When a 5,000-Acre Test Site Shuts Down, What’s Next?
One company becomes the dismantler, packager, seller, shipper and, in some cases, the rebuilder of what was left behind.
📅 Mon May 04, 2015 - West Edition
Hank Manning is one of the three owners of Phoenix-area firm — Reclamation Sciences and sole owner of Zain Resources — that cleared and cleaned up the old proving grounds site that the automobile manufacturer had operated since 1952.
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News headlines such as “GM to Close Proving Grounds” and “GM Site Reborn as Housing Development” tell only part of the story. The people of General Motors and their test vehicles are gone, relocated farther south in Arizona. What remained after their departure — 60 buildings, 74 mi. of test track and the huge water tower — has disappeared, too. What happened?
Hank Manning knows. In fact, he documented where every item went. That’s because his company purchased the whole works except the property, and became the dismantler, packager, seller, shipper and, in some cases, the rebuilder of what was left behind.
Manning is one of the three owners of Phoenix-area firm — Reclamation Sciences and sole owner of Zain Resources — that cleared and cleaned up the old proving grounds site that the automobile manufacturer had operated since 1952. Reclamation Sciences, which was started in 2009, specializes in land reclamation and removal of items such as buildings and infrastructure. Zain Resources, a two-year-old firm, provides the heavy equipment and trained operators to do the work.
By the time General Motors had closed the proving grounds in 2009, the property had been purchased by DMB — a development company with a focus on building communities. Eastmark is the name of the 3,200-acre project being constructed at this site in Mesa. DMB was left with 430,000 sq. ft. of buildings, 85 mi. of roadway and track (including the banked test track where the minimum speed was 90 mph), and tons of other items, both above and below ground. All of this material was sold to Reclamation Services for $100. The challenge for the buyer: Remove all of it and recycle or find new uses for at least 97 percent of the items.
“I spent a couple of months doing a complete inventory of what we purchased and put together a plan to salvage as much as possible,” Manning said. “In the end, only three percent went to a landfill.”
Manning has a diverse background in construction projects so he knew what he was getting into and had some idea of how to evaluate the property he was about to purchase. Nobody else had any interest in taking on this massive project, according to Manning.
“I was very surprised that over the five years it took to complete the job, some of my projections were so close that you could not have planned on anything like that happening,” he said. “As a result, we were able to do very well.”
Manning purchased 60 steel buildings, both testing facilities and warehouses. Some were as large as 30,000 to 40,000 sq. ft. He took most of them apart, packaged them and, once a buyer was found, shipped them out. His company reassembled some buildings at their new locations. For example, two buildings became part of a large California dairy operation.
“For the buyers, this route was much less expensive than putting up a new building,” Manning said. “A business that was looking to expand and could only afford a used building, was our perfect customer. When we got done reassembling a building, you could not tell it was not new, and in most cases, the buyer saved up to 40 percent compared to putting up a new structure.”
A special basalt tile — dark gray to black rock — test track built to simulate black ice sold for $166,000. The buyer was Ford Motor Company for its own Arizona proving grounds. The least expensive items: $5 electric reels. Manning sold hundreds of them.
Selling other portions of the facility proved more difficult. Manning took down a 100,000-gal. water tank, including the 128-ft. tower. He thought he had it sold, but when the deal did not work out, he tried to sell parts. In the end, he had to scrap it.
With an eye toward the future, Manning documented every item at the proving grounds facility and where it went.
“I did that in order to demonstrate to future clients, especially government agencies, that we could handle similar projects in a way that was environmentally sound and could provide accurate record-keeping,” he said.
Overall, the GM proving grounds project was very successful for Manning and his partners.
“By taking down and selling buildings and other items, we made three to four times the scrap value,” he said.
Part of the reason things worked out so well is that Manning’s other company — Zain Resources — provided efficient equipment and skilled operators to disassemble the proving grounds. He operated four Doosan wheel loaders and two crawler excavators in a variety of assignments.
• DL220 — Stripped asphalt, loaded trucks and handled demolition cleanup. Moved lumber and removed equipment from buildings being prepped for demo with the pallet fork attachment.
• DL250 — Performed landfill reclamation screening, loaded stripped asphalt pea gravel into trucks with a 3.6 cu. yd. (2.75 cu m) bucket, loaded asphalt into the crusher, backfilled trenches, excavated asbestos concrete pipe.
• DL300 and DL420 — Stripped asphalt tracks and loaded trucks with the 270-net-hp DL300 and 354-net-hp DL420.
• DX235LCR — The reduced tail swing excavator helped with the building demolition, using the clamp attachment, and final cleanup at the site.
• DX225LC — Equipped with the clamp attachment, it stripped asphalt and assisted in track mount crushing efforts. Fitted with a 7,500-lb. hydraulic breaker, the excavator was used in the demolition of a concrete foundation for test equipment and a basement. It also assisted in pulling down the iconic water tower and then breaking up the foundation footings.
During much of the time the equipment was working at the proving grounds, Manning was using some of the same heavy equipment on other projects as well. Zain Resources’s first job was environmental reclamation at the Asarco Ray mine, one of the largest open copper mines in Arizona. The company had to clean up containment ponds and make them environmentally sound for water. It involved a great deal of specialty piping and excavation.
One wheel loader was used to screen rock, grade and compact processed material into water drainage fields, and load and unload trucks and move concrete highway barriers. Two excavators excelled at rip-rap mining and trench excavations. A third excavator was paired with a 7,500-lb. (3,402 kg) hydraulic breaker to cut a trench in a rock ledge.
“This was our first experience with Doosan equipment and it was a good one,” Manning said. “My operators — a seasoned and critical group — are now asking for the Doosan machines instead of our other equipment; very impressive products.”
As Manning looks to the future, he sees plenty of opportunity helping government agencies and companies deal with environmental issues.
“After successfully handling the diverse and very complicated proving grounds project and working in tough mining conditions, I think our two firms are uniquely qualified to continue to do well in these areas, and others as well,” he said. “Our experience, employees and equipment have us well positioned for the future.”