Pioneer erects monster building

April 5, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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Pioneer Erectors, a division of Pioneer Construction of Grand Rapids, is the steel erection contractor on an unusually large industrial project in Texas. The project involves assembly of a pre-engineered metal building system with clear interior spans more than 300 feet long, eave heights of 80 feet and a peak height of 120 feet.

The metal structure is part of an energy plant that will have a circulating fluidized bed boiler to produce high-energy/high-efficiency steam and electricity for production of specialty PVC at an industrial complex in Point Comfort, Texas.

A pre-engineered building with spans in excess of 300 feet “is about as large as you can go,” said Chris Beckering, director of business development at Pioneer.

Pioneer has provided structural steel erection services since it was founded in 1933, but began marketing its steel erector expertise as a separate division a couple of years ago, according to Beckering.

More than 25 employees in Pioneer’s erection services group have been working at Point Comfort for almost a year, and they’ll probably be there until their work is wrapped up in another six months or so, according to Beckering.

“This is not your ordinary metal building,” said Beckering. Those clear span steel rafters weigh more than 32 tons each. Adding to the complexity of assembling the 200,000-square-foot building is the installation of an interior crane system mounted on rails. The metal building will house coal, limestone and petcoke prior to its preparation and use in the fluidized bed boiler, so a rail-suspended crane is required for moving those materials around inside the building.

The rails will be at varying elevations, from the floor up to 80 feet high, supported by 4-foot-square reinforced concrete columns standing more than 80 feet high. Each column weighs more than six tons.

For safety reasons, during erection the project incorporates 100 percent tie-off requirements, and special rigging and erection training for all employees, including special equipment operating license requirements.

“The biggest reasons we were selected (for the Texas job) are our safety record and our ability to deliver on time and within budget — and our unique experience with excessively long, clear span, pre-engineered metal buildings,” said Beckering.

While some sectors of the construction industry have suffered greatly from a shortage of work in 2009, the management of Pioneer “feel very fortunate in the current environment, staying as busy as we are,” said Beckering. Two of Pioneer’s latest major contracts are the Heart of the City Health Services building and parking facility in Grand Rapids and a new library on the Allendale campus of Grand Valley State University.

Heart of the City Healthy Services, a $24 million project on Cherry Street near Saint Mary’s Health Care, will be an 80,000-square-foot building that houses Cherry Street Health Services, Touchstone Innovare and Proaction Behavioral Health Alliance.

The Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons at GVSU is a $70 million project to replace the university’s Zumberge Library, which was built in 1969 for a projected student enrollment of about 5,000. Today, Grand Valley has 24,400 students. The estimated cost also includes renovation of Zumberge Library for other uses.

GVSU trustees voted in February to go ahead with the library project, with construction starting in spring 2011and completion expected in 2013.

University officials said the new library will have a positive impact on the regional economy, requiring an estimated 1,500 design and construction jobs.

Pioneer has had an average annual revenue of about $100 million, according to Beckering, although the company does not reveal its actual revenue. He said they do not expect to see a decrease in their workload, compared to last year.

“We are able to keep our guys swinging hammers,” he said, although he noted that it currently is a “very challenging environment” in the construction industry.

Activity in the commercial construction industry tends to lag the general economy by a year to a year and a half, he said, because the “deal cycle” and then the design phase can take up a lot of time before ground is even broken. Those preliminary factors, of course, can only come after the key initial decision has been made to move forward on a construction project, and that key decision is usually subject to economic conditions.

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