Equipment Type

Bringing Down The Mills

It's a huge project — 150 acres, 5.8 million square feet, in the middle of downtown Kannapolis. Vacant for two years, the former Pillowtex textile plant is being demolished to make way for the North Carolina Research Campus, a $1-billion project that will transform the manufacturing town of Kannapolis into a world-class research center focused on biotechnology, health and nutrition.

December 26, 2005

It's a huge project — 150 acres, 5.8 million square feet, in the middle of downtown Kannapolis. Vacant for two years, the former Pillowtex textile plant is being demolished to make way for the North Carolina Research Campus, a $1-billion project that will transform the manufacturing town of Kannapolis into a world-class research center focused on biotechnology, health and nutrition.

For David Griffin Jr., vice president of D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co., Inc., the demolition project is complex for a number of reasons. "With this project, the complexity is the size ... and the several types of construction that are present: brick, brick and wood, brick and steel, and concrete," said David. "There are also multiple types of buildings: one-story, two-story, seven- and eight-story structures, a power plant with smoke stacks that present their own challenges."

It is not just a matter of imploding these structures. Many of the older buildings — those built around the turn of the 20th century — are literally being taken down by hand in order to salvage the heart pine timbers, the hardwood decking and flooring, and the brick — all of which are in high demand and being shipped to clients around the country for use in new structures. David Griffin estimates that anywhere from 5 million to 10 million bricks will be salvaged and sold for use in other construction projects, primarily new homes.

Any concrete and brick that cannot be salvaged are being crushed and used as backfill on-site. Steel is also being carefully separated and sent directly to a steel mill for recycling.

"It's really deconstructing," said David. "We've spent a lot of time and care meticulously separating all of the material so we can meet our goal of 75-percent recycling on this project."

To help them deconstruct the site, D.H. Griffin uses a Caterpillar 365 excavator, nicknamed "The Beast." The 170,000-pound excavator is currently configured with a grapple attachment to assist with the demolition operation. D.H. Griffin can also reconfigure the machine with a 130-foot main boom with a concrete pulverizer on the end, allowing Griffin to "reach 130 feet in the air and take down concrete in a very safe and controlled manner," said David. "In 1995, our company had the first long-arm demolition equipment that had ever been used in the United States, and we've been consistently adding to this specialized fleet of equipment. We bought this Cat 365, as well as a couple of other pieces of equipment, because we knew this job was coming up."

The newer buildings on-site are, however, being imploded, and D.H. Griffin recently imploded Plant 1, an eight-story structure totaling 1 million square feet built in 1960.

After stripping out racks and electrical equipment, Griffin created "columns" by strategically blasting out portions of the structure's load-bearing brick walls. They then drilled 2,000, 20-inch holes in the building's actual support columns to house the dynamite and performed test shots on several columns to determine the amount of explosive power needed to bring down half the structure. Doing so was not easy.

On the upper floors, each support column was constructed of a rebar cage with two rows of spiral-wrapped rebar encircling it. This rebar coil kept the cage from mushrooming out under pressure. The columns on the first floor were even stronger, composed of a double rebar cage encircled by spiral-wrapped rebar, making them even more difficult to demolish.

Initial test shots failed to demolish the support columns as needed. Griffin determined that 2,300 pounds of explosives would be required to sufficiently implode half the structure, which came down on November 12. The rest of the building will be imploded in January.

As Griffin proceeds with the demolition process over the next year, they must work closely with the city of Kannapolis in order to safeguard the utility structures that run through and around the perimeter of the mill site.

As Wilmer Melton, director of Public Works for Kannapolis, explained, "The community evolved around the mill. It had its own power, water system and wastewater treatment plant — all the support facilities. Some of them were combined systems. If you have your own waste treatment facility, you don't have to worry about running a separate storm system. They could connect it all at one location.

"Kannapolis is trying to get away from this type of system because we don't want to have to treat stormwater, for example."

Because the utility systems were privately owned and maintained, mill records and as-builts do not provide good information. Kannapolis is working with the engineers at Castle & Cooke, Inc., the research campus developer, to determine exactly where utilities are located.

"The majority of the sewer system on-site is going to be abandoned once the new system for the research campus is in place," explained Wilmer. However, Kannapolis is also in the process of evaluating the existing lines outside the project's parameter to determine their status and if they will meet the needs of a high-tech facility.

In addition, the mill's existing water lines feed the city's fire systems. Kannapolis is working with Griffin and Castle & Cooke to come up with an alternate fire protection plan as the research facility evolves over the next few years. As an interim step, a pump system will be installed until the city's new fire protection system is in place. This new system will have lines rerouted around the research campus to provide enhanced fire protection for downtown Kannapolis.

As they watch the mill come down, many Kannapolis residents have mixed emotions. Generations of families worked there over the years. However, as David Griffin Jr. and Wilmer Melton point out, the city is very fortunate and its future is exciting.

"There was talk at one time that a (demolition) project of this magnitude could take maybe 10 years (before) something redeveloped in the area," said Wilmer, "but two years after the closure, here we are today with a plan in place to revitalize the economy."

"We do similar demolition projects where nothing is coming behind it," added David. "Yes, the textile industry is gone, but (Castle & Cooke) is coming in and investing hundreds of millions of dollars.

"To me it's moving on, it's progress and it's a great thing for the city of Kannapolis."

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