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Cranes Crowd Sky Above Charleston

Wed July 12, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Petra Pringle

Historic Charleston, SC, nicknamed “The Holy City” because of the many churches that still dominate its skyline, may soon have to be renamed “Tower City.”

Tower cranes have rarely been seen in the historic district because height requirements designed to preserve the 18th century ambience prohibit high rises. But with available building sites becoming fewer and often inaccessible to conventional equipment, local contractors are turning to tower cranes to get the job done.

“The availability of building spots has greatly decreased,” said Allen Lindsey, senior project manager for Bovis Lend Lease Inc., which is building a five-story mixed-use office and condo project on the Cooper River, near the new South Carolina Aquarium. Because the site is located in an uncongested area formerly used for port activities, Bovis didn’t have to incur the costs associated with the foundation for a true tower crane, and is using a 45.7 -meter (150 ft.) Manitowoc 2000 with a 67.1-meter (220 ft.) working boom and jib.

“There’s very little room in the downtown business district. The streets are so narrow, and you can’t really close them. But this is kind of rare,” Lindsey admitted. “I look out my window at downtown Charleston, and it looks like Myrtle Beach.”

Only a block from St. Michael’s steeple and topping the height of that landmark at 57.9 meters (190 ft.), is a Terex Peiner SK 315 imported directly from Germany to the docks of Charleston to assist in construction of the Charleston County Judicial Center. Years in the making due to design reviews, funding, and archaeological considerations, the most complex project locals have seen in many years is the largest open-earth excavation in downtown Charleston history. The night the crane was put in place, the sight was so unusual that people stood on the street and watched till the early hours of the morning.

The structural steel building will have a skin of traditional materials including cast stone, brick, limestone, and wrought iron, so that it will blend in with older neighbors. The four-story Judicial Center will, in fact, touch existing buildings on two sides. “Even though this is not a high rise, it’s like a high rise,” Bill Harbert, Construction Project Manager Art Chiaverini pointed out. “There’s no forklift access, and without the tower crane, the sophisticated scaffolding system we’re using also couldn’t be serviced.” Part of the reason for the crane’s height, he added, is to facilitate the auger cast pile operations. It will be used in virtually every phase of construction, from delivering the mason’s mortar tubs daily, to staging all the brick and setting the roof parapets, the smallest of which weighs 136.1 kilograms (300 lbs.).

The Terex Peiner SK 315 was leased from Anthony Crane, which has recently imported about 100 new tower cranes from Germany. “We got this one direct off the ship,” Chiaverini said. I mean, the plastic was still on the seats. This is the newest, state-of-the-art crane with all the latest computer technology. There’s a built-in weather station that shuts the crane down in inclement weather or at certain wind speeds. It’s impossible to get into an overloading situation. The computer does much more than average. This is probably the safest tower crane in the world.” Crane operator Donald Longnion concurred from his comfy cab with the best view in town, “This thing rocks you to sleep.”

Though the Peiner crane is the biggest of the new additions to the skyline, the Charleston Renaissance Hotel site boasts not one but two 38.4 meter (126 ft.) Terex cranes, each with a 43.8-meter (144 ft.) radius. Close to the old City Market, within a block of one another, two more tower cranes hover above shops and restaurants housed in quaint buildings. A. Jones of Charlotte is using a Liebherr 550 to build a six-story parking garage addition. The nearby Market Pavilion Hotel, a Beers project, has a 30.5-meter (100 ft.) Pecco with a 46-meter (151 ft.) radius in place.

Beers General Superintendent Leo Lambright’s first experience with a tower crane was putting up a 19-story Holiday Inn in Raleigh in 1968. Though the hotel he’s currently working on will be only 55 feet with four main floors and a penthouse, Lambright pointed to the long, narrow lot with a building on one side and a busy street on the other and said, “We just don’t have room to run a track crane here due to the congested nature of the site.”

According to Dennis Bates, National Product Manager for the Tower Crane Division of Anthony Crane, contractors are becoming increasingly comfortable with using tower cranes in all applications. “It’s not unusual for a large construction company that does jobs all over, to bring a tower crane into a town that might not have had one before. The local guys look at it and say, ’We can do that!’”

Anthony apparently believes the market for tower cranes is an expanding one. Though the largest number currently is in the Southeast, Bates said the company has placed its tower cranes all over the United States, with current West Coast jobs including the Disneyland addition and the new Gap headquarters. “Three years ago, we didn’t have even one tower crane,” Bates said. “Today Anthony Cranes is in the most aggressive mode of growth of anyone in the nation in terms of tower cranes.”

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