The Sundt Experience: February 2017
Top-Secret Project Helped End World War II
Sundt’s construction of a “secret city” in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 1940s started with a handshake and eventually helped end a global conflict.
Almost 75 years ago, we embarked on support work for the Manhattan Project, which developed science that ultimately brought a conclusion to World War II. The top-secret project started with no formal contract and, for just about everyone working on site, no idea what the work was about. It was more than two years later that we learned atomic weapons were developed on the site.
The U.S. government contacted our company on Dec. 1, 1942 looking for a contractor that could construct a community in a remote area of northern New Mexico, about 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe. The project, located on the Los Alamos School for Boys site, was so confidential that it was labeled “Job 444” in our company records.
We were given a year to build the lab technical area, test site, 332 apartments, 12 civilian dormitories, 12 military barracks, an administration building, warehouses, service and mess facilities, medical and veterinary hospitals and schools.
Government officials wanted 20 percent of housing ready for occupancy by the end of January 1943 and technical buildings done by the beginning of February. Working at an unimaginable pace, we had 96 percent of the project complete by April 1943.
Access to the site required construction of a primitive road that wouldn’t attract curiosity from locals and travelers. The road took its toll on trucks making deliveries and was only improved when government authorities anticipated 40- to 60-ton loads traveling on it as the project progressed.
Our work was complete in 1943, including security fencing, guard towers and gates at what was formerly the Los Alamos Ranch School. The facility and surrounding land were purchased by the U.S. government in November 1942. The school awarded its final diplomas in January 1943, and the Army took control of the property the following month.
We were invited back to Los Alamos in 2000 to build, among other things, a fast-track emergency flood control project to protect the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The work resulted in a Build America Award for our company. The honor is given by the Associated General Contractors of America to the members who build the nation’s most impressive construction projects.
He Makes Virtual Design a Reality
Eric Cylwik is the virtual construction engineer for Sundt’s transportation projects. Before focusing exclusively on transportation, Eric worked on adapting Building Information Modeling (BIM) from the office to the field for Sundt’s general contracting and concrete projects. He creates Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) models that highlight technology’s capability to enhance the way work is performed in the field for horizontal construction.
He has used parametric modeling to create construction-quality bridge, road and trench models that are part of survey surfaces, machine control, quantity take-offs, utility coordination, constructability reviews and visualizations. During his time at Sundt, Eric has helped the company procure more than $1 billion in alternative delivery method projects.
Eric graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in design studies with an emphasis in digital visualization. He is a certified professional in several vertical and horizontal BIM and VDC software packages.
How does Building Information Modeling help Sundt better serve its clients?
BIM helps Sundt support proper planning and coordination. As project complexity has increased, pen, paper and even 2D computer-aided design don’t allow a contractor to identify all risks and constructability issues on a project. Serving our clients means delivering a project that meets the identified needs and making the process painless. BIM enables Sundt and our subcontractors to do just that.
What’s a good recent example of BIM working to a client’s advantage?
On the San Pedro Creek project in San Antonio, Sundt was able to create a 3D model of the design with only 70 percent of construction documents. This meant prices were accurate and the team understood a complex, several-mile-long linear park with more than 100 block and concrete walls. Without being able to understand the final dimensions and locations of the design in 3D, Sundt would have been unable to provide a detailed breakdown of what material needed to be excavated in order to build the project. As a result, Sundt and the project’s owner were able to have a conversation to discuss scope and design implications while there was time for the design team to respond, optimizing the owner’s value, reducing risk and ensuring an accurate schedule.
How much training does it take to become well-versed in BIM’s many applications?
Becoming an expert in BIM software can take months. Most of the learning curve comes from details about construction that most project engineers don’t dive into. If one doesn’t have a solid understanding of something and how it looks in 3D it is impossible to create a 3D model. Sundt’s sweet spots are complex projects, so a virtual construction engineer at Sundt usually masters three or more software packages to properly model and support a project.
Where does Sundt stand in the industry in its use of modeling software?
Sundt began using BIM software in early 2007 and hasn’t looked back. This lead time compared to most in the industry has allowed Sundt to share technology innovation among the building, industrial and transportation groups. As a result, the combined lessons learned and seasoned experience with technology enables Sundt to stay on the cutting edge while having a firm grasp on what brings value to clients and mitigates our risk.
What’s coming next in the evolution of virtual construction?
Right now the portion of the project team that sits in an office or trailer has easy access to a BIM through a computer, but the crews in the field that actually do the installation, move dirt and build buildings do not have easy access. As technology becomes more mobile Sundt looks forward to equipping everyone on the project with pertinent information on design, construction and safety.
Case Study: US 175 Expansion
The design-bid-build transportation project in East Texas involves widening an existing 4.5 miles of two-lane undivided highway to a four-lane divided roadway. The work includes a 1.5 million cubic yard embankment, subbase, base and asphalt paving, four bridges and drainage improvements.
Mixing water and sand makes mud, something the project team knew all too well when 70 inches of rain fell in nine months on the site. The area usually receives a still-soggy 43 inches a year but a recent drought cut that total until the weather turned and rain started coming down in buckets.
“With the project being about 4.5 miles of extensive dirt work and drainage improvements, this caused a lot of down time, and we spent a lot of time and money either preparing for or recovering from significant rain events,” said Project Manager Chris Leintz.
With the impacts caused by the excessive rain, our team realized it needed to take advantage of drier weather in the early fall to move the majority of the dirt. We decided to double-shift our mass dirt operations in order to get back on schedule.
The solution came with a few challenges. Our company and the Texas Department of Transportation had significant concerns about the safety of our employee-owners and the travelling public with more night work. There were also considerations about upsetting the local community with noise and light.
To overcome those issues, the team developed a plan to run back-to-back shifts from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., only working adjacent to homes during the day. A shift normally runs from around 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. depending on the time of year.
We are anticipating finishing the first phase, the majority of the project, in the spring. Final completion is scheduled for September, which would be 10 months ahead of schedule.
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