When the University of Nevada at Reno's $63- million Joseph Crowley Student Union opens in September 2007, it will have been built in an impressive 18-month time frame, amidst a tight campus setting, and directly adjacent to another major university construction project fighting it for operating space. The ability to meet those challenges is testimony to the skill and planning of the Penta Building Group, the general contractor heading up the project, as well as the firm's utilization of the right tools to keep the project moving and on schedule. While tower cranes and concrete pumps draw the most attention, Penta representatives cite a smaller piece of equipment, a Genie GTH-1048C telehandler as being one of the most valuable — and irreplaceable — units on-site.
In a fairly short time, the Penta Building Group has gone from startup firm to one of the premier general contractors in the Reno area. Founded in 2001, the company made its mark in the construction of casinos and resorts in and around Reno and Las Vegas, but has proven equally adept at a broad range of commercial and municipal projects. In fact, according to John Itzaina, Penta's project manager, the firm has just completed a similar university project in Las Vegas.
"There's no doubt the overwhelming majority of our work — probably 80 percent of it — is in casino-related construction and remodeling," he says. "That includes renovations to Caesar's main site in Las Vegas, the Grandview Hilton Resorts in Las Vegas, Caesar's in South Lake Tahoe, and others. But we do a lot of work in the commercial and institutional area and just wrapped up construction of the 143,000-square-foot Donald C. Moyer Student Union at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV), so we have some definite experience in this area as well."
Similarities aside, the Reno student union project, at four stories tall with 167,000 square feet of floor space, is a bit larger and more elaborate than its counterpart at UNLV. When complete, the Joseph Crowley project will house a pair of bookstores, a two-story theater, commercial tenants, a coffee shop, study areas, a kitchen, meeting rooms, and more.
It would seem doubtful that a company so comfortable handling major casino construction or renovation projects could be challenged by anything. Yet, the location of the new student union and its proximity to other campus construction activity is still managing to make things interesting for Itzaina and his crew.
"The new structure is on sloping terrain and sits adjacent to an even larger project, a five-story library called The Knowledge Center, that's being built at the same time," he says. "So every day is a challenge from a logistical standpoint. As a rule, we are always looking for ways to maximize the efficiency of our operation and this project is no exception. We've really come to rely on certain tools to keep things moving — the telehandler is one of those tools."
Itzaina is not alone in his assessment. Over the years, on construction sites worldwide, telehandlers have quietly and efficiently come to fill many roles, perform scores of functions and provide a host of benefits. Only when they are removed from the equation by lack of availability, it seems, are they truly appreciated. Mistakenly referred to as forklifts, booms or simply "lifts," telehandlers are in reality unique, multi-faceted tools that are at home on most any size job site, including the one at UN Reno.
"For us, the Genie unit has filled, and continues to fill, a number of needs," says Itzaina. "In the early phases of the project, when we were tackling the foundation part of the job, we used it to lift and set formwork into place. That included some extremely large sections which would have otherwise been just about impossible to set. Again, the site on which we are working is tight and sloping so the machine's ability to get us that extra reach — and do so in any weather thanks to its four-wheel drive — was a lifesaver."
As the job has progressed, Itzaina says they've used the telehandler to move and lift a wide range of materials on-site, including: pallets of brick and other masonry materials, "dead-men" — the concrete blocks used as weights to hold forms in place, full bundles of wood, and more.
"For us, the reach and mobility the unit affords are probably its greatest assets," he says. "A conventional forklift can give you decent vertical reach but, in most cases, can't get you close enough to the structure to be effective. A crane can also get material up in the air but can't be easily moved around, particularly on a job site like this. The telehandler does all that and more. And, because the unit has four-wheel steering, our operators really like the fact that there is literally nowhere they can't reach."
Penta's GTH-1048C is on rent from and serviced by the Reno/Sparks office of H&E Equipment Services.
Because a telehandler plays such a crucial role in their operation, Penta's decision to rent the GTH-1048C, rather than purchase one of its own, seems, at first, puzzling. Elmore says, however, that, from a cost/allocation standpoint, it actually makes the most sense of all.
"With the arrangement we have with Penta, we maintain the unit ourselves, coming out regularly to perform preventative maintenance and make certain it's in peak condition. For Penta, that's one less piece of equipment for their maintenance people to worry about. In addition, because it is a rental, they can rotate that equipment on a regular basis, so their fleet is always 'fresh' and up-to-date. It's really a good deal for everyone involved."
The arrangement Penta has with H&E would seem to be working indeed. Itzaina says, to date, the only downtime issue they've had with the unit has been a flat tire — not bad considering the role it's played in the project.
According to rental sales representative Joe Elmore, who counts Penta as one of his best customers, there are attachments available for the Genie Telehandler such as side-tilt carriages, specialized forks and booms, etc., which can even further enhance its versatility.
"With the addition of attachments, a telehandler can really perform a broad range of functions on-site," he says. "However, because of the nature of their work out at the UN Reno site, the only add-on they've chosen thus far is a 12-foot truss boom extension which, I understand, really helped make the form placement go smoothly."
"We are at a point now where all the structural steel is in place and we still rely on the telehandler every day to get material to different places on-site," stated Itzaina. "Because the unit offers close to 50 feet of lift height, we can still get material to the upper floors until the walls go up. In the past, I've been asked what alternative method could be used should the telehandler go down for any reason. Based on its performance so far I don't expect that to happen, but there's no doubt in my mind I would replace it with another Genie telehandler; it's just become that valuable to us."