A Kitchen Reborn

Reprinted from The Current - The weekly newsletter from Portsmouth Abbey Monastery 

Progress of the kitchen renovation, summer 2020


A common point of gathering for the monastic and extended community of students and friends is the Stillman Dining Hall. Some fifteen years ago, the serving area was extensively renovated, the dining tables and chairs rejuvenated, and enlarged old photos reflecting the history of the monastery and school carefully selected and placed by Fr. Damian Kearney, O.S.B. '45. This summer, the kitchen required a deep makeover. Outwardly, one noticed the installation of a temporary trailer together with two mobile freezer buildings placed on the lawn next to the hockey rink. A temporary ramp was constructed to facilitate the transportation of food from place to place. Within, the kitchen was essentially gutted, with reconstruction undertaken from top to bottom. Prompting this massive project was the corrosion of the pipes handling the kitchen’s water needs.

When the dining hall was originally constructed circa 1960, it was done on slabs with no basement under the kitchen, which required pipes to be placed directly into the dirt under the floor. These cast-iron pipes, with a limited lifespan and not readily able to be accessed for maintenance, were rusting beyond repair and badly needed to be replaced. When this was undertaken fifteen years ago, the project grew to address other issues, including a major renovation and expansion of the serving area. The physical material for the new pipes was then restricted by the state of Rhode Island so that PVC piping could not be used. One issue was the damage that could be done to them from scalding hot water. The new cast iron, even though of high quality, did not last long, and steps taken in the meanwhile to address the issue were not sufficient. Various technological and dietary modifications also came into play: water savers now in use make it harder to flush the pipes. Further, the proliferation of juice options also added acids to the wastewater, which would sit in the pipes, becoming particularly problematic on the drink lines. Rhode Island also modified some of its requirements, and PVC was now acceptable.

Br. Joseph noted that there are actually two types of piping, the deep blue heavy PVC pipe (see photos) can withstand the hot water. There are also injectors that come into play with extremely heated water, such as when skillets are in use for pasta or other boiled foods, to add cooler water to the mix. The main pipelines were also consolidated into the center of the floor beneath the kitchen, where there was one tunnel available in the original construction, now put to use to avoid placing the piping directly into the ground, rendering it more protected and accessible.

"The monastery took advantage of the opportunity to renovate to make some additional improvements," Brother Joseph adds. "Larger burners were moved to the back of the kitchen, as they were not used as much for the serving in the front. Convection ovens took their spot, making the preparation and serving process easier for the cooks. Once the kitchen returns, post-pandemic, to more normal serving processes, diners will notice a new panini station available in the serving area. Also, glass panels were added to the serving area to give a more open feel. Additionally, heavy-duty screen doors were added to the back of the kitchen for ventilation, and glass was added to the doors, enhancing visibility and safety in use. This replacement of the pipes was really a huge project; it was good to see what else we could do in there without adding great expense to the whole project.”