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June 10, 2024 DesignFood Distribution & Cold Storage

Case Study: A Superior, Cross-Border Design-Build Project

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Our case studies illustrate how we assist clients in their strategies for growth. Many companies we’ve worked with are based outside this country and are interested in establishing U.S. operations. Managing a cross-border Design-Build project is a complex undertaking, but the strategies we employ promote successful outcomes. This article explains how we took on a multi-faceted greenfield project for a Mexico-based business, providing logistical solutions that fueled development of their new food distribution center in Texas.

Our collaboration with clients begins long before any dirt is turned. In many cases, we get to know these companies before that land is even identified, assisting them in navigating the complex process of selecting and purchasing property for their processing, manufacturing or cold storage distribution center. While this process requires specific expertise and skill sets, building a facility across national borders brings forth an additional set of challenges.

GAB Operations LLC, (GAB), a family-run produce company based in Guanajuato, Mexico, already had a small distribution office and warehouse in Laredo, TX. However, increasing demand for their produce fueled the urgent need for expanded and upgraded operations in the U.S. The company purchased land within an industrial center, also in Laredo, to develop larger and modernized cold storage, warehouse and offices.

Early communication with GAB revealed four concerns, all of which related to transboundary logistics and transportation. In response, our Design-Build team developed specific solutions that went beyond the task at hand, creating results that would provide long-term benefits for GAB:

Prepare company for expansion throughout U.S. and Canada

For this cross-border design-build project, A M King planned for future expansion of GAB Operations' freezer and dock areas.

During our initial meetings with GAB executives, we discussed how the design of this facility would meet the initial growth needs required for increased U.S. distribution. Beyond that, we planned for the expansion of the freezer and dock areas by designing a racking layout that would create easy transitions into new areas. Working with our structural engineer, we located the diagonal bracing in sections that would be hidden between racking. We also designed structural footings along the expansion wall to accommodate additional structural columns. This prepared the facility for future expansion while allowing the building to function as the client requires for present conditions.

This new facility was initially developed with 10 dock positions. By pre-planning the structural bracing, we were able to identify a new wall opening for dock growth and flow of the forklift trucks between the new and existing dock areas. It is critical to our process that we consider how the facility could remain active during future construction.

 

Protect product integrity arriving via Mexico

This world map highlights the top five U.S. trade partners, with Mexico being number one.

Mexico is still the number one trade partner of the United States, according to a 2024 Forbes article. Port Laredo, which includes the World Trade Bridge, is currently the No. 1 ranked U.S. international trade gateway. With the continued rise in trade between Mexico and the United States, the time that trucks are waiting at the border will most likely increase.

GAB produce is transported in refrigerated trailers to maintain the required strict food safety temperatures. Once the produce enters the U.S., it must be transferred quickly to the facility and into the coolers/freezer.

Early in this cross-border Design-Build project, we discussed a plan with the Owner to include a Forced Air Cooler.

This strategy allows GAB employees to rapidly chill produce in preparation for relocation into the perishable coolers.

Using dedicated fans, air is pulled through the pallets to help drop the temperature of the produce safely to prevent the development of condensation and keep the produce from prematurely ripening. During the design and construction process, we worked closely with the Forced Air Cooler specialty vendor to ensure this system was designed and installed properly—from the selection of the access door and bollard layout to coordination with the fire protection engineer on the sprinkler head arrangement and location. Our plan also prevented thermal transfer between spaces, maximized racking layout, and maintained aisles for forklifts and employees.

 

Promote trucker comfort and efficiency   

A M King developed a distinctive dormitory solely for the use of company truck drivers who deliver the fresh and frozen produce from Mexico.

While GAB was interested in creating camaraderie among a variety of users at this new facility, it became apparent during this pandemic era project that they would also have to consider social distancing and access control among those groups. To answer this need, we initially focused on developing a distinctive dormitory solely for the use of company truck drivers who deliver the fresh and frozen produce from Mexico.

The dormitories are a unique element of the project, as not many distribution facilities provide places for truckers to sleep.

Each room features two metal bunkbeds and storage areas for personal items. We worked with the bunkbed supplier and our electrical engineer to locate outlets at the correct height for user convenience. The trucker dormitory has 16 beds with two single-occupant toilets and a shower stall. The truck drivers will also have access to a washer and dryer. Not only did we design the space, but we also organized finishes and furnishings to make the area functional and comfortable. We selected anti-microbial paint for the walls and researched washable mattress covers for the dorm bunkbeds to prevent the spread of germs.

We also designed an in-and-out door flow for the truckers at the check-in window and those who are exiting their trucks. The warehouse/dock employees also have separate areas, including their own breakroom/training room with locker spaces.

In the office space, we sought to emulate the open design concept that GAB has at its headquarters in Mexico. For this cross-border Design-Build project, we chose glass doors to create an open office environment that blends the cubicles, common areas and private managers’ offices. While we created separation between these spaces, we also used finish selections to establish a cohesive theme throughout the office. We selected durable materials to accommodate staff traffic and Laredo’s climate.

 

Manage permitting process related to site and access

A M King strives to be the best advocate for its food distribution clients, as seen here, throughout design, plan review, and permitting.

Every jurisdiction is unique. Whether it is the submittal process or communications with city officials, A M King strives to be the best advocate for our clients throughout design, plan review, and permitting, concluding with the Certificate of Occupancy and final punch list.

We provide our international clients the expertise and experience from working across the country and dealing with a variety of jurisdictional types.

Laredo’s permitting process was challenging since it involved multiple steps. One of the items that we needed to address was our access driveways to a state road. This driveway required approval from the Texas Department of Transportation and needed to meet their design and size standards prior to approval. As part of this process, we participated in a City of Laredo review prior to submitting to the State of Texas. Once approved, we provided the applications and driveway layout to the State and discussed all concerns with our civil engineer. Finally, an inspector visited the site and approved the work.

In addition, we worked with the department heads of the utilities to ensure there were no conflicts with the site arrangement. Next up, was the Accessibility Review, a Texas state requirement performed by a third-party review team that evaluates issues of accessibility within the building and City departmental plan review—both processes that
A M King handled to receive the permit as quickly as possible.

 

Conclusion

Jaime Usabiaga and Miguel Usabiaga of international produce distributor GAB Operations, LLC. stand on the site of their new food distribution center in Laredo, TX.

Addressing the needs and desires of an international client is similar to what we do for U.S. clients, but with some additional logistical considerations. Our goals for any cross-border Design-Build project are to understand the transportation requirements of our clients and how their product moves from point A to B while exceeding food safety requirements. We develop spaces that accurately reflect the needs of each group within the company and keep the product safe.

We serve as our clients’ advocate in navigating local/state code and accessibility requirements to maintain a smooth transition from design completion to initiation of construction. As part of the design process, we also consider not only a client’s current needs, but how we can help facilitate any future development and set in place the basic infrastructure to help reduce the downtime required to make these updates.

Working with the GAB Owner’s group was a collective effort on the part of our Design and Operations team to exceed the company’s goals for this new Laredo distribution facility.

Click here to learn more about how A M King ensured GAB Operations' product integrity.


Catherine Knight
Catherine Knight
Catherine Knight, Architect, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, CDT, is Design Leader at A M King. Catherine works with the Operations Business Unit Leaders and Project Mangers to coordinate efforts between the Design and Operations teams for project development from initial client interface through project completion. She is currently serving as Equity Director for AIA South Carolina and was recently named a 2024 GSA Business Report’ Forty Under 40 honoree.
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