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Organic Valley one year after a devastating fire

By Kyle Dimke, kdimke@wkbt.com
Published On: May 14 2014 09:53:36 PM CDT
Updated On: May 14 2014 10:19:40 PM CDT

Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of a fire at Organic Valley in LaFarge, Wisconsin and it was a day to remember for the company.

LAFARGE, Wis. (WKBT) -

It has been one year since a fire destroyed half of Organic Valley's headquarters in La Farge.

It took 11 fire departments nearly 18 hours to put out the fire, but not before the west end of the building was lost.

Since then the company has been working to get back to a new normal and today they took one of the final steps toward that goal.

Employees said they feel like they're coming home again because Wednesday they were finally able to work in their new offices in the west end of the building.

The rebuild was 50,000 square feet and cost around $12 million, but through it all the company said they found a silver lining.

"The fire actually broke out in the west side. This side of the building had to be completely torn down and rebuilt," Sarah Jaiteh, Organic Valley workspace and design coordinator, said.

Employees began moving into their new offices Tuesday and for Vice President of Cooperative Affairs Jerry McGeorge, being back in his office felt pretty good.

"It kind of feels like coming home," he said.

McGeorge said 2013 was a tough year for Organic Valley. He also said the fire gave the company a chance see things differently.

"We really had an opportunity to look at what we had and were there ways to improve it, and I think we have made some improvements," McGeorge said.

While it's most noticeable in the physical structure, the overall business also found a way to rise from the ashes.

"As a business grows sometimes you build up these silos, these walls, between areas of the business. I think the fire really challenged us to look at how we get beyond those things," McGeorge said.

"If you would have been here the day after the fire this would have all been what was completely burned," Jaiteh said.

One year later and even after the project is finished there is still a daily reminder of what used to be.

"It adds character. It does add character," Jaiteh said.

But employees hope those reminders will soon be distant memories as they look to the future.

"There is still going to be a little time to get back to 'normal', but we're well on our way," McGeorge said.

Firefighters had trouble putting out the fire because of solar panels on the roof of the building. McGeorge said the new building has added fire protection and Organic Valley decided not to put solar panels back on the roof. It is looking at adding more panels somewhere on the ground instead.

Some employees were able to move into offices in the center part of the building in February. Organic Valley added a 2,000-square-foot workout facility to the new building as well.

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