Beating the Buzzer on a Tight Deadline

Published: 22/10, 2018

Georgia contractor dunks Philips Arena project deadline with demolition machines

Just as basketball players often need to score big before the buzzer to succeed, the contractors completing the NBA’s second-largest renovation ever need to work fast to make sure the athletes have a court on which to compete.

The Atlanta Hawks announced a US$192.5 million re-imagination of the Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta in June, 2017. The three-phase project involves rebuilding the interior of the building from the roofline to the baseline, as well as making major changes to the arena configuration. The result will be new amenities on every level of the arena, a tremendous amount of open, connected space, new video boards, improved sightlines and the first bar ever on an NBA playing floor. 

The first phase was chiefly demolition focused, requiring, among other things, removing a six-level wall of suites on the arena’s west side to make room for many of the improvements. Not only did the phase involve demolishing almost 3,000 tons of concrete, it needed to be done in just 12 weeks to be ready for the new basketball season and upcoming concerts. What’s more, all contractors would start working on the arena at the same time with no slack time built in.

The traditional method of wire cutting chunks of concrete from the wall of suites and craning them out would take a long time and involve too much use of the general contractor’s crane, which would be needed for many parts of the project. Atlanta -based demolition contractor SSD Demolition and Environmental proposed using innovative remote-controlled demolition machines to deconstruct each level, starting from the top and working their way down. The method would improve productivity over handheld tools, as well as keep workers safe from flying concrete and fall risks. 

Two Brokk 160 remote-controlled demolition machines were vital to SSD’s plan. When the first phase of construction began in June 2017, SSD crews moved quickly, starting demolition of soft ceilings, offices, ribbon boards, retractable seating, pre-cast seating, and vomitory walls. Crews also installed scaffolding as well as deflection shields and chutes for rubble containment and removal. 

Demolishing the concrete suites by deadline required a strict six-day-a-week schedule with a 42-person crew rotating through two 10-hour shifts. Starting at the top level, the contractor placed one Brokk160 at the north end of the stadium, the other at the south end. Two operators manned each machine — one using the remote control and one as a spotter. From there, operators worked their way toward the middle of the suites, demolishing concrete, pillars, and utilities as well as seating, handrails, drywall, floor, and wall coverings and other items.

SSD used an Atlas Copco SB 202 hydraulic breaker attachment, and the unique Brokk three-part arm design allowed them to take advantage of extended reach capabilities and precise demolition. Operators switched to a steel-cutting attachment to cut through rebar, which reinforced much of the concrete. 

At night, the second crew cleaned rubble from the level below the day’s demolition areas. Workers loaded debris into hoppers by hand and with mini excavators and skid steers. A deflection field composed of plywood and scaffolding on the levels’ edges provided both fall protection and a way to contain rubble. Workers also used debris chutes and a service elevator to remove material.

Each level took about a week to complete. The crews removed 300-410 yd3 (229-313m3) of concrete from each. When the two Brokk machines met in the middle, the general contractor’s 350t crane on the arena floor moved the B160s down to the next level to begin the process again. 

SSD used the Brokk machines for about four weeks to completely remove suites walls. Beyond the suites, SSD completed additional architectural and structural demolition of major arena components. This included removing concrete slabs and foundations as well as modifying raker beams and stairs. 

SSD wrapped up its portion of the project in September after 74 days of work, three days ahead of schedule. In total, the contractor recycled 2,760 tons of concrete from nine arena levels.

Overall, phase one construction wrapped up in late October — just in time for an Eagles concert and for basketball season to begin. Work on phase two began in November 2017. Phases two and three involve additional architectural work and the bulk of the construction of the new amenities, additions and layout. The project is scheduled for completion during the 2018-19 basketball season, coinciding with the Hawks’ 50th anniversary in Atlanta.

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