenities are meeting rooms that can be configured to house 22 to 400 participants, mobile furniture, digital whiteboards, computer stations, and equipment capable of feeding video to various locations in the building.

But the culinary arts wing is the project’s chef d’oeuvre. In addition to its sophisticated educational accouterments, it includes a public gourmet restaurant operated by chefs and students, on-site banquet services, and a carryout retail counter.

Plans for the project got under way in the late 1990s. Early on, Schoolcraft officials and representatives of the Barton Malow Co., the Southfield, MI-based design and construction services company hired for the project, realized that technology would play a fundamental role in the design and brought their technology experts into the project. An array of multimedia tools would be employed to transmit data, sound, and video instruction. The tools had to be standardized, user-friendly, integrated into the space, and able to survive in hostile kitchen environments.

No small amount of planning and research went into the project. “I spent 18 months traveling to different culinary programs to see what they offered,” recalls Kevin Gawronski, a certified master chef and an instructor at Schoolcraft. Project planners pursued cutting-edge technology, according to Conway A. Jeffress, Schoolcraft president.

The goal was to design practical, high-tech learning areas that embraced a combination of technologies. Instructors could present materials live, recorded on DVD or tape, or as a remote demonstration. But an overriding consideration was that the technology had to be user-friendly.

“Chefs are not video producers,” says Archie Lytle, Barton Malow’s director of technology. “We did not want to interrupt the flow of teaching so the instructor could reorient a camera.”

Schoolcraft representatives had a vision of what they wanted, and it took a team to make that vision a reality. In addition to Barton Malow, key members of the design team included the Ghafari Associates architectural firm of Dearborn, MI, and the project’s systems integrator, Bayview Electric Co., a Detroit-based electrical contractor.

Barton Malow contributed the expertise of an in-house group that provides integrated technology services. “We worked to integrate the owners’ needs into the architectural design,” says Lytle. “We were involved in this project from conceptualization to the final coat of paint.”

The result: In the view of Rael Blair, Barton Malow’s technology project manager, “Schoolcraft is now one of the most technologically advanced culinary schools in the nation.”

Each kitchen classroom has two to three PTZ camera systems controlled by means of a wireless AMX Touchscreen panel. A 17-inch flat-panel Samsung LDC monitor is mounted at every student workstation, offering a huge benefit compared with a single large-room display screen that would require students to physically turn to observe the culinary process. Monitors are comfortably positioned at eye level.

The tools are consistent in each kitchen station (oven, baking table, open-flame stove), so instructors can demonstrate fine details that students can practice at their stations. “Teachers are at their own workstation, transmitting to and interacting with every workstation,” says Dennis Buckshaw, Bayview Electric’s director of marketing, who oversaw the integration and networking of the AV systems.

Because video controls can be preset and coordinated with a script, instructors needn’t stop to reposition cameras, which can be preprogrammed to zoom in and out, and to rotate both vertically and horizontally. “We designed the system with presets, one-button controls, and simplified operation,” notes Lytle. “As the instructors become comfortable with the systems, they drill down and use more sophisticated controls.”

Grease, heat, food particles, moisture, and flames have no regard for electronic technologies. To protect the equipment, the design team created custom-molded plastic covers for keyboards and a plastic sheath for the touchscreen panels. 

Space issues also presented a challenge because there were no designated storage areas to house the equipment. “It was difficult to know where to put the ‘brains’ of the system,” says Blair. So Barton Malow devised ways to incorporate the technology into the project’s design features. Working closely with architects, stainless steel cabinets were selected to house equipment, blending into the room aesthetically and giving the equipment the same look as refrigerators and ovens. Monitors were suspended from ceilings, and equipment racks housing VCRs, DVD equipment, and computers - all of which must be accessed regularly - were mounted in under-counter cabinets that protect the equipment without exposing key components.

Ambient noise was another challenge. With large, powerful cooker hoods to meet the school’s huge ventilation requirements, noise levels reach more than 70 decibels in many rooms. Speakers were carefully selected and strategically placed to provide uniform sound levels in the learning spaces.

Project planners wanted the ability to produce and distribute video from a main location without the high costs associated with a huge, centralized AV switch. A networked solution provided both centralized and local controls. Classes can be broadcast to students several feet away, online, and even globally to sites that have compatible technology. “In most cases, the chef has the ability to stay at the workstation and yet give personal instruction to a multitude of students,” notes Paul Gasiorowski, Bayview Electric’s project manager.

At Schoolcraft, Chef Gawronski says he and other instructors find the technology to be user-friendly and convenient. Instructors appreciate the ability to use video, graphics, voice-overs, photography, and more. “The instructors have all found different ways to use the technology,” Gawronski says. “We use the cameras every day.” The ability to record demonstrations onto a DVD is another huge advantage, he notes: “Students have the ability to review the recorded demonstration - to go back and pick up something they may have missed. And I can record it in the office, get into the classroom, pull it up, and present it.”

The new media have also allowed instructors to present up to 33 percent more subject matter to the students, according to Gawronski. The teacher/student ratio remains low at 1:16. “We were not looking to teach more students, just more subject matter,” he says.

Culinary professionals frequently visit Schoolcraft to survey the technology, and the school’s use of AV tools could set new standards in many fields of education. “We no longer live in a time when we can just push students in and out of classrooms,” says Buckshaw. “In many areas of education, systems like this would provide considerably better education.”

Gawronski asserts that the college’s use of technology should be standard in every culinary facility, but he notes that high costs could prove to be an obstacle. Schoolcraft paid for the expansion with matching state funds, and the project was completed under budget, for which project participants credited superior planning and communication among all the parties involved. “We were very careful in managing the design and budget process,” says Burton Malow’s Lytle.

On the other hand, Ghafari Associates’ Brion Boucher says part of the success was due to the fact that Schoolcraft was “an excellent client. They had done a lot of research and were able to articulate their needs, which not all clients are able to do.”

Lytle and Blair recently visited Schoolcraft, where they observed a chef recording demonstrations for instructional use and using all the cameras available.

“It was almost like we were watching Emeril Live,” says Blair.



Multitasker Matrix Switchers


Control System Processors (with Netlinx)


6-inch Wireless Touchscreens (VPN-CP)


Camera Controllers (PT10PLV3)


10.5-inch Touchscreens


Amplifiers (CPA 650)


Amplifier/mixers (Advantage SPM412E)


Large Venue LCD Projector


Projection Screens


Electric Projector Scissor Lift


PTZ Cameras


LCD Projectors


64 X 64 Matrix Switchers


Echo Canceling Mixer


Ceiling Speakers (Control 24 ct)


Program Speakers


DVD Players


Preview Monitors (4 x 4-inch)


Multimedia Monitors




Video/Audio Teleconferencing


Stainless Steel Equipment Racks


LCD Display Monitors


LCD Projectors


Bulletin Board System


Digital EQ/Feedback Eliminator


Wireless Mic Systems


3 CCD PTZ Cameras




Video Wall Cubes


IP Video (6000 Series)


Digital Audio Mixing Consoles


Scan Converters