MALTA -- Less than two years after crews began to clear trees to make way for GlobalFoundries' $4.6 billion computer-chip factory, the company's first batch of employees are preparing to move into their new home.
At the end of May, more than 300 workers are expected to begin relocating to third-floor offices attached to the 300,000-square-foot production area, bringing to an end a period of temporary residence at the neighboring Saratoga Technology and Energy Park and at scattered offices around the region.
"It's a very significant, critical move," said Norm Armour, the vice president and general manager for Fab 8, the name given to GlobalFoundries' factory at the Luther Forest Technology Campus.
The employees' move is one of several indications that the massive construction project - described as the largest in North America - is nearing an end.
Other upcoming milestones discussed Tuesday night at a community meeting held by the company included the groundbreaking for a 220,000-square-foot administrative building and the beginning of the installation of nearly 300 separate pieces of equipment that will be used to make computer chips.
A date for the office building's groundbreaking has not yet been scheduled, but officials say they expect work to begin before the end of May and construction efforts to ramp up in the coming months. The installation of equipment is expected to begin June 1.
"That's that milestone we're all focused on," said Rick Whitney, the president at M + W U.S., the contractor building the factory for GlobalFoundries.
Whitney said 98 percent of the procurement process for the construction project is complete, and the effort to prepare the fab building for tool installation is 90 percent complete. Some systems, including data centers, are already operational, he said.
"What's difficult to see from the outside is that some of the operations inside the building are already up and running," Whitney said as he showed slides of the factory's interior, where air ducts exceed the height of an average-sized person.
Despite the progress, officials acknowledged their work is far from over.
One of the biggest challenges is the effort to ready local emergency responders for late 2012, when production is supposed to begin. Because the chip-making process involves the use of chemicals and energy at a high level, local emergency responders have had to go through specialized training.
Regular training sessions have been held since the groundbreaking, but more work remains to be done, GlobalFoundries officials said.
"We can't pat ourselves on the back just yet," said Steve Grossclose, GlobalFoundries' director of risk management. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
Local officials say the project has largely gone off without a hitch, however, and they have been pleased with the way GlobalFoundries has worked with them to address concerns.
"There's no such thing as zero risk, but we want to minimize the risk as much as possible," Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville said.
Sausville credited the smooth construction effort to years of planning and preparation, followed by vigilant oversight.
"We knew what we were getting into so that there wouldn't be any surprises," he said. "So far, there haven't been."