Crews Rebuild Spires One Block at a Time

Tue September 21, 2004 - Northeast Edition
Fran Foran

If Hercules were alive today, there is no doubt that the Chapel Towers project at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, would be one of his 12 labors.

What on the surface may look like just another rebuild project is nothing of the sort. The careful dismantling, numbering, cataloging and meticulously rebuilding of the 150-year-old Bowdoin Chapel towers are being done — heavy-granite block by heavy-granite block.

The chapel and towers, designed by Richard Upjohn in 1845, consist of a granite block façade sitting on a 3 to 4 in. layer of sand, which separates them from the main structure.

Over the years, the elements have taken their toll. Deterioration has caused some of the huge granite blocks to fall and the remaining blocks are in need of repair or replacement.

Consigli Construction, of Milford, MA, founded 100 years ago, has taken on this Herculean project of removing — one at a time — more than 4,700 granite blocks weighing as much as 2,700 lbs. from the 120-ft. high towers. Before work began, the company carefully planned the blocks removal, purchased necessary equipment and hired skilled stonecutters.

Currently, crews are in the process of removing and carefully identifying the location of each block and numbering them so that they can be reused in the same place they rested originally. Blocks that cannot be repaired need to be replaced. To obtain matching granite, Consigli went to the abandoned quarry where the stones were first mined.

However, accessing the quarry presented the company with a new challenge, which required Consigli to open roads and build new roads to get to and from the quarry. The mined granite was then put into the care of skilled stonecutters to make exact replicas of the original blocks to be replaced.

While these challenges were being met, Consigli faced other obstacles.

Due to the weight of the stones and the confined location of the towers, having the right equipment was crucial to the success of the project and safety of the workers.

Consigli made the decision to purchase a Manitowoc-Potain HDT80 self-erecting tower crane, which stands 112 ft. tall under the hook at the jib nose. It has a maximum operating radius of 148 ft. and a 3,000-lb. capacity at the radius.

In addition, it has a maximum height of more than 175 ft. with a 30-degree offset and carries approximately 82,000 lbs. of counterweights.

Mike Invernizzi, equipment manager, of Consigli, did extensive research before selecting the Manitowoc-Potain HDT80 for this application, including a trip the Bauma World Trade Show in Munich, Germany. In particular, Invernizzi was impressed with the many features of the setup.

“It even has a wind speed indicator at the top of the crane, which accurately monitors and combines other pieces of information to let us know immediately if conditions are not safe for the operation of the crane,” he said.

“Our operators get access to this information from a radio control box mounted on a belt, which he wears around his waist, that also includes two joysticks for remote operation of the crane. This is the most versatile tower crane you can possibly imagine.

“If the wind speeds reach a dangerous level, we can disassemble the crane in 30 minutes and have it back up again in another 30 minutes. That feature also is great when it comes time to do maintenance on the crane,” explained Invernizzi.

There were other considerations that made the Manitowoc-Potain HDT80 the right crane for this project.

“Another major advantage to this crane is the fact that we are working in a very confined space. There are large trees within close proximity to the towers that we must leave undisturbed,” said Invernizzi.

“The base of the crane only takes up approximately an 18-foot by 18-foot area, where a truck crane would take up a 20-foot by 40-foot area. Because the self-erecting crane goes straight up, it also solved our problems working around the trees,” Invernizzi said.

In addition, the operator’s cab runs the length of the mast and goes up and down — elevator style. This allows the operator to look at each pick from eye level, said Invernizzi.

“The design of these cranes gives us lots of flexibility because they can be configured at several heights,” he said. “The operation is very simple. There are load sensors that will not allow him to make an overcapacity pick. When we are done with this project, the crane is transportable. It folds down into a trailer and tows away from the job site behind a truck-tractor.”

The crane was purchased from Shawmut Equipment Company who has provided Consigli with support on the towers project.

“Shawmut has been excellent to work with. This technology has been around Europe for years, but is relatively new to the United States. We estimate that the Manitowoc-Potain crane saved us approximately half the cost of using a truck-mounted crane in this application,” said Invernizzi. “Shawmut is doing some real pioneering work and have been very helpful to us.”

Shawmut Equipment, with locations in Norfolk, MA, and Manchester, CT, is New England’s distributor for the Manitowoc Crane Group, including Manitowoc, Grove, National and Potain cranes.

Peter Consigli founded Consigli Construction in 1905 as a masonry business. Today, Anthony Consigli is president of the company and represents the fourth generation to lead the company.

Over the years, Consigli has continued to grow from only 20 employees 10 years ago to 200 employees, two offices and a job list that stretches across the region from Maine to Connecticut.