Craftsmen display potent mix of skill, rigor and agility
Think of it as the incredible, disappearing construction site.
Every other Friday for months, workers for Henry J. Knott Masonry, Inc. and other subcontractors set down their tools at noon and proceeded to make a sprawling, four-story project disappear. The crews were executing the $120 million expansion and renovation of M&T Bank Stadium. But whenever the Baltimore Ravens were slated to play a home game, those crews had to make their project vanish.
“Everything was demobilized,” said Shawn Collins, a Henry J. Knott Masonry Foreman.
Large scaffolds were lowered behind construction fences. Ground-level equipment and materials were moved into storage sheds out of sight of football fans. On the upper concourse, subcontractors choreographed a strategic relocation of materials and equipment in a few plywood storage rooms.
“The coordination was a big task to fit everything in those rooms and to place it so you could get to the things you would need first the following Monday morning,” Collins said.
And that was just one of the challenges mastered by the Henry J. Knott Masonry team members who won a BC&E Craftsmanship Award for their work on the M&T Bank Stadium project.
Outstanding craftsmanship requires deep knowledge, sharp skills and continuous learning about a construction specialty. But exceptional craftsmen and women know they need more than that expertise to deliver standout projects. They need extraordinary abilities and daily rigor when it comes to planning, collaborating, communicating and adjusting on the fly to meet the needs of the project at hand.
From restoring and gilding sculpted garlands at the Annapolis Post Office to threading conduit around waffle slab and a glass atrium at the Robert L. Bogomolny Library, creating a 3D pattern of pie-shaped wedges in a wooden ceiling and completing other projects ranging from historical restorations to high-rise reconstruction, this year’s winners of the BC&E Craftmanship Awards displayed that powerful mix of expertise, discipline, problem solving and agility.
From the outset of the Bethel Promise Center project, Mark Tyree of Jennings H. Mitchell & Son, Inc. knew he was facing a huge project. The renovation would more than double the size of the Ellicott City faith center. The drywall/framing foreman, however, soon realized the renovation was also surprisingly complex.
The exterior metal framing package included high-sloped, parapet walls at the roofline and a 30-foot, cantilevered canopy that “slopes up in front and connects to a building where every corner has slopes and angles,” Tyree said.
Interior framing had to support a design that included an array of bulkheads, coves and light-gauge, metal-frame structures, plus a complex, 30-foot-high ceiling with drywall bulkheads that stepped down at different heights to meet the wall. Elaborate audio-visual and lighting systems had to be recessed within the ceiling framing. At several locations, the design also included large, cross-shaped openings in the ceiling or wall that would be backlit by lighting fixtures that could not be visible.
Tyree’s response to those challenges was to meticulously plot out the canopy structure, prefabricate it on the ground and crane it into place. An exacting approach to the exterior framing provided Tyree and his crew with a reliable centerline in the interior from which they could plot out the complex framing for the bulkheads, stepped ceilings and other structures.
“It was a building full of bulkheads and angles,” Tyree said. “But we systematically laid it out once piece at a time. Once we figured it out, it went together like a jigsaw puzzle.”
At Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, a crew from G.E.Tignall & Co., Inc. confronted a different kind of challenge.They had been tasked with completely replacing HVAC equipment and associated ductwork/piping in three buildings.The hitch was all three housed active research laboratories which would have to be supported throughout the 18-month renovation.
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company did“a crazy good job of coordinating every trade” as they systemically replaced one piece of equipment at a time and maintained service to Johns Hopkins. Meanwhile, the trades excelled at meeting the project’s unique challenges, said Bunky Bumgardner of G.E. Tignall.
Bumgardner, for example, had to determine how to move numerous large pieces of equipment and pipe into buildings with very limited access. A crane crew delivered some equipment to penthouses and other locations through blind lifts, including “eight super large combination filter boxes and exhaust fans that went on top of substantial steel tonnage,” he said.
Bumgardner’s crew then brought some oversized equipment into the buildings piecemeal.
“All of the air handlers had to be built stick by stick,” he said. “We brought pieces in through a hatch in the roof that was about 5 by 7 feet. The finished units ended up being 25-30 feet long by 12-15 feet wide by 10 feet high.”
In addition to demonstrating outstanding planning, the project delivered vast performance and efficiency improvements to the 1970s buildings and created brighter, quieter, less crowded mechanical rooms.
“It was a total transformation, and it looked beautiful,” Bumgardner said.
Beauty was evident in every project that generated Craftsmanship Awards.
Back at M&T Bank Stadium after crews demobilized for the final time, the masonry work of the Henry J. Knott crew gleamed. The crew had to custom build two hydraulic scaffolds inside elevator shafts, establish precision 100-foot-high grid lines to position panels, and find ways to maneuver, modify and place stones weighing up to 7,000 pounds. They had to perfectly install ground-face block – a shiny product that shows every imperfection and shadow. Due to the presence of a basement at the stadium, they also had to abandon the standard practice of setting those extremely heavy stones on a foundation and instead weld them to a vertical, steel structure.
“That was extremely tricky. It involved very large tube steel, a lot of heavy welding and very tight areas,” Collins said. “But it turned out beautifully. It was really a work of art.
For a complete list of BC&E Craftsmanship Awards, visit BC&E’s website www.bcebaltimore.org or to view videos about each of the 20 winner’s work, visit the Building Congress & Exchange YouTube channel.