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Bethlehem Steel: From Castings to Casinos

Mon September 03, 2007 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed

It was a sad day for Pennsylvania and the entire country when Bethlehem Steel shut down more than a decade ago.

Once an industrial colossus whose contributions were essential to the building of such iconic American landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge, New York’s Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Plaza, and Chicago’s Opera House, its work force called the company The Steel and their labor produced skyscraper beams and built American warships.

Now its long silent 124-acre plant in Bethlehem, Pa., will become the home of a casino complex to be built by Sands Bethworks Gaming LLC. A subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, it was granted a Pennsylvania gaming license in December 2006.

Clean-up, Demolition

New-York-based Tishman Construction Corporation is acting as construction manager of the project.

Clean-up of the Bethlehem site is the largest brownfield in the country, and demolition of selected structures on the extensive property is currently under way.

The subcontractor handling both jobs is the Bethlehem, Pa., branch of the Brandenburg Industrial Service Company, headquartered in Chicago, Ill.

“We are demolishing 11 buildings equaling 465,000 square feet,” said John O’Keefe, marketing manager, “and we’re also salvaging and relocating 37 items of Bethlehem Steel equipment.”

These important historical relics include artifacts such as the last piece of armor plate manufactured in the United States and the 60-ft. long, 187,000-lb. gun from the WWII-era battleship USS Mississippi. It will be moved into storage until it can be put on display in the National Museum of Industrial History to be built on the site to detail the story of the industry, The Steel, and the company’s impact on the lives of generations of local residents.

Demolition work started at the beginning of May and no problems have been experienced. Brandenburg has four operators and 10 laborers on site and the job was on schedule for completion in August, with nine of the 11 buildings, which were taken down in early July. Among the structures to be removed are a steel foundry, an electric furnace building and a locomotive repair shop.

“Brandenburg owns and maintains a large fleet of equipment, valued in excess of $100 million,” O’Keefe noted, “and some of the major equipment being utilized for this job includes three large excavators, as well as a wheel loader.

“Attachments being used include shears, grapples, hammers and buckets, and we are also utilizing lifts, skid steers and fork trucks.”

Hazards at the Work Site

Brandenburg conducted an initial engineering survey to identify specific hazards and to aid decisions on engineering and administrative controls to be implemented to minimize employee exposure to potentially hazardous conditions during demolition, dismantlement and renovation activities. This survey also dealt with the required licenses, permits, and the safety training needed to carry out the job.

“Each project is handled in a unique manner,” O’Keefe said.

“A means and methods plan is developed based on the type of structures involved, customer requirements, schedule, area activity, adjacent structures and scope of work. Generally speaking, all environmental hazards are addressed and removed prior to starting demolition activities. Environmental concerns for this project included asbestos, universal waste and waste oil removal.”

Demolition of two of the 11 structures involved foundation removal, which has been completed, he added.

Describing the process at the Bethlehem Steel site, O’Keefe said it involved first removing all interior equipment and general construction debris.

“Once these interior items were removed, demolition of above grade structures began,” he said.

“As debris is generated by demolition, it is sorted and prepared for transportation. Debris typically consists of general construction debris, which is shipped to landfills, and concrete, brick and steel, which are prepared and recycled.”

Once the above grade structures were demolished, below grade infrastructures were excavated and removed as required. When this was completed, fill was used to eliminate voids and the site is graded. Some equipment may be recycled. For this project, it is anticipated demolition costs will be partly offset by the sale of approximately 7,000 tons of steel scrap.

Commemorating The Steel’s History

The lengthy history of Bethlehem Steel is to be commemorated in a number of ways.

Walking tours led by retired steelworkers have been proposed, and construction of the National Museum of Industrial History has been praised by industry activists.

“The casino complex is a unique project and will reflect the site’s industrial heritage,” said Frank Devlin, director of construction of Sands Bethworks.

“We are proud of this venture, which not only respects the site’s heritage and traditions but will also bring economic opportunities to the region.”

Volunteers from the Steelworkers’ Archives in Bethlehem cooperated with Sands Bethworks to move smaller presses, drills, and similar artifacts into storage to wait display in the museum.

“The Steelworkers’ Archives is pleased that the Sands Bethworks organization is taking the history and culture of Bethlehem Steel and the steelworkers into the future of their project, with its retro designs and reuse of several of Bethlehem Steel buildings and facilities. Much of the history of the plant and the workers will live on through the Sands Bethworks efforts,” and Archives spokesman said.

The five 20-story high blast furnaces will remain, as will the elevated rail system that once moved ore across the complex. The complex design also calls for The Steel’s ore bridge to be adapted to become the casino entrance. A 7,500-ton 1885 press with a 20 ft. drop will remain in situ and after the structure housing has been demolished, a 1,000 space parking lot will be built around the exposed press.

The 1,500-ft. long No. 2 machine shop, which once held the title of the longest in the world, also will be preserved and it has been suggested the 1863 stock house, the oldest building at Bethlehem Steel, be converted into a visitors’ center.

The Sands Bethworks Casino is slated to open at the end of 2008 with 3,000 slot machines, to which 2,000 will be added in 2009. The complex will include restaurants and 200,000 sq. ft. of retail shops. A 300-room, 10-story hotel and a 50,000-sq.-ft. convention center are to open in 2009. The $600 million project also will host a performing arts center.

New buildings will feature an industrial architecture design to both echo and blend in with the surrounding original structures, incorporating exposed steel, red brick, and sheathings of corrugated metal. Interiors will feature exposed trusses, wood block flooring and brick walls. Lighting will recreate the glow above the steel plant during its operational days, with particular attention paid to The Steel’s famous blast furnace.

About the Company

Brandenburg Industrial Service Company, established in 1968, is one of the nation’s largest turnkey demolition contractors. It specializes in demolition, asbestos abatement, hazardous materials removal, soil remediation, excavation and dynamic compaction. With four regional offices, it as a work force of more than 600.

Brandenburg is the first demolition contractor to successfully complete OSHA’s Challenge Program.

Notable projects handled by the company include renovation of Soldier Field and demolition of the Chicago Sun-Times Building. CEG

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