(Nov. 14, 2:00 p.m.) Six months after a fire destroyed its main office and main citrus packing shed, Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, Texas, expects to be in the new facility it’s building on the spot of the old building, said Mike Martin, the company’s president.

The June 11 fire started when a worker accidentally set fire to insulation in a wall of the 130,000-square-foot shed with a welding torch.

Despite some delays, the new shed and office should open sometime in December as originally scheduled, Martin said.

Rainy weather slowed Rio Queen’s recovery from the fire. Between July 1 and the end of summer, the Rio Grande Valley was soaked repeatedly — good for citrus groves, but not the best for new construction.

By mid-October, though, conditions had improved, Martin said, and workers were scrambling to catch up.

“It’s like an ant hill out there,” he said.

While no one wants to rebuild from scratch, Rio Queen is making the best of a bad situation, making as many improvements as it can over its old facility in the design of the new one, Martin said.

“We’re taking advantage of this time to make upgrades,” he said. “We’re looking at everything.”

For instance, the packing line in the new 150,000-square-foot shed won’t have as many turns as the old line, Martin said. That saves energy and is easier on fruit, he said.

Fewer fans will be needed in the new facility, saving additional money on energy costs. Also, automatic bin-filling and palletizing systems will save on labor costs, Martin said.

In the new facility all citrus boxes will be tagged with G-10 bar codes, Martin said. That will allow Rio Queen or anyone further along the supply chain to find out when the box was packed, who packed it, the lot number and other important information, he said.

Having G-10 capability could give Rio Queen a leg up on the competition when food safety requirements are implemented in the citrus industry.

“Citrus is at the very low end of the risk scale on food safety, but we know it’s (stricter regulations) are coming down,” Martin said. “Why not get ahead of the curve?”

The new facility also features a single cooler with a partition separating grapefruit from oranges. That, Martin said, is a more efficient use of space than the two-cooler setup in the old shed.

Also, unlike in the old facility, the new office will be included in the same footprint as the new shed, making communication between the two easier, Martin said.

For workers, the new building will have nicer bathrooms and a better break room, and cooling units will be installed on specific points of the packing line where the most workers are gathered, he said.

While it waits for its new facility to be built, Rio Queen has been using a second citrus shed in Donna, Texas, and two sheds at its Mission facility that were not damaged.

Rio Queen manages more than 5,000 acres of citrus in the Rio Grande Valley, close to one-fifth of all citrus grown in the valley.