The CertainTeed insulation plant in Madera is currently undergoing a $32 million renovation to upgrade equipment. The plant is currently shutdown and is expected to fire up again at the end of February. Photo contributed.

published on March 9, 2022 - 1:39 PM
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According to the Construction Monitor’s San Joaquin Valley building permit summary for the first quarter of 2022, there was a total investment of $15.7 million for industrial manufacturing construction permits, including warehouse shops and transportation.

Along with manufacturing, the distribution industry is also keeping contractors busy at the moment.

Last year we reported that Amazon is building a new facility near Clovis Avenue and Highway 180 — a 183,000 square-foot warehouse that will serve as a “last-mile” delivery station.

In Chowchilla, French company Saint-Gobain, though its building products subsidiary CertainTeed, is investing $32 million to upgrade equipment at its insulation plant.

With a new oven, furnace and additional equipment, the plant will consume less natural gas and electricity, reducing the plant’s carbon footprint by more than 4,000 metric tons per year.

Andrew Goldberg, vice president and general manager at CertainTeed Insulation Product Group, said that planning for the upgrades started in 2019.

Because the plant was going to be shut down for about 45 days for construction, Goldberg said there had to be careful consideration on what to do during the shutdown.

“How can we make the plant more efficient; how can we improve our efficiencies and how can we minimize our environmental footprint at the same time?” he wondered.

Because of delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the shutdown began the first week of January.

The first line of operation is expected to start before the end of February. A second line is expected to come online by mid-March.

Around 300 contract workers were hired to do the construction work and install the new equipment.

Goldberg said that fortunately in California, and for the Chowchilla project, the company didn’t have trouble finding a ready labor force. But there were labor issues for its projects in other parts of the nation.

The company has had to do a lot of juggling during construction in the face of rising inflation for resources and materials, Goldberg said, such as using secondary suppliers for raw materials or slowing down production.

The plant is currently hiring for both entry-level positions and highly-skilled positions, including jobs in controls, instrumentation, packaging, engineering and production management.

When renovations are complete, production capacities for the plant are expected to expand by 13%.

“The plant in Chowchilla has been performing strongly for 40 years, so having the strong assets in place made it an easy decision to reinvest there and prepare the plant for another 40 years of success,” Goldberg said.

After a disastrous fire last year, another local company is also gearing up for renovations to its plant.

In October, a fire broke out in Fresno’s La Tapatia tortilla warehouse, destroying its chip-production factory.

The rest of the plant, including the tortilla production line, was not damaged by fire.

Justin Rushing, general manager at La Tapatia, said that negotiating with the insurance company and the pandemic have stalled the commencement of renovations.

Asbestos testing has been completed, and the company is in the process of selecting a local demolition company, with permitting for the demolition taking about 3 to 4 weeks.

“Our plan is to be up within the next eight months,” Rushing said. “How long that actually takes remains to be seen. We will be reconditioning pieces of equipment as well as purchasing new equipment.”

Rushing said he expects demolition work to begin in the middle of March.

The renovated chip factory will cover about 15,000 square feet. It will house new equipment such as a packer and other components

Rushing said that the demolition companies, as well as the construction companies, will be local. The bidding process is ongoing.

Costs for the renovations will unfortunately be in the millions, Rushing said.

With inflation and supply chain disruptions, prices for construction materials are going up every day. Rushing noted the 300% rise in the cost for steel since the pandemic began.

After renovations are complete, the hope is to get production levels to what they were before by hiring 30 to 40 employees and growing from there.

But variables abound.

“Every day things are seeming to increase in regards to costs. We have a ballpark number for the costs, but I don’t even know how accurate that is until we get all the paper work and get all the materials required,” Rushing said.

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