As the Domino Sugar refinery in Baltimore officially crossed the century mark last month, two of the biggest construction projects the plant has ever undertaken are taking shape.
The first project, which is scheduled to be completed in October, will allow the waterfront refinery to nearly quadruple its storage of finished sugar from 4.6 million pounds to an additional 14 million. The other project will rebuild the raw sugar storage shed that burned to the ground in a roaring, three-alarm fire last year.
Coricka White, the plant manager, said that although both projects will add growth to the factory, the new storage facility will also “change the way we do business.” The plant, which produces more than 40 products and employs more than 500 people, can refine more than 885,000 tons of raw sugar a year.
“We’ll be able to supply sugar more reliably,” she said. “We’ll be able to be much more nimble, flexible and better serve our customers.”
After taking over the role as plant manager last June, White said she and others sat down at the table to talk about the reliability and efficiency of the sugar factory. With about 6.5 million pounds of raw cane sugar a day being processed at the refinery, what to do and where to keep sugar is a constant ever-changing puzzle.
Therefore, adding more storage to help efficiency and add jobs to the plant rose to the top of the priority list, according to White.
Claire Mullins, director of marketing at Baltimore Museum of Industry, said the museum couldn’t have asked for better neighbors.
“I think that they have really contributed to Baltimore’s reputation as a hard-working, blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of town,” she said, adding that plant manager White is a well-involved member of BMI’s board of trustees. “They’re so iconic. I can’t imagine a kitchen in the United States that doesn’t have a box of Domino sugar.”
Mullins was working at the museum when the fire broke out at the plant.
“I saw the smoke coming out of the building,” she said. “It was extremely upsetting. All of the employees from the museum came out and stood in the parking lot. We all know people that work there.”
So it’s welcome news that Domino is not only rebuilding the raw sugar storage shed but also expanding its storage capacity, Mullins said.
“Expansion equals jobs, which I think is fantastic, especially as there seems to be fewer and fewer jobs in manufacturing,” she said. “I don’t know anybody in South Baltimore that doesn’t love Domino sugar and doesn’t appreciate the important role that they’ve played in our city’s history and our city’s future.”
Last April, the refinery started the $27 million project to add four 161-foot-tall silos that will hold 3.5 million pounds of sugar each.
First, dozens of steel pylons were placed into the ground to provide a steady structure for the silos before a slab of cement was laid. Then, work on the silos began.
The silos are built from top to bottom, with the structure being held up by hydraulics as it’s worked on and the panels are bolted and hammered together. The outside of the structure is made out of carbon steel with a stainless steel liner to help insulate it.
A bridge connecting the “bin tower,” where the processed sugar is currently held, to the new silos will also be erected. A conveyor belt will snake its way to each silo so the sugar can easily be placed inside.
“Being able to have a sugar supply on demand will only help us,” White said.
In a few months, the refinery’s next project, replacing the giant, on-site raw sugar shed that burned to the ground last April, will begin. The flames climbed sugar conveyor belts, threatening the refinery, but firefighters kept it from the building. The fire caused an eight-day shutdown.
The first part of the $25 million project will be demolishing what little is left of the raw sugar shed, which was built in the 1960s. Then, the new shed will be built inside the footprint of the old shed but will be bigger and able to hold more than 90 million pounds of raw sugar instead of the previous 60 million. It will also be built with steel; the old one was aluminum.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to continue expanding our refinery,” White said. “We are committed to this city and are here to stay.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Ngan Ho contributed to this article.