A big hooray rung out over the campus recently. You see, after many long years, lots of work with architects and engineers, three times out for bid, many revisions, and LOTS of stress; the Dakota College at Bottineau Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture Wash/pack facility has awarded bids for construction and will be completed by November of this year. This has been a long and arduous row to hoe. The whole project began five and a half years ago, early in 2009.
This is the space/new location for our wash/pack facility.
Phase one of our construction project, the high tunnels, was completed late in 2011. Phase two, the construction of a wash/pack facility to safely handle the produce from the ECH and to demonstrate safe post-harvest activities, has been held up over the years for several reasons.
The first and foremost reason was the flood in Minot in early 2011. The flood displaced the architect and engineering firms hired to create the drawings and specifications for the building. The flood not only displaced them, it kept them from working on almost any projects for several months while roadways throughout the region were re-routed and restored and their office buildings were either relocated or renovated. After the flood, the diversion of any and all construction companies to the Minot area for rebuilding efforts led to a shortage of builders and finally to increased construction costs in the region.
During this period of time, the state as a whole saw a dramatic change in economy with increases in oil production, population, new construction and average annual wage and income. These changes caused a spike in construction costs and a shortage in the manpower to build new facilities all across the state.
The first time the project was put out to bid in 2012, no proposals were received. The second time it was put out to bid, the costs of construction had risen so dramatically between 2009 when the budget was established and 2013 when the second bids were let, all bids were way outside of what the grant and the college could afford. Legally, Dakota College at Bottineau is responsible for any costs over and above the originally approved budget. What once was seen as an extravagant budget for such a simple building with plenty of room for contingencies, now seemed an impossible mark to hit without extreme reductions or great hardships for the college.
The staff of the ECH, the architects and the engineers went back to the drawing board for a third time and cut anything and everything possible while trying to leave a functioning building that would fulfill the needs of the ECH. The new plans removed all items that were not absolutely necessary to the functioning of the building and its purpose. The office for the farm manager was removed, the winter greenhouse was removed, the restroom was removed, racks for storing tote bins and supplies were removed, electricity to the high tunnels to regulate temperatures on the weekends was removed, one of the coolers for holding produce was removed, even the counter space for cleaning produce was removed and the decision was made that the ECH could use leftover folding tables from the college as space for holding produce. Even the extra light on the outside of the building was removed from the plans.
Luckily the third time was the charm. By now, the award letters have been mailed out to the winning bidders. That means construction of the building should begin very soon. Just in time too as our ‘alternative location’ for washing and packing vegetables, the Dakota College student center, which has been used the past three years as our washing and packing area, is also slated for renovation and we would have lost our only other place to properly care for the produce we grow.
A wash/pack building is a very necessary facility for the ECH, or for that matter any farm producing vegetables or fruit for sale. It is the building where the produce is properly cleaned, inspected and handled post-harvest. A facility like this can be small or elaborate but it is necessary. Ensuring the produce is clean, undamaged and held at the proper temperatures until delivery is important to the safety of our locally grown food sources.
A wash pack facility can be something as makeshift as this
Although the Good Agricultural Practices that we operate under do not suggest washing and packing in a area that is not covered so this was not an option for us. Or as elaborate as this
Our goals lie somewhere in between with a vision of a building that contains a cooler, triple sinks, a hand washing sink, floor drains, and tables or counter tops for packaging and sorting. Please watch us this summer as we grow into our full potential and get ready, as at the end of summer, in the fall, before winter hopefully… we’ll be holding a party to celebrate the opening of our new Wash/Pack facility!