Successful Demolition Starts Project Right

By Mike Larson, Editor | September 28, 2010

The new $150-million building that will soon be going up on the 1300 block of University Avenue in Madison, Wis., will be a world-class research center where scientists from many fields will work together to develop solutions that will enhance human health and welfare worldwide.

This rendering, looking west along University Avenue, shows the new research facility standing on the site formerly occupied by the demolished buildings.

The four-story, 300,000-square-foot facility will house both the public Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID) and the private Morgridge Institute for Research (MIR).

Each institute will have its own laboratories and research facilities, but the two will share public space on the first floor designed for seminars, public outreach, retail, and foodservice.

Construction began in April 2008, with occupancy planned for December of 2010.

The building's $150-million cost is being funded by $50 million from the state of Wisconsin, $50 million from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), and a $50-million donation from John and Tashia Morgridge. WARF is acting as the project's developer.

Findorff-Mortenson, a joint venture of J.H. Findorff & Son, Madison, and M.A. Mortenson Co., Minneapolis, Minn., is the project's construction manager.

Two of Champion Environmental’s Caterpillar hydraulic excavators equipped with special demolition tools take down a building at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery site.

To Make Room, Old Buildings Must Go

To make room for the new research center, eight old buildings filling the 1300 block of University Avenue had to come down.

One in particular had historical significance for Madison, Wis. The Rennebohm building, built in 1925, had originally housed the first and flagship store of the Rennebohm pharmacy chain, which eventually grew to more than 30 locations in Madison before the chain was sold to a national corporation in 1980.

Since 1981, the original Rennebohm building had belonged to the University of Wisconsin, which used it for offices.

For a number of reasons, WARF decided to be sure that as much as possible of the eight old buildings and their contents would be reused or recycled.

WARF's manager for the WID-MIR project, George Austin, said, "Although we could not retain the structure, we wanted to reuse architectural details, such as the 400-pound stones engraved with capital R's. We also wanted to be sure other components such as prism glass, built-in cabinets, and doors were donated to places that could really use them."

To help with the deconstruction, WARF added Madison Environmental Group (MEG) to its team. MEG is a consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses and individuals find innovative and cost-saving solutions that contribute to a healthy community and environment.

MEG's first assignment was to evaluate what furnishings, fixtures and other items in the buildings could be reused, then plan and manage their removal and distribution to places like Habitat for Humanity.

Subsequently, MEG was to document the amount of material recycled both during demolition of the existing buildings and construction of the new one.

The goals were to reuse or recycle 75 percent of the demolition materials and 80 percent of waste materials from the new building's construction.

Demolition Turned Over To Specialist

Findorff-Mortenson subcontracted demolition of the block and excavation of the new building's basement to Terra Construction Co., of Madison.

Terra subcontracted the demolition work to Champion Environmental Services, Inc., an environmental remediation, demolition and recycling contractor headquartered in Madison.

Findorff-Mortenson Project Manager John Feller said, "This project's challenges included having a small site to work with, having the buildings bordered by two of the city's busier streets, and having only a short time to take them down and clean up the site so construction could begin."

"We worked closely with the city to coordinate traffic control and assure public safety while getting the job done in the allotted six weeks. Champion's expertise was perfect for the job," said Feller.

Fast Work, Precise Timing Get Job Done

When Champion started the demolition work in March, it had only about six weeks to take down the buildings, process the resulting material, and exit the site so Terra could start excavating.

Champion's first step was to remove and dispose of the roofing, which contained asbestos and therefore needed special remediation and disposal.

The roofing became the only part of the buildings that ended up in landfill. (Champion's manager on this project, Kyle Schultz, estimates that more than 95 percent of the material in the old buildings was recycled or sold for reuse.)

Then Champion began taking down the old brick buildings using specially equipped hydraulic excavators, skid-steer loaders and a track loader, all working in a precisely choreographed plan.

Says Schultz, "Because of the tightness of the site and the proximity of busy streets, we worked from the inside out, leaving the tallest outside walls until the university was on spring break and there was less traffic on the adjacent streets. Then we used the excavators to reach over the walls and pull them back into the site. Not one brick fell into the street."

The bull work of pushing, pulling and wrecking to bring down the buildings was done by three of Champion's Caterpillar hydraulic excavators — a model 325, a model 330 and a model 365. Each was equipped with a grapple, hydraulic shear, multiprocessor jaws, or bucket, as needed.

Two Caterpillar 262 skid-steer loaders equipped with grapple buckets darted about the site to efficiently sort and move the resulting concrete, asphalt, steel, wood, brick, and blocks.

And a Caterpillar 973 track loader with biter bucket moved bricks and concrete, and loaded the trucks that carried the materials away from the site.

Schultz says he likes Caterpillar equipment for demolition because it stands up under the constant hammering, prying and pulling that the work demands. He also likes that attachments can be switched in minutes, often without the operator leaving the cab.

At times, Champion had a steady stream of up to 14 quad-axle trucks carrying the salvaged materials away from the site.

After the buildings were down and the above-ground salvaged materials had been cleared from the site, Champion also dug out the foundations, which were then pulverized and recycled.

Said Schultz, "At first, there was no room on the site, so we had to truck most everything off site for sorting and processing. As we made progress and there was more room, we brought processing equipment onto the site and did more of that work right here."

Working eight to 10 hours each day, Champion had the buildings down in 15 to 20 working days, and had its entire part of the project done by the April 21 deadline.

Throughout the process, MEG documented the amount and disposition of each type of material.

Almost Nothing Goes To Waste

According to Schultz, a large part of a demolition contractor's success lies in finding markets for the salvaged materials that tearing down an old building creates.

Good demolition contractors know that keeping waste out of landfills makes good sense both ecologically and economically.

Putting things in landfills not only costs money, it takes away materials that could potentially be sold at a profit.

Indeed, an early-April check of standard indices shows that scrap steel sells for about $300 per ton, mixed aluminum brings $900 per ton, and scrap copper commands a whopping $6,000 per ton.

With those values, none of those commodities is likely to ever see a landfill.

But Champion Environmental's Schultz says that virtually all other materials salvaged from demolition also find new life in other uses.

"For example," he says, "bricks are in demand, and we have a subsidiary, the Old Time Antique Brick Company, that sells them nationwide."

Schultz also confirms that concrete is pulverized and either sold as fill or its aggregate is reclaimed for making new concrete.

The gypsum in drywall is sold as agricultural fertilizer.

Clean wood is ground for mulch or landscape applications, while less-clean wood is ground up for animal bedding.

"We really use everything we possibly can," says Schultz. "Champion's experience enables us to not only know existing markets for the materials we salvage, but to also find new ones."

Everybody Wins

The project to build a home for the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and the Morgridge Institute for Research is off to a great start.

It's on time.

The demolition phase is completed safely and appears to have earned solid points toward LEED certification.

Some of the original buildings' details and artifacts have been saved and will be reused to honor the history of the site.

Habitat for Humanity and other deserving groups have received beneficial materials that will be put to good use serving their clients.

Almost nothing has gone into a landfill.

And Champion has added another successful project to its record book.

The demolition of the 1300 block of University Avenue in Madison looks like an excellent example of a project that has come up a winner all around.