New Construction Brings Hope to N.H. Community

Mon February 23, 2009 - National Edition
Jennifer Hetrick



Breathing new life into a struggling community usually takes a major change in the community’s landscape. Berlin, N.H., a town that for years relied on the logging and paper industries, took a huge hit in its economy with the closing of the paper mill in 2001 and other factory closings in areas nearby.

Since that time, city officials have been seeking a way to rebuild and have found it in the construction of a $260 million, 1,280-bed, medium security federal prison, a project that has added temporary jobs during its construction and will add roughly 300 permanent jobs to the area when the project is complete. The Berlin prison is the second largest public works construction project in the history of New Hampshire. The project is a joint venture by Bell-Heery.

A Weighty Matter

American Steel and Precast Erectors, Greenfield, N.H., was selected by Strescon Limited, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, to install 5,000 pieces of the structure, including precast wall panels, columns, beams and planking. The largest pieces are wall panels that weigh 70,000 lbs. (31,751 kg) and are 46 ft. (14 m) tall. The smallest piece weighs 2,000 lbs. (907.2 kg).

To put these enormous components in place, American Steel is using a Manitowoc 2250 300-ton (272 t) capacity crawler crane purchased from Shawmut Equipment Company Inc., headquartered in Manchester, Conn.

Ray Cilley, founder of American Steel, has been very pleased with both the crane and the service that comes with it. For starters, with the Manitowoc 2250 he is able to cover a 120-ft. (36.5 m) radius. The truck crane Cilley already owned could cover only an 80-ft. (24.3 m) radius. But now, Cilley said, “because our major market is in building parking garages, the new crane gives us more efficiency and gives us more of an edge in our prime market.”

American Steel purchased the Manitowoc 2250 with 260 ft. (79.2 m) of main boom and series 3 counterweights. Additionally, Manitowoc offers a lot of options with luffer and MAX-ER attachments. The MAX-ER 2000 provides “additional capacity. There are attachments that go with this machine that make it more versatile if we need to go bigger,” Cilley said. “And the luffer jib attachment allows the crane to get up and over the project.”

Settling Into the Site

Cilley finds that the 2250 is very user-friendly, and Manitowoc made sure it would be with the training it offers.

“American Steel sent Doug Whitney, a crane operator, who has worked for me for 25 years, along with another technician to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for a week to attend Manitowoc’s “Intro to EPIC” course which introduced them to the electrical, hydraulic and operating systems of the Manitowoc 2250,” he said.

When the crane arrived on site, “it went together pretty easily. It took 14 tractor-trailer loads of parts, shipped directly from the factory to the job site in Berlin. It took three or four days to put together, because it was their first time assembling the crane and taking it out of the packaging. Normally, it would only take two days,” Cilley said.

In addition to setting up the crane and training American Steel operators on it, the employees at Shawmut went out of their way to help when Mother Nature took a shot at the new crane, according to Cilley.

“Within the first few weeks the crane was struck by lightning, which damaged some of the electronics. Shawmut was really good. I called them that morning and they brought me some parts that day. They realized they needed more parts and delivered those the next day. The service was amazing. I am very happy so far with Shawmut. They have been very attentive to what my needs are,” Cilley said.

Future Outlook

And as the job continues, the needs of the men on the site will increase along with their numbers. Currently, there are 15 American Steel men on the job, two of [which] are crane operators, but as the work progresses that number will increase to about 30. The end date of the project is 2010, but Cilley doesn’t know exactly when American Steel will be finished, saying that at the moment “they are just trying to beat the weather before winter sets in.”

Cilley, who began working in construction when he was 19 years old, founded the company in 1982 as American Steel Erectors Inc. The name change to American Steel & Precast Erectors came about when the company branched out to include erection of architectural precast panels. Since it was founded, American Steel has become one of the largest open shop steel erectors in New England. There are 40 employees.

Over the years, American Steel has worked on a large number of hospitals and parking garages. The prison in Berlin is one of the largest jobs American Steel has ever taken on. In all, it will be responsible for erecting 114 columns, 243 beams. 3,000 pieces of hollow core plank, 1,640 wall panels. CQ