It's Not Demolition; It's Deconstruction

Story by Mike Larson, Editor. | September 28, 2010

Three old buildings are coming down on the corner of Randall Avenue and W. Johnson Street on the University of Wisconsin — Madison campus to make room for a larger multi-use student-union building that will be a focal point for students and guests in the south-central area of campus.

CG Schmidt, Inc., Milwaukee, is the construction manager overseeing both the deconstruction of the existing buildings and the construction of the 194,000-square-foot, three-story modern structure that will rise in their place.

Throughout the project, Madison Environmental Group, Inc., Madison, WI, will provide environmental consulting, help find outlets for reusable and recyclable materials generated by the project, and certify the types and amounts of materials that have been reused, recycled or sent to landfill.

Dan Davis, project team leader for CG Schmidt, the construction manager at risk, and Sonya Newenhouse, president of the project's environmental consultant, Madison Environmental Group, Inc., both say that "deconstruction" is a better term for the process than "demolition."

That's because demolition conjures up visions of buildings being knocked apart without much care for preserving things that can be reused or recycled.

Certainly, some smashing and crunching demolition will be part of the project, but much of the work involves care and painstaking planning.

New Union Will House Many Activities, Be Environmentally Friendly

The new Union South will not only contain space for studying, meetings and offices. It will also offer 60 guest rooms, 185 underground parking stalls, restaurants, a coffee shop, retail space, a full-service grille, an 800-seat ball/banquet room, foodservice preparation facilities, a 300-seat movie theater, a bowling alley, a recreation center; a two-story climbing wall, elevated terraces, balconies suitable for holding social events, and a roof plaza.

The adjoining grounds will offer space for large gatherings such as pep rallies, receptions, farmers' markets, and outdoor entertainment.

Besides being useful, the new Union South is designed to be ecologically friendly and energy efficient.

It will meet either the LEED silver or gold standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council, and will also exceed ASHRAE energy-conservation standards by 40 percent.

To Make Room, Three Old Buildings Must Go

Making room for the new Union South requires deconstruction of three old buildings on the site: the Randall Tower, Hi-Ray Hall, and the existing Union South, which was built in 1972.

Deconstructing the three existing structures, then building and equipping the new Union South is expected to cost about $94.8 million and take just over two years.

The UW Board of Regents will own the new Union South. Wisconsin's Division of State Facilities will administer the completed building, and the Wisconsin Student Union will be its tenant.

Environmental Responsibility Key

Right from the beginning, that group set environmental leadership and sustainability as key requirements.

CG Schmidt project team leader Dan Davis noted, "To earn enough LEED points for silver or gold certification, you not only have to have a sustainable design and minimize construction waste, you also have to recycle nearly all the material created by deconstruction."

"The project plan," says Davis, "calls for 90 to 95 percent of the deconstruction waste to be reused or recycled. CG Schmidt has routinely done that on many projects since 1993. It seems very achievable here."

CG Schmidt subcontracted deconstruction of the three existing buildings to Veit, of Rogers, MN.

Physical work on the project started in January, when workers from Wisconsin's Division of State Facilities began removing furniture, doors, fixtures, and even HVAC components that could be reused at other state facilities.

Early in February, CG Schmidt's abatement subcontractor began removing any asbestos and other hazardous materials that had been identified in the buildings.

As abatement is completed in each building, CG Schmidt crews and Madison Environmental Group, Inc. (MEG) advisors identify and remove materials that could be reused or recycled. For example, MEG found buyers for the acoustic ceiling tiles removed from the buildings.

MEG sustainability consultant and LEED Accredited Professional Kelly Humphry commented, "Reuse makes both good environmental sense and good business sense. Just as one example, there is a demand for used acoustic ceiling tiles in Wisconsin. Although you don't make much money by selling them, you avoid adding to the state's landfill burden and you save the $35-per-ton landfill tipping fee, too."

In mid-February, Veit's heavy hydraulic demolition equipment started hammering away at the brick, concrete and steel of the three buildings that have to be taken down to make room for the new Union South. Deconstruction will take until the end of April.

But even the debris from that part of the job will nearly all be recycled.

Says Davis, "All of the scrap metal will be recycled, and all of the concrete and brick will be crushed and reused on other projects. Only a few things, like commercial roofing material and the previously removed asbestos, will end up in a landfill."

Construction of the new Union South will start immediately after the site has been cleared of deconstruction debris.

MEG's Humphry says, "On some jobs, we help design the recycling system, but the university, CG Schmidt and Veit all are well experienced and have already developed good systems. So our main functions on this project are making sure workers understand the system, verifying the amounts of material recycled, and tracking every pound that leaves the site."

Typically, the sorting system consists of different dumpsters, each assigned to hold only one type of debris — steel, wood, copper, aluminum, and so on. As the dumpsters fill up, they are taken to the appropriate place that will recycle each kind of material.

Overall Project Presents Many Logistical Challenges

As is typical, a project of this magnitude presents a few challenges for the construction manager and team.

One of those challenges, says Davis, is that more than seven entities need to review and approve the design — and any changes to it.

They include the university's board of regents; the Division of State Facilities; the Wisconsin Student Union Council, a student-led design committee; the state Building Commission; the city of Madison; neighborhood groups; and a pedestrian-and-bicycle committee. In addition, a railroad also must be consulted because its right of way runs along one side of the site.

"Everyone's been great to work with," says Davis, "but it still takes a lot of coordination and meetings to make sure everyone is informed, involved and up to date."

Another logistical consideration is maintaining access to a library that sits just behind the construction site and a computer-science building that stands right across the street.

Says Davis, "We need to take care that we sequence the work and designate working locations so that fire exits and other access to the library and computer-science building always remain available. It just means thinking ahead and using insight from our experience."

CG Schmidt Experience With Green Building Dates Back To 1993

CG Schmidt's experience with environmentally sensitive construction and deconstruction stretches back to 1993, when the company demolished and rebuilt a building for the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Elm Grove, WI.

Davis explains that the nuns of the order felt a spiritual connection to the environment and wanted to do the right thing.

Working on that project, the Schmidt family also became aware of ecological issues and wanted to do the right thing by minimizing environmental impact and recycling waste.

After that project, says Davis, CG Schmidt began to incorporate what later became known as green building practices into its projects. "Schmidt was green before it was cool to be," he says.

The company incorporated green building principles into the new headquarters it built for itself between 1997 and 1999. That building, says Davis, still holds the Energy Star rating today.

The Energy Star rating recognizes buildings that rank in the top 25 percent of the most energy-efficient buildings in the country.

Says Davis, "It is a pleasure to work on a project like this new Student Union, which does the right thing for the environment and which will serve so many people for decades to come."