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KENTWOOD – To go up, you first need to look down.
After all, nothing stands forever without a solid foundation.
That’s where Jamie Matus and STS Consultants comes in. The engineering firm, which opened a Kentwood office last year when it acquired Hopper/Sheeran/Frank Inc., specializes in underground testing and engineering.
Among the Chicago-based firm’s most notable accomplishments is designing the foundations for six of the world’s tallest buildings, including the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Building in Chicago.
“When people think about engineering they think about building up. But there’s an awful lot that goes on below grade that people don’t appreciate,” said Matus, a geological engineer, part-owner and regional manager for STS’s offices in Kentwood and Lansing.
In West Michigan, STS is working to test soils for an interchange for the new South Beltline freeway and U.S. 31.
Using ground-penetrating radar, the firm in the mid-1990s worked to identify underground voids in the bedrock and help shore up the foundation beneath the Grand Center along the Grand River. The voids, caves left over from old gypsum mines, became unstable over the years from the stress of the building.
STS performed similar work on the riverfront portions of the Grand Center. Most recently, STS tested the steel and cement used in the recent reconstruction of the U.S. 131 S-curve.
Many of the firm’s jobs, however, aren’t so high profile.
Underground engineering can include projects such as one going on in St. Joseph, where — using geophysics — STS is working to determine the depth and scope of soil contamination at an abandoned factory site.
In one process, known as seismic refraction, engineers send a shock wave through the ground.
Sensors set up along a line stretching 100 to 300 meters record and measure the shock wave to determine the density of the soils. The process, which is generally used to test soils between 50 and 200 feet deep, enables engineers to cover a large area faster and to better pinpoint locations to dig soil borings and groundwater monitoring wells that are used determine the extent of the contamination plume, saving time and money.
In the case of the St. Joseph factory site, STS enabled the project manager to cut by more than two-thirds the number of soil borings needed, Matus said.
The process was used at that site to determine the depth of a clay layer beneath the soil that separates a contaminated groundwater aquifer from a clean aquifer.
Use of the technique, developed the oil industry, is becoming increasingly popular, with engineers now doing in hours what they once needed days to accomplish, Matus said.
“It saves time and money,” he said. “It’s fast and we can cover a large amount of ground and it’s cheaper than a full-blown exploration.”
STS Consultants has five primary offices in the Midwest, plus other smaller office. West Michigan’s growth drew the firm to open a local office, Matus said.
In addition to its underground engineering unit, the firm also offers construction quality management and property and structure analysis services.