Richland city officials have received a number of questions about the monolith rising out of the ground in the northern part of the city. From a distance, the mostly white building with some uncovered blue steel frames looks like it could be a giant office building or even another vitrification plant for Hanford waste.
“A lot of folks seem to be driving by and not know what it is,” said Gail Everett, communications and marketing specialist with the city.
The 455,000 square-foot, 116-foot tall building will be the largest refrigerated warehouse in North America and largest automated freezer in the world when it opens in July, said Burnie Taylor, general manager of the new building for New Jersey-based Preferred Freezer Services. It also has gone up much faster than a Hanford building, with ground broken last April.
The last metal support frame of the $115 million building will be installed on the south side of the building by Tuesday, and the structure soon will be fully covered with thousands of 40-foot tall by 4-foot wide white insulated metal panels.
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“It’s not like your conventional building where you’ll see columns and steel girders,” said R.J. Burton, vice president of Indianapolis-based Victory Unlimited Construction, the construction contractor. “The walls are supported by the rack. The roof is supported by the rack.”
Three 104,000 square-foot freezers will be located inside the building, built on 40 acres off Kingsgate Way in the Horn Rapids Industrial Park. Plans call for them each to be set at negative 10 degrees, but that can be adjusted.
“It has room for expansion for another 104,000 square-foot box in case this isn’t big enough,” Burton said.
About 2 billion pounds of food will pass through the building in a year, Taylor said. It can store 110,000 pallets or more than 200 million pounds of food at a time, he said. Each freezer will be run automatically.
“The only reason anyone walks into the freezer is for maintenance,” he said.
The facility will store frozen fruits, vegetables, meat and pre-made meals to be shipped both to stores and restaurants, Taylor said. It will run 24 hours a day, with workers on 12-hour shifts.
A number of companies will be using the facility, contrary to rumors that it would be operated by ConAgra Foods, he said. Though the company could be a customer.
“ConAgra is in no way part of our management structure,” he said. “Preferred Freezer Services will operate the building as a public warehouse facility with multiple customers.”
The building has used 250 construction workers and another 134 employees will be hired, with all but 10 of them coming from the area, Taylor said. A recent job fair attracted 300 people.
The project has not been without controversy. Concerns were raised about the labor practices of two out-of-town contractors. Iron Workers Local 14 in Kennewick filed labor practice grievances last year with the National Labor Relations Board against Victory Unlimited Construction and Nehemiah Rebar Services. Others involved include the Pacific Northwest District Council of Iron Workers in Edmonds and the Iron Workers Local 847 of Phoenix, which assisted Local 14.
NLRB officials did not return a call Monday for comment. In September, officials said they were investigating the complaints.
Preferred Freezer Services has 32 freezer warehouses in the United States plus three in Asia. But Taylor said the Richland site will be its first in the Northwest.
“There is a solid customer base. There is a growing agriculture base here,” he said. “We decided it’s a good fit.”
The west side of the building will have a two-story administration area, including a control room and lounge for workers, Taylor said. It will also have a semitruck bay featuring 35 doors, 18 for inbound trucks and 17 for outgoing trucks. Loading docks will be cooled to between 34 and 36 degrees.
Six more doors on the north side will be served by four rail spurs. Taylor said the facility will be able to load 30 to 40 rail cars per day.
Company officials have heard some other ideas for uses of the use tall building.
“I like the one about using the east side of the building as a movie screen,” Taylor said.