Fast-Track Site Prep At Fort Dix

By Christina Fisher | September 28, 2010

Giberson Plumbing & Excavating out of Shamong, New Jersey, has undertaken the largest project in the company's history – the utility installation and site prep work for 1,635 new homes at Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. The massive, fast-track project headed by general contractor and developer United Communities entered the construction phase in 2007 and is currently completing an average of two homes a day. At that speed, it is no surprise that Giberson Plumbing & Excavating has put its most experienced crew and three new Kobelcos on the job.

Rick Giberson Jr., project manager, explains that initially the project plans called for saving some of the original infrastructure – water mains, storm, sewer and sanitary sewer lines. However, “they realized very quickly that it wasn't possible.

“There were breaks in the water mains, a lot of leakage, so the project grew from a site contractor's perspective.”

To get the entire project running efficiently, the project is organized into sub-parcels and phases. In almost an assembly-line fashion, Neuber Demolition and Environmental removes any trees, demolishes the existing homes, and removes the debris. At this point Giberson Plumbing & Excavating comes in and demolishes the underground systems. If the elevation of the sites changes during this process, Giberson re-establishes the grades and then installs the new water, storm and sewer lines. Later Giberson will install the laterals for the houses.

After the utilities are in place, Giberson fine grades the building pads. They stockpile topsoil around the site in strategic locations so it can be easily accessed by others on the project. The roads are graded and a Dense Grade Aggregate (DGA) is placed. DGA can be many different types of materials, and Giberson is reusing the demolished concrete from the original home foundations on this project. Giberson Plumbing & Excavating subcontracts the paving and curbing.

Varying soil conditions have made the project challenging. As Rick Giberson explains:

“Not a lot of people know that soil for some parts of McGuire Air Force Base was trucked in from Lakehurst (Naval Air Station) and the other side of Fort Dix. It was placed over a marsh. Some of these areas were built up 12-13 feet, so the soil conditions can vary depending on what was brought in. Maybe one day they were hauling from an area that had a lot of sand; maybe another day it was from an area that was clay or another type of material. The soil conditions can change on you by the foot.

“That can mean changes in how you put in your pipe. Maybe one day you don't need a trench box, but the next day you need one for the next 1,000 feet. You might not need stone one day, and the next you do. There are a lot of natural springs up here, which also make the soil conditions change constantly. It might be dry for 500-600 feet, and then you encounter a water source that you can't stop and you can't get the dewatering pumps ahead of it.

“So it's very challenging, specifically this job. An inexperienced site contractor would come here and have difficulty maintaining the schedule.”

In order to handle these challenges and the fast-track schedule, Richard Giberson Sr. made the decision to purchase three new Kobelco excavators – an ED195 bladerunner, a 235SR and an SK485LC. Although the company already had enough equipment in its fleet to do the Fort Dix project, they made the decision to purchase new equipment to ensure they could maintain the productivity and speed required by the schedule.

“This decision was for obvious reasons,” says Rick Giberson. “We can't have a project of this magnitude and this speed and have breakdowns. We didn't want to be the weak link in the chain here by any means. We wanted to come in and do our scope of work in the allotted time and move onto the next parcel.

“We have other projects that are running right now, and we opted to bring all of the new equipment to this project. This project is on a very strict schedule, and we want to maintain that schedule. It was important to have the correct equipment up here.”

This is the single largest job that Giberson Plumbing & Excavating has ever undertaken, and they have been absolutely pleased with the productivity on the job.

“In my opinion, we have some of the best crews in the country,” says Giberson. “Because of the volume that we're doing on this job, it's actually afforded us the opportunity to try out a couple of different procedures and ways to do things that have even made us more efficient and faster.

“This has really been a great experience for me and all the crews – to just step it up one more level.”

The estimated $364-million project is scheduled for completion in 2011.


Building Homes For The Armed Forces

United Communities' project to build 1,635 homes and renovate 443 others is the first of its kind in the country to create joint housing communities for the two branches of the military – Army and Air Force – that are stationed at Fort Dix and McGuire AFB. According to Harry Bagot, project manager with United Communities, the land on which the homes are built is owned by the U.S. government, which is leasing the property to United Communities for 50 years. United Communities owns and maintains the homes and rents them to military personnel.

When the entire project is completed in 2011, there will be a total of 2,084 homes. They feature such amenities as high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, high-efficiency lighting, microwave ovens, raised-panel doors, garages, and storage areas. United Communities is also building two community centers, a spray park, 80 playgrounds, a clubhouse with kitchen facilities, basketball and tennis courts, and an exercise room for military families.

As of June 2008, 28 new single-family homes are occupied at McGuire AFB, and 12 renovated housing units at historic Scott Plaza at Fort Dix. When the project is finished there will be 137 single-family homes with the remainder of the homes consisting of duplex and quad units.