Bombs to Beetles: VW Builds $1B Plant in Chattanooga

Tue February 03, 2009 - Southeast Edition
CEG



Following nationwide competition it was announced on July 15, 2008, that a former army site near Chattanooga, Tenn., had been chosen as the location for Volkswagen’s new $1 billion U.S. assembly plant.

The facility will manufacture mid-sized vehicles in the United States rather than importing them. Slated to begin production in 2011, the plant will manufacture 150,000 vehicles a year, with the capacity to produce up to 200,000. Construction of the plant is expected to provide about 2,000 jobs, a number currently estimated to consist of 400 salaried jobs and 1,600 hourly workers.

Site Preparation Fast-Tracked

Situated about 1 mi. from a new I-75 interchange for the industrial park and areas east, the 1,350-acre (546 ha) site was originally occupied by the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant, constructed in 1941 to 1942.

Shut down after World War II, although at work again during the Korean conflict, the plant was put on standby status from the mid 1950s until 1965, at which point it was reactivated and manufactured 30 million lbs. of TNT a month between 1967 and 1969. It returned to standby status at the end of the Vietnam conflict.

The site was sold to the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County in 2000 and two years later was renamed the Enterprise South Industrial Park. Certified as a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Mega-Site in 2005, the park is regarded as suitable for larger manufacturing and industrial usage.

The Chattanooga office of industrial park and site design engineers, Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon Inc., (BWSC) has been working with the city, county, and state government on planning and development for the site since it was acquired.

Truman C. Sherrill, senior project manager of BWSC, said that Barge Waggoner has prepared various construction plans and packages to facilitate the access and services a major industrial park will need.

“In preparation for the VW site, we prepared plans for the clearing, grubbing, and mass grading activities to be required. Also included was the preparation of plans and permitting required for wetland mitigation and the relocation of two regulated drainageways.”

The drainageways, which had been constructed by the military in the 1940s and remained under the authority of the state of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), interfered with the proposed use of the location as well as the progress of what the company described as an “aggressive construction schedule”.

In April 2008, therefore, BWSC recommended fast-tracking the necessary permit process for the relocation of 2.5 mi. (4 km) of drainageways and the mitigation of 0.7 acres (0.3 ha) of wetlands. By preparing plans for these tasks in record time and working closely with the regulators, USACOE and TDEC, timely approval and permitting were obtained and this part of the project was carried out by Sharp Construction Inc., of Maryville, Tenn.

“Barge Waggoner conducted survey operations utilizing Leica and Topcon Total Stations and Leica GPS systems, with geotechnical services provided by the Chattanooga office of Qore Property Sciences. CADD operations were performed with microstation software,” Sherrill said. “We had 20 to 30 employees working through its various stages of progress, including civil engineers, landscape architects, civil technicians, and CADD draftsmen. Our operations have included two to three survey field crews and several resident project representatives during the construction period.”

Two Hundred Machines at Work

Site preparation presented significant challenges.

“As an undeveloped and significantly wooded site, clearing vegetation was a major undertaking. All materials were ground into mulch and disposed of off site,” Sherrill said. “To facilitate grading activities, clearing had to be staged in accordance with priorities established to meet grading goals.”

East Tennessee Grading Inc., (ETG) based in Chattanooga, Tenn., was prime contractor for the mass grading and temporary storm drainage for the job. The initial mass grading began in June but production was ramped up considerably after Volkswagen’s announcement.

“Approximately 90 percent of the mass grading has been completed and the building pads are graded, including the base stone, ready for construction to begin,” Tony Boals, vice president of East Tennessee Grading said in mid December.

“Construction roads, construction parking, and lay-down areas are being graded. Storm drain work is continuing and is about 60 percent complete. It will be about two to three months before we complete the remaining items.”

“We had about 200 pieces working on site at peak,” Boals went on, “and most of the time an average of 250 of our employees were working on the job.”

East Tennessee Grading’s fleet for the job was extensive and included a Komatsu 1250 excavator, two Komatsu PC 300 excavators, and five Komatsu HM400 dump trucks.

The majority of the equipment was manufactured by Caterpillar and included three 365, seven 345 and two 330 excavators. A number of Caterpillar bulldozers were also used, including two D10, four D9, twelve D8, six D6, one D7, and five D5 models. A pair of Caterpillar 992 loaders and nine Cat motorgraders (16s, 140s and 12s) also have been working on site, as have three Caterpillar 835 and ten 815 compactors.

Eight Caterpillar 651, nine 631 and eighteen 621 scrapers along with seven Caterpillar 777 and thirty-four 740 dump trucks plus miscellaneous machinery rounded out the equipment fleet.

The company was fortunate with its working conditions.

“We have had great weather up to the first of December,” Boals observed. “We had the weather when we needed it.”

During the second week of December heavy rains temporarily halted earthmoving but did not interfere with the erection of a trailer city to house company offices and the workers who will construct the 1.9 million sq. ft. plant. The rainfall did however act as a test of the rerouted creeks, which circle the site. In addition, gravel was trucked in to prepare trailer beds, fencing erected and clearance of land continued.

Students from Chattanooga State University also worked at the park, although in a different capacity.

“ETG and several other local contractors have been involved with Chattanooga State in developing a heavy equipment training program,” Boals explained. “We at ETG have provided property for the class for their hands-on training portion. We were able to arrange for a parcel of the Enterprise South Industrial Park to be used for the training this past semester. While not part of the Volkswagen site, the students enjoyed being close to the action.”

The university began the training program early in 2007 in tandem with the Building & Construction Institute of the Southeast (BCIS). Part of the costs have been covered by a $63,000 grant from the Southeast Tennessee Development District (STDD) and the program also has benefited from more than $800,000 worth of equipment loaned by Power Equipment Company of Chattanooga, Tenn. The Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee (AGCET) also are partners in this unique workforce development course.

Summing up their role in this massive project East Tennessee Grading’s Boals stated,

“We are a mid-size grading and utility contractor who got a chance to work on the project of a life time. We have certainly been blessed.”

Foreman’s Time Saved

Wright Brothers Construction Co. Inc., headquartered in Charleston, Tenn., worked as subcontractor to East Tennessee Grading. The scope of the challenge is revealed by the fact that grading 5.5 million cu. yds. (4.2 million cu m) of material in 110 days meant moving 50,000 cu. yds. (38,228 cu m) per day. Then the resulting area had to be finished to tolerances of plus or minus 0.25 in. (0.635 cm) for the building sites and plus or minus 0.5 in. (1.27 cm) for the parking areas.

David “Hootie” Houghton, engineer in charge of GPS and surveying at Wright Brothers, noted that the company beat specifications for the job, with accuracy held to 0.01 in. (0.0254 cm). Seventy percent of the company’s equipment worked on this project so the company fielded nine bulldozers, eight excavators and a grader, among which were a bulldozer and two excavators fitted with new 3D machine control systems purchased for the Volkswagen project. Company employees were on the job 12 hours a day, six days a week. According to Wright Brothers its previous experience employing Topcon’s millimeter GPS technology was instrumental in its success on this job, and Houghton praised Topcon GPS technology’s fast learning curve in particular, noting operators new to the system could be grading a few hours after instruction.

Another advantage was that stakes were not needed during grading.

“With the Topcon Pocket 3D software we loaded the changes and everything was immediately updated instead of resetting 500 to 1,000 stakes every time. Going stakeless saved about 40 percent of a foreman’s time,” Houghton said.

As BWSC’s Sherrill noted, “While a project of this size and schedule can be challenging, all parties have worked closely together in coordinated efforts and harmony with the single-minded purpose to accomplish the timely and successful completion of the site development work for the Volkswagen plant facilities.”

It has been announced that the paint shop will be the first structure to be erected for the plant. Building paint facilities for enterprises such as these is a particularly complex operation due to the nature of the operations to be carried out in them and the expertise required is restricted to a relatively small number of contractors. The $30 million contract was awarded in December 2008 to Detroit-based Walbridge Aldinger Company, which specializes in the construction of auto facilities and its previous projects include paint shops for General Motors.

Construction of the shop will involve the foundation, siding, roofing, and steel, with September 2009 scheduled for the structure to be what was described as “weather-tight.”

Impact of Plant Construction

As part of Volkswagen’s diversity commitment, bidders for contracts must choose minority-owned or women-owned businesses as at least 10 percent of their subcontractors. The same percentage or higher will apply to suppliers for the plant when production begins, at which point five percent of vehicle-related suppliers will be similarly owned companies, expected to increase to 10 percent by 2015.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDECD) estimated local expenditures for the plant total approximately $219 million. This includes a property tax break although Volkswagen will pay the education portion of these taxes. The city will issue bonds to the value of $51 million, which will help pay for infrastructure on the site, including a fire hall, roads and sewers.

According to an August 2008 study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee local and state incentives and investments for and in the plant include a $6.8 million job tax credit and an enhanced industrial machinery credit of $27.6 million. In addition, federal support for the project totals $22 million, largely made up of $18.8 million to cover the cost of highway and related construction. The study also said that the state has provided approximately $336 million.

Against this expenditure should be set local and state financial benefits generated by the plant and its construction. The study estimated approximately $26 million in additional local and state taxes will be generated by construction-related activities, with about 10,000 jobs provided during that phase. In addition the Center calculated that $55.7 million in additional local and state tax revenue would be received on an annual basis, the majority of this income derived from a rise in sales taxes paid by business purchases, companies supplying goods and services and plant employees.

As part of the overall plan, 20 mi. of track connecting the industrial park to the Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads will be upgraded. The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TENN DOT) has granted the Hamilton County Railroad Authority (HCRA) $400,000 to cover the cost of this work.