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Fall River Close to Completing $16M City Hall Renovations Over I-195

Tue November 10, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

During a time of urban renewal, it was the first public building constructed over a federal interstate highway.

When it opened in 1976, after years of construction delays, the municipal center of Fall River was unique in America, perched directly above Interstate 195.

After a major discovery of rot and danger below it, state officials are putting the final touches on multi-million dollar renovations to the Fall River City Hall and the supports through the tunnel below it. Five years of highway and structural work over, above and under the center of the city of Fall River are coming to a very positive end as the Government Center Project nears completion.

MassHighway officials said that by January, the pinched off lanes of East-West Interstate 195 will finally be opened in both directions, something not seen since the middle of George W. Bush’s presidency.

The long-running local project, which motorists have witnessed in delicate phases around the city’s central City Hall, began on Sept. 20, 2005.

Stage I construction included the demolition of and rebuilding of the south, east and west upper plaza at City Hall, painting structural steel and installing tunnel lighting, according to Jeff Morra, resident engineer of MassHighway.

Stage II construction, Morra added, was the demolition and rebuilding of the north upper plaza at City Hall, installing steel hangers and WT beams, deck panels and fireproofing material.

Stage III is to complete structural painting, tunnel lighting and installing steel hangers, deck pans panels and fireproofing material, some 85 percent that went up this fall.

While lanes have been restricted under the city for years, Morra said, “Work continued throughout [these past four years] with no shutdown period. I have been the only resident engineer on the project. As to date, this is the fourth project manager from the prime contractor.”

SPS New England

That prime contractor is SPS New England. Sub-contractors include Testa Corporation, which did the demolition of the bridges; Tri-State Painting, which cleaned and painted the structural steel, D & M Concrete Floor Co.; which formed and placed all the concrete flat work.

Massey Plate and Glass did the glass and glazing work, while Atlantic Bridge & Engineering, Inc. installed the structural steel and the architectural precast panels. Mass Bay Electric Corp. performed the tunnel electric work in the tunnel around East-West I-95, conduit, wiring and the lighting fixtures.

M.O.N. Landscaping Co. did the landscaping work; Chapman Waterproofing Co. installed a Sterling Lloyd waterproofing system, sealant and caulking of joints. Joseph Cohn & Son put in the cushion Terrazzo flooring.

Total cost of the renovation project, according to Morra, is $15,921,583, with $12,100,393 coming from the federal and state budget and $3,821,190 coming from the city of Fall River’s budget.

Morra said that 655,800 lbs. (161,388 kg) of structural steel has been replaced and 1,450 cu. yds. (1,109 cu m) of lightweight concrete.

Located at One Government Center, the building replaced Fall River’s historic 19th Century City Hall when Interstate 195 was built through the middle of the city.

The new Center, built from reinforced concrete and glass in the Brutalist style of the 1960s and 1970s underwent a multi-million dollar exterior renovation in 2008. The main building, a concrete cube, is set on an elevated “basement,” which contains mechanical and storage areas constructed on the steel platform that spans the highway.

In March 1999, concrete slabs, which formed the ceiling of the tunnel beneath City Hall, fell on westbound lanes of Interstate 195. A major multi-car accident occurred and it was later learned that corrosion of the support brackets holding up the slabs had rotted away. State officials then ordered the immediate removal of all the ceiling slabs beneath the Center.

Unprotected against fire or any explosions within the tunnel, should any gas, oil or other fuel trucks overturn below it, state and local officials decided that trucks carrying hazardous cargo could no longer pass under the building.

With the replacement of the panels, this restriction is removed.

Panels Above

Over these past four years, Morra added, workers have worked a normal schedule day shift of five days a week at eight hours, with additional hours on Saturday, if necessary, four to five days a week at 10 hours for night work.

“The workforce fluctuated depending on the operation of construction. We had as many as 25 working personnel — carpenters, laborers, ironworkers, painters, masons, etc. to three a day,” said Morra. Work is scheduled to be complete in spring 2010.

This is a welcome blessing for city drivers. MassHighway spokesman Adam Hurtubise recently told Jay Pateakos of the Fall River Herald that work on the building, originally set for completion by the end of 2007 and, then again, in May 2009, will be finished by next spring.

“This [completion date] is the result of the need for extensive unforeseen structural steel repairs, the replacement of several sections of the building trusses, as well as the redesign of the fireproofing system,” Hurtubise told the Herald.

The original work was delayed after discovery that the ends of the four main trusses over the eastbound highway lanes had rotted at a much more accelerated rate for a building only 30 years old.

As drivers pass under the city, day to night, they see workers currently finishing the installation of hangers and steel decking for fireproofing panels, then the panels themselves through early winter.

During this process, according to Hurtubise, hangers, made of metal, are attached to the underside of the beams. There, the fireproofing panels are bolted into the hanging system, almost like sheetrock installed into a dropped ceiling.

Recently, the state’s redesign of the fireproofing system to meet new bridge requirements and other repairs forced MassHighway to bid more contracts for greater work.

Beyond the recognizable highway work, the city’s Government Center is undergoing ongoing renovations approximating $3.8 million. The Fall River Herald reports this work to include structural and drainage work, a new elevator and improving handicapped accessibility and outdoor lighting.

The construction work under the city has restricted traffic lanes just a few hundred yards from the famed Braga Bridge, the span that connects Fall River to Somerset. Lane restrictions have been further complicated by MassHighway’s cosmetic improvements (mostly repainting of the tons of steel) of the Bridge, a $13.3 million painting contract, which won’t be completed until the end of the summer of 2011.

“The city has done a lot of work on the building,” said Jerry Bernard, MassHighway’s assistant district construction engineer. “This building is over a major highway. It’s definitely a unique project.” CEG

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