MTSU student proposals to help attract patrons

Friday, August 20, 2010

CHAPEL HILL - Middle Tennessee State University students have proposed several economic renovations for the restaurant at Henry Horton State Park.

They're from a practical educational exercise for the students and, if implemented by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, it's quite possibly another step toward attracting and keeping restaurant customers.

The restaurant had been targeted for closure because it's operations haven't been paying for themselves, but state lawmakers forced an adjustment in TDEC's budget and now they've marshaled other state resources to address the issue.

As a result of discussions with the Friends of Henry Horton State Park, state Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) turned to MTSU for advice on how to make the park restaurant more attractive. The idea was accepted as a practical lesson for students in the Interior Design Program of the university's Department of Human Sciences.

Light fixtures are proposed for replacement. Carpeting is recommended for removal so the concrete floor could be stained in a fashion similar to what's used at P.F. Chang restaurants. Sheer drapes would be removed to open spaces and the glass treated to filter light and heat. New fabrics for dining room chairs and the waiting area seating are proposed. Tall accordion-like space dividers are to be cleaned, and painted surfaces would get a fresh coat of a color selected to maintain the interior space, respect the outdoors and add a somewhat brighter attitude to the high-ceiling rooms.

"One of the trends we work with," Dr. Janis Brickey said while displaying her students' work, "is sustainability."

Longer blades for ceiling fans are recommended, too. They will move more air.

"All we're doing now is stirring air, not moving it," Brickey said.

It's in line with an energy audit that Ketron obtained from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Products recommend by the students were selected with an eye for durability, maintenance and appeal.

"That's why we want to take the carpet up," Brickey said.

Hard floors don't require vacuum cleaners.

The selection of upholstery for the dining chairs included colors to blend both with the existing carpet and the concrete stain so that if it's delayed, the carpet complements the fabric selection, Brickey said. Larger fans and lighting will provide transitional elements featuring rustic metal housing and simple milky glass shades.

In the reception area, proposed lamps include pendants over the cashier area and a feature chandelier to emphasize the fireplace. The overall color scheme includes "the hues of nature and establishes a link between the diner and the park surroundings," she said.

The changes would be made by the staff at the park and possibly funded through the facilities' maintenance budget. A number of Brickey's students have already graduated and have moved on toward careers in their field of study.

That includes Jessie White, a May graduate who might best be known in Lewisburg as a staffer at PCL Express, the medical clinic on 1st Avenue North, owned by her mother Erin White. Jessie lives in Culleoka and says the practical experience gained from her work in Brickey's class gives her an advantage when looking for a full-time interior design position.

"Usually, the projects are fabricated," White said of her classroom experience.

As a result, the hands-on studies are "contained," she said. While they're controllable, they are contrived.

"The Henry Horton State Park project was not," White said. "It was real world experience."

That included a chance meeting with Andy Lyon, TDEC's assistant commissioner over the division of Parks Hospitality Services and Special Events, at the park restaurant.

"He was dining at the restaurant one night and wanted to go into the project more," White said of their conversation about "budget friendly" changes. Examples include blinds instead of cloth sheers.

The project "definitely" provided realistic experience "on how to meet a budget and knowing lead times for fabrics, measurements and supply," said White, 22.

She's now working part-time for a tile company in Nashville and has had clients on a freelance basis in Marshall and Maury counties.

The park's restaurant and lobby were two areas considered at the park's front building, but hidden away at the trap and skeet ranges is a lodge for shooters. It's where Brickey, her students and Friends of Henry Horton State Park have collaborated to improve the room with hand made furniture. The rustic pieces were crafted by Carla Lowrey of Marshall County. The Friends of Henry Horton State Park commissioned her for the furniture. Her work will be on display during Step Back in Time at the park Sept. 18-20. Jeff Daughrity, a local painter, was hired by the Friends to paint the skeet lodge, according to Stacey Cothran, a spokeswoman with the volunteer group.

The organization was a starting point for this project. Now, it's up to the state to decide whether the changes should be implemented.

Dr. Brickey joined the MTSU Interior Design Program in 2006. Her education includes: a bachelor's degree in interior design from Virginia Tech; and a master's in interior design and a doctorate in human ecology from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

There were 24 students who worked on the project. The Skeet Lodge team included Jennifer Patterson, Erica Eisner, Elizabeth Barnes, Monique Porter, Maddie Bloom, and Natasha Crothers. The restaurant team included Julie Mackey, Dorothea Maynard, Alexis Mathes, Kaytee Grabinski, Katie Sentell, Jessi White, Jenni Jaeger, Jenna Wise, Katherine Fones, and Whitney Johnson. Lauren Robertson, Helen Russell, Rechella Piansay, Katie Jennings, Amanda Sweeney, Hilary Walker, Amanda Pelham, and Brandy Simmons worked on documentation, computer assisted design work, presentation, and project management.

Presentation articles were funded by Plaza Artists Materials of Nashville.