Hospital Goes Under Knife During ’Surgical’ Demolition

Wed November 10, 2004 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

The before and after photos for demolition projects usually tell the story –– A building in the “before,” and freshly excavated ground in the “after.”

However, when Bronson Methodist Hospital in downtown Kalamazoo, MI, needed to tear down a 40-year-old building, Dan Kettenbeil, the hospital’s director of facilities, hired a demolition contractor who would demolish most, but not all, of the structure.

“The building we call the ’North Tower’ housed patient rooms, operating suites, and other hospital services,” Kettenbeil explained. “There is a lab on the first floor, and the hospital utilities run through the basement. While the tower had to come down, our building plans call for the lab and utilities to stay where they are. So our contract with Bierlein Companies was to dismantle just nine of the North Tower’s ten stories.”

One Floor at a Time

Midland, MI-based Bierlein Companies was awarded the $1.5 million contract to dismantle Bronson’s North Tower.

“Taking down the hospital tower was just one part of an ongoing $181 million redevelopment of Bronson’s medical campus, with initial planning going back all the way to the end of 1999,” said Pat Wurtzel, Bierlein vice president, operations. “The demolition work didn’t begin until four years later.”

The Tower itself had been vacated in stages during the 12 months preceding the demolition work.

Bierlein performed the delicate task of dismantling the tower piece by piece. Sixteen Bierlein crew members running equipment from the company’s $40 million fleet of specialized equipment took down the interior and exterior walls by excavating inward, removing the debris, and trucking it offsite.

Equipment used on the job included four Caterpillar excavators; four Caterpillar skid-steer loaders; two Bobcat concrete-breaking excavators; three 5,000-lb. fork trucks; two 60-cu.-yd. semi-trucks; a 110-ton crane and a 275-ton crane. Specialized demolition attachments employed included grapples, conventional buckets, concrete processors and hydraulic hammers.

After the top nine floors were stripped, the excavators were returned to the 10th floor, where workers began dismantling the floors and support columns from the top down. The final sections of each floor were removed from below.

In all, dismantling the nine stories of the North Tower took approximately four months under the supervision of Project Superintendent Mike Burch. The careful process also yielded 2,500 tons of structural steel and 14,000 tons of concrete for recycling. In all, less than 20 percent of the total debris was landfilled.

A Tricky Operation

“The whole project,” said Wurtzel, “was like the game ’Operation.’ [The classic children’s game where the player uses skill and coordination to remove a patient’s “ailments” without setting off a buzzer.] We reached in and removed the North Tower, carefully avoiding everything around it.”

Bronson Methodist is located in downtown Kalamazoo. The North Tower was directly across the street from a brick building occupied by Pfizer; the Bronson laboratory was immediately adjacent to and partially beneath the tower.

“The location of the tower presented its own set of challenges,” said Kettenbeil.

Pedestrian traffic had to be rerouted around the North Tower block, and the walkways that connect the medical campus were covered so hospital personnel could move freely around the site. Water cannons and other engineering controls kept the dust in check. Even so, Bierlein monitored the air continuously to ensure that dust levels stayed within OSHA guidelines.

“In fact,” said Wurtzel, “a myriad of safety measures were implemented before we started dismantling the building. During the nearly four years we spent planning this project, a team of safety experts and engineers established a health and safety plan that addressed all the contingencies.”

Both Bierlein and Bronson employees underwent site-specific safety training, and a Bierlein safety specialist was on site at all times, monitoring employee practices as well as compliance with the relevant regulatory issues.

Bierlein’s Ray Passeno, CIH, CHMM, vice president, estimating/health & safety, noted that the company places great emphasis on job site safety, pointing out the company’s record of 2.2 million man hours without a lost time accident.

In addition, he advances industry-wide safety issues in his role as a member of the Executive Committee of the National Demolition Association and as a member of the association’s Employee Health & Safety Committee.

An Efficient Approach

Even though the North Tower project was a difficult demolition, completed in a busy urban area, less than 20 percent of the work was performed by hand.

Bierlein’s Pat Wurtzel attributes this to his company’s history. “Bierlein has been in business for 47 years. In that time, we’ve developed the expertise to anticipate and avoid many of the problems less experienced companies may run into,” he said.

Headquartered on a 27-acre site in Midland, Bierlein Companies is consistently ranked as one of the top five demolition firms in the country.

As a specialty contractor, it has completed projects in the automotive, chemical, manufacturing, and other industries, as well as handling environmental concerns such as asbestos, PCBs, and other hazardous waste which may be associated with demolition projects.

(This article was provided by Alvare Associates Inc., a firm working for Bierlein Companies.)