One data center project required T-columns to be constructed to hold a pipe trestle. The piping was used to carry cooling water from a central plant to three buildings. Most of the T-columns were off, however – the civil engineering contractor built them a little too low or a little too high. To avoid the long delay of rebuilding them, we came up with a workaround solution.
That’s what we discovered the day we were 25 feet high in the open air of Oklahoma, atop a concrete T-column, the first of 75 such columns at a complex of data centers. We were installing the initial stretch of 36-inch pipe to the column’s hammerhead – pipe that ultimately would carry cooling water from a central plant to three buildings in the complex.
Only we couldn’t affix the pipe. Even though another company’s Quality Control had shown the T-support to be correct in the model, it was low by several inches. An inch or less would’ve been fine; several is a problem to solve.
As it turns out, a third of the 75 load-bearing T-columns had the wrong elevation. Some were too high, others too low. The variations ranged from six inches to nearly two feet.
If mechanical pipe were flexible, the half-mile of trestle system would’ve resembled gently rolling waves. But 36-inch pipe doesn’t offset easily, of course. It needs steady, uncompromising structural support – and we still had a data center to bring online, quick.
Now, a big problem to solve.
Batchelor & Kimball brought in a trusted engineering partner for consultation. Working with the general contractor and our Atlanta office, our onsite team came up with a solution: Create custom-fitted supports that could be affixed to the steel embedded at the top of the hammerhead.
Some of the supports would be steel W beams, others would be I-beams or tube steel. Each support would be sized to address the gap (height differential) while being strong enough to bear the load.
That would work for most of the T-columns – those that were off by 18 inches or less. The others required the concrete contractor to install new hammerheads at the correct elevation.
“It was a good solution,” says Dominic LaRocca, B&K’s site superintendent on the project, “but for it to work without affecting the project timetable, we needed a way to organize a lot of different activity at once.”
Meaning: Some of our team members would proceed with pipe installation on the T-supports that had the right elevation, while other members corrected the supports that could be fixed. At the same time, the concrete contractor would replace hammerheads on the columns that were way off.
“Coordinating all of this probably saved the client a delay of a month and a half to replace the T-columns,” says Michael Patman, project manager. “The teamwork and the communication of the parties involved made all the difference.”
So did the prefabrication approach. “All of the pipe was prefabricated in Atlanta and shipped on tractor-trailers,” LaRocca said. “The accuracy of that fabrication was key to our success.”
“Success” meant ensuring that the work was turned over on schedule, despite having to rework the installation sequences.
“Coordinating all of this probably saved the client a delay of a month and a half.”
— Michael Patman, project manager