Celebration marks launch of Babcock Hall construction project, honors partners

September 7, 2018 By Nicole Miller

A rendering of the new Babcock Hall, renovation of the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, as well as a new, three-story addition for the Center for Dairy Research (CDR).

On Friday, Sept. 7, the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences hosted a celebration to mark the launch of a major construction project for campus’ Babcock Hall. The $47 million project involves the renovation of the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, as well as a new, three-story addition for the Center for Dairy Research.

“The facility is going to be one of the premier dairy education and research centers in the nation. And, most importantly, it’s going to be a hub for discovery and innovation for Wisconsin’s dairy industry, working closely with our faculty and our students,” said UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, at the event.

Funding for the project came from the state of Wisconsin, UW–Madison and donors. Nearly 200 individual donors — primarily from the state’s cheese industry — raised over $18 million to support the project.

Kate VandenBosch, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, delivers remarks during a celebration to mark the launch of a major construction project for UW–Madison’s Babcock Hall Dairy Plant and Center for Dairy Research, in Dejope Hall. Photo by Michael P. King/UW-Madison CALS

“We are deeply grateful for everyone’s efforts on behalf of this project,” said CALS Dean Kathryn VandenBosch. “We could not have done this without the support of our industry investors, UW–Madison and the state. I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”

More than 150 cheese industry leaders, government and university officials, and project leaders were on hand for the celebration, which featured a short program followed by a luncheon. Program speakers included Blank; VandenBosch; DATCP Assistant Deputy Secretary Keith Ripp; Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association Executive Director John Umhoefer; UW–Madison Food Science Chair Scott Rankin; and CDR Director John Lucey.

UW–Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank chats with Kevin Sweeney of Saputo Cheese before the groundbreaking celebration for Babcock Hall’s renovation and addition.

The renovation of the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant will modernize the aging facility, which produces bottled milk, cheese and the university’s iconic Babcock ice cream for on-campus and some off-campus retail sites, and serves as a laboratory and learning facility for students, university researchers and industry personnel. The renovation will add a new ice cream maker; more freezer and cooler space; an improved raw milk receiving bay; as well as new piping, pumps and valves to more efficiently move milk and milk products around the plant. This will be the first major upgrade to the dairy plant since it was built in 1951.

The CDR addition will enhance the center’s ability to work with companies developing all kinds of new and improved dairy-based foods. Established in 1986, the CDR provides scientific expertise in dairy research, as well as technical support and education to dairy processors. Each year, the CDR works with more than 100 dairy companies and more than 30 national and international dairy organizations on various projects and education courses that help to move the industry forward.

The addition features state-of-the-art research, instruction and small-scale production space—as well as a broader array of dairy food processing equipment. In addition to fortifying the center’s traditional strengths, it will open up new opportunities to work on alternative dairy products such as whey, as well as fermented dairy products including specialty yogurts. There will also be nine rooms for specialty cheese ripening, as well as space for the processing and handling of various other specialty cheeses.

“As the global marketplace offers new opportunities, it’s critical that we maintain our reputation for the highest quality dairy products and innovative processing practices,” said Umhoefer. “It’s exciting to see ground broken [on this project], because we know a world-class facility holds the potential for breakthroughs in dairy product development and innovation.”

The Wisconsin Building Commission and the UW Board of Regents approved final plans for the project in spring 2018, and it moved into the construction phase in summer 2018.

The project, led by contractor C.D. Smith Construction, involves three distinct phases. Phase one, which is currently underway, includes constructing a new loading dock and milk receiving bay. This phase also includes the demolition of Science House, which took place in early August. Phase two, anticipated to start in early 2019, involves the construction of the CDR addition. The third phase is the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant renovation, which is expected to begin in early 2020. Project completion is slated for later in 2020.

The Babcock Hall Dairy Store and other parts of the building not impacted by remodeling will remain open throughout construction. While the dairy plant is closed for renovations, Babcock ice cream will continue to be made at an off-site frozen dessert manufacturing facility, following the plant’s special recipe, and will available for purchase at regular retail locations.