Complex work jump-starts Custom Truck One Source building transformation.
Few projects in our portfolio over the past quarter century have been as complicated as the expansion of Custom Truck One Source in Kansas City’s Blue Valley Industrial Corridor. That’s why we enjoyed it so much!
Custom Truck’s operation stretches across more than 100 acres in an area with a heavy industrial history dating back more than a century. Kansas City’s steel industry grew up in the Northeast part of town and defined it until rusting away in the 1990s.
After steel manufacturing ended, the future of the area remained a question mark for years. Not just any business would find opportunity in the footprints of an industry long gone or be willing to take on the redevelopment challenges that would come with the territory.
Then, Custom Truck One Source pulled up with a vision that fit the remains of the old steel era like a glove. The company took advantage of the existing Armco Steel structures and even made use of old train tracks to test work on rail trucks.
Facilities and Maintenance Manager Steve Creal says the vast amount of available space alone was appealing.
“Our work focuses on large industrial trucks, so we need lots of room. Even with all of this, we’re still growing and spreading out.”
Creal says Custom Truck’s founding family also wanted to give back to an area that means something special to them.
“The Ross family grew up near here and saw Armco Steel back in its heyday when it was running strong and employing people throughout the neighborhood. They wanted to bring jobs back and create new opportunity.”
As Custom Truck breathed new life into multiple steel mill structures, it turned to A.L. Huber to take on the 56,000-foot transformation and expansion of the site’s ‘South’ building. A.L. Huber set out to create a massive utility crane and rail truck service center with additions on three sides for supporting operations and office space.
Senior Vice President Joe Huber says A.L. Huber was chosen for the project because of its wide-ranging experience.
“We’re known for solving complicated problems involving underground complexities, flood plains and things like that. So it was a really good fit.”
Joe Huber’s own expertise and interest was also a good fit.
“I know a lot about industrial steel structures,” says Huber. “I’ve been driving by this old industrial site most of my life thinking that someone should do something to give it a new purpose. So this was a great opportunity.”
The opportunity started with the shell of an old steel mill building. Most of the original building had faded into history along with the steel era, but huge beams and a deep foundation were still solid. Huber says the core structure’s survival didn’t surprise him.
“Back in the old days, steel mill buildings were built to last a very long time and this one was no different. I’ve always been interested in structures that hold up like this.”
AOG President Allan Bush says the remains of the old steel mill building looked like an industrial dinosaur.
“There were no walls and no floor slab. The place was pretty much owned by birds and raccoons.”
“This was no ordinary industrial structure. It’s about fifty feet tall,” says Huber. “When you’re going to be lifting, moving and installing huge industrial truck components, you can easily see the potential.”
A.L. Huber partnered with AOG to investigate the ground and make recommendations for a new floor slab, new foundations for each of the building’s three additions, and support for surrounding parking pavements. AOG also conducted special inspections throughout the construction project.
AOG COO Blake Bennett describes the project as a prime example of what the name Alpha-Omega Geotech means.
“It was a full Design-Build scope from A to Z. We worked with architects and engineers on the design side of things, the ‘Alpha’, all the way through completion of all components we influenced with our field and testing services, the ‘Omega.’ Our project partners counted on us to deliver precise work and depended on our numbers to fine-tune their plans and optimize cost efficiencies without sacrificing quality.”
The “Thousand-Piece Puzzle”
The complexity of the project drew on our experience and strengths. Layers of history at the site translated into layers of industrial junk that permeated the ground surrounding the structure’s original foundation. We had to dig into these layers to set the direction for new foundations supporting three additions. Bennett says it’s the kind of challenge that excites a veteran team.
“This was a thousand-piece puzzle that had all kinds of different parts that had to be carefully coordinated to achieve the final picture.”
“AOG was an exact fit for this kind of work,” says Bush. “Our resume is long and we’re not so big that we can’t be nimble and adapt to changing delivery circumstances. This project was full of special circumstances that required close collaboration with our partners.”
The geotechnical investigation faced an unusual factor right from the start. We needed to evaluate the ground around a foundation no one knew much about. One thing we did know is that the foundation had performed well and was still up to the job.
Bennett says planning new foundations around the old one required careful analysis.
“After nearly a century, the old foundation had settled. It was finished moaning, groaning and twisting. We had to take that into consideration when matching it with new foundations to make sure they all would work together without the new ones tilting or shifting, or the old one sinking under a new load. It’s a lot to consider and you have to get it exactly right.”
“AOG’s experience with industrial sites is a big reason we joined the project,” Bush adds. “We’re the type of firm that can evaluate existing structures and make common sense recommendations for building around them.”
Drilling and sampling launched the ground investigation with the goal of delivering confidence in the ground material to designers. When you’re investigating ground that’s been a long term industrial workhorse, you watch carefully for surprises that might threaten your mission. Bush says anything is possible in 30 feet of industrial rubble.
“It was just a bunch of unknown. It was a lot of material and it was tight. We drilled into it with an eye for anything sizeable that would collapse or decompose over time like machinery, vehicles or even trees. It’s the kind of situation that might intimidate other geotechnical firms, but we’re used to thinking past challenges like this.”
Joe Huber says investigating the surrounding ground was one of the project’s defining challenges.
“The original steel mill building had underground rooms, pits, support equipment and all kinds of stuff that we had to work around. That’s what AOG was up against in their evaluation. It was quite an Easter egg hunt to see what we were getting into and to make sure everything was stable.”
Crews ultimately dug out quite a bit of junk and other surprises that narrow investigative drilling couldn’t reveal. Fortunately, they didn’t come across any show stoppers and found the ground to be sufficiently consistent.
The project moved ahead without the need for completely digging out the site and importing new fill material. Bush says that would have been a far more expensive option with serious risks.
“Making room for imported fill dirt would have required deconstructing the slope of the Blue River and potentially undermining essential support for the existing foundation.”
We were confident in sticking with existing ground material based on our experience at other industrial sites. A.L. Huber didn’t need much convincing because the general contractor has worked with us many times over the years and trusts both our knowledge of the Kansas City area and the gut instincts of our engineers.
“AOG is a team player,” says Huber. “They don’t just deliver a recommendation and walk away. They stick with it and work through everything with us to consider all the possibilities.”
“In Kansas City, local relationships are extraordinarily important,” says Bennett. “Firms want to know the people behind the work. There’s a trust there that’s hard to put into words, but it really defines the local business culture. And it’s exactly these kinds of unusual projects where that trust leads to uniquely valuable achievement.”
From Platform to Completion
Our recommended support platform was geogrid reinforced, consisting of a mound of compressed, crushed rock wrapped in strong mesh, sort of like a burrito. Bush says the platform effectively absorbs the weight of the new foundations and everything on top.
“The platform functions much like a snowshoe. It takes the weight load and distributes it across the crushed rock which extends well beyond the foundation footings.”
Our technicians then took charge of inspections as all groundwork came together and the construction project rose from the platform to the sky. We monitored everything from the placement of rock layers, concrete and rebar to the construction of steel framing including welding connections.
We followed closely as A.L. Huber built the additions, integrated siding onto the core structure and optimized an abundance of vertical space for the service of large utility and rail trucks.
“You can imagine that when you’re dealing with a load like that, all of those columns are going to start trying to pull,” says Bush. “So you have to add bracing, and stiffener to webs and beams. There was a lot to adapt to and verify.”
“Outside of some drawings, there aren’t many detailed records of an old building like this,” says Huber. “So we had to carefully evaluate everything we touched to ensure stability.”
Custom Truck One Source is now a symbol of how an old industrial site beaten down by time and littered with heavy metal history can be reinvented by an ambitious company backed by the right team of specialists.
Bush says difficult shouldn’t be confused with impossible when you’re in the hands A.L. Huber General Contractor, BSE Structural Engineers, SK Design Group, McHenry Shaffer Architects, and Alpha Omega Geotech.
“This project brought out the top guns at each firm who were comfortable with the creative thinking and collaboration needed to refine solutions. Capitalizing on our collective strength throughout the project made all the difference.”
“We’re proud of the fact that AOG’s methods and experience really delivered for the greater team,” says Bennett.
“It’s deeply rewarding,” adds Bush. “Knowing we helped renew an historic area of Kansas City makes it even better.”
*Photos courtesy A.L. Huber and Custom Truck One Source