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Creative collaboration saves Indianapolis International Airport time and money on canopy project


Creative collaboration saves Indianapolis International Airport time and money on canopy project

The Indianapolis International Airport’s new terminal and attached parking garage were designed to blend aesthetics and functionality with the garage featuring a fabric canopy built over a center atrium to protect the interior and enhance the visitor experience. The design of the canopy; however, was no match for the forces of central Indiana’s winter weather. On two separate occasions, the massive canopy – or portions of it – collapsed under the weight of a buildup of snow and ice. Airport officials determined the safest solution was to remove and replace the canopy completely, reinforcing the replacement with additional steel trusses. This project had to be completed without significantly impacting access to all five levels of the parking garage for passengers and rental car operations– a key concern for the airport.

F.A. Wilhelm Construction was hired by the construction management firm for the structural steel work.

In order to provide reinforced support, enormous steel trusses needed to be installed in the center of the large canopy, one in between each existing truss. The installation would not be a problem – Wilhelm has the needed experience in structural steel installs to successfully complete the work. The problem would be in getting the trusses into place for the crews to install. Working from the edge of such a large canopy – about 600 feet across – promised to be a logistical nightmare.

Wilhelm’s Superintendent on the project, Eric Coppock explained that in order to get the trusses into place, they would need a 900-ton crane that could extend up to 420 feet in the air and out 320 feet to reach the center of the canopy. Coppock said setting up a crane that large takes a lot of time. “And, you can’t just fold it up and take it down when weather comes, either,” he added.

Wilhelm’s Ironworker General Superintendent, Rob Parker said that crews were already looking at a highly restricted timeframe for the project. He explained that working in a busy airport meant crews could only work for four hours at a time, between 1-4 a.m. “Working at an airport, having a crane that high can put you right in the middle of a flight path. So, we would have had to take the crane down every morning,” said Parker.

Another proposed approach was to use a helicopter to bring the trusses in – a more expensive option featuring its own set of challenges among the other aircraft of the airport.

After weighing options and considering the difficulties with each approach, Wilhelm came up with a different idea – one that had never been tried before, but just might work.

“We wanted to put the crane on the inside,” said Parker. He said at first, this seemed impossible because all the doors and other entryways into the area were too small to bring in a crane big enough for the job. “So, we came up with a plan to disassemble the crane and bring it in in pieces,” Parker said.

“Finding a crane company that would rent me a crane knowing I was going to tear it apart was a challenge,” Parker said, adding “We had to do a lot of convincing to get them on board.” Parker said All Crane got assurances from the manufacturer of the crane that using it in such an unconventional way wouldn’t void the warranty, and the company agreed to let Wilhelm disassemble its $5 million crane.

Once crews got the crane taken apart, Wilhelm worked with Egenolf Machine to get the heavy industrial fork trucks and mobile lift needed to bring the crane into the parking garage atrium located under the canopy structure.

Between equipment and other materials needed for the job, Coppock said they made more than 200 trips into the building.  “Knowing what equipment would fit through the eight-foot door took some planning,” he said. “We worked with the fabricator to have them remove certain pieces of the arched trusses so they would go through the door. Luckily, everything fit, even if only by a quarter inch,” Coppock said. And, they didn’t have to worry about wind, either he said. “Even when our boom was maxed out, we were only about 30-40 feet as opposed to several hundred feet above original structure.”

Given the site logistics, operating the crane from outside the canopy would mean every piece of steel picked up would require blocking off one or more floors of the garage to pedestrian and car traffic – a real problem for the airport.  Coppock said working from the inside of the canopy structure, impacted only two lanes of traffic on the bottom floor, and it took less than five minutes to roll each truss into place. According to Parker, it took just three days to get the crane in.

Despite any upfront concerns, Coppock and Parker said Wilhelm’s approach worked beautifully, minimizing the inconvenience to airport staff and travelers. The approach also significantly reduced the original time estimated for the project and saved the client $850,000.

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