From the highway, Facebook’s planned data center south of Papillion appears to be little more than 134 acres of dirt and construction trailers. Tractors move earth, cars come and go, a mound of dirt gradually grows.
But project leaders will assure you: Work is well underway on the social media giant’s 970,000-square-foot data center off Nebraska Highway 50 and Capehart Road.
A big chunk – 40 percent – of the data center’s infrastructure is underground, said Danny Horton, a Facebook construction co-manager who oversees the project with Stefan Kasan. That’s why there’s not a lot to see.
Right now, workers are grading the site and installing underground utilities. By Thanksgiving, site leaders expect to see the campus’s buildings take shape.
“From there, it turns into a really fast and furious build,” Horton said.
Crews have been at work on the site since the day in early April that Facebook leaders announced that they’d selected the site.
It’ll be the company’s sixth data center in the United States and its ninth worldwide. Facebook will pour at least $200 million, probably more, into the project, which is expected to come online in 2020.
On a recent morning, 65 workers were on site. About 90 percent are from Nebraska, said Lindsay Amos, a Facebook spokeswoman. As construction progresses, the labor force will swell to an estimated 800 to 1,000 workers. That will mean 30 different crews at work on the data center, Horton said. Most of that labor will be local.
Facebook is announcing today that it has awarded contracts to six subcontractors from Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. Using local labor is a priority, Horton said.
The Papillion complex, from a bird’s-eye view, will resemble the letter H, with two 450,000-square-foot data center buildings connected by a 70,000-square foot administrative building in the middle.
The goal is to build both larger buildings at the same time, which hasn’t been done at any other Facebook data center before, Amos said.
“It’ll be a brand new experience for us,” Horton said.
Right now, project leaders are most concerned with getting the buildings up and sealed by Thanksgiving. That is so crews can do indoor electrical and mechanical work through the winter. If all goes well, workers will test the heating and cooling systems, air supply and electrical components in the spring. Then portions of the site will start to come online.
The project has lost 30 calendar days due to rain, which makes meeting the November deadline more of a challenge, Horton said.
Thanks to that rain, a few corn stalks have popped up atop a mound of dirt. The mound has grown into a sizable hill near the middle of the site because crews haven’t been able to move it.
Usually, the laborers put in six-day workweeks, with two-day weekends every three weeks, Horton said. But in response to the weather delays, workers are going longer without getting those two-day weekends.
“We’ve had a pretty rough spring,” he said.
A few hours to the east, the Facebook data center in Altoona, Iowa, is expanding, so the two construction sites are battling in a friendly competition, Horton said.
In Papillion, Facebook has committed to three buildings at the moment, but the company is always evaluating the need for expansion, Amos said. Altoona is in the process of adding a fourth building to its 400-acre site.
A 140-acre site across Highway 50 from the construction area could house an expansion, according to plans submitted to the City of Papillion. If so, a tunnel under the highway would connect the campuses.
Even as is, the Papillion project is a massive undertaking for Facebook, project leaders said.
“This is one of our biggest data center sites,” Amos said.