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Demolition Company Tears Down Chicago Landmark Sun-Times Building to Make Way for Construction of t

Wed November 22, 2006 - Midwest Edition
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When it was built in the mid-1950s, the Chicago Sun-Times building was a prime example of the marriage of form and function — the architecturally progressive edifice housed one of the most respected newspapers in the United States. Constructed of glass and granite, the rectangular seven-story building reflected the smooth, minimalist design that was popular at the time.

As the end of the lease on the land approached, the Sun-Times management decided to make a change, moving its staff out of the outdated building and into a new location. With the building empty and sitting on prime real estate, it didn’t take long for a buyer to snap up the property.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump purchased the site for $73 million with plans to build his latest venture, the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Upon completion in 2008, this $750-million, 92-story glass-encased structure will stand at 1,360 ft., making it the second-tallest building in North America after Chicago’s own 1,450-foot tall Sears Tower. The building will hold 286 luxury hotel condominiums and 472 residential condominium units, one of which has sold for a reported $28 million.

In order to make way for the Trump skyscraper, the Sun-Times structure first had to be torn down. Chicago-based Brandenburg Industrial Service Company, one of the world’s largest demolition contractors, was selected to handle the removal of the structure. With more than 37 years of experience, Brandenburg’s expertise in demolishing buildings in highly populated urban areas made this company the ideal contractor for the job.

But this project certainly posed many demolition challenges for Brandenburg. The Sun-Times building was bordered by the Chicago River and three high-rise structures — a 56-story residential building, a 52-story office park and the historic Wrigley Building. With the skyscrapers surrounding the building, the demolition process had to be highly controlled so that debris would not scatter and damage the adjacent structures. Steps also had to be taken to ensure debris would not fall into the river and possibly contaminate the water. In addition to the actual building demolition, Brandenburg also had to remove a 400-ft. portion of neighboring Wabash Avenue to accommodate the design of the Trump structure. All of this work had to be accomplished in seven short months.

“With a demolition project this size, seven months is a very short amount of time to complete the amount of work this job required,” said Bill Moore, Brandenburg vice president. “It required us to be very focused on efficiency.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Trump instructed demolition to begin two weeks after his purchase of the Sun-Times land was complete. He even brought his hit reality television show “The Apprentice” to the site in October 2004 to document Brandenburg’s first steps in taking down the building.

After the TV cameras left, Brandenburg set to work on combating the difficulties the site posed by employing several innovative measures. “Because we couldn’t let anything fall into the Chicago River, we parked two barges in front of the building while we were doing the demolition,” said Moore. “The barges were positioned to catch anything that might fall from the structure, which eased concerns about wreckage contaminating the river.”

With the barges in place, crews were then able to begin their work. Because of the numerous structures surrounding the site, less controlled methods such as implosion and wrecking ball demolition were ruled out. The use of techniques like this would have caused debris to scatter and possibly damage neighboring buildings. Instead, crews started at the top of the building and worked their way down. Equipment was lifted by crane to the roof of the building in order to dismantle the structure floor by floor until the foundation was exposed. This process allowed Brandenburg to conduct their work in a controlled manner that eliminated the chance of adversely impacting nearby structures.

In addition to the tight quarters, the building’s construction itself posed demolition challenges. The structure was composed of steel beams encased in concrete, which acted as a fireproofing material. In order to remove the beams, enough concrete had to be chipped away from each end to make way for a torch to cut the beams away. Brandenburg had to use concrete demolition tools that were powerful enough to break up the large amounts of concrete, but also were light enough to do the concrete removal on each floor without breaking through and falling to the floor below. Equipment weight was a particular concern, as the project “required equipment that the building would support but was also strong enough to get the job done in a timely manner,” said Moore.

Brandenburg overcame this equipment dilemma with the assistance of SES, Inc. of West Chicago. The staff at SES helped Brandenburg deploy a fleet of skid steer loaders outfitted with Atlas Copco SB 450 hydraulic breaker attachments to remove the concrete from the beams. The SB 450 was an ideal choice for this project because of its light weight, which the structure could easily support.

With most conventional breakers, the valve, cylinder, front head and breaker housings are four separate components. However, the SB 450 is constructed with a solid, one-piece cast iron casing that holds all of the tool’s housings. By eliminating the need for individual component housings, the weight of the unit is reduced to a mere 922 lbs. The combination of the small loaders and light breakers allowed this equipment to be lifted by crane to the top of the building without concern of breaking through the supporting floor.

The breaker’s weight had other advantages for Brandenburg as well. “Since the Atlas Copco breakers were lighter, they were also easier on the skid steers,” said Moore. This, in turn, reduced maintenance issues with the loaders.

While Atlas Copco designed the SB 450s to be lighter, it didn’t sacrifice the breaker’s power capabilities. Able to produce up to 780 blows per minute, this high output helped Brandenburg efficiently remove the concrete from the beams. Not only was the breaker’s power sufficient for the job, it also had an innovative feature that helped alleviate dust created by the concrete breaking process.

“Being that the job was in a highly populated area, we had to make sure dust was controlled to keep the air quality high,” said Moore.

To decrease the amount of dust created by the concrete breaking, the crews utilized the breaker’s water channel to spray water onto the concrete to reduce dust, improve visibility and provide safer working conditions for the crews while keeping the air clean for people passing by the site.

After the SB 450s removed enough concrete for the beams to be cut down, the steel was lowered to the ground by a crane. Now that the work was centered on the ground and equipment weight was not an issue, equipment dealer SES recommended Brandenburg employ excavator-mounted Atlas Copco HB 4200 hammers to remove the remaining concrete coating from the beams. One of Brandenburg’s primary goals of the project was to recycle as much of the structure’s steel as possible, since the city of Chicago had recently implemented mandatory recycling requirements for construction and demolition projects. As one of the premier demolition contractors in the country, the company wanted to use this high-profile job as an example of how to salvage as much material as possible from a complex project.

This recycling commitment required the steel beams to be completely stripped of their concrete coating. The HB 4200s were suited to this task, as the hammers worked with efficiency and precision to break off all the concrete, producing a clean beam ready for recycling. All materials were then loaded into trucks to be carried away for disposal. Brandenburg succeeded in recycling 78 percent of the materials created during the demolition process.

Demolition of the building was completed in June 2005, just in time for Trump to break ground for his new project. According to Moore, the entire project went very smoothly. “An experienced crew and reliable equipment helped us get the project done efficiently and on time,” he said.

It seems only fitting that one of the biggest names in real estate chose one of the biggest names in the demolition industry for this high-profile project. “The customer wanted a demolition contractor who could guarantee the job was done safely and completed on time, and we knew we could deliver,” said Moore.