Lifting Equipment Aids Masonry Construction

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

Masonry construction — placing block or brick during construction of a structure — is tremendously labor intensive. The block or brick, often hundreds of thousands of them on a typical project, must be placed one at a time. That makes the human element a key factor for any masonry contractor.

Equally important is the matter of handling materials such as scaffolding, mortar, and the brick and block themselves, transporting them when and where needed in a way that does not slow down the masonry crews. To that end, masonry contractors such as Masonry Arts, based in Birmingham, AL, typically make extensive use of rough-terrain material handling equipment.

Masonry Arts is a family-oriented business. Roy Swindal is president of the company, which was founded by Roy's father John some 50 years ago. The company handles all aspects of commercial masonry construction — brick, block, stone, glass, window wall, curtain wall, and architectural precast, among others.

The company's first Florida project was at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola in the mid 1990s, notes Jeff Younger, operations manager for Masonry Arts' Northwest Florida Division.

"We came to Florida to do that one job," he says, "but we stayed and grew from there."

Masonry Work At Shoal River Middle School

The Andrews Institute sports medicine facility is among Masonry Arts' high-profile projects in Gulf Breeze. Morette Company was general contractor on the project.

Currently, the Pensacola-based Northwest Florida Division of Masonry Arts is handling all block and brick work on the Shoal River Middle School project in Crestview, FL. Working as a subcontractor to Dooley Mack Constructors, Masonry Arts is placing some 225,000 concrete blocks to build interior and exterior walls, plus approximately 200,000 bricks on the building's exterior.

"That's a lot of brick and block," notes general superintendent Robert Ritter. In fact, it required 210 tractor trailer loads to deliver just the block.

The first masonry work, completed early in the project, involved laying the foundation courses of block to allow the construction team to place and finish the concrete floor slabs. Currently, the focus is on building the interior and exterior walls.

To handle the work, Masonry Arts has had up to 45 people working on the site at any given time. Three foremen — Chris Cook, Tony Hamilton and Marcus McCall — oversee crews working on three of the project's eight buildings at any given time.

The block used on the project has been supplied by Block USA, while W.R. Taylor Brick has provided the brick.

Keeping Up With The Crews

Keeping those masonry crews supplied with the block, brick and mortar that they need has been the job of a trio of Skytrak rough-terrain telescoping boom material handlers — two 6,000-pound capacity 6092s and one 10,000-pound capacity 10054. The contractor worked with Tim Dickens of Coastal Machinery Company to select machines that would be suited to take on the conditions on the project.

"The machines do just about anything and everything on a project like this," Ritter says. "They move all materials — block, bricks and grout — as well as scaffolding and also handle cleanup. They're always moving," he continues, adding, "They keep things going, and they hardly ever stop."

Each of the machines has a dedicated operator. Murphy Smith and Huey Grice man the controls of the 6092s, while Kent Bryant operates the 10054.

Selecting Machines For Tough Conditions

According to Jeff Younger, operations manager for Masonry Arts' Northwest Florida Division, these machines are well suited for projects such as this one.

"The off-road nature of the machines is important," he says, noting that the sandy nature of the typical northwest Florida job site demands a machine that can move in sand without getting bogged down. Reach is also important — especially on a project like this one with so many buildings spread over such a large footprint — as is lifting and placing capacity.

Speed counts for a great deal too, he says, echoing Ritter's observation that the Skytracks are in nearly constant motion.

Building A Variety Of Projects

Currently, Masonry Arts' Florida operation handles projects in an area that stretches from Mobile to Panama City. School construction has proven to be a good market; in fact, in nearby Defuniak, the company is handling the masonry work on Walton High School. Roger Davis is running that job for Masonry Arts.

"It's an even more complicated job than Shoal River," notes Younger, adding that it's much larger too. The Walton project calls for setting of 300,000 blocks and almost a half million bricks, with plans calling for five patterns of brick in two different colors. The masonry portion of that project also involves two colors of stone.

"On a job like that one," Younger says, "one of the big challenges is sequencing the job and getting the materials delivered at the right time."

Masonry Arts has also worked on some high profile projects, including the Andrews Institute sports medicine facility in Gulf Breeze. Morette Company was the general contractor for the project.

"It was complicated even for a masonry job," Younger says, "with everything from multiple materials to numerous arches."

Meanwhile, the company's crews are making significant progress on the Shoal River Middle School project. Younger expects the masonry component to wrap up in October, adding yet another noteworthy project to the Masonry Arts portfolio.