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Halfacre not bugged by unusual projects

Lakewood Ranch builder lands interesting projects for 2017.

Project Manager Tom Rees, President Jack Cox and Vice President of Operations Reed Giasson have lined up interesting projects for 2017.
Project Manager Tom Rees, President Jack Cox and Vice President of Operations Reed Giasson have lined up interesting projects for 2017.
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If those who run Lakewood Ranch's Halfacre Construction Company have learned one thing over the years, it's that sometimes things can get a little, well, different.

Tom Rees, a project manager with Halfacre for 12 years, remembers sitting in a conference room at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa waiting for a meeting to start concerning a project to do a complete redesign and build for the United States Special Operations Command.

They were waiting for a colonel to attend.

Eventually, a helicopter flew overhead and somebody parachuted out. A few moments later, the colonel walked into the meeting, still taking off his equipment following his jump.

The ability to make adjustments and handle unusual situations has been a trademark for Halfacre, and perhaps a prime reason it landed some prime assignments for 2017.

Perhaps the most unusual is a new United States Department of Agriculture research and development facility in Manatee County at 7527 Commerce Court, Sarasota. The 28,210-square-foot building will be used to protect the area's agriculture industry from non-indigenous insect outbreaks that affect Florida and the Caribbean.

Halfacre began construction on the $6.3 million project in November, but the planning started almost two years ago.

"I think this building will be my favorite," said Reed Giasson, Halfacre's vice president of operations and the project manager for the USDA building. "It is the prototype. We are bringing in the equipment so they can make sterile fruit flies. They will raise them and hatch them here.

"There is a science behind it and this is very state of the art."

Roger Osborne, the CEO of North Florida Government Properties, which is the developer for the project, said no other building in the world is like the one being constructed. He said the current USDA building at 57th Street and Desoto Road releases a million sterile fruit flies each week. The new facility will release up to 200 million a week.

The new building, according to Osborne, will also act as an emergency facility to fight outbreaks such as the oriental fruit fly and the screwworm fly. 

The sterile fruit flies are being produced and released due to the fruit fly epidemic. The sterile flies are released to impregnate female fruit flies, which have plagued the citrus industry. The females lay sterile eggs that will not hatch.

"That's the neat part of this business," Halfacre President Jack Cox said of entering unfamiliar territory. "You get to know their business. For this, you need the right plumbing, the right electrical, the right ventilation system for growing bugs."

Cox told his team not to chase the project initially because he knew the government sector would involved a lot of competition among builders. However, Halfacre's reputation for problem solving and adjusting to special circumstances helped land the project.

Giasson has spent his time since learning about the process of making sterile fruit flies. Besides the regular chore of using LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) requirements, Halfacre had to build cook rooms used to make food for the bugs, research walk-in coolers because the bugs roll up like "beebees" when cooled and then can be transported to the airport for release into the environment, and find out about towers that hold the fruit fly eggs. Every system, such as air conditioning and circulation, had to be doubled in case of a problem. Halfacre even picked out the property because something was needed near the airport.

"We chose Halfacre because we've seen the company's work and know their team can handle the special nature of this type of construction," Osborne said.

The project is scheduled for completion in the fall.

Along with the USDA building, Halfacre also picked up another unusual assignment for 2017 in renovating and retrofitting a 136,000-square-foot building in West Chester, Ohio that will become the headquarters of Ohio Eagle Distributing, an Anheuser-Busch beer distributor owned by John Saputo.

Saputo owns Gold Coast Eagle Distributing in Lakewood Ranch and his 172,000-square-foot local facility was built by Halfacre.

"It was by far the nicest building we've done," Cox said of the Lakewood Ranch building. "It was all super high-end residential. We had people laying on their back like Michelangelo. We had people flying in from all over the country to work on it."

Saputo obviously was happy with that job. 

“Beer has to be stored in a precise manner at precise temperatures, and I would consider Halfacre a specialist in beer distribution facilities and any facilities that need refrigeration,” Saputo said.

Cox said the Ohio renovation did take some research. "It was a little bit of a learning curve due to the temperature (in the Midwest)," Cox said. "You can turn off the units and naturally cool the beer."

The renovation of the 15-acre Ohio Eagle site will include the addition of about 70,000 square feet of cold storage and upgrades to driveways, parking areas, electrical and lighting, along with the remodel of 15,000 square feet of offices and a training center.

It is the farthest north Halfacre has worked. The project should be completed by June.



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