[SUMMERSIDE, PE] — A bigger Amalgamated Dairies Ltd. will rise out of the ashes.
Work has begun to rebuild the 14,000-square-foot portion of the Read’s Corner location that was destroyed by an early-morning fire on Aug. 27.
And an additional 9,000 square feet is being constructed, expanding the multi-temperature depot, storefront and storage facility.
Expansion had been something that was debated but put on the backburner until next year, explained company CEO and General Manager Jim Bradley.
“Thankfully, perhaps in hindsight, we did put it off for a year,” he said.
The fire on Aug. 27 destroyed a third of the structure, a section was constructed in 2007. A faulty refrigerator unit was found to be the cause.
Initially the loss was estimated to be around $5 million, which included equipment, stock and the building.
But, added Bradley, “what wasn’t destroyed in the fire, what was in the adjoining building, had to be disposed of because of smoke damage.”
The firewall between the original structure, constructed in 1983, and the one destroyed in the fire, did its job, preventing any major structural damage to what remained.
“The steel structure and the floors are pretty well all that’s original,” said Bradley. “The rebuild is going to cost more than the original loss. But the company is making that investment on their own, in addition to the insurance because essentially it was something we were going to be doing.”
In late September the board of directors decided to rebuild at Read’s Corner.
The contract has been awarded to Sealand Freezers of Stanley Bridge.
“It’s a great location to operate out of,” said Bradley. “There was a structure there to build from and it offered us the fastest opportunity to get back to business again.”
While plans were being made to rebuild, work was being done to ensure business continued for the company, its 40 or so displaced employees and customers.
Within hours of the fire, customers were told it was business as usual and shipments of cheese, frozen foods, plastic cutlery, napkins and other products would be delivered on time.
Office space was secured at the Holman Building and space rented from the Summerside Port Authority — the former Burger King building — which is being used as a depot and storage for dry goods.
The company is renting space from the Cavendish Farms group in Charlottetown to store frozen product and space was freed up at ADL’s Water Street facility for refrigerated product.
Frozen orders are picked up at the Charlottetown location, transferred to the Water Street location and refrigerated orders are moved to the waterfront depot where trucks are filled and leave to deliver to ADL’s 400 to 500 customers.
“It’s a longer day and it’s a lot more fuel and a lot more mileage. There’s a lot more cost,” admitted Bradley. “If you’re down for six months and build back and say now, we’re back open for business who have you got left? They’ve found the product somewhere else.”
There have been tense days, particularly immediately following the fire.
“That Monday (after the fire) was rough. It was rough because of the fire, but it was also rough because of the bridge closure. We were sourcing product out of New Brunswick and we got half of the orders across the bridge before (hurricane) Irene closed the bridge,” said Bradley. “It was Tuesday before we got the rest of the orders over and delivered.”
Islanders, ADL’s staff and customers and the business community have been overwhelming supportive, patient and understanding in the wake of the fire.
“I can’t say enough about the community support,” added Bradley. “In one sense our customer base has really proven that support by the continued business that they’re doing with us and the fact that we haven’t really lost any business.”
The new structure is expected to be open in March. The company expects to move the frozen food operation from Charlottetown to Read’s Corner by Jan. 1. The retail store is scheduled to open mid January to early February.
“You can always look at the dark and the gloom and doom of it and you can look at the positives and build from it,” said Bradley. “It’s been a learning experience.”