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Philadelphia’s Demolition Industry Exhibits Growth

Mon March 28, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

To paraphrase former president Gerald R. Ford, “Our long national nightmare may be over.” Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the two and a half year economic slowdown in the American construction and demolition economy may be coming to an end. NDA member firms are beginning to see more opportunities. The number of projects in certain parts of the country is increasing. Prices do remain soft but scrap prices are up and activity is definitely increasing.

Since the middle of 2009, the demolition economy in most of parts of the country has been slow. In some locales, it has been positively nonexistent. Recently, however, there have been some general increases in work almost everywhere.

While undoubtedly some of this work is the result of pent-up demand — we haven’t demolished much in the United States in over two years —there are signs that the manufacturing and industrial sector is looking to expand.

Look at Philadelphia, now the nation’s sixth large city behind New York, LA, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. A number of exciting projects, several that have been on the drawing board for years, have finally begun to produce work.

NDA Charter member Geppert Bros., based in Colmar, Pa., has started work on three such large projects across the city of Philadelphia.

The Spectrum

The first of these is the demolition of a Philadelphia icon, the Spectrum, home to the city’s NBA’s 76ers and the NHL’s Flyers hockey team as well as the venue for countless collegiate and high school basketball tournaments, ice shows, concerts, rodeos, tractor pulls and motocross races.

Designed in 1966, the Spectrum was the home of the Flyer’s Stanley Cup team as well as the 76ers championship five that including Dr. J, Julius Erving. Thousands of Philadelphians remember taking their first date to a Spectrum concert and seeing groups like the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan or the Supremes perform. Disney on Ice, PBR’s bullriding and the X-games have all used the Spectrum to entertain Philadelphians.

Geppert Bros. has a long history of working on Philadelphia sports facilities. The firm demolished the iconic Connie Mack Stadium, home to the then-woeful Phillies, back in the 1970s.

Work began on the Spectrum in early December following a “Demolition Ceremony” that was shown on national television. The Flyer’s current General Manager Bobbie Clarke and Stanley Cup goalie Bernie Parent, both members of the city’s last Stanley Cup team joined Dr. J and a crowd of several thousand people to witness a ceremonial Flyer’s bright orange wrecking ball commence the demolition.

Initial work involved the removal of all hazardous materials from the Spectrum including asbestos, PCBs, some universal waste and contaminated caulk.

Fellow NDA member and Convention Sponsor Rapid Recovery, Inc. removed the refrigerants from 80 air conditioning units and three large chillers. Geppert Bros. also removed 17,000 gal. of glycol from the Spectrum prior to commencing demolition.

Built over a three-year time period starting in 1967, the Spectrum was 81,000 sq. ft. with a 90-ft. tall roof. It housed 18,008 seats for basketball and 17,007 for ice hockey.

Prior to demolition, Spectacor LLP, the arena’s owner, began selling off the Spectrum’s memorabilia including seats, pieces of hockey glass, bricks, and many of the fixtures from the concession stands around the facilities’ perimeter.

Once the ceremonial crane and wrecking ball were moved aside, Geppert Bros. began working on the Spectrum’s exterior with a Komatsu 400 with a 60-ft. (18 m) long reach boom.

The interior of the Spectrum contained a relatively lightweight reinforced concrete seating bowl that several large excavators began eating through rather quickly. A structural steel beam that will generate a considerable amount of scrap rings the lower level of the arena. Similarly, the large roof trusses that make up the Spectrum’s roof will produced an estimated 36,000 tons (32,658 t) of recycled steel.

Geppert Bros. also will be removing the Spectrum’s flooring used for its basketball and ice hockey rink as well as its asphalt base.

One of the biggest challenges on the Spectrum site is the considerable amount of excavating and backfilling that Geppert Bros. will be performing. Soon to be the site of the multi-venue entertainment complex including shops, restaurants and a hotel the earthwork at the Spectrum site will require some 50,000 cu. yds. (38,228 cu m) of fill to reach grade.

Pat Marconi, vice president of Geppert Bros. estimated that the entire project will take approximately 200 days to complete.

“The Spectrum will be gone in early spring but anyone attending a Phillies game across the street will be able to see a nice excavating job on the site,” said Marconi.

Once Geppert Bros. completes its work, Comcast Spectacor, in concert with Cordish Company from Baltimore, will begin development of PhillyLive, the entertainment and shopping complex planned for the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.

Cramp Steel

The second major project that Geppert Bros. has begun work on in 2011 is the removal of the Cramp Steel building nestled close to I-95 in the city’s Port Richmond section. Built in 1913, the long–vacant structure located along Philadelphia’s waterfront was once home to the William Cramp & Sons shipbuilding complex.

Philadelphia was home to the nation’s shipbuilding industry since before the American Revolution. Many of the British Navy’s large sailing vessels were built in Philadelphia in the mid-18th century. Once of the key parts of America’s “Arsenal of Democracy” with shipyards all along the Delaware River, Philadelphia continues to have a small shipbuilding facility at the Aker Shipyard located at the old Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

The Cramp Building, which originally produced steam turbine engines and naval gun turrets, closed in 1945. Used primarily for general warehousing, including a time as the home of the famous Jack and Jill Ice Cream distribution company, the building was permanently closed two years ago.

The structures is being removed as part of a large improvement project that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is undertaking to improve access to Interstate 95 that runs along the city’s waterfront. With the advent of casino gambling in the Commonwealth, new gaming venues and upscale residential units have been developed along the Delaware River. The improvement of the I-95 corridor is part of an overall master plan to upgrade access to the city’s booming waterfront.

This phase of PennDOT’s project is being managed by Hill International and constructed by James J. Anderson Construction Co.

Before structural demolition could proceed, Geppert Bros. had to remove the building’s brick exterior for reuse. At the same time the client wanted to have a number of historical and noteworthy items of importance removed from the building’s interior that were related to its shipbuilding past. Salvaged items include three rail cranes, cast-iron stamped ornamental staircases, two furnaces used to make steel, heavy gauge railing and screens, the sliding doors of the facility and various crane hooks, gears and motors from the Cramp’s shipbuilding plant. These items will be preserved and used in public arts displays in the immediate area.

Much of this preservation work is being guided by the Sustainable Action Committee, an assemblage of representatives from neighborhood associates that represent areas around the site, along with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the Central Delaware Advisory Council and various city departments.

The developers, PennDOT and these community groups want to maintain a part of Philadelphia’s historic past as they improve transportation access to the Delaware River.

In addition to the 85,000 sq. ft. Cramp Building, Geppert Bros. will be removing two adjoining structures, an 18,000 sq. ft. one-story office building and a two-story, 28,000 sq. ft. storage warehouse.

The largest of the three structures, the Cramp Building is over 70 ft. (21 m) tall and contains over 600 tons (544 t) of structural steel. There are three large 75-ton (68 t) capacity rail cranes in the building. All of the concrete and masonry will be crushed, recycled, and reused on future PennDOT projects.

Geppert Bros. will use a couple of track excavators with attachments, two or three front-end loaders and an American crane with 110 ft. 33.5 m) of lattice boom to demolish the three structures. Geppert V.P. Pat Marconi believes that the project will take approximately two months to complete, ending in April of 2011.


The third structure that Geppert Bros is working on early in 2011 is another Philadelphia icon. Tastykake, the baked goods producer, long a Philadelphia-standard, recently moved their distribution facility to the new Navy Yard Office Center at the home of the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Part of a federal, state and city development project, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard is being redeveloped as an upscale office complex with tenants such as clothing manufacturer, Urban Outfitters, architectural and engineering companies and firms that service the city’s sole remaining shipbuilding firm, Aker, still located at the yard. The U.S. Navy still maintains a Reserve Fleet facility at the Navy Yard.

Once the Tasty Baking Company decided to move its bakery and offices from the Hunting Park or Nicetown section of the city, entrepreneurial developers decided that the old location had great potential for residential development. Part of the master plan for this large residential development project includes building commercial structures to service the neighborhood.

Phase One of this development effort involves the removal of Tastykake’s distribution facility. Located right next to their firm’s main bakery, trucks would pull in and load up with all of Tastykakes, cupcakes, pies, and treats early every morning for distribution throughout the region.

This 250,000 sq. ft. distribution center was built of structural steel with thick concrete floors. In addition to the massive distribution building, Geppert Bros. is responsible for the removal of an adjacent two-story office building and a 30,000 sq. ft. one-story Giles Building, the former parts distribution center of Giles & Ransome, one of the region’s largest Cat dealers. This structure is brick with a stone foundation and large wood trusses and an A-frame roof system.

Before demolition could begin, Geppert Bros. subcontracted the abatement of the hazardous materials onsite including over 50,000 sq .ft. of asbestos-containing floor tiling and mastic, 12,000 linear ft. of ACM pipe insulation, the ACM insulation on three boilers, two underground tanks (USTs) as well as miscellaneous paint containers, chemical containing drums, cleaners, solvents, light ballasts and transformers.

Geppert Bros. estimated that the site will generate over 1,000 tons (907 t) of scrap and that all of the concrete, brick and aggregate material from the buildings will be used onsite as fill for future development. The company will utilize several large excavators and front-end loaders to bring the structures down. Geppert Bros.’ Ultra-Max 1400 Eagle Crusher Portable Plant will be onsite to process the concrete and aggregate for recycling. The entire project should take approximately three months.

U.S. Realty, the site developer, plans to develop a retail hub traversing both properties that will include a large chain supermarket, along with other retail venues such as apparel and sporting goods outlets.

The entire project is part of an ongoing strategic planning process undertaken by the City of Philadelphia and other interested parties to be known as Hunting Park West. In addition to the redevelopment of the Tastykake site, the old Budd Railroad manufacturing plant, once one of the city’s largest employers, and other vacant industrial parcels are being redeveloped to change the face of the area from industrial to residential.

This article was reprinted with permission from Demolition Magazine March/April issue.

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