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September 14, 2020 ConstructionFood Processing

Smart Design-Build Solutions Fueled Southern Foods Distributor’s Success


A Roman philosopher once said luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. I find that to be true in my own life, particularly with regards to a certain food industry project that I spent the better part of a year working on. This one had it all: an existing client with high expectations; cold storage, distribution, processing, meat aging, express market and the largest culinary center the company had developed to date. Adding to the complexity was the building chosen for renovation—a generic warehouse intended for dry goods only. I was ready for a challenge like this one and fortunate that I was part of the team tasked with transforming this spec building into a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility.

If you read our blog in 2019, Architectural Designer Jami Lloyd covered the challenges associated with beginning this multifarious, adaptive reuse project for Cheney Brothers Inc. affiliate Southern Foods.  Highlights included:

  • Finalize permitting while satisfying two different building codes.
  • Minimally modify structure to support complex processes.
  • Design space to efficiently incorporate sizeable operations.

With exterior precast walls, minimally insulated roof and structural steel already in place, our Design-Build team’s main goal was to prevent thermal transfer and regulate the operating temperatures of the refrigeration system. As the project progressed, we successfully managed additional challenges that involved the schedule, underground utilities, the airport, the culinary center and sanitary measures.

Refrigerated Area Automatic Door

Organization of Refrigerated Spaces

One of the greatest team trials was related to organizing the refrigerated spaces in a way that coordinated with each of the processes, maintained proper traffic flow within the building and guaranteed product integrity in different temperature zones. For example, the -20-degree blast freezer needed to be situated for easy access between the 35-degree meat processing area and the packaging area, which could range from 50-80 degrees depending on the outside temperature. To ensure that the blast freezer could withstand the varying temperatures on either side of it, our team used 5-inch thick insulated metal panels for the ceiling and the walls, which we extended below the slab to prevent thermal transfer.

Fast Track to Success

By late summer last year, our Southern Foods facility project schedule was running smoothly. Not only did we anticipate an on-time completion, but, as is often the case, we would likely deliver the facility early. Then our client informed us that the lease on their existing facility was up and that the owner had already found another tenant who planned to move in quickly. That meant Southern Foods would need to occupy their new facility several weeks earlier than originally planned. Throw the end-of-year holidays into the mix and things became complicated, but not impossible.

A coordination meeting was scheduled with the subcontractors, and it was determined that in order to meet this new timeline, the construction team would require overtime for labor to expedite key pieces of equipment and coordinate a plan with the City building officials. Through a consolidated effort of all parties, the new project end date was achieved.

Rock boulders littered a large section of the Southern Foods’ project site.

A Rocky Start

Though we were able to mitigate risks based on our Design-Build delivery method and constant communication with A M King’s design team, there are always unforeseen challenges on the jobsite. The first was discovery of rock boulders littering a large section of the project site during routine excavation for underground utility. Addressing this issue became more complicated because we were renovating an existing building. In some cases, we brought in jack hammers to break up the boulders, remove them and continue with install. In other areas, we were able to re-route underground piping around the rock. We recycled the remaining rock and used it as landscaping and green area protection pieces.

Change is in the Air

Being near the Piedmont Triad International Airport posed additional challenges for our team. Since the Owner bought an existing shell building for renovation, we were tied to the size constraints of the site. The lack of space on the sides of the building made it impossible to back cranes far enough away to obtain necessary reach for lifting equipment. Therefore, we needed taller cranes; unfortunately, this could potentially cause trouble for the airport. Additionally, there was no recent Obstruction Evaluation / Airport Airspace Analysis  (OE/AAA) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the site. Before we were able to perform crane work onsite, we had to submit for an OE/AAA with the FAA, which took nearly 45 days to complete.

A M King’s design and construction team and Herlocker Mechanical Systems met with the director of the airfield to discuss the submittal and details around our team’s crane use. A M King, as the single point of contact, then communicated the approved, finalized plan to the client, thus solving the issue and eliminating the client’s need to be involved.

Southern Foods’ facility Culinary Center

The Largest Culinary Center in Company History

Southern Foods wanted a unique culinary test kitchen to create a new image for their brand while also incorporating the Cheney Brothers roots. At 4,200 sf, this innovative test kitchen is the largest in the company’s history. We managed installation of equipment for a full commercial kitchen, which includes a pizza oven and a full-size bar that was custom made in England.  We worked closely with the Design team to execute completion of walls covered in wood tongue and groove. This dichotomy of high finishes and USDA processing within the same building and commitment to the end user experience, are unique and innovative aspects of this building.

Southern Foods Panorama

A Sanitary Facility for Food Safety

Since the Meat, Seafood and Cheese Processing Facility is a USDA-controlled food processing facility, a focus on food safety was paramount for A M King and Southern Foods. Implementing food facility sanitary design measures included the following:

  • Stonhard UT flooring was installed in all processing and storage areas and color-coded for clear delineation between areas. The flooring provides a slip-resistant protective coating “barrier” so moisture does not seep into the slab and allow the growth of bacteria.
  • Sloped floor slab and trench drains for cleaning.
    Sloping the slab ensured no flat spots and resulted in the water used for washdown quickly exiting into the drainage system, keeping the floor clean and dry.
  • Plastisol coated Insulated Metal Panel walls.
    The added layer of PVC coating installed over the IMP protects it from long-term corrosion from continuous cleaning.

A M King met each challenge with smart solutions that ultimately led to successful, early completion of the project. The result is a complex, cutting edge, USDA-grade facility that adds multiple components to the area’s cold chain: customized food processing for local and regional clients, cold storage, distribution, culinary center and express purchasing for the general public.

For more details about this award-winning Southern Foods’ facility project, check out our case study coming soon.

Alissa Brown
Alissa Brown
Alissa Brown is an Assistant Project Manager who specializes in food processing facilities. She completed the Southern Foods project earlier this year and is currently working on a complex produce facility located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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