Students and staff at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University could have certainly done without the “present” Mother Nature left them Christmas Day.
On Dec. 25, a 130-mph tornado ripped through the Daytona Beach, Fla., campus, destroying an airplane hangar, 40 of 65 training aircraft and damaging several other buildings. Damage estimates at the oceanside campus, which is home to one of the top flight and engineering programs in the country, could top $60 million.
No one was hurt and within hours the university had already started the cleanup, which was helped by the fact that several contractors, including Daytona Beach-based A.M. Weigel Companies and Coleman/Goodemote, Jacksonville, Fla.-based The Stellar Group, and Perry McCall out of Orlando were already on campus working on other construction projects, giving the school instant access to contractors and equipment to clear the debris.
“We used our contractors of record,” said Dita Peatross, director of construction and planning of Embry-Riddle. “They were already on site and we used them for most of the tornado repairs. That was a good source for us. They’re already vetted and they had already gone through a bid process. They were mobilized. It was tremendous.”
Within three days all the debris was gone and temporary repairs had already been made to many of the damaged buildings. Peatross said the reconstruction proceeded faster than anyone who had seen the damage had anticipated.
“Our insurance company said this was the fastest reconstruction they’ve ever seen,” Peatross said. “We were very fortunate. All of our buildings were operational except for a few rooms, Spruance Hall and the hangar that was demolished.”
Peatross said there wasn’t time to bid the projects so they negotiated deals for the repairs with the contractors they had on board.
A.M. Weigel, which has worked on various projects at Embry-Riddle since 1992, was working on several projects, including a chiller plant expansion and a new fitness center, when the tornado hit. They had recently completed a new flight control center and a dormitory remodeling project.
“It was a disaster,” said A.M. Weigel Project Manager Dave Buzzy. “It’s just indescribable, the force, the amount of damage, how it can be so localized. One building gets torn apart and something adjacent to it gets no damage whatsoever.”
Buzzy said the company helped demolish the destroyed aircraft hangar and repair the ICI Center, the school’s field house/gymnasium.
“We brought in some specialized folks, demolition-wise, and some steel fabricators,” Buzzy said. “We didn’t really need any specialized equipment, just cranes. Cranes and scissor lifts, that type of thing.”
Peatross said she saw a few more cranes on-site but most of the cleanup was done by hand.
“We used cranes because we had to lift damaged areas off roofs,” Peatross said. “Most of the work was manual labor, picking up debris. It looked like a sheet metal factory exploded. Most of it was hand-picked.”
Buzzy said they leased most of their equipment from various companies, including Bryson Crane Rental Service in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Service Construction Supply in Panama City Beach, Fla., both of which provided “very good service.”
Most of the work Weigel, a construction management firm that’s currently working on projects in Florida, Georgia and Arizona, is doing was subcontracted. Buzzy said they are working with Truant Construction, Halifax Paving and Atlantic Central Steel among others.
“With the ICI Center, the big thing is time constraints,” Buzzy said. “This is where they played all their basketball games and they have a highly-ranked basketball team. Right now they’re having to play out of a local high school so they need to get this thing back in operation very quickly.”
According to Buzzy, the other challenge is to identify the obvious and latent damages to the building. They’ve brought in engineering and architectural specialist to do the evaluations.
“There were huge holes blown in the building,” Buzzy said. “There was a section of the roof that was blown out and sections of the wall were blown out. There were structural repairs that had to be done to get that building weather tight, which took about a month to do.”
Currently, repair work at the ICI Center is limited to repairing the structural damage. Once that’s complete, they’ll identify other structural damage, prepare contract documents, plans and specifications.
“We’ve got to price all the design documents that are being prepared,” Buzzy said. “We’ll price that out, hire the subcontractors and then hit it full speed.”
Buzzy hopes to have the project complete by late summer or early fall.
“Obviously, this is going to be phased,” Buzzy said. “There’s probably 10 or 15 guys on the job at any given time.”
Before the tornado hit, Peatross said the university had three projects — a $14 million residence hall, a $4 million fitness center and a $13 million academic complex — under construction. A fourth was in the planning stages.
“Those are in construction and out of the ground,” Peatross said. “We are planning for a new aviation complex and a new worldwide headquarters and administration building.”
The Stellar Group, an international firm that provides design, engineering, construction and mechanical services on design/build, general contracting and construction management projects, started construction on the residence hall in September. The project should be complete by August. Currently, the hall is approximately 50 percent complete. The hall escaped damage from the tornado.
“We were very lucky,” said Joe Mark, senior project manager of The Stellar Group. “All the affected areas were about 100 yards south of the project.”
Mark also assisted in the tornado cleanup, helping with the dry-in work and then providing cost estimates for the buildings that needed to be repaired.
“We were onsite and it worked out well,” Mark said. “We used [personnel] lifts, fork lifts, boom lifts to clear debris. We use those on the hall job also. That’s about all the equipment we needed.”
With much of the tornado damage cleaned up or temporarily patched, Mark turned his attention to completing the residence hall.
Mark said Stellar is renting most of the equipment for this job and there are several subcontractors, including Harper Mechanical and Halifax Paving.
“Our biggest challenge is site constraints,” Mark said. “It’s a small site and we’re building a 65,000-square-foot building, four stories, during a working semester of a school year.”
Mark said they’ll use approximately 3,000 cu. yds. (2,300 cu m) of concrete for the building and there are approximately 150 workers on site daily. The hall is a design/build project between JSA Architects and Stellar.
All 5,000 students have returned to campus, though Peatross said the new semester was delayed by three days. The school has replaced its damage planes with dozens on short-term lease.
School officials said insurance will cover all but approximately $1 million of the damages. A school fundraising campaign should cover the rest.
Peatross credits the contractors with getting the school open again so quickly.
“It was fortunate they were already on site,” Peatross said. “I don’t know how we would have done it without them.” CEG
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