Down & distance

How Cleveland-based Independence Excavating worked to mobilize equipment and staff across the country to take down Colorado State University’s football stadium.

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Big structures bring big recycling opportunities for demolition contractors. Such was the case when Cleveland-based Independence Excavating won the $3.3 million bid in early March to demolish Colorado State University’s (CSU’s) Hughes Stadium.

The 32,500-seat stadium served as the home of the CSU football team from 1968 until 2016, but after nearly a half-century of use, the school’s board of governors opted to build a brand-new stadium rather than sink an estimated $35 million to $50 million into the project for minimal repair work. The board approved the demo project for $4 million to $6 million, and more than $500,000 was spent on asbestos abatement prior to Independence breaking ground on the project.

Long way from home

Sam DiGeronimo and his son Don started Independence Excavating in 1956 with a backhoe, bulldozer, truck and only a few employees. The company quickly grew to become a local leader in the residential and small commercial excavation field. Following Don's death in 1971, the company was taken over by his brothers Victor, Richard, Robert and Anthony. As the company grew, Independence Excavating expanded to offices in Pittsburgh, Denver and Washington D.C. and is now in its third generation of leadership.

Today, the company employs a staff of more than 600 during peak season and features a heavy equipment catalog of more than 300 pieces used to perform a range of jobs, including excavation, site development, soil stabilization, sheeting, shoring, erosion protection, drainage and sewer construction, heavy highway and industrial services, concrete recycling and crushing, fabricating, demolition and environmental services.

Donnie DiGeronimo, vice president of demolition at Independence Excavating, says the Hughes Stadium demolition job was a perfect fit for the company.

“We specialize in high-profile, schedule-intense, very complex projects that require experienced design and planning capabilities, engineered demolition methods and intense collaborations among accompanying demolition professionals, so this job was right up our alley,” DiGeronimo says.

While every demolition job the company tackles has challenges, according to DiGeronimo, the Hughes Stadium demolition was unique for several reasons. The first was a matter of geography, as the company had to deploy equipment and personnel from its Cleveland office to the site location in Fort Collins, Colorado. The second was one of recycling, as the project came with strict mandates to divert at least 70 percent of the stadium’s materials from landfill.

“Front-end planning was extremely necessary on this job, as we were bringing some of our equipment and staff from our headquarters in Cleveland,” DiGeronimo says. “With forward planning and coordination with our Dispatch Manager, Mike DiGeronimo, we were able complete this task seamlessly.”

As the job was awarded in early March, DiGeronimo says that a lot of preparations had to be made quickly for the company to begin dismantling the smaller structures within the stadium and staging equipment for the large-scale demolition to commence within four weeks.

“Once we were awarded the contract, we set about planning the job,” DiGeronimo says. “We put together our project management team, the field supervision team and our safety team. Then, our general superintendent and our field superintendent started to put field demolition plans together, and our safety team put together our engineering site safety plan.”

Once these plans were in place, Independence went about facing the logistical challenges of transporting its equipment across the country. For this, the company’s equipment shop and fleet dispatch team collaborated to get the needed equipment ready to ship from the Cleveland office to the job site in Colorado.

In all, the company employed a range of excavators, skid steers, dozers and attachments to take down the stadium, including:

  • 385 Caterpillar high-reach excavator
  • 850 John Deere excavator
  • Two 350 John Deere excavators
  • 320 Caterpillar excavator
  • Three Bobcat skid steers with grapple buckets
  • D10 Caterpillar dozer
  • Two Dust Boss dust suppression machines
  • D6 Caterpillar dozer
  • 14 F Caterpillar grader
  • 627 Caterpillar scrapers
  • CP 86” Caterpillar roller
  • Two 740 Caterpillar road trucks
  • La Bounty LXP 500 multi-processor
  • La Bounty R2500 shear
  • Rammer Allied Hammer (5,000 lbs)
  • Gradall telehandler (6,500 lbs)

With its range of equipment on site, DiGeronimo says the company decided to take down the stadium via high-reach excavator rather than implosion because it made the process less costly and complicated. Additionally, since the stadium had been built into the ground rather than constructed from the ground up, there was less of an incentive to use explosives for the teardown since the debris was easier to manage.

“We felt the use of a high-reach machine was more practical and did not require a special permit,” he says. “We also looked at the cost, and the cost of implosion was greater than us using a high-reach machine and a concrete processing attachment to bring down the upper portion of the stadium.”

Although the company was able to transport multi-ton equipment across the country, assembling a workforce was just as complicated, according to DiGeronimo. He says the Hughes Stadium demolition contract required the company to employ the majority of its contractors from Colorado.

“We had to put a workforce together, and this job required at least 80 percent of staff to be Colorado residents. So, we got in touch with the local Labors Union 720 in Denver to help us find a qualified labor force. We also hired a local equipment operator from the Denver metro area. However, we did supplement the local labor with our highly trained and specialized operators from our Cleveland office for our high-reach equipment and some other specialized pieces,” DiGeronimo says.

With the equipment and the demolition personnel in place, the company reached out to local subcontractors to assist in the on-site work, as well as state and local agencies to get the required permits and notifications. Independence Excavating then went to work cutting all the power, water and gas to the stadium. The company also hosted a pre-demolition conference with CSU and the local police and fire departments to discuss any emergencies that might arise on the project.

Once these formalities were completed and the abatement work was taken care of by a CSU-commissioned company, Independence Excavating went to work strategically demoing the stadium.

The job at hand

With the initial preparations taken care of, Independence Excavation began large-scale demolition work in early April. The company began with tearing out the stadium’s stands, press boxes and club seating.

With diversion at the forefront, everything that could be recycled was recycled.

Prior to demolition, one of the large video scoreboards in the stadium’s end zone was removed and donated to nearby CSU-Pueblo, which installed it at its football stadium.

Lighting structures from the stadium and surrounding parking lot were also removed by the university for use in future projects. Additionally, the university took the stadium’s electric control boxes, switches and other electrical items to be used throughout campus.

Independence helped remove many of the fixtures and doors from the luxury and press boxes to be sent to local charities. The metal bleachers throughout the stadium were salvaged for resale, and the plastic chairback seats were melted into new plastics.

Independence Excavation was also able to salvage the FieldTurf playing surface in the stadium. During deconstruction, the turf was rolled up and sold to a company in Pueblo, Colorado, that cut it into pieces to be used to patch other playing surfaces throughout the country.

Once the cosmetic demolition was completed, Independence Excavating moved on to concrete crushing operations in May. The company utilized the help of Fort Collins, Colorado-based Connell Resources to help crush the concrete and remove the rebar on-site. In all, 40,000 tons of concrete were crushed and recycled to be used in road and building projects throughout Larimer County, Colorado. Additionally, the asphalt from the stadium’s parking lots was ground up to be used as a base layer in other projects.

To process the 1,500 tons of metal taken from the facility, DiGeronimo says the company used local scrap metal recycler Rocky Mountain Recycling of Commerce City, Colorado. The recycled metal included steel from the press box, rebar extruded from the concrete and the aluminum seating. Rocky Mountain Recycling also helped recycle the plastic seating from the upper levels of the stadium.

Houston-based Waste Management’s North Weld Landfill Management Facility assisted in the remaining construction and demolition (C&D) recycling associated with the project.

Cleaning up

Independence completed demolition in early September—well ahead of CSU’s March 2019 target date. The remaining site cleanup, demobilization and grass seeding was completed by mid-October. When all the material was accounted for, the company was able to achieve 95 percent diversion by weight.

According to DiGeronimo, although the project had its share of challenges, the Independence team was able to meet and exceed all of its targets.

“We consider the job a great success,” DiGeronimo says. “CSU had a large community involvement with the demolition of Hughes Stadium, so we had to be very respectful of the local community that was in the area and the CSU alumni, but we had great interaction with the school, all the local subcontractors and local labor unions. Plus, our safety record on this job was fantastic, and we met and exceeded all the recycling expectations that were laid out in the spec documents for this job. This was also great success for Independence in that it was the largest demolition project in the Front Ranges [portion of central Colorado] in the last few years.”

DiGeronimo credits his team’s ability to come together in a short amount of time to plan the Hughes Stadium demolition as a major factor in the job’s success.

“We planned our work and we worked our plan to perfection, allowing us not only to meet the scheduling requirements, but to beat them by a significant amount of time,” DiGeronimo says.

The author is the editor for Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be contacted at

November December 2018
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