Smyrna, GA-based Benning Construction began the excavation of The District at Howell Mill — a 16-acre mixed-use retail and luxury apartment site off the busy Atlanta intersection of Interstate 75 and Howell Mill Road — just like any other project.
Making way for intown Atlanta’s first Wal-Mart, along with a parking deck and other retail space, Benning, working with a team from Douglasville, GA’s Plateau Excavation, began the initial demolition phase in April, along with grading following in May, as well as removing the 40,000 cu. yds. (30,584 cu m) of good material and 10,000 cu. yds. (7,645 cu m) of unsuitable earth from the site.
But the backhoes and dozers yielded something other than the usual debris of tree limbs and rocks.
Along with loads of masonry debris, the team uncovered a 1956 Buick.
“We found it on the backside of a huge hill … we assume it was an old dumping ground,” said Ryce Elliot, vice president of Benning Construction and the on-site project manager the construction site.
“The tennis courts were there, first, from the old hotel that was here … it looks like they just filled over the dumping site and put the tennis courts on top of it … when we dug it out, we found everything there.”
Once it was lifted out of the ground, the car was demolished and used as scrap metal, but the junked car represented more than just an odd piece of debris. It represented the junked state of the site itself, along with the area surrounding it.
Before The District, the spot once housed the Castlegate Hotel; an up-scale and thriving lodge. But as the scenery changed around the Howell Mill Road/Northside Drive corridor, due to the influx of strip clubs, the hotel became a repository for prostitutes, drug dealers and other shady types.
Partially demolished in 2002, the hotel property sat idle until Atlanta-based Selig Enterprises stepped up to the plate to transform and develop the urban blight into a 300,000-sq.-ft. (27,870 sq m) retail space, along with another 150,000 sq. ft. (13,940 sq m) for the Wal-Mart.
Selig hired Benning to do 95 percent of the site work, according to Elliot, and with most of the earthmoving scheduled to be completed this month, along with finding the dumpsite, on-going excavation hasn’t been a smooth operation.
“The deep foundation is not the greatest,” said Elliot. “Old and abandoned storm lines, terminated but left in place, were anywhere from five to 30 feet in the ground.”
Crews had to cut through 25 ft. (7.6 m) of fill, just to put in new storm lines, with the added aggravation of a very rainy summer.
“In August, we got 10.85 inches of rain, and the rain this summer has been one of the main issues that has caused delays,” Elliot said. “But we are finally finishing the excavation.”
With water continually pooling in the middle of the site, Llewellyn Construction, another Benning sub-contractor, is taking care of heavy foundation work, spread footing, as well as constructing a cast-in-place underground detention vault to collect groundwater and release it into local streams leading to the Chattahoochee River.
Approximately 43,000 sq. yds. (35,953 sq m) of asphalt have already been used on the project. Contractors began taking care of the spread footing in October.
“We’re doing the spread footing right now … At about 100 cubic yards per footing, with our largest spread footing, right now, at 28-by-28-by-five feet,” Elliot said.
The next phase of the project is to cut the pre-existing auger cast piles, which were left in the foundation.
Workers from Commerce, GA, based sub-contractor Southern Foundation Inc. are cutting those piles and they are adding 804 new piles, with 112 of them going under one of two retaining walls.
California-based Retaining Walls Company, working out of its Alpharetta, GA, satellite office with eight workers, are installing the retaining walls; one is a cast-in-place wall, and the other a pre-fabricated retaining wall on the I-75 side.
Each cast measuring 18 to 24 in. (45.7 to 61 cm) in diameter is made on site, and this “pile group” must fill a daily quota of at least 25 piles, according to Elliot.
The piles will serve as the foundation and support for both the new Wal-Mart and the parking deck. In a layered approach, the retail store will be on the ground level, with additional parking and other retail space on the roof.
According to Elliot, the pre-cast parking structure was to be installed in November.
Each sub-contracting company came to the project with self-owned equipment, with Plateau using Caterpillar and Komatsu loaders and Lull forklifts and The Retaining Wall Company using Takeuchi trackhoes and Bobcats. Other equipment on site includes dozers, articulated dump trucks, tandem trucks, loaders, an auger drill and a hydraulic excavator.
Benning and its sub-contractors are trying to make use of all of the leftover earth material, and keeping as much on-site as possible.
“We’ve taken the old retaining walls and slabs, stockpiled them, and we crushed the concrete,” explained Elliot. “If we had a soft area, we’d use it like you would use stone … we took the rebar out of the concrete and added it to our recycling pile.”
Also, citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods have asked Elliot and his team for any left over dirt, rock and wood.
“Locals continue to ask for the dirt and wood, as well as wanting rocks for landscaping, and we say ’help yourself.’”
Along with Wal-Mart and the other retail shops, California-based A.G. Spanos Co. is developing the 280 luxury apartments.
With an estimated completion date of Aug. 1, 2006, Elliot said that, despite the rain, the project is on time, with a dawn until dusk work schedule, seven days per week.
With the success of Midtown Atlanta’s new Atlantic Station development, which includes an IKEA store, and other upscale retail stores, intermixed with apartment housing and condos, The District at Howell Mill’s location at Howell Mill, I-75 and Northside Drive, may become a major traffic artery into the Midtown area.
Though this will help to improve the Northside/Howell Mill corridor, Selig Enterprises met with neighborhood leaders, to discuss the impact that traffic might have. As a result, Selig is helping to provide additional traffic lights around the project, and some traffic will be routed toward I-75.
Other than a wayward dump truck ending up traveling through a residential area, Elliot said that the traffic problems during construction have been minimal.
“We had a truck that got lost in a residential area, but that’s really it. Benning is excited to be working on this project, and being able to remove an eyesore and bring this place back to life is great,” said Elliot.
“The surrounding community is going to really benefit from this, and this will be a family place, once again.” CEG
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