Topeka Mars Facility Taking Shape

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Encompassing 350,000 square feet, hundreds of windows and miles of pipes and ducts, the new Mars Chocolate facility in south Topeka is literally a big deal

Topeka operations manager Joe Wrona says, being with the project from the beginning, he had a grasp of how big it is, but seeing it in person and experiencing it can be an overwhelming site.

Wrona has overseen construction of the $250 million facility from the ground up. Interior walls are going up, wiring and duct work is being finished and equipment installation is just getting underway. Wrona says most production equipment has arrived. Installation of it will begin in earnest in August.

Wrona says everything is on track to start production in the fourth quarter of this year.

The facility also includes a rail house. Mars built six rail lines for trains to roll in and offload materials right at the facility doors.

To accomodate employees, a cafeteria, locker rooms and workout facility are part of the plans as well.

The company also isn't cutting corners on environmentally-friendly features for the company's first new chocolate facility in the U.S. in 35 years. It incorporates a lot of natural light through windows and skylights. Plus, Wrona says plans are in place for water harvesting and energy recovery and efficiency. The measures will earn the facility LEED Gold Certification.

The company has a larger goal in mind, too. Wrona says Mars wants its facilities to be sustainable within a generation.

The facility is built with growth in mind. The plant will initially run two lines, one making Snickers and the other M&Ms. But it's built to expand to eight lines in all in the future.

Wrona says the company anticipates adding the additional lines quickly, so they didn't want to be in a situation where they built the walls of a smaller facility, only to end up tearing them down and construction temporary walls and later dealing with rebuilding permanent structures.

It's an optimistic approach that's sweet news for candy lovers - and Topeka's economy. Wrona says Mars already hired 100 production associates and maintenance techs, and looks to hire 100 more before production begins at the end of the year.

Once all eight lines are up and running, the facility could employee up to 800 workers.

Mars broke ground on the facility in 2011. The company's investment was assisted by $9 million in incentives from JEDO. The amount included buying land for the company in what's now Kanza Fire Commerce Park, $2.5 million for creating and maintaining jobs and $1.7 million for specialized training at Washburn Tech. The State of Kansas added another $5 million in incentives.