Auburn University's Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center

Now Taking Reservations

HPM partnered with Auburn University to plate up the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center—a delectable learning complex for the school’s hospitality students.
By Christie Chapman
May 31, 2023

Leave it to culinary-science experts to know how to make lemonade from lemons. At the height of the pandemic, as many workers stayed home and supply-chain issues plagued construction projects with scarcity and higher costs, the hospitality industry was also taking a hit. In early 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 million jobs evaporated as hotels, restaurants and former tourist hot spots closed their doors or dramatically reduced services.

Sitting at the crossroads of these hard-hit sectors were the plans for Auburn University’s new Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, a $111-million learning facility where students would be able to gain hands-on experience working at a fully functioning fine-dining restaurant as well as in additional restaurant kitchens, learning labs, a brewery, a retail food hall and a luxury boutique hotel. While the present looked bleak, the project’s leaders had hope for a more hospitable future, when diners would once again fill chairs, travelers would book guest rooms—and Auburn hospitality students could safely return to campus for a uniquely immersive educational experience.


Back to that lemonade: Matt Jackson is senior schedule manager for HPM, a Birmingham, Alabama–based project management firm near Auburn’s campus that provided pre-construction and construction services for the center as well as for a nearby six-story, $10-million parking deck. Construction began in 2019, just before the pandemic.

Jackson says the upheaval from pandemic disruptions brought a few silver linings for the project. “For one thing, traffic all but disappeared,” he says. Vehicles could zip in and out of the site without hassle or delay, and there was no need to close roads or surrounding buildings while the work was being done.

But perhaps most useful, Jackson says, was that the university itself was able to help the construction team remain well-stocked with materials that were sometimes hard to come by. “The university rented a large, offsite warehouse for storage throughout the construction process,” Jackson says. “This allowed contractors to accept deliveries there rather than onsite at the time they were available, not just at the time they were needed.” This approach “mitigated future risk of inaccessibility and enabled the team to be proactive in procuring all necessary materials to keep the project moving on schedule. Items such as tile, roofing materials, HVAC equipment, ductwork, furniture and more were held securely in this space until installation, keeping supply-chain shortages and delivery issues from inhibiting progress.”

Auburn has equally kind words for HPM, which collaborated with a group of partners that included architecture and design firm Cooper Carry, facility operator Ithaka Hospitality Partners, Auburn’s facility-management team and general contractor Bailey-Harris Construction. “[HPM’s] support through the pre-construction and construction phases was invaluable,” says Mary Melissa Taddeo, the university’s campus architect, “especially as our facilities-management team navigated staffing transitions and procurement hurdles throughout construction.”


Thanks to this high-functioning partnership, Auburn was able to meet its goal of completing the project in time for the 2022–2023 school year. The result is a 142,000-square-foot complex featuring 1856, a tasting-menu-only teaching restaurant on the first floor, and the Laurel, a luxury hotel managed by Ithaka, which has teamed up with the university to provide onsite, real-world training for students in Auburn’s hospitality program. There’s also the Hey Day Market, where students, faculty and staff can grab coffee, pizza, gelato and other treats—not your run-of-the-mill food court but rather a higher-end spot staffed by students who are learning, as the market’s website touts, “chef-driven food concepts.”

At the center, students train with both world-renowned and regionally beloved chefs and hospitality maestros. One example of the program’s bonafides: Its annual Hospitality Gala, a significant fundraiser for the university, has attracted top-tier talents including an executive pastry chef for the Ritz-Carlton, an executive chef for the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, an executive chef for a Paris hotel, a winery chef from Napa Valley and other luminaries, according to Martin O’Neill, head of Auburn’s Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management.

The culinary-science program is the only one in the United States to offer a full-time master sommelier as part of its faculty. Now, in the open, modern, state-of-the-art classrooms of their new center, students perch wine glasses next to laptops as they consider the finer points of quality in appropriately luxurious surroundings. The center also seeks to play a role in the community beyond education. “At our Community Table, people can bring food they’ve made and have it critiqued, and you can get lunch for free,” O’Neill says of the program, in which tasters offer reviews in exchange for a meal.

As for the center’s name—Jimmy Rane, an Auburn alumnus and board of trustees member, donated $12 million to help get the project started. His fellow board members agreed to name the center after Rane’s parents, Tony and Libba.


University staff and HPM’s team think the new center complements the culinary and hospitality program’s elite reputation. “This facility is a trailblazer in both the hospitality and higher-education industries, providing a range of training opportunities that are not offered at other institutions in the country,” says Caleb Camp, HPM’s operations manager. “HPM’s expertise in owner’s representation and construction management maintained cost efficiency and ensured this project was completed to Auburn’s high standard of excellence.”

O’Neill, who has worked at the university for 21 years, remembers a time when students’ surroundings weren’t quite as glamorous. “It used to be a more lab-type environment, and after classes the students boxed up the food they’d been preparing in class and fled,” O’Neill says. “Now, we practically have to chase them out of the building.”

When the center opened last August, he says, “there was a long line of very excited students looking on in awe. They nearly levitated when they walked through the doors.” Further into the school year, the students’ love for their new learning environs is still strong. “They are absolutely loving it,” O’Neill says. “They want to be here.”

by Christie Chapman

Related stories

Closeout: The Water Is Wide
Harkers Island Bridge Replacement, Carteret County, North Carolina
Liftin' on a Prayer: Jon Bon Jovi's New Nashville Bar
By David McMillin
For DPR Construction, building Jon Bon Jovi’s new five-story bar in downtown Nashville meant working around 16,000 daily pedestrians, a packed entertainment schedule and a very tight footprint.
Great Expectations: Is Your 2024 What You Thought It Would Be?
By Grace Calengor
From interest rates slowing to AI implementation to lagging effects from 2022 and an impending election, can your construction company keep up with what 2024 has in store?

Follow us

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay in the know with the latest industry news, technology and our weekly features. Get early access to any CE events and webinars.