Montgomery Readies for Olympic-Standard Whitewater Venue

Wed June 23, 2021 - Southeast Edition #13
Cindy Riley – CEG Correspondent


Montgomery’s $50-million whitewater and outdoor activities center is expected to enhance tourism and boost economic development when it opens in 2023.
(Liquid Design rendering)
Montgomery’s $50-million whitewater and outdoor activities center is expected to enhance tourism and boost economic development when it opens in 2023. (Liquid Design rendering)
Montgomery’s $50-million whitewater and outdoor activities center is expected to enhance tourism and boost economic development when it opens in 2023.
(Liquid Design rendering) Construction crews are currently preparing the site for the 120-acre recreation and entertainment complex.
(Will Mesbergen/JESCO photo) The initial phase of construction is limited to the whitewater park, its sitework and associated buildings and operations.
(Will Mesbergen/JESCO photo) The whitewater course will include more than 310,000 sq. ft. of channel, with a 1,600 linear-ft. competition channel and a 2,200 linear-ft. family recreation channel.
(Will Mesbergen/JESCO photo) Future onsite phases are likely to include the addition of a limited services hotel, conference facility, mixed-use, retail, restaurant and multifamily developments.
(Will Mesbergen/JESCO photo) In total, roughly 300,000 cu. yds. of dirt 
will be moved on the project.
(Will Mesbergen/JESCO photo)

As only the third of its kind in the nation, Montgomery's $50-million whitewater and outdoor activities center is expected to enhance tourism and boost economic development when it opens in 2023. Construction crews are currently preparing the site for the 120-acre recreation and entertainment complex.

"After almost seven years of hard work, seeing the equipment on site is best described as surreal," said Megan McKenzie, Southern Whitewater Development Group (SWDG) assistant project manager. "This project is a unique catalyst project that will not only provide an exciting new venue, but also help transform the Maxwell Blvd/I-65 corridor and greatly enhance the quality of life for Montgomery residents."

McKenzie was quick to point out that the new venture is not a waterpark.

"Montgomery Whitewater won't consist of water slides and lazy rivers," she said. "This is a world-class Olympic standard whitewater, recreation and entertainment venue. At the heart of it is a man-made rafting and recreational complex that will provide an Appalachian river experience within walking distance of downtown Montgomery and will cater to beginners and experts alike.

"Patrons will be able to raft, kayak, stand up paddle and enjoy other river boat activities in our channels. On the dry side, we will offer trails for hiking and biking, ziplines, a venue for live music and plenty of space to watch and relax."

The initial phase of construction is limited to the whitewater park, its sitework and associated buildings and operations. Future onsite phases are likely to include the addition of a limited services hotel, conference facility, mixed-use, retail, restaurant and multifamily developments.

McKenzie described the undertaking as a transformational project.

"It will spur development, dramatically add to the lifestyle of residents, fuel tourism growth, help to enhance military missions and make Montgomery a more attractive destination for a talented workforce that prioritizes quality of life when selecting a place to live and work.

"Similar to what Riverwalk Stadium did for the downtown area 20 years ago, the Montgomery Whitewater project will do for the very important Maxwell Blvd and I-65 corridors. The city of Montgomery invested the money into the stadium project, and that project generated hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment. In this case, Montgomery County has led the way with many other partners."

As for standout features, said McKenzie, "The artificial river is pretty exciting. It's the heart and soul of the project, and provides an indescribable energy to the venue. I can't wait for people to walk in and experience the river for the first time, whether they get in the water, or just watch and enjoy."

Scott Shipley, one of the best-known American kayakers in the world and a veteran of three Olympic games, is the lead whitewater designer on the project with his company, S2O Design and Engineering, as well as a partner with SWDG. SWDG is contracted by the Montgomery County Community Cooperative District to develop and operate the complex.

The whitewater course will include more than 310,000 sq. ft. of channel, with a 1,600 linear-ft. competition channel and a 2,200 linear-ft. family recreation channel. There will be a total of six pumps at over 12,000 lbs. each, an approximately 170-ft. conveyor with a 22-ft. elevation change and the capability of moving nine fully loaded rafts.

JESCO Construction Inc. serves as the construction manager at risk. According to Brian Slaughter, JESCO project executive, weather will be the biggest challenge for crews.

"Since the majority of the critical work is exterior, weather can have an impact on progress. We are installing some stormwater measures to help eliminate possible delays. Additionally, there are some challenges to material procurement due to COVID and other issues of supply in the construction industry."

Workers began demolition in early June to prepare for the site/civil and utility phase. Site demolition includes removal of streets and concrete pavements. Power and gas also must be addressed.

"The entire site work, which is mostly level, will have to be changed to create the elevations for the channels and pool area," Slaughter said. "Also included is storm, water and sanitary piping. The site work/civil package is vital to starting concrete in the channels, pools and pump house."

In total, roughly 300,000 cu. yds. of dirt will be moved on the project. Nearly 1,400 truckloads of concrete will be required. Main materials include 825 base, asphalt paving, concrete and epoxy reinforcing.

Heavy machinery on the project will include a Komatsu 220 excavator, a Komatsu 750 excavator, a Cat 330 excavator, a John Deere 350 excavator, two Cat D6 dozers, a Cat D8 dozer, a 45-ton Komatsu mud truck, a fuel truck, a Cat smooth drum roller, an Cat 815 sheep foot roller, a Cat 140 motorgrader, two Cat 627 scapers, a Mack water truck, a Cat 980 front-end loader, a Volvo front-end loader, six Mack triaxle dump trucks, an International service truck, an International grease truck, a concrete crusher and a milling machine.

The most time-consuming part of the work involves the placing of concrete in the channels and pools.

"Because the channels are so long and pools large, we can't pour all at one time, so we will have to develop a good pour sequence and plan to make sure we hit our target dates," said Slaughter.

Jeffrey Gustin, SWDG project manager, said the significance of a pump-powered channel can't be overstated.

"Atypical to a natural river, a pumped whitewater course provides a scalable and predictable paddling experience that can be configured to its intended audience, while mitigating many risks present in natural rivers like footholds or underwater debris. The pumped course can be used for most any level of patron, from beginner to enthusiast to Olympian and further, to other uses such as swift water training and youth instruction programs.

"The extent of site work and the entire whitewater course and its systems are all a unique application of civil, mechanical, electrical and hydraulic engineering. Many of the systems are on the scale of large water processing facilities. Similar pumps are used in large-scale stormwater plants and conveyors similar in scale to many processing plants, but with rafts fully loaded with people, not packages."

Gustin said now is an ideal time to carry out construction.

"In a time where kids and adults alike are spending more and more time in front of technology, a family-oriented outdoor recreation experience is just what is needed to provide a much-needed break from our ever-growing fast-paced lifestyles. In addition, in light of COVID, more and more people are seeking out these types of venues that engage the outdoors."

Gustin added, "The most impactful part of this project is not just providing an outdoor whitewater park. It's in providing a hub of activity and community participation that will ultimately spur further development in west Montgomery and neighboring communities. This project will provide continued opportunities for local citizens and become a reflection of Montgomery today, not just its past." CEG




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