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Gulf Stream Wades Through Soggy Soil for Aquatic Park

Wed October 18, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Giles Lambertson

Water is the reason for the fun that visitors eventually will find at the Wannamaker Park Family Aquatic Facility.

But to Chris Shimakonis, water in the park isn’t fun yet. So far, it is mostly a challenge.

Shimakonis is project manager for Gulf Stream Construction Co. Inc., which is building the $10 million facility in Charleston County, SC. The aquatic attraction will be incorporated into an existing county park, and will be the third and largest water facility in the county park system.

Begun in July of this year, the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of next May.

Julie Hensley, senior design manager in the planning and development office of the county Park & Recreation Commission, said the goal is to have it open for Memorial Day weekend 2001. She calls it “fast-track project” and notes Gulf Stream crews are working six days a week.

Shimakonis thinks the schedule will be kept, barring unforeseen delays, such as, say, a hurricane.

“If we have a big rain out there,” he said as October started, “we will be hurting. But I am extremely pleased so far in what has been done.”

His concern comes from the low-lying 14-acre (5.6 ha) site alongside state Hwy. 78 in the North Charleston area. Wetlands are located within and adjacent to the park. At any point, the water table is not far below ground.

Shortly after clearing the site of its woods as the project got under way, workers ran into more water — from above: 13 days of rain in July and 14 more days in August. As Shimakonis points out, “27 days, that’s most of a month lost.”

Even under the best of conditions, the very nature of the project invites water trouble. We’re talking about digging a swimming hole here, after all, and that means much of the construction activity is below ground level.

The biggest “hole” to be dug in the completed water park is a wave pool about 200 ft. (61 m) long. It’s fan-shaped, ranging from 82 ft. (25 m) wide at the deep end to 220 ft. (66 m) wide at the shallow end. The deepest part is almost six ft. (180 cm).

Other park attractions also require digging. A closed water-filled loop, called “lazy river,” will meander for 1,140 ft. (346 m) at a depth of 30 in. (76 cm). Elsewhere, two slide attractions empty into pools. And two wading pools for toddlers will contain just 18 in. (46 cm) of water, but even those shallow structures will be situated below the existing ground level.

Given all this, the project manager foresaw the potential for wetness problems. “Ground water, compounded with all that rain, we knew we would have to have some pumps,” Shimakonis said.

Unfortunately, the scope of the need was underestimated and before long the company went from renting pumps to buying several. In the mornings, before crews could clamber into holes and tie rebar on concrete forms, an early crew would arrive and pump water. Shimakonis said in this way they learned how to salvage the day against the elements.

Among the deepest cuts are excavations beneath two mechanical rooms that serve the water attractions.

The largest of the above-ground concrete masonry mechanical rooms is about 80 ft. by 70 ft. (24.3 m by 21.3 m) with a pit underneath half that size. Housed in the pit will be pumps and fans that generate the surging waves for the wave pool and the current for the “river.”

A second, smaller block structure will house similar components for some of the other water areas. A third building will not have a pit beneath it.

Because walls and floors of the various pools in the park must coexist underground with all this water, a system of under-drains are being constructed. They coordinate drainage throughout the entire park.

About 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) of storm drains were laid using a Komatsu PC300 excavator, [A pair of the PC300s also were employed together on another job, merging their hydraulic power to lift and then move in place concrete boxes weighing 16 tons (14 t).]

Shimakonis characterizes the terrain as “very swampy.” He said site preparation crews encountered “a lot of unsuitable soils, but we were able to react pretty quickly.”

Subsoil testing was by Law Engineering of Charleston.

The various pool excavations provided borrow soil suitable for compaction, including forming of “sunbathing berms.” A Komatsu D58 dozed up much of the earth during this site shaping and PC300 excavators and John Deere 644 loaders kept it moving.

“Fine grading” on the site was left to a Komatsu D39, said Gulf Stream executive vice president Kenneth A. Holseberg. He estimated that 50,000 cu. yds. (38,000 cu m) of soil were hauled in from off site, and another 40,000 cu.yds. (30,400 cu m) rearranged on site.

Two John Deere motor graders — a 670B and a brand new 670CH — helped define the site and a pair of Ingersoll-Rand FD70 rollers brought their weight to bear on loosened soil.

The numerous park structures and connecting decks will consume an estimated 2,000 cu. yds. (1,520 cu m) of concrete. Some of it will be 3,000 psi (207 bar), while suspended segments will be stressed to 4,000 psi (276 bar).

Van Smith Concrete Co. of North Charleston will supply the concrete.

Despite all the water aggravation, Shimakonis said the only real “kink” in the project was the relocation of telephone and power lines. They crossed the site on a path that carried them right through critical areas containing the future wave pool and the largest mechanical building.

While South Carolina Electric & Gas and BellSouth crews relocated the lines, Shimakonis kept his workers busy elsewhere on the site.

The project manager says that crews have not gotten bogged down, though there has been opportunity to do so. He said he has been impressed with the cooperation exhibited by subcontractors and Gulf Stream crews.

“We’re absolutely smoking out there right now,” he said while the sun shined and the threat of hurricanes seemed far away. “There has been good coordination and a great attitude shown by everyone. That’s what it takes when you’re out there in the mud.”

Water Technologies Inc., an aquatic engineering firm out of Beaver Dam, WI, is overall project coordinator. The firm was selected by the county from a handful of aquatic designers in the country, Hensley said.

She noted that the actual pool construction subcontractor working with Gulf Stream is Neuman Pools Inc., which is affiliated with Water Technologies but independently won a spot on the job through the bidding process.

The aquatic facility is the first project of its kind for Gulf Stream Construction, which has been building a quality reputation since 1963.

The company is a general contractor with work volume this year of about $50 million and expectations of doubling that in 2001. It operates in two divisions: James M. Woods III is vice president over general construction and Holseberg’s full-service site work division maintains a fleet of more than 70 pieces of heavy equipment.

Joe Hooten is president.

Evidence of the company’s work is scattered throughout South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. These include schools, condominiums, fire stations and beach clubhouses on coastal islands.

And now an aquatic park.

“This is our first attempt at a water park,” Shimakonis said. “It’s not your everyday type of project, which is exciting. I’d do another one tomorrow.”

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