NEW HOPE, TENN. — Construction crews are erecting the biggest building ever built in Marion County — and one with one of the flattest floors in America.
The 212,000-square-foot distribution center is being built for Lodge Manufacturing Co., which plans to consolidate its four other warehouse facilities into the new complex by May. The new distribution center will store thousands of Lodge cast iron skillets, dutch ovens and other cookware before they are shipped to customers around the globe.
The $9 million complex, which is being built by Morgan Construction Co., is designed to include a super flat floor to allow distribution workers to use wire-guided lift trucks to store and retrieve inventory stacked on shelves in the 50-foot-high complex. To allow the fork lift operators to lift tons of cast iron cookware on to upper shelves along the 33 aisles that span the massive new complex, the concrete floor in the building was laid over the past two weeks with a variance of less than .0015 of an inch across a building that spans the size of nearly four football fields.
"This may be the flattest floor in the world," said Walter Ford, vice president of operations for Morgan Construction. "We worked really hard to maintain ideal conditions with temperature, lighting and the concrete mix to get the flattest floor imaginable."
The concrete construction was installed by Eldridge Concrete Construction, of Newton Grove, N.C., which specializes in such floorings.
"The big advantage for us is to consolidate the four different warehouses we now use and to be able to use wire-guided forklifts for more efficient handling of our products," said Michael Whitfield, senior vice president of manufacturing for Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg. "We're building for the future with this facility."
Buoyed by the growing popularity of cast iron cookware, Lodge Manufacturing has boosted its sales by more than 125 percent in the past four years. As America's biggest cast iron cookware producer, Lodge makes and sells more than 130 different cast iron cookware products, ranging from its most popular 12-inch cast iron skillet to dutch ovens and specialty cookware.
Lodge Manufacturing is in the midst of a $90 million expansion of its South Pittsburg foundry where all of its products are forged and packaged. The foundry expansion is scheduled to be completed this fall.
The New Hope distribution center is located a couple of miles away from the Lodge foundry and company headquarters in South Pittsburg.
"This was the nearest available site where we could build a new and bigger distribution facility with the capability of being expanded in the future," said Mark Kelly, vice president of communications and marketing for Lodge Manufacturing. "As we continue to grow, we needed more space to store and ship our inventory from and this should help improve the efficiency of our distribution."
To precisely place the cast iron products on shelves that rise the equivalent of five stories above the cement floor requires the floors to vary only a fraction of an inch over the span of each row. The new distribution center will nearly double Lodge's storage capacity, and it is built on a site here that could ultimately be more than doubled with the addition of another 300,000 square feet.
The building was designed by River Street Architects, A.D. Engineering and Structural Services Inc. The structure includes nine service bays where trucks will pick up Lodge products that are distributed by more than 3,000 dealers and retailers across the United States.
Lodge Manufacturing has operated in South Pittsburg since its founding in 1896. The family-owned business is known worldwide for its iconic cast iron skillets and cookware sold in 55 countries.
Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6340.
This article was updated to clarify the floor is concrete, not cement.