B&B Demolition Infiltrates The Citadel’s Law Barracks

Tue May 10, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Giles Lambertson

Law Barracks stood for 66 years on The Citadel campus and was home to generations of cadets.

But the castle-like structure is gone now. It couldn’t withstand the assault upon it by an Hitachi EX300LC demolition excavator.

Using the machine’s 71-ft. (22 m), three-piece boom, B&B Demolition Company attacked the building at its most reinforced point: the top. Once concrete caps were removed from the turreted and serrated top edge of the building’s walls, the brick structure beneath surrendered without much trouble.

The four-story structure contained 57,000 sq. ft. (5,300 sq m) of rooms around a courtyard. It was taken down so that the school can build a larger barracks structure on the spot.

The $23-million replacement building will not be open until 2008, but a pile-driving machine was working on site before Butler Ware Trucking and TNT Trucking could haul away the last of the debris.

“It was kind of intimidating to see the pile drivers coming right behind,” said Brandon Martin, one of the partners in B&B.

The Hitachi excavator, which is specially equipped for demolition, was able to reach high and down to systematically section the caps atop the walls, Martin said. Pieces of the caps, some of which weighed 1.5 tons (1.4 t), then were dropped with precision.

“The Hitachi has a long reach,” Martin said of the top-down demolition approach to the building. “The cab and operator are far enough away that there wasn’t even a close call.”

He contrasted that with the old wrecking ball method. “You never know where the ball is going to go,” he said.

Martin cites an earlier incident on another barracks. The contractor on that job beat on a clock tower with a wrecking ball for hours and when it finally gave way, the boom became ensnared in the falling structure and tipped the crane.

Martin and his partner, Brian Hillen, did their homework before bidding on the barracks job. The stuccoed building was not concrete, as some assumed, but formed of red brick, a more easily demolished material.

Yet Martin, the school and the general contractor — a Canadian firm, Ellis Don Construction — were surprised by one discovery sometime after the project got under way in early March. Between the wall-topping caps and the red brickwork below was a fiber material that turned out to contain asbestos. Removal of the caps in a way that didn’t break up the dangerous material was important to the project’s environmental engineers.

“The asbestos was brought down all at one time,” the B&B partner said. “We stopped, cleaned it up and then continued on.”

That wrinkle in planning slowed the project considerably, but Martin accepted such delays philosophically.

“There is a not a job that comes around that there isn’t a problem with it,” he said with a mental shrug.

A concrete pulverizer attachment at the end of the long demolition boom helped overcome the problem.

“The pulverizer used was the equivalent of a Cat P20,” explained Bobby Elkins, area rental and sales manager for Kuhn Equipment. Kuhn supplied the excavator to B&B.

Weighing approximately 5,500 lbs. (2,475 kg) — “a little heavy for that machine, actually,” Elkins said — the pulverizer rotates 360 degrees. It nimbly cut apart the caps.

The Hitachi 300 normally is rated as a 35-ton (32-t) machine, but with counterweights slung on its back end to compensate for the extra-long demolition boom, the unit weighed 40 tons (36 t). A Hino 225-hp engine powers the machine.

The barracks did not have a basement, a dimension that B&B didn’t have to work around. Covered walkways on each floor bordered the courtyard, so the structure could be attacked from inside and outside in a pincer movement.

The site is not exactly isolated. The east-facing barracks sat just 30 ft. (9 m) from another barracks on the west with two more barracks on each side approximately 100 ft. (30 m) away. An adjacent road that serves the buildings was closed periodically during demolition.

In this relatively tight working area, operators of the company’s excavators — besides the rented Hitachi, B&B ran Komatsu PC 300s and a pair of Volvo units — systematically reduced the stylistic old building with numerous arches to piles of rubble — mostly brick, concrete and wooden flooring.

Though principally made of red brick, the building did contain a lot of concrete.

The walkways, footings and caps — 3 and 4 ft. (90 and 120 cm) thick in places and laced with old-fashioned square rebar — contributed to the tonnage of debris. Except for the broken planking, the material all was recycled.

“One of my backgrounds is the waste business,” Martin said.

He also worked in sales and rental of heavy equipment before being introduced to the demolition business. Two years ago, he partnered with Hillen to start B&B.

“I noticed there was a place here for a company to start up and establish a good reputation,” he said of his decision to work for himself. He said he realized that most demolition work was being contracted to large firms from outside the area. “I knew such a company could be a success here.”

B&B turned out to be that success story. This year, revenue is expected to be $2.5 million, Martin said.

The three-year experience with waste disposal has been a key, Martin said, because managing the volume of material that ends up in a landfill is vital to managing expenses on a project.

“Landfill fees are the biggest cost, hands down,” he said. “If you can find an alternative stream for the material — that’s legal — you’re ahead of the game.”

Two other factors are contributing to B&B’s success in the demolition business. One is the partners’ insistence on keeping overhead low.

“We don’t buy anything brand new,” Martin said of the strategy. “We don’t buy high-cost items. We’re going to tear it up anyway in this business.

“So anything we buy, we know we can get out from under it at any time if the market takes a bath,” he said. “No damage done.”

The partners also are keen on cleaning and maintaining their equipment because the work environment of demolition takes a toll. In fact, Martin believes his line of business “generates more dust and debris than any other heavy equipment work. They can’t generate as much dirt.”

Consequently, hydraulic, cooling and filter units are cleaned daily so the company can — as in the case with Law Barracks — finish a project on schedule with little down time from overheated and cranky machines.

The other advantage Martin brings to the workplace is his love for what he is doing.

“It doesn’t matter how much demolition I do, each job — whether it’s a house or a 100,000-sq.-ft. building — I get energized by the stuff coming down,” he said. “It is an adrenaline rush.”

He apparently is not alone in his enjoyment. Martin laughed at the memory of a conversation with a contractor who complained to him, tongue in cheek. The contractor said that no one watches him build structures, “yet I’ll have 20 or 30 people watching us every day as we tear down a building.”

Tearing down Law Barracks — which was not the first B&B contract with The Citadel and Martin hopes will not be the last one — was much more efficient with the Hitachi demolition excavator, Martin testified.

“This was my first time with this machine,” he said, “but if a building of this size comes up again, I will be using the Hitachi again. Not may — will.”

Perhaps, but it will not be the same machine. Elkins, the Kuhn Equipment representative, said that machine is gone.

“We got a pretty good demand for it,” Elkins said. “In fact, it was sold while it was still on the barracks job. It’s going up north somewhere.”

Kuhn Equipment dates from 1974. It specializes in sale and rental of late model earthmoving, demolition and material-handling equipment and tools.

Manufacturers include Caterpillar, Hitachi, Komatsu, Liebherr, Fuchs, LaBounty and Genesis.

The firm got more heavily into the demolition and materials handling end of the business just three years ago, Elkins said, and has experienced steady progress in business activity. He attributed demand for the equipment to increased recycling and the increasing price of steel.

(This story also can be found on Construction Equipment Guide’s Web site at www.cegltd.com.) CEG