Appel Farms in Ferndale,, WA, is a small business with an attractive concept: artisanal cheese that comes straight from pasture to plate. 200 head of cattle graze at the back of the property, they’re milked in an on-site milking parlor, the cream is made to cheese in an on-site plant, and it’s sold in the store up front. But after 30 years of making cheese in wooden barn-space, this second generation family-owned business needed to improve the cheese-making facility at the heart of the operation. The solution turned out to be a 12,000 sf metal building system from Star Building Systems, featuring an unusual exo-skeleton design that catches the eye from the outside, and provides a clean, flat-walled space on the inside.
The suggestion to use a metal building system for the new cheese plant came from Star builder Faber Construction of Lynden, WA. As David Verret, Preconstruction Project Manager, relates, “We started to talk about insulation, and what kind of food grade surfaces are needed. The building is actually a big cooler, with four smaller coolers – though rather large ones – inside it. Using insulated metal panels, we were able to achieve a food-grade interior surface, get necessary insulation to meet energy codes, and also have exterior skin included in a single installation.” The exterior wall is made of four-inch panels, with five-inch panels for the interior coolers and freezers. “Each has big, heavy insulated vertical lift doors that open automatically when pushcarts come up,” adds Verret.
In order to maintain hygienic cleanliness inside the facility, smooth, continuous wall surfaces with a minimum number of joints, indents or protrusions is desirable. Since wall systems are all hung on the structural steel columns of the building, straight vertical columns work best. However, straight columns include a significant amount of unnecessary steel not needed for load-bearing. Many metal buildings use tapered columns, saving considerably on the cost of steel. To keep the flat walls and reap the benefits of tapered columns, Faber opted for an unusual “exoskeleton” design. The primary structure is sort of turned inside out, with the tapered side of the columns facing outwards, exposed as an exterior architectural element. The flat side of the columns faces inwards, and the wall panels are attached interior to the structural steel. (That special bit of engineering was supplied by Star’s in-house team.)
The large clear-span space in the center of the facility achieves another goal: public viewing of cheese-making. The plant includes large windows where visitors and would-be customers can watch cheese-making live. The view includes the gantry crane above the brine tank, which David Verret calls “One of the crown jewels of the project.” The crane supports had to be cut through the ceiling panels. The Faber team spent several painstaking days on that detail alone.
The result is a facility that serves up cheese to the community, even offers educational tours to elementary and middle school groups, extends a family tradition for a new generation, and presents an architectural landmark to the neighborhood.