A video linked to the Utah State University Aggie Ice Cream website suggests the huge renovation project at the Gary H. Richardson Dairy Products Laboratory took less time than it takes an ice cream cone to melt on a hot summer day.
Of course, it is a time-lapse video comprised of photos taken every 30 minutes over a four-month period.
“It was actually a very long winter,” Aggie Creamery manager Dave Irish said. “But there’s nothing but positives with what we did. It was long, and it was stressful and there were a few glitches, but I’m pleased with what we have now. Everyone is.”
Started in late November, the $900,000 project led to the dairy products laboratory being shut down until late March. That meant no new Aggie Ice Cream or cheese was produced for about four months and stocks were limited to the extra-large supply built up before the shutdown of the lab.
Irish said they did run low on several flavors of ice cream, but still had plenty of Aggie Blue Mint, huckleberry and vanilla left in reserve in the facility’s recently expanded freezer by the time they were able to re-start production.
“But we’re back and up and running again, and we really appreciate everyone’s patience while we were shut down,” Irish declared. “It was a necessary thing, and we made some really substantial improvements. It’s really the first time that we’ve shut the dairy products lab down in 40 years.”
The remodel, which took about three weeks longer than scheduled, was set in motion due to regulations mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
Funding for the project was provided by a bill that passed through the Utah State Legislature in 2018. Improvements to the facility included renovated ceilings, walls, lighting, floors, drains and a new air-handling system, but the addition of only one new piece of equipment.
The floor of the laboratory, which is managed by the Nutrition, Dietetics & Food Sciences Department in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, previously contained 34 drains, none of which could be cleaned out. During the remodel, the floor and the old drains were removed by digging down between four and five feet. Seventeen new drains were installed that are equipped with a lid and strainer baskets that can be taken out and easily cleaned.
The floor was then replaced and topped with new tile, while the ceiling above, which used to be more than 20 feet high, was dropped down nearly eight feet. That allowed the placement of new pipes coming down out of the ceiling rather than up from the floor, creating far fewer obstacles for employees and equipment to work around below.
“We also changed the arrangement quite a bit, so now there’s more open areas that we can do things with and fewer impediments on the floor to get in the way of what we’re doing,” Irish said.
The ceiling is white with brand-new LED lights, while the walls of the laboratory were painted white, replacing the old yellow-beige motif.
“It’s much brighter in here, more open and it’s more cleanable,” Irish said as he looked around the laboratory. “Everything about it is better.”