Steel Installation: Anticipating Progress

Steel beam installation

A massive steel I-beam gets installed in our historic building to provide the support needed for the vegetative roof.

Nothing is more exhilarating than stepping into the unknown, marching forward with something you have never done before.

On January 4th, 2011, we did just that!

Sure, Silent Rivers, as our Green & Main design + build contractor, has placed a few steel beams over the last eighteen years, but piloting a 35’ steel I-beam through an opening the size of a single concrete block (8”x16”) adds a little twist to the dance. Guiding an inflexible needle between two wooden joists with a fork lift and then pushing 900 pounds of steel beam until its nose nudges against the historic steel header on the front façade of the building provided plenty of adrenaline. Of course, it needed repeating three more times before all beams were installed, but the fluidity of the teamwork and ingenuity was inspiring.

The thrill of setting the steel restored my confidence and ignited my enthusiasm; it represents the first step of many that our design + build contractor will take towards reclaiming the vibrancy of this depression era grocery, replacing the barren emptiness of the building’s shell with a new voice – one that is creative, honoring potential and celebrating the future.

The much anticipated arrival of the steel beams were right on time, as was Jensen Construction, a local bridge building company that offered to help with installation, sharing their expertise and attentive work ethic. Together with Jason, the team lead on the project, they collectively spent the prior week diligently preparing to insert the steel structure.

Several trips were made to the building to measure and calculate how to facilitate pressing the steel into place, ensuring that shims were sized to help distribute roof loads properly and the steel gusset met engineering specifications. Preparations generated a customized roller assembly, built with spare parts, which anchored to existing beams to keep the steel from binding as it glided ¼” below the original shiplap subfloor on its way across the building. Combined with poly-resin skid plates that straddled the concrete block opening in the rear wall, staff had essentially anticipated all friction points in preparing for a smooth delivery and responsive project.

Once initiated, the installation was nearly flawless and the camaraderie and collaborative effort among Jensen employees set the tone for a great beginning.

Of course, what’s a construction project without a dose of daily drama! Nobody prepared for the impact of early morning frigid temperatures on equipment; the fork lift failed to start as planned, which initiated an hour of tense problem solving. The motor eventually turned-over and maintained combustion, but the hydraulic fluid lacked the warmth to allow mobility. The equipment operator spent an additional thirty minutes slowly extending and contracting the lift to improve the viscosity of the fluid, eventually releasing the drive mechanisms to allow movement and the brisk unloading of the steel from the flatbed. With such a patient introduction, it was time for action and everyone stepped in sync for the remainder of the day.

Much beauty in construction hides just beneath the surface! The steel beams forecast the installation of a vegetated roof on this historic building, while providing means to transfer additional bearing load without impact to its defining character.

Right now – it’s simply amazing to walk beneath in anticipation.


– Chaden Halfhill is an entrepreneur and visionary of the Green & Main Initiative. He thrives on creative chaos and Mountain Dew.


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