USACE tackles demolition work for Europe transformation

Published June 27, 2014
WIESBADEN, Germany – Turns out, building and renovation aren’t the only things going on at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District.

The military agency responsible for design and construction of major facilities for U.S. forces across Europe and Africa also is engaged in an active controlled-demolition program. Set up under a Multiple Award Task Order Contract with partner firms, the venture is aimed at removing outdated infrastructure and abandoned facilities or overhauling specific areas for other purposes, as warranted by mission changes.

A significant amount of the district’s demolition work is taking place in Sembach, where USACE is managing about $3.4 million in volume as part of that garrison’s revamping, said Kevin Peel, a project manager for the Installation Support Branch’s Project Design Section. It involves knocking down 19 buildings, mostly old housing units the Air Force put up in the 1950s.

“Demolition – or deconstruction, as it can also be called – of structures goes hand in hand with much of what USACE does,” he said. “We do it by either removing a problem structure, or portion of an existing one, or demolition of a replaced structure. Often, we’ll build a replacement before we knock down what was replaced. Or, we’re clearing areas for future use or returning them to nature. We recently took down some old range facilities here in Wiesbaden, and it was turned back into a natural area.”

Peel said that effort was tied to the Wiesbaden demolition project, a MATOC awarded in September 2011 and wrapped up earlier this year, which covered the dismantling of more than 20 buildings and structures on four different installations in two German states.

In early February, a former university tower in Frankfurt was imploded during the largest controlled explosion ever conducted in Europe, news outlets reported. The 380-foot tower, built in 1972, crumbled in a matter of seconds, thanks to almost 2,100 pounds of carefully placed explosives. An estimated 30,000 people witnessed the event.

AWR Abbruch GmbH, a German company doing business with Europe District, carried out the operation.

“Demolition is much more hazardous than construction because it requires removal of supporting structure to destabilize it in order to take it down,” Peel said. “Demolition contractors and employees take safety very seriously … because of the significant increase in danger. There are also usually hazardous materials like lead and asbestos that must be dealt with during this process as structures being demolished are ones built when these materials were standard.

“Also, the machines used to deconstruct usually do so with crushing, ripping, tearing and smashing-type actions, which can create large amounts of dust and debris. If the project is being done in an occupied area … or near roads, the contractors must address how they will control or reduce risk to the public and surrounding areas and facilities.”

The scale of Europe District’s work doesn’t quite match the Frankfurt spectacle. However, officials say USACE’s efforts are vital to Installation Management Command-Europe’s base-consolidation efforts, regional transformation strategy and facility reduction program with a smaller U.S. troop presence taking shape here.

“The Corps of Engineers has been instrumental in making this happen,” said Bill Holz, who heads the Directorate of Public Works at U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz. “We’ve gotten an excellent service at an excellent price for such a large undertaking.”

Peel said he’s handled demolition work for the Army in Wiesbaden, Sembach, Grafenwoehr and Baumholder, as well as Vicenza in Italy. Most buildings targeted for elimination on the master list are in Germany.

The contract mainly applies to the full or partial demolishing of structures and facilities, he added. But it can be used for any type of removal a project would require. Recently, Peel leaned on the MATOC to clear old playground equipment and pathways off a site.

“I’ve had small buildings down in a couple of days and cleared within a week,” he said. “It can be as simple as a small crew with minor equipment to take down a shed or some of the largest demolition machines made to take down structures like hardened aircraft shelters. We took down two on the north side of Clay Kaserne.

“I cannot think of any facility under IMCOM control that would ever require or warrant using explosives, but that is an option if it does come up. It’s very cool to watch in person, too.”

Europe District remains instrumental in the restoration and modernization of Sembach Kaserne, shifted from Air Force to Army control in 2010. The agency is supervising numerous construction projects.

The garrison’s demolition contract, meanwhile, was awarded at the end of last September – it’s expected to run through next May before everything is down and completed, said Karen Junker, a project engineer for the district’s Kaiserslautern Resident Office. The work generally consists of complete leveling or removal and disposal of multiple barracks, including all utilities.

She said the procedure can be delicate and isn’t without challenges.

“These buildings are abandoned and not that close to other occupied facilities,” Junker said. “However, the road through the area is used to access the base schools, so they must remain clear and the buildings must be fenced off to ensure the safety of the community. Some typical considerations are the removal of hazardous material. Materials like asbestos, artificial mineral fiber and the tar containing bituminous roof sheeting must be removed before the demolition of the building.”

As for the leftovers deemed safe – crushed concrete, steel, aluminum, wood, glass, copper and other items – they’re not simply discarded, Peel said.

“Most might think a lot of material is hauled to a waste dump, but these types of contractors are very skilled recyclers and make every effort to put as much of any demolition material they can back into the system for reuse,” he said.

Peel said the number of demolition projects Europe District gets each year depends on the budgets and priorities of IMCOM-Europe and the facility reduction program, which is managed out of the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“There is a great need for this to support the FRP and reduce the number of buildings on our installations that are no longer needed and no longer usable for one reason or another,” he added. “Some structures are dilapidated, unsafe or beyond repair, and it costs less to build a new one. Or they’re a type of facility built in the 1950s or earlier during the Cold War for a specific use we no longer have the need for.

“It’s a tool in our toolbox and a better way to do strictly demolition projects, rather than via a typical construction MATOC. Demolition is considered a service and not construction, which is another reason we prefer having a standalone contract for this type of work.”