A behind-the-scenes look at a $350 million expansion

Monday, October 15, 2001

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"Fru-Con Construction Corp. didn't move heaven and earth to expand Procter & Gamble's disposable diaper plant near Cape Girardeau, but it came close."

That's the way one Associated General Contractors (AGC) described Fru-Con's role in the $350 million expansion of P&G's facility north of here.

Fru-Con, headquartered in St. Louis, a provider of construction, engineering, development and maintenance services, recently received a Keystone Award from the AGC of St. Louis for its performance as general contractor of P&G's new tissue and towel facility.

The project was selected as "Project of the Year" in the highest dollar value category -- $10 million or more -- during the AGC's fourth annual Keystone Awards Dinner, held earlier this month at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

The expansion involved about 18 acres of manufacturing space under roof to produce Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet issue.

It was Missouri's largest industrial project when completed in the spring of 2000. Fru-Con was part of a consortium of three companies that designed and constructed the new facility in two years. Other consortium partners were Fluor Daniel, Inc., a construction land engineering company based in Irvine, Calif., and Valmet Corporation, a paper machine manufacturer headquartered in Helsinki, Finland.

Greg Holthouse, president of Fru-Con Engineering Inc., a subsidiary of Fru-Con oversaw the project from start to finish.

Fru-Con did move some things for the project. A hill was leveled, a mile of Opossum Creek was relocated, seven acres of wetland were scooped up and moved to make way for the expansion and a county road now skirts the site instead of running through it.

Fru-Con coordinated the round-the-clock efforts for more than 200 subcontractors and 1,700 workers at peak with an exemplary safety record. Workers logged more than 4 million effort hours without a lost-time accident.

The expansion gives Procter & Gamble, one of the world's leading producers of soap and paper products, a new paper products plant with two massive paper-making machines that will add 130,000 tons per year to the company's production capacity.

The project, which puts 18 acres of manufacturing area under one roof, is one of the largest capital projects ever for P&G. The new plant adjoins another giant P&G facility at the site -- a 30-acre building under roof. The other big building is a production area of warehouse for raw materials used in the production of diapers.

Moving the wetlands was a big chore, taking up 7 acres of wetlands and replacing them, "two-for-one" on the south side of the site, said Charlie Bowers, site director for Fru-Con.

To save the wetlands environment workers actually scooped up the "wet, slimy and sloppy muck" from the wetlands stockpiling it to transplant later for a new home for frogs, snails and microorganisms that live in the wetlands.

Movement, not only of the creek, the wetlands and the road, but also of dirt was a major theme of the expansion. Three million cubic yards of earth were moved in the project, said Bowers.

One reason for the earth-moving was the decision to raise the site an addition eight fee higher than the old plant, boosting it out of the 500-year flood plain. Sandbagging was needed around the facility to keep water out of the diaper plant during the floods of 1993.

Flooding wasn't the only natural disaster planners considered. With Cape about 50 miles from the New Madrid fault, earthquakes are a real concern, and millions of dollars were spent to guard against them, said Fru-Con officials.

To anchor the building, caissons were sunk 80 feet with intermittent caissons attached to bedrock with a "rock socket" so they cannot move, Bowers said. X-bracing installed in the walls prevents the building from swaying in a quake, and conveyors are attached to the walls and braced to keep them from shifting.

Because of the massive amounts of water needed for production, Robinson Construction Co. of Perryville, Mo., working with Collector Wells International of Columbus, Ohio, installed a collector well water intake structure at the Mississippi River. The system brings up water which gets treated, used in the manufacturing process and returned to the river in better condition than when it was taken out.

One of the many intricacies of the project was the logistics of planning around machinery that was made overseas and shipped to the site, Bowers said. Timing was crucial. "That drives the schedule because the heartbeat of the whole project is the paper-making machinery," he said. "It sets the whole schedule."

For Holthouse, the sheer size and scope of the project was a challenge -- 200 subcontractors, including 50 prime subs, 1,500 workers and more than 3,500 pieces of equipment.

Holthouse said that the project's safety record and its labor relations are noteworthy.

Fru-Con recently reached seven million consecutive safe labor hours at the P&G facility. Fru-Con has not had a lost time injury at the Cape Girardeau site since April 15, 1990. On average, Fru-Con has maintained more than 335 engineering, construction management, construction field and technical services employees at the P&G location over those 10 years.

Originally built by Fru-Con in the late 1960s, the Cape Girardeau plant facility produces Pampers and Luvs diapers. P&G has had a strong working partnership with Fru-Con for over 50 years.

B. Ray Owen is business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at rowen@semissourian.com or 335-6611, extension 133.

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