Dick Groves
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UW Needs To Stick To Original CDR Building Plan

The dairy industry in Wisconsin and around the US came together a few years ago and raised more than $16 million to construct a new Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and to renovate the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant. It was an amazing effort.

More than three years after that fundraising goal was not only met but exceeded, the CDR/Babcock Hall project is facing some problems, apparently because the UW has lost sight of what this massive project was supposed to be. It’s time for the UW to get back to the original building plan so that this project can finally move forward as the industry envisioned.

According to a fund-raising letter sent out in 2012, the CDR-Babcock Hall plans were developed “through extensive consultation with dairy leaders and include a major expansion of facilities at CDR and a renovation of the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant.”

At the heart of the “Campaign To Secure Wisconsin’s Dairy Future” was a proposed new $32 million dairy research and education facility in Babcock Hall. The new facility was supposed to encompass an area of at least 67,000 gross square feet and dedicate more than 20,000 square feet to new research and processing space for CDR.

This point was touted in a news release issued by the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) in August of 2012, which noted that the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents had approved a plan to provide half of the funding for remodeling and expansion of dairy research and teaching space and ice-cream and cheesemaking facilities in Babcock Hall. Industry would provide the other half of the project’s funding.

The Babcock Hall project, that news release continued, “entails renovating existing space used by the University’s Center for Dairy Research and the UW dairy plant and building an addition that will provide about 27,000 square feet of new research space. Among new amenities will be a facility for protein fractionation and powder drying, specialty cheese ripening rooms, expanded facilities for training industry professionals, and a cultured products area that will focus on emerging markets such as Greek yogurt.”

Almost exactly one year later, on August 7, 2013, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced that the proposed plans for the CDR and Babcock Hall building project would move forward with the design stage beginning immediately. And in November of 2013, the Wisconsin Department of Administration selected Zimmerman Architectural Studios Inc., Milwaukee, WI, as the architectural and engineering firm for the CDR/Babcock Hall project.

According to a tentative timeline for the CDR/Babcock Hall building project released at the time of Walker’s announcement (and reiterated in a CDR release in November of 2013 announcing that Zimmerman Architectural Studios had been selected as the A&E firm for the project), groundbreaking on the new CDR building was to take place in the summer of 2015, with substantial completion of the new CDR building as well as the renovated Babcock Hall Dairy Plant slated for March of 2018.

Well, it’s now July of 2016 and it’s safe to say that more hearts than ground have been broken on this project. As the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association reported in its July 5th WCMA “Dairy Facts” newsletter, CDR staffers and project fundraising co-chair Dave Fuhrmann learned at a June 28 meeting that the CDR/Babcock Hall project, as currently designed, will cost $11 million more than initially estimated.

The WCMA further reported that cost-cutting (“value engineering”) proposals outlined at that June 28 meeting focused all square footage cuts on the new CDR; more specifically, the cost-cutting plan suggests the elimination of 11,200 gross square feet of the new CDR. An alternative plan retains this square footage as unfinished, walled-in space (a “shell”).

Either cut would eliminate food application labs in the basement of the new addition, and on the first floor, eliminate most of the CDR cultured products research area, and on the second floor, eliminate most of the CDR cheese research area, the WCMA noted. The CDR would also see significant cuts to equipment, including a two-stage dryer and vats.

Meanwhile, the WCMA reported last Friday that CALS has altered the original scope of this project with a fully rebuilt dairy plant, two new loading docks and new freezers and coolers (and more) that “have sent costs soaring.” But, despite the cost overrun, no cuts in square footage are proposed for the dairy plant.

It’s time for the UW’s College of Ag and Life Sciences to go back to the drawing board. According to the project description and scope approved by the UW Board of Regents in 2012, the project “will construct a three-story addition to and will remodel portions of Babcock Hall to house the Center for Dairy Research.”

Also in 2012, at least two fundraising packets were sent out to dairy companies inviting them to join the Campaign To Secure Wisconsin’s Dairy Future. This was described as a “dairy-industry-wide campaign that builds upon the leadership of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research in research, technology, training and outreach.”

In short, this was never about completely rebuilding Babcock Hall, but that seems to be what the UW now wants to do. It’s time for the UW to go back to the original CDR/Babcock Hall project and move forward with the plans so enthusiastically supported by the dairy industry. The industry should get what it paid for.

Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to dgroves @cheesereporter.com.


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