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Here comes the steel for PNC Park

From the Ground Up

Sunday, January 23, 2000

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A day's barge ride away from its final destination, the skeleton of the Pirates ballpark can be found inside a fabricating shop longer than three football fields.

About 6,000 tons of raw steel is being transformed into columns, beams, ramps and ornamental finery at Wilhelm and Kruse Inc.'s fabricating plant in Brownsville, Fayette County.

"Every piece of the ballpark is here," said plant manager Brent Smith. "There's thousands and thousands of pieces. It's impressive when it all starts to go together."

The process of assembling the pieces begins tomorrow, when steel for the administrative offices arrives by truck at PNC Park.

The steel for the ballpark superstructure, beginning with assemblies for the rotunda behind home plate, begins arriving by barge the week of Feb. 7.


This is the latest in an occasional series tracking the construction of the $262 million ballpark, the $252 million football stadium and the $328 million makeover of the convention center.

In addition to updates in the Post-Gazette and at PG Online, update reports and images can also be found at:

The teams also have their own web sites at:


A transformation also takes place this week at the construction site for the Steelers stadium. Three giant cranes, each capable of lifting 150 tons at a time, arrive in preparation for steel delivery.

Structural steel is scheduled to arrive by truck Jan. 31 from Hirschfeld Steel Co.'s fabricating plants in Virginia and Texas. About 12,000 tons of steel will go onto the site, which from the air affords a glimpse of the footprint of the playing field and the concrete foundation that supports the stadium.

"This is when the work becomes visible to the public," said Andy Beamon, vice president of operations for Mascaro Construction Co. LP. "Steel is the framework, the skeleton, of the building. This is when you see the most progress. It's the critical phase."

Pre-cast concrete for seating sections will follow closely.

By fall, the edifices of PNC Park and the Steelers stadium will be a permanent part of the city's skyline and riverfront. Then crews can concentrate on finishing up the interiors.

Sidewalk superintendents such as John Kress, who walks by the sites weekly and keeps track of PNC Park from his office window at Koppers Industries, have been anticipating the arrival of steel.

"When the structural steel goes up, you'll have a hard time getting standing space on the Clemente Bridge," said Kress, an Upper St. Clair resident. "All of a sudden, the pace of work just accelerates, and then you're ready for the first pitch."

He has noticed an increase in the number of onlookers as the ballpark develops. Already visible is a section where field-level seats will go along the right field line.

"People just don't stop on the bridge and look, they stop and analyze," Kress said. "They'll stay for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, letting their imaginations run. That's part of the fun. Positive growth for the city of Pittsburgh is what we have to achieve. If you're not growing in today's world, you're not going to be competitive."

The Pirates will mark the steel's arrival tomorrow with a beam-signing ceremony at 2 p.m. Among those participating will be owner Kevin McClatchy, Mayor Murphy, County Executive Jim Roddey, PNC Bank President Jim Rohr, and Edward Wilhelm, president of the Rankin-based company fabricating the steel.

Converting raw steel into the skeleton of a building is a straightforward process. But because this is such a high-profile project and largely funded with public money, this next phase in construction reflects the realities of the local and global economies in the 21st century.

In an earlier incarnation, the fabricating shop along the Monongahela River in Fayette County was the Hillman Barge Co. plant.

After ownership changed hands, the facility was abandoned and gutted.

Wilhelm and Kruse, which started out as a blacksmith operation 21 years ago, took it over about 16 months ago. Now, the shop employs about 160 people, with the potential to hire about 100 more.

PNC Park is only one of its projects. Others include the Atlantic City convention center, the Ohio State football stadium and a federal prison in Hawaii.

Steel came to Brownsville from the Nucor-Yamato Steel Co. in Blytheville, Ark., in barges packed to the gunwales. It is domestic steel, as required by state law, but comes from a non-union mill because the big steelmakers don't make structural steel anymore.

Once off-loaded by crane, the beams are cut, angled, drilled, bolted, welded and coated with primer in a computer-controlled sequence.

As an example of the scale, one particularly detailed piece was being welded and assembled during a recent plant tour. It will be one of seven such pieces, each weighing 30 tons, that will form the main rotunda tower.

The shop, which is also non-union, has been working seven days a week, three shifts a day.

"We're pulling out all the stops," said John Malobicky, the structural line manager. "All the people here know they're making the ballpark, and everyone wants to make it work. There's a real sense of cooperation. There's just this idea this could be something long-term and really great."

Each piece that leaves the shop is marked and tagged for shipping in the order it is needed at the construction site. A computer keeps track to make sure all the pieces are accounted for.

Among those working on the shop floor was Dan Freiburg, 52, of Masontown, who was hired eight months ago and got a second chance at the shop, formerly known as Metal Processing of America. He previously worked for 22 years in a union job at Hillman Barge.

"We need the jobs in this area," said Freiburg. "If you want to work, you got to take what you can get. If you waited until you got a union job, you might never get one."

But when the steel is erected on site, the work will be done by Ironworkers Union Local 3, which is at full employment because of all the construction locally. The union was founded in Pittsburgh in 1896.

It was only a year ago that the first drawings were made for PNC Park's steel parts. To complete the instructions, the process involved engineers as far away as New Zealand and work that is possible only in cyberspace.

The plans that are fed into the fabricating shop computers, which tell the machines how to process a piece of steel, originated in New York City with Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers.

Those plans were forwarded to a firm called BDS in Auckland, New Zealand, which detailed every single piece of steel that will make up the ballpark.

In turn, they are e-mailed to L.D. Astorino Companies in Pittsburgh, where because of time differences, they are received in the morning when the work day is ending overseas. In essence, it becomes a 24-hour operation.

Astorino stamps the final approval on the plans, which are also checked by HOK architects in Kansas City and a second set of eyes provided by an engineering company in Cleveland.

"It's really an interconnected effort involving space-age technology and global work. We couldn't have done it without e-mail," said Craig Dunham, project manager for the Pirates.

"In the coming months, you'll really be able to see the building come together. It will start presenting itself," Dunham added. "It will change weekly, sometimes daily."

The skeleton will emerge first behind home plate and proceed down both foul lines simultaneously. When enough steel is up, more pre-cast concrete for some seating sections will follow in February.

Also, a parallel project involving a flood wall outside the outfield wall is about halfway complete. The flood wall is being built to a height one foot over the 100-year flood level.

All the work since June at the Steelers site has been done in preparation for the arrival of steel.

"It's a big milestone. We've obviously been gearing up. We're anxious to see above-ground progress," said Heidi Edwards, project manager for the Steelers.

The football stadium will require about 12,000 tons of steel, almost twice the tonnage of the ballpark, which has a main-level concourse made of concrete.

Its fabricator is Hirschfeld Steel of San Angelo, Texas, which received raw steel from Nucor-Yamato, Chaparral Steel Co. in Texas and some plate from USX Corp.

Again, the steel is made domestically but only a small portion was available from union shops.

Fabricating work, which is also non-union, is being done in various locations. The steel will arrive on trucks because the stadium site does not have direct access to the riverfront.

One crane will off-load it, and two cranes will distribute the pieces to erectors. The first pieces will be installed in the north end zone, and work will proceed along both sidelines simultaneously.

As the steel goes, up, pre-cast concrete will follow to form the seating sections.

"Each piece is detailed right down to the bolt holes," Beamon said from an off-site war room where all the stadium plans are stored.

Again, the job of erecting the steel pieces will be done by Ironworkers Local 3.

"We have the best ironworkers in the country, without a doubt. Pittsburgh's blessed," Beamon said.

As with the ballpark, weather will be a factor when the steel begins to tie together. Allowances have been made for those winter days when it's snowing or sleeting.

"What we need is dry weather. We can work in the cold. We can work in the heat. But you can't put people up in the air when it's wet," Beamon said.

It is critical to have the main structure enclosed in the next eight to nine months to make sure the electricians, plumbers, carpenters, glaziers and masons can continue their finishing work.

"We can't do the finish work in the winter in Pittsburgh unless it's enclosed," Beamon said.

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