A Really Tall Job

August 1, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Now that the “topping off” party has been held at the luxurious 34-story River House condominium building, a “coming down” party is the next event for the state’s tallest residential structure.

Wolverine Construction Management, the project’s general contractor, will begin to take apart and bring down the tower crane on Aug. 22 and hopefully complete the dismantling of the tallest crane ever assembled in this neck of the woods by the end of the weekend: Not exactly a simple task, but one the company feels will come off without a hitch.

Twenty-two 20-foot sections make up the vertical portion of the crane, which has been on the building site since February of last year. That means the very top of the crane is 440 feet above its base, or 28 feet higher than the top floor of the high-rise.

“Right now, we’re scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 23 and 24. We anticipate about three days. We’ll be doing the prep work on Friday, and then on Saturday and Sunday, it will be taken down and shipped,” said Matt Larson, a project manager with Wolverine Construction Management.

For such a tall and weighty job, Larson said the take-down crew will only consist of four or five. They’ll start at the very top by locking the crane in an east-west direction so it will be parallel to Bridge Street and to the building. Then they’ll use derricks, tackle and rig to lower the cab section down, which is part of the slewing unit and is where the operator sits. But they’ll leave the cab’s control box up so they can use the crane’s long horizontal jib, or working arm, to bring down the tower sections.

“When they’ve lowered the cab down, they’ll start taking the crane apart one piece at a time. They will leave the boom in place. The jib and the counter jib, which is the tall piece that is kind of horizontal to the ground, will stay in place,” said Larson.

“We’ll use the crane to deconstruct itself. It’s very similar to the process we used to build it up,” he said.

A piece called a collar, which is in place around the tower, will be jacked up by a jib and locked in around the tower. Then a 20-foot tower section will be carefully pulled out and lowered to the ground, with the collar holding the rest of the structure in place.

“Then that collar will actually slide down to the next piece, where we’ll lock it in again, lift it up, pull the next section out and lower it down to the ground. So basically, we just take it apart one section at a time, just like when we put it together, and we’ll work our way down,” said Larson.

“As we get where we’re tied back into the building, we’ll stop and disconnect the tie-back. We’ll take that apart and take the collar down and then continue to keep working our way down the building. When we get close to the bottom, we will have a small assist crane located at the bottom that will help us take apart the jib and all the rest of the pieces, and hopefully we’ll have it all trucked out in two-and-a-half days.”

So the Cliff Notes version is the crane dissembles its own mast and then a smaller crane dissembles the rest, sort of like playing a very large game of Jenga. The crew won’t have much room for error because the building went up on an extremely tight footprint. The crane is surrounded on three sides by Bridgewater Place, the building’s parking ramp and property belonging to the office tower.

“I have, basically, the back side of my building to the road, to the right-of-way and the sidewalk. That’s all the space I have. So I do have a temporary occupancy permit for a lane there on Bridge, but that’s really all the space I’ve got,” he said.

Larson said the city has agreed to let him have most of Bridge Street for the weekend the crane will come down, so the tower sections, jib, cab and the rest of the crane can be loaded on semis and carted away. “Three or four trucks can take all of it,” he said.

Wolverine rented the crane for the project. The going rate for a standard 150-foot tower crane is about $15,000 a month, with roughly another $60,000 for delivery, installation and deconstruction. The rental cost for the River House crane, which is nearly three times taller than the standard version, wasn’t revealed. Larson, however, joked that for what they’ve paid to have it on the site for the past 19 months, they probably could have bought it.

There isn’t another project on the horizon of the magnitude the River House has been, so there isn’t an immediate need for such a crane. There is another event, though, on the River House horizon, after the crane’s coming down party. The Robert Grooters Development Co., owner of the $90 million structure, will host a tour party for the building’s homeowners two days after the crane is trucked from the site.

Of the 207 condos in the River House, Grooters Development reported that only 50 are still on the market.

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