Getting within reach

Features - Specialty Demolition

Illinois-based Alpine Demolition Services used an arsenal of technology, including a high-reach excavator, to complete a recent project.

February 28, 2022

Photos courtesy of Alpine Demolition Services

The website for Alpine Demolition Services, a company based in St. Charles, Illinois, includes an impressive catalog of summaries of some of the firm’s recent projects. Whether working on-site at an airport or detention center, Alpine has engaged in specialty demolition tactics to suit its projects.

In the second half of last year, Alpine found itself taking down two 14-story residential towers for the Rockford (Illinois) Housing Authority.

The project entailed the use of a small fleet of equipment that included a high-reach excavator, multipurpose tool carriers and a drone to provide airborne intelligence to site managers.

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The Brewington Oaks apartments in Rockford opened in 1969, according to Rockford-based WTVO-TV, to provide housing for senior citizens. The buildings originally were known as Campus Towers because of their proximity to the site of a university that subsequently relocated.

By late last decade, the occupancy rate of the buildings had fallen, and civic officials were faced with a decision to either renovate the structures or seek to redevelop the property.

According to WTVO, some members of Rockford’s City Council considered the two 14-story buildings “on the brink of infrastructure failure” by the time Council announced its intention to seek demolition bids on the apartment complex in 2018.

By that time, just slightly more than 40 percent of the units were occupied in the two buildings, and “90 of the 418 units were deemed uninhabitable,” according to WTVO.

That same year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the Rockford Housing Authority (RHA) permission to demolish the towers.

Ultimately, the RHA’s board of directors voted unanimously to undertake the demolition and subsequent redevelopment project.

The project went from notional to real in July of last year, says Karsten Pawlik, Alpine’s vice president of operations. The endeavor went well thanks to good planning and equipping the crew properly, he adds.

Start at the top

Pawlik says the company’s decision to use a Volvo high-reach 750 model excavator did not merit intensive research by the firm. He instead considers it a best practice.

“The use of the high-reach was decided because it is the most efficient and clean method to demolish these types of buildings,” Pawlik says. Alpine made a commitment to practice “top-down and controlled demolition” several years ago, he adds.

“The high-reach best allows for that type of demolition work,” Pawlik continues. “Also, there are water sprayers on the end of the stick that wet the demolition activity at the source. This is the most efficient way to control dust while performing demolition.”

Volvo Construction Equipment and its Shippensburg, Pennsylvania-based U.S. office have long been advocates of and suppliers to the high-reach demolition sector.

In a 2020 Construction & Demolition Recycling article, then-Volvo Sales Director Walter Reeves said the right high-reach excavator “allow[s] one’s company to compete for the demolition jobs it wants to go after and offers versatility on the variety of jobs capable of being tackled.”

Before the specially equipped Volvo could set about its work, penthouses on the top floors were slightly out of reach even of the 750’s long arm. Some Brokk tool carriers with interchangeable demolition and dismantling tools were then brought to the uppermost floors.

Alpine deployed a Brokk 100 and a Brokk 200 model, Pawlik says. The remote-controlled robotic machines from Sweden-based Brokk “allowed for controlled demolition, minimizing dust,” he says, again pointing to Alpine’s commitment to workplace health and safety.

The high-reach Volvo 750 went about its work each day outfitted with one of two different attachments, Pawlik says: either a Stanley LaBounty mobile demolition processor (MDP) 20 or a LaBounty universal processor (UPX) 20.

On the ground and in the air

Although the Volvo 750 and the Brokk machines meant much of the action in Rockford took place high up, there still was plenty to do on the ground, Pawlik says.

Larger pieces of steel rebar-reinforce concrete rubble required additional processing, and for that Alpine brought additional firepower in the form of another Volvo excavator—this one outfitted with a LaBounty UPX950 universal processor.

“The UPX950 was put on as a second member to a Volvo 480,” Pawlik says. When circumstances allowed, he adds, “Alpine was the first company to utilize the UPX950 on the Volvo 750.”

Whichever machine it was attached to, the UPX950 has been designed with a choice of three jaw sets designed to allow a contractor to “do more tasks using less equipment,” according to Two Harbors, Minnesota-based Stanley LaBounty.

The UPX shear jaw cuts steel rebar and structural steel like I-beams, H-beams and pipes; the concrete cracking jaw (CC) is designed to break “large, oversized concrete,” such as abutments and columns; and the concrete pulverizer (CP) jaw can downsize and crush concrete while separating rebar from the structure.

With a high-dollar scrap iron market in the second half of 2021, Alpine made sure to maximize its harvesting of that material, Pawlik says. The company used a lifting magnet from Lockport, New York-based Moley Magnetics to “pick out mostly rebar from the concrete that had been processed to load out,” he comments.

Whether working up high or down on the ground, Alpine and its workforce also benefitted from the services of a drone.

“The drone was used to survey each building as it was being demolished to make sure no unexpected structural failures were developing,” Pawlik says of the critical safety role played by the airborne device.

An added benefit, he notes, was its ability to catalog the project as it unfolded. Equipment to shoot video clips and to take photos—including some of the ones accompanying this article—could be added to the drone.

Pawlik says demolition work at the Brewington Oaks site “was completed in January, and the site will be restored to green space in the spring once winter conditions subside.” The redevelopment future of the land parcel is not yet determined, but thanks to an efficient specialty demolition operation, the first stage in the process has been completed.

The author is senior editor with Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.