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N.J. Firm Excavates 45 Ft. Through Solid Shale for Underground Facility

Fri February 13, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Paul Spatz, president of V.A. Spatz & Sons, a heavy construction contractor in Berkeley Heights, N.J., said, “We’re up to any challenge; we have some very talented men working for us.”

That’s a good thing, given the company’s latest project in New Brunswick, N.J.

V.A. Spatz was called on to excavate a 40-ft.-wide, 40-ft.-long and 45-ft.-deep (12.2 by 12.2 by 13.7 m) hole into solid shale for an underground proton radiation center for cancer treatment, the first of its kind in the world.

The job would be a challenge under any circumstances, but V.A. Spatz must take it on without the benefit of blasting because explosives are prohibited in the city. Even if it were legal, blasting would be impractical because the facility is being built near a hospital and immediately adjacent to an existing building, creating very tight quarters.

The work has started with line drilling using rock drills along the perimeter of the excavation site. But, Spatz said the real challenge will be met with a 247-hp (184.2 kW) Caterpillar 345B hydraulic excavator that provides 52,580 lbs. (23,850 kg) of curling power. The key to this machine’s productivity can be found at the end of its powerful boom; a bucket designed to dig into rock.

The “rock bucket,” more commonly used in the rocky terrain of the West, was provided especially for this job by Spatz’s Caterpillar dealer, Foley Inc. of Piscataway, N.J. The bucket is built to be extra sturdy, with 1.75-in. (4.4 cm) thick sidewalls.

Digging In

The V-shaped bucket’s five teeth are staggered on three horizontal planes. The middle tooth rides lowest and acts as a ripper. The two teeth next to it are angled less sharply but will dig into the rock, taking advantage of the anchor and leverage produced by the leading tooth. Likewise, the two outer teeth lie on a more horizontal plane but also will be able to pull out layers of rock.

“The Cat rock bucket on the 345 will give us the breakout power to dig faster and go pretty deep without the use of a hoe ram,” Paul Spatz said.

The rock bucket will dig 5 ft. (1.5 m) at a time, allowing the walls to be shored up before the digging continues. As the excavation proceeds, soil nailing will be used to underpin the adjacent building, said Philip Spatz, Paul’s brother and vice president of the company. Steel mesh will be applied to the rock walls and shot-crete will be applied.

To contain the radiation, the completed facility will have concrete walls 20 in. (50.8 cm) thick and a concrete roof 8 ft. (2.4 m) thick. A parking lot will be built atop it.

The radiation center is the latest in a four-year-long string of projects for the construction and expansion of Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. The company became involved during the design phase, when the hospital was nothing more than a sketch on a piece of paper. “The developer told us, ’I don’t want to design something that’s not actually buildable,’ so he wanted our input from the start,” Paul Spatz recalled.

Well-Known Reliability

Paul Spatz noted with pride that V.A. Spatz was personally chosen for the ongoing work by the hospital’s vice president, Dave Bogel, who was impressed by the quality of the company’s previous projects and its excellent reputation. “Now it’s up to us to live up to it,” he said.

The Spatz brothers have been building that reputation since 1982, when they took leadership of the company upon the death of their father, Vincent, who had founded the business in 1948.

V.A. Spatz depends on Caterpillar equipment to help achieve quality results. The company’s fleet is almost entirely Cat, including hydraulic excavators, dozers, wheel loaders, compactors and rollers.

“We chose Cat machines because they’re American-made, for starters, and the parts availability and service are second to none. Our Foley representative, Alex Albrecht, does an outstanding job, including finding us this bucket. Whenever we need support, we get it. But most of all, the Cat equipment stands up to tough work,” said Philip Spatz.

V.A. Spatz combines that equipment and support with “50 superb full-time employees, including foremen, mechanics and all the personnel,” Paul Spatz said. Together, it all makes for a company that is called upon when special work needs to be done.

This story was reprinted from Foley CAT’s PayDirt magazine, Fall 2008.

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