Campus Construction Update: Oct. 15, 2010

Steel,  Roger Williams Hall

Putting up steel and stir-frying food don’t have much in common, but there is one salient resemblance: pretty much all the slow and fussy work happens at the beginning, and the end goes fast.

With stir-frying, chopping garlic and bok choi (and going for band-aids) eats up the time. In building a steel structure, engineering the metal components, from the intricacies of design to the particulars of fabrication, requires a chunk of time for each piece of metal.

So when steelworkers toss together a four-story steel structure quicker than Campus Construction Update can tie a necktie, as happened during the past week with the addition to Roger Williams Hall, you should know that such fast work is based on much slower processes performed at steel plants far away.

Steelworker, Roger Williams Hall

For Roger Bill and Hedge halls, in fact, Precision Welding & Fabrication of Westbrook, Maine, tooled steel that was manufactured by Nucor Corp. of Charlotte, N.C. Workers from a second Maine firm, ARC Erecting, Inc., of Brewer, are hanging the metal.

“It’s generally a fast trade,” says Paul Farnsworth, project manager for the Hedge and Bill renovations. Because of precision design and engineering off site, the actual erection of a framework for Hedge or the Bill is like assembling an, um, Erector set.

For the most part, “the days of field welding and field fitting are behind us.”

Now that the steel is in place at the Bill, there’s another week of truing up and torquing — ensuring that the bolts holding it all together are tight enough. Then you will start to see silvery metal studs that will support the walls of the addition, just like the ones that workers have been installing at Hedge for a few weeks.

Hedge Hall window

What else for the Bill? The last of the trench exposing the foundation has been filled in. Also at low altitude, workers are doing excavation in the basement to make way for plumbing.

Higher up, other workers continue what they’ve been doing for a couple of weeks — attaching the new structural steel to the floor joists, then removing the wooden shoring that has propped things up in the meantime.

Speaking of shoring, Farnsworth adds, “they’re gearing up to start tearing off the Roger Williams roof, but they have to shore up” the underlying structure. And that’s happening now.

Over at Hedge, meanwhile, the staging has been set, so to speak, for masons. They will repoint needy patches of brick and fill in a few windows that won’t be needed in the new floor plan. The infill is concrete block on the inside for strength and veneer brick on the outside for looks.

A few of the nice arched windows on the Alumni Walk side have also been blocked up, since they are inside the addition and occupy what are now interior walls. And speaking of windows, the window units themselves will show up one of these days to fill in those gaping holes that we looked at all summer and fall. Workers are now mounting wood in the window openings at both buildings to attach the units to.

Hedge Hall addition

What’s most dramatic at Hedge is how clear the final contours of the building have become, with new dormers punctuating the roofline and studs filling in the walls of the addition. Farnsworth notes that sheathing — a plywood-like substance called oriented-strand board — will go onto those walls next week.

That will be followed by various colorful layers of fabricky materials that keep air, heat and water vapor where they belong. Then masons can apply veneer brick, whose purpose is cosmetic as opposed to the structural brick that’s been holding these buildings up for 100-some-odd years.

Let us end this breezy report on a dreary note: winter. Farnsworth notes that the race is on to get the Hedge roof watertight, with decking and an ice and water shield in place.

“With that, we keep the rain out of the building, and we can go to town inside. They can put the new sub-floor down and the wall studs up, and then traditional interior construction begins.”

He adds that next week “they’ll be putting the first layer of asphalt down where the walkways are. They want something to walk on, because they don’t want to keep cleaning the mud up.”

Shadows, Roger Williams Hall

Can we talk? Campus Construction Update welcomes your questions, reminiscences and comments about campus improvements. Please e-mail staff writer Doug Hubley at this, stating “Construction Update” in the subject line.

View a slide show of the continuing renovations of Hedge and Roger Williams halls by clicking the thumbnails below:

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