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Demolition Clears Way for Tuscaloosa Makeover

Wed January 02, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby

They’re tearing it up in Tuscaloosa these days.

The city — famous as home to the University of Alabama’s main campus — is undergoing a major transformation, through a combination of public and private projects designed to make the city a vibrant place where people live, work and play.

And major demolition work in an old part of downtown is an important piece of the puzzle.

Tuscaloosa’s Downtown Urban Renewal and Redevelopment Project involves razing a little more than four blocks of “underutilized” — and in some cases, deteriorated — buildings to make way for a new federal building, an intermodal facility and a 5-acre (2 ha) park, said William Snowden, director of the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development.

Meredith Environmental of Sylvan Springs, Ala., won the contract — now at just more than $1 million — to abate asbestos in the buildings, demolish the buildings, and backfill and compact the lots to leave the site ready for future development, according to Rick Broadhead, Meredith’s director of engineering. The contract also includes construction of a parking lot for City Hall, he said.

The work started in February, with an 18-month completion deadline, set wide because of uncertainty about the city’s purchase of all the properties, Broadhead said. The demolition covers four and a quarter city blocks, including 37 buildings ranging from one to five stories.

With abatement of all the buildings finished, Meredith completed the last of the building demolition in December and will finish backfilling basements and replacing unsuitable soils in January, Broadhead said. Processing of recycled materials should be completed in February, he said.

While construction on the federal building — at this point envisioned as having a neoclassical design — isn’t scheduled to begin until early 2009, the city has a pretty tight schedule for developing the rest of the land, Snowden said.

Work on the intermodal facility is set to start in December or January, with the park work to start immediately afterward, he said.

Snowden got excited as he talked about the landslide of projects going on, including a $25 million, 100,000-sq.-ft. (9,300 sq m) office building that began construction this summer, a roughly 350,000-sq.-ft. (32,500 sq m) retail center in midtown, riverwalk development along the Black Warrior River, a number of condominium conversion projects and a big facelift for downtown, including streetscaping.

“It’s nice to see a city change right before your eyes,” said Snowden, who credits the bevy of big changes to a perfect storm of five factors: assistance from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa; the university’s growth; its acquisition of football coach Nick Saban; Tuscaloosa’s energetic, young mayor, Walter Maddox; and Go Zone money.

Meredith was low bidder on the job, which attracted the company with its salvage possibilities.

“The biggest appeal of this project was the salvage value in the buildings, particularly brick and wood,” Broadhead said. “The city has provided one block for Meredith to use for the duration of the demolition project to separate and stockpile salvageable materials and conduct crushing.”

There have been a couple of challenges on the project so far, according to Broadhead.

“Several buildings have deep basements that must be filled with borrow material and compacted,” he said. “Soft and expansive clay has been discovered under several buildings, where a future parking deck is planned, requiring replacement with engineered fill.”

He said they expect approximately 18,000 cu. yd. (13,800 cu m) of dirt will have to be removed, and about 42,000 cu. yd. (32,000 cu m) of borrow brought in.

“There have been several change orders, as asbestos was discovered in the buildings after the city took possession,” Broadhead said. “The city had assumed ownership of only a few buildings prior to the bid, so they did not have access to conduct asbestos inspections.”

Equipment on the project includes a Komatsu 450 long-reach excavator, a Komatsu 400 excavator, a Komatsu 300 excavator, a Komatsu 180 loader, Komatsu 380 bucket loader, dump trucks, roll-off trucks and a Powerscreen concrete crusher, Broadhead said.

“The long-reach excavator is excellent for grasping salvageable items, such as timbers, to remove and stockpile them,” he said. “The long-reach has great flexibility to twist in various directions and grasp and gingerly handle pieces of buildings that we want to salvage.”

A fire hose is directed on the operation to keep down dust from the demolition, Broadhead said.

The crusher is used to crush concrete and masonry to produce “dense grade” — quality stone usable as backfill for utility trenches, foundations, and even road and parking lot subgrades, he said.

There’s also a Kobelco SK 210 trackhoe, used for sorting through debris to separate out salvageable items, and a Komatsu WA 180 rubber-tired forklift, used to transport salvaged materials around the site, Broadhead said.

Attachments on the demolition equipment include a Genesis grapple and shears made by Genesis, Tramac and Caterpillar, he said.

Except for an average of four dump trucks per day provided by a Tuscaloosa trucking firm, Meredith owns all the equipment being used on the project, Broadhead said.

Meredith performs its own maintenance and repair except for work still under factory warranty, he said.

The firm uses AmWaste to haul from nearly all its demolition projects in the northern Alabama area, Broadhead said. AmWaste is the roll-off waste container rental/trucking company owned by John Meredith, owner and president of Meredith Environmental Inc.

Meredith purchases much of its equipment from Cowin Equipment Company Inc. and Thompson Tractor Company Inc. both of Tarrant, Ala.

Most of Meredith’s and AmWaste’s trucks were purchased from Kenworth of Birmingham Inc.

Meredith is self-performing all site work except for an occasional use of the outside dump trucks, Broadhead said. It has approximately 16 workers at a time on demolition and earthwork, including a foreman, four operators, four drivers and seven laborers.

Work is performed during daylight hours only because of safety considerations, he said.

Recovering materials from the buildings is a painstaking process.

For example, Broadhead explained, workers knock off the mortar from the brick by hand, then stack the bricks in pallets of 500 and shrink-wrap them prior to selling.

“Most buildings, by weight, contain between 60 percent and 95 percent concrete, masonry, metals, larger timbers and miscellaneous items, like plumbing fixtures and electrical equipment, that can be economically recycled,” he said. “This greatly impacts a future development’s ability to qualify for superior ratings under the LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Green Building Rating System.”

While material recovery requires a list of additional tasks at the job site, Broadhead said the expense is offset by reselling the material and from the lack of hauling and dumping costs.

“Although the Tuscaloosa Downtown Urban Renewal Demolition project contract was not written under the LEED standards, the proposed future Federal Building project does have to meet LEED standards,” he said. “Meredith Environmental is, therefore, keeping track of recycled materials on this project and reporting to the new development planners for their reporting purposes. Thus far, our recycle rate is holding steady at about 76 percent.”

Among the items being saved by the city are the marquee from the long-ago-closed Diamond Theater — at the corner of 7th and 23rd — and the sign from a popular old hangout called The Checker, Snowden said.

“A couple other items of interest include a heavy safe in the theater that required use of a crane to remove, and some paint booths in an auto shop,” Broadhead said. “And smells from around a restaurant’s grease pit made for some interesting conversations.”

When the demolition work is completed, two of the blocks will be combined — eliminating the street between them — as the site for the new federal building, Broadhead said.

The city parking deck will go on most of the next block, and the new city park will go on the next block, he said.

Development on the riverwalk will complement the development downtown, said Snowden, of the Office of Planning and Economic development.

The Greater Downtown Plan will cover an area about five times the size of the urban renewal area, he said.

“That is, primarily, making sure we have nice cake next to our ice cream,” said Snowden. CEG

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