Challenging sites, schedules and technology typical in industrial projects

At the Port of Baltimore’s Dundalk Terminal, Plano-Coudon Project Manager Travis Bartlett is pleased to be “out of the mud and working on a building.”

Bartlett and Superintendent Ryan Morton are managing the construction of a 21,240 SF prefabricated metal building for the Maryland Port Administration.

Before construction could begin, Bartlett and his team had to demolish an existing 15,850 SF warehouse. The 75-year-old metal, timber and concrete block building contained asbestos, which had to be remediated by a hazmat team. Additionally, one wall of the building stood just a few feet from the terminal’s security wall and had to be demolished by hand. But demolition proceeded at a good pace.

The project got complicated once crews began working in the ground beneath the former warehouse.

“The biggest challenge here is when they built the port, they used a lot of backfill that had chromium in it. These days, chromium is considered a hazardous material,” Bartlett said.

Testing showed that one-third of the site was contaminated, prompting Plano-Coudon to bring in a second hazmat team to perform remedial excavation. The site’s high water table delivered an additional complication. Water flowed into areas excavated for utility lines, requiring crews to pump water out to a holding tank.

Work got easier once construction of the actual building began. Following meticulous planning, crews used a crane outfitted with a diesel hammer to drive 89 helical piles 81 feet into the ground to support the foundation for the new warehouse.

“The structural foundation is very beefy,” Bartlett said, but added that sturdy design is prudent in an area where some older buildings have subsided.

Crews have since made swift progress completing the new building’s foundation, erecting its steel frame, and beginning to install insulation, metal panels and a concrete wall. When completed, Building 91C will include offices, some conditioned storage space and a large, open warehouse with a clear span ranging from 20 to 26 feet.

Warehouses, distribution centers and other industrial buildings may look basic, but their construction often involves challenges with the site, schedule or mechanical systems, said Mike Kovacs, Project Executive at Plano-Coudon.

“Industrial clients have a different set of priorities. They are most concerned with how fast can you deliver this building so they can start storing or producing their product,” Kovacs said. “If you look at a 500,000-SF industrial building, the expectation is completion within a year or less. The same sized retail building could take several years.”

Modern distribution centers often involve automated racking systems and other advanced technologies. Meanwhile, food-handling facilities can require extraordinary systems, such as high-volume water handling infrastructure for fresh produce distributors or specialized building envelopes and mechanical systems in cold-storage facilities. 

“An ice cream storage facility, for example, needs to be minus 20 degrees,” Kovacs said. “That requires refrigeration systems and a facility that is air tight. If any warmer, outside air got in, it would start snowing inside.”

Plano-Coudon has completed assorted industrial projects in the past, including a 215,000-SF warehouse with 42-foot ceilings and no interior columns, a 60,000-SF produce-processing facility, and an automobile import facility outfitted with a high-speed car wash. And the company expects to tackle more projects in the market sector.

A recent study, Kovacs said, listed Baltimore among the four most sought-after locations in the country for new distribution centers. “Our proximity to I-95, a major port and other major cities makes Baltimore a prime area for this kind of construction.”