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Huge Industrial Site Gets Giant Makeover

Wed March 21, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

The Celriver Plant of Celanese Fibers Corporation in Rock Hill, S.C., was virtually a small industrial city in its heyday. The huge plant operated on its own site of 1,008 acres after its opening in 1948. The operation manufactured acetate fibers, a wood-based textile product until it finally closed in 2005. Celanese in turn sold the former plant to the Assured Group of Companies, a Cincinnati developer.

The developer fairly quickly completed the demolition of this massive industrial site. There was a fair amount of environmental cleanup work to be done on the site, according to Stephen Turner, director of economic and urban development of the city of Rock Hill. A plan for the property has been approved with the city.

This plan includes a commercial center with retail stores along Cherry Road, 2,000 residential housing units in a mix of multifamily and single family homes and a 315-acre business park. After the developer purchased the property, the city and the developer entered into an agreement in 2009, providing for the zoning and some financial support.

The representative of the developer in Rock Hill, The Assured Group of Companies, whose corporate offices are in Cincinnati, is Dave Williams. Williams serves as the manager of the project. Williams also is an engineer and has been managing much of the work on this site. He has a staff of engineers on site working for him as well. They’ve designed and built most of the roads and utilities infrastructure using their own crews with their own heavy equipment.

The site also has about two-and-a-half miles of frontage along the Catawba River. The city of Rock Hill has built a trail system that runs the entire length of the property. Rock Hill also is constructing a velodrome or bicycle track specifically designed to Olympic standards. There will be three other Olympic standard cycling venues, one for mountain biking, a super BMX course and a cyclocross course.

“All of that will be opened next year,” said Turner. “There also will be canoeing and kayaking along the Catawba River; they put in canoe and kayak launches along the river. All the features that the city is doing are called the Rock Hill Outdoor Center. National championships in these events and Olympic qualifiers will now be coming to Rock Hill.”

This is a huge project for the city of Rock Hill in many ways, according to Turner. “All this land was annexed into the city; it was never part of the city before,” added Turner. “Having two-and-a- half miles of river frontage is an excellent use of a nearby, underused resource. Nobody from Rock Hill or the surrounding region ever had any opportunity to experience the Catawba River here because there was never any public access to the river.”

Construction of houses has already started and none of them are on the flood plain. The velodrome itself, a 250- meter bicycle track, is built like a NASCAR track. The ends are at a 45-degree angle; they are really steep. Concrete, which will create a very fine surface is being poured, all at a 45-degree angle.

“Not many people in the United States or the world have ever poured concrete like that,” added Turner. “They had to experiment with different mixtures of concrete; it’s a very, very dry mixture of concrete that they’re pouring because it has to stick to these steep slopes and not run down to the bottom.”

Phil Okey, also with the city of Rock Hill, serves as liaison between the city of Rock Hill and the Assured Group of Companies.

“The project is still under construction,” said Okey. “But the track has achieved substantial completion. It’s well along in its construction activities. We expect it to be in operation in the early spring, around March 2012.

Rock Hill was initially approached by some private individuals who were bike enthusiasts, according to Okey.

“They wanted to partner with us back in mid-2005 or 2006. We’ve been exploring this concept for five or six years. It took us that long to decide just exactly what we wanted to build and find a designer and arrange funding.

“They presented a rationale to city council for why they thought a velodrome would be successful here because to my knowledge there are perhaps only about a half dozen velodromes found throughout the United States. The only ones in the east I know about are ones in Pennsylvania and Florida; there are a number of velodromes in the western U.S.”

Rock Hill provides a home for all sorts of sports developments and projects, including nationally renowned facilities for women’s softball and a disc golf course, which serves as the site of the annual U.S. Disc Golf Association Championship. The Rock Hill City Council in turn listened to the presentation on the velodrome development. It retained the services of Clemson University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in understanding the cost benefits of the bicycle track and stadium as well as the economic impact of sports-related projects such as this.

“They came in and showed us numbers that seemed to make sense in terms of the investment and the return we would get on it,” explained Okey. “We began to push the project forward. The big deal was trying to get funding and we accomplished that using a vehicle called the New Markets Tax Credits. The New Markets Tax Credits Financing Program has been around for a number of years.”

Under this system they essentially loan the money to the city and sell the tax credits to people who want something to have to write off against gains in other areas. The repayment period is approximately seven years.

The developer of the entire Riverwalk site is the city of Rock Hill’s general contractor, Greens of Rock Hill LLC. The general contractor in turn hired two main subcontractors, Leitner Construction Company, who built the track and Simon and Watson who is building the finish line building which sits adjacent to the track.

This is basically a 250- meter oval with high banked turns on both ends, and straight-aways that are relatively flat, but not entirely. A NASCAR track is banked at somewhere around 30 to 32 degrees.

“If you’ve been to Lowe’s Motor Speedway and think those turns are banked, you ought to check out our bicycle track,” added Okey. “The Olympic trials will be held here this year, in 2012 as sort of a precursor to the biking events at the London Olympics this summer. A lot of the riders that are headed to the Olympics are coming here for time trials. It will be our first major international event; it didn’t take us long to get going. They say these bikes can reach speeds of up to 40 or 45 miles per hour in the turns. When standing at the base of the banked turn this incline gives the illusion of being a vertical wall. A biking professional on staff will give lessons to those who aspire to such biking activities as this as well.”

The architect for the track itself is Ralf Schuermann, an international leader in velodrome design and construction. The track was put together using 50 concrete track sections, which comprise the surface of the track. Each of those is poured on a bias, with the curves at the end having the most extreme angle involved. A large amount of rebar was involved in the construction.

“We had a recipe and a work method that was given to us by the architect, Schuermann, but it was dependent on a number of factors, including the local climate, local sands available for the concrete and some other variables,” added Okey. “We poured a number of test plates not only trying to get the process down but also the recipe correct, most likely making the concrete used in this construction unique.

“The first track plate was poured in April 2011 and the last one was finished up in Dec. 2011. That’s not just pouring time. We had to form the bowl, stabilize it and tie all the rebar up. Rain and holidays caused some delays over the months. It’s still pretty amazing that our subcontractor was able to accomplish this in the time allotted.”

Prior to the work on the plates, workers dug a hole to create the oval, sloped the sides, poured a mud mat down to hold it in place and then formed the individual plates one at a time. They were only able to complete one per day. There is only about 16 cu. yds. (12 cu m) in one of the sections. Five thousand PSI of concrete was poured directly out of the truck to a thickness of approximately 10 in. (25 cm) to form a base. On top of that a 2 in. (5 cm) top concrete dressing was placed. That in turn adheres to the 10 in. or so of base coat.

The screed or smoothing board used to level the concrete was a straight board. But it rode on surveyed rails at top and bottom because some of the track plate — especially in the curves — had three dimensions. It was curving in three different axes at the same time making it an extremely exacting pour that took some very unusual setup for the screed to ride on. Since each plate was poured individually and there could only be a 32nd of an inch height tolerance between the plates, this was extremely challenging work.

For the order of pouring, track plates were poured every other one, number one, three, five and then they came back in and filled because there was a curing period required for the concrete on the track dressing. In the summertime to control the drying of the moisture, a huge tent had to be placed over each section that was poured. The next day the tent would be moved down two spaces to the next section.

The cost of the velodrome, Finish Line Building and other track amenities was $4,000,000 dollars. Each bike used on the track costs about five thousand dollars and they are built without any brakes. The bike does have a chain but there is no way to coast on it.

Leitner Construction Company, the contractor responsible for building the velodrome, owns just about all of its own equipment. For this project Leitner really had to put some old methods to work. On the 10-in. concrete track plates with the inch-and-a-half topping plastered on, material for the work had to be pulled out of buckets.

“It was a very labor-intensive project,” explained Jack Leitner, vice president, Leitner Construction Company.

“The most used piece of equipment on site for us would probably be three off-road forklifts lulls. We use those for moving all the various equipment and raw materials, placing the steel mats into position, holding the buckets of concrete up and similar functions.”

Leitner built a tunnel out of the infield, under the track and into the building. This was the first thing completed. Large excavation equipment was involved in the unearthing of the tunnel, including Komatsu 300 track hoes. They also had two tracked Bobcat skid steers, which were used continually during the course of the work, along with the three off-road forklifts.

Horizontal mixers were used to mix the topping material. These were specialty mixers purchased just for this project, according to Leitner. The track itself used approximately 900 yds. (822 m) of concrete and it was about 2,500 to 2,600 yds. (2,286 to 2,377 m) total of concrete.

“This shows how much foundation work was involved in this project,” said Leitner. “We also have one off-road crane we used for heavy lifts.”

Charlotte Crane set the light poles for E.F. Belk Electric, the electrical contractor used on the job. There were six sets of stadium lights for the velodrome.

“You could race D6s bulldozers on this track due to the 220 tons of reinforcing steel placed within the foundations and track plates,” added Leitner.

Leitner had ten employees on the job and their two main subcontractors were Kempf Contractors who did all the form work and Carolina Floors of Rock Hill who were the finishing contractors. The 45-degree angle on the track’s end ramps were clearly a challenge in the construction. The topping had to be finished from ladder bridges built to span the track plates. The 250-meter track is about 880 ft. in length.

The grandstand is constructed from concrete poured in place and there are stadium seats bolted down. None of these structures are covered. A finish line building is about 3,000 sq. ft. (278 sq m). Simon and Watson Construction was the finish line building contractor on the job.

Those who used to work over the years at this active sprawling industrial site perhaps never dreamed that someday this would be home to a major recreational and competitive center for cyclists. But that will soon be a reality in this area.

“I think the enthusiasm for biking is growing,” added Okey. “We’ve already started on a lot of our trail systems that connect the city and its attractions. This is part of a master plan and biking was already on our radar. But the sports and tourism revenues of competitive biking were not. This great new development brought that to the forefront.”

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