New Genie 180-Foot Boom Lift is a Capital Idea for Contractor Erecting Ferris Wheel
Wednesday 02 April 2014 @ 16:12
Cianbro Construction prides itself on handling projects that are a bit out of the ordinary. In the past, the company has done everything from the construction of floating offshore wind turbines, to the installation of 230 miles of electrical transmission lines, to the replacement of thrusters on a massive oil drilling ship. So it should come as no surprise that, when the search was on for a contractor to erect an observation wheel near our nation’s capital, Cianbro was at the head of the list. But the logistical challenges for the project — its construction at the end of a long and narrow pier, for example — taxed even Cianbro’s impressive specialized-equipment inventory. To get the access and reach they needed for several facets of the job, the company turned to Genie which had just introduced its SX-180 boom lift with 180 feet of vertical reach. Armed with that newfound capability, the project is proceeding on pace and, despite some early weather-related challenges, the attraction should be open in time for Memorial Day 2014.
Wheel With a View
The idea of an observation wheel as a tourist draw dates back to 1893 when the first wheel, designed and built by George Ferris, Jr., wowed attendees at the Chicago World’s Fair. Since that time, the scale and sophistication of observation wheels has steadily grown, with landmark structures in London (“The London Eye”), China (“Star of Nanchang”), and Singapore (“Singapore Flyer”), as well as the soon-to-open 550-foot tall “High Roller” in Las Vegas. At 175 feet, the “Capital Wheel,” as the structure Cianbro is erecting is known, will boast some of the most iconic vantage points imaginable, offering views of the White House, Capitol building, National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. Its location, in National Harbor, a 300-acre multi-use waterfront development in Prince George's County, Maryland just south of Washington, D.C., is a large part of the reason Cianbro is heading up the project, according to Aric Dreher, the company’s project manager.
“Working between 2006 and 2008, we performed all of the marine construction — the piers, the floating docks, and so on — on National Harbor,” Dreher says. “That was the first time we worked with the Peterson Companies, the project owner, and it went really well. Based on their knowledge of what we could do and the equipment we could bring to bear, when the Capital Wheel job came around, we were the first ones they called. Today, we are the general contractor as well as the construction manager and we couldn’t be happier with the way things are going.”
From the Base Up
Work on the Capital Wheel started with the installation of a 150-ton steel grid base structure. Fabricated by Cianbro at its Baltimore yard, the individual components for the base were sent by barge to the Potomac River site. While that ultimately proved to be the best method for transporting such material, there was a point when the decision to do so looked sketchy at best, says Dreher.
“Shortly after kicking off the project in January, we had everything for the base loaded onto the barges and ready to go,” Dreher says. “We were only waiting for a few beams to arrive from the galvanizer. But right after we loaded them, the temperatures plummeted, the Chesapeake Bay froze over, and the Coast Guard put shipping restrictions in place. It was three weeks before we were allowed to transport again which threw a wrench in the schedule. But as soon as the weather broke, we were moving and have been attacking the schedule aggressively ever since.”
With construction of the base completed, the structure’s tower legs were erected, followed by installation of other ride components such as the axle, spokes, ring beams and lights. That pre-determined construction sequence — and being located at the end of a 600-foot pier — essentially dictated the manner in which the balance of the project could proceed. While the actual height of the tower legs and components to be assembled there could, in a normal setting, be reached using one of Cianbro’s existing standard-sized booms, access was another matter entirely, says Dreher.
“If we were putting this up on land under normal circumstances, we’d have no issues accessing the axle and spoke connections with a standard 85 foot boom lift,” Dreher says. “But, because we are on a pier and had to first install the base steel structure, we were left with only two spots from which a boom could operate in order to have access to both sides of the wheel. And on one of those sides we are set back more than 85 feet and need to reach 90 feet into the air over the top and in between the tower legs — far more than a conventional piece of equipment could achieve.”
Bring on “The Monster Lift”
Cianbro’s timing could not have been better as Genie was just debuting its SX-180 boom lift, which it bills as the highest reaching self-propelled boom in its product lineup. Because of the then-limited availability of the tool, Cianbro contacted US Markets, Inc., an Elmhurst, Ill.-based equipment provider who is working closely with Genie to introduce the SX-180 into the marketplace. According to Chad Cochrane, US Markets’ general manager, they were able to deliver an SX-180 within Cianbro’s tight time frame.
“This was definitely a case of things lining up nicely for everyone,” he says. “We’d just taken delivery of one of the first SX-180s off Genie’s production line. Working closely with Genie’s field service team, we were able to satisfy Cianbro’s tight schedule, and ultimately be a part of this historic project.”
The Genie SX-180 was quickly loaded and delivered to the National Harbor site. Cianbro’s Dreher says its impact on the job was felt immediately.
“The Genie boom, which we call ‘The Monster Lift,’ has nicely filled that gap between what our 135-foot lift can and can’t reach,” Dreher says. “It was instrumental in the assembly of the tower legs themselves, but one of the most crucial areas of the construction involves setting the wheel’s ‘spokes’ into the hub or axle. The SX-180 boom lift allows us to get up and over the tower legs and then reach in to the axle area to do each connection.”
That process is aided considerably through use of the unit’s 10 foot rotating jib. Dreher says the jib and work platform are ideally sized for their needs and the articulation feature has been invaluable for maneuvering into position.
“It’s a level of accuracy and efficiency we never could have gotten with a man basket and, again, a fixed boom lift is by far the safest way to do a job like this. According to our operators, the hydraulics are extremely smooth and synchronized, making work — even at that height — a breeze. My superintendent described us as having the Cadillac of lifts, and I’m inclined to agree with him. It is an impressive machine.”
Mostly to deal with weather-related delays, the schedule to erect the Capital Wheel has been very aggressive as the Cianbro team meets every challenge and every milestone on the project. Dreher says their team work and planning coupled with the performance of equipment like the Genie SX-180 boom lift, has helped get them back — and keep them — on track.
“As a company we tend to go after the complex and challenging projects; the ones that most other companies avoid,” Dreher says. “So we knew we were the firm best-suited to tackle such a unique, high-profile job. To do that, we put together an impressive fleet of specialty equipment, but even we occasionally have to look elsewhere for help. Having the SX-180 lift wasn’t just a benefit; in my opinion, it was a real game changer.”
Despite all the unique work Cianbro has done over the years, Dreher says there is something very special about the Capital Wheel project, given its location and the national prominence it is sure to acquire.
“It is definitely great for Cianbro to be a part of this team,” Dreher says. “All of us, from management to the craftsmen, are proud to have been a part of this unique project; it’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A lot of our people are from the Baltimore/D.C. area and will probably bring their families here at some point. How cool will it be to say you played a role in building the Capital Wheel? Very cool, I’d say.”