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Baxter construction going strong

:Engineering Director Eric Schnake shows a rendering of production facilities.

:Engineering Director Eric Schnake shows a rendering of production facilities.

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The central utilities building will supply necessary utilities to facilities in the Baxter complex. - Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

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:This is a rendering of the visitors center/administrative building. - Special Illustration

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This concrete batch plant generates the concrete needed for construction.

COVINGTON -- The 160 acres that are Baxter International's in Stanton Springs have been transformed in the last nine months. Where once were just trees and dirt is now a construction project massive in scope.

It will take more than two years before the project is completed, and another two years or more before all required testing and licensing have been finished so that the production facilities can be up and running. But despite such a long timeline, a visitor to the site can already see the skeleton of Baxter taking shape.

There's currently a 250-man crew working at least five days a week, but by September the project will pick up pace, and there will be at least 1,000 trade laborers, according to Scot Thomas, director of the construction project. That number will eventually peak to 2,200.

Construction is slated to be completed by the end of 2015, and then, Baxter officials said, more hard work will commence, including cumbersome testing to make sure all equipment is working safely and as designed and licensing through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.

As Thomas said, "this is a long-term plant" and it takes time to do it right.

The project is still being designed even as building is underway in order to meet construction deadlines, said Eric R. Schnake, engineering director. He characterized the project as being "on the fast track approach."

The greatest activity on Wednesday morning could be seen at the central utilities building, which will house the necessary infrastructure for the facilities to operate, including steam, compressed air and chilled water generating equipment.

The facilities will be used to separate plasma components, purify them and make life-sustaining therapies used to treat burn victims and patients with immune disorders and other medical conditions.

In addition the central utilities building, a warehouse, giant freezer, fractionation facility, where components will be separated, and two purification plants will be constructed.

There will also be an administrative building with separate visitors and employee entrances, and a commons area for employees that will include a cafeteria, exercise area and a credit union. When it's all finished, there will be 1.2 million square feet of building space, Schnake said.

The site even has its own concrete batch plant where all concrete used in construction is prepared; it makes more economic sense to do that on site versus driving offsite, Schnake said.

Eighty-five percent of waste from the site is being recycled, according to Thomas. Local contractors are being used when possible, Thomas said, adding that 13 or 14 contractors he characterized as local were on site Wednesday. If not all are headquartered locally they have a strong local presence, he said.

Baxter is not directly handling hiring of construction jobs; that is the responsibility of the construction management companies, which partner with subcontractors.

As far as its facilities, Baxter has an aggressive hiring plan carrying through 2018, with positions ranging from those requiring a high school diploma to those requiring four-year degrees and specialized expertise, said Calvin Klitz, director, business human resources. Open positions are updated quarterly on www.baxter.com/covington.

Baxter is expected to generate 1,500 jobs and invest $1 billion in the Stanton Springs facilities.

Some Baxter staff has already relocated, to Atlanta, Madison and Oconee County and "everywhere in between," Klitz said, but said he could not reveal how many.

"We're definitely establishing our presence in the area," he said.

Work has not yet begun on a bio-tech training center that will be built and operated by Georgia Quick Start.

The center will provide customized training to meet Baxter's start-up training needs and will be available for other companies coming to or expanding in Georgia to train employees.

The center will replicate working and equipment conditions inside the Baxter facilities, said Rodger Brown, executive director of marketing and strategic media for Georgia Quick Start. Brown said he expects the facility to be completed in 2014.

"It's Georgia's statement that we are going to be competitive in the biotech sector in the state," he said.

Thomas, who moved to Georgia in January, said Baxter representatives have established great relationships with local officials.

"I've got to tell you we have been welcomed here to a greater extent than any construction job I have ever worked on," he said.