Industrial demolition projects of any scale are complex undertakings that require much more than just knocking things down and cleaning them up. Quite the opposite, in fact. Demolition, including of a retired power plant, is an extremely involved, multi-phase process that requires unique and specialized skillsets to complete to the highest standards of quality, safety, environmental protection, and community betterment.

From safety considerations, such as developing detailed work plans and maintaining a core project management team, to environmental considerations, such as implementing asbestos abatement strategies and waste removal procedures, there are a host of areas that must be addressed—including financial considerations involving scrapping and asset recovery. Industrial demolition is simply an umbrella term for a wide array of services, processes, and areas of expertise needed to complete a successful project.

For power plant owners, managers, or even engineers who have found an industrial demolition partner or are still considering their options, there’s a great deal more to consider beyond who can complete the project in the shortest amount of time for the least amount of money. There’s also a great deal to understand about the crucial phases of a demolition project before and after the demolition itself.

1. The St. Johns River Power Park was a coal-fired power plant built in 1987. It featured two 817-MW units. The plant was situated on about 1,600 acres in Jacksonville, Florida. Total Wrecking & Environmental was contracted for the complete demolition and asset recovery of the plant and all its structures, closing of all ponds, and sitewide restoration. The project was showcased by the implosion of two 463-foot-tall cooling towers with 50,000 cubic yards of concrete and a 620-foot-high stack. Courtesy: Total Wrecking & Environmental  

“Demolition” is usually assumed to just mean the process of actually dismantling a building itself, but the reality is that it’s only one part of a much broader industrial demolition project (Figure 1). Owners and engineers need to stay acutely aware of the other facets of their site that require inspection and careful consideration. To ensure the greatest and safest results for everyone involved, it’s imperative that plant owners understand (and demolition contractors respect) the careful sequence of events that bookend large undertakings—the people, the plans, the documents, and the considerations that prevent incidents, ensure safety, and protect the communities that these facilities have often powered for decades.

Industrial demolition demands extreme sensitivity and diligence. The breakdown discussed here condenses and summarizes every major preparation and administrative responsibility of all parties to prepare owners and contractors alike.

Project Management Team

Just as power plant management is a collaborative process reliant on a team of dedicated people, demolition of a facility is an often-lengthy process that requires as much input as humanly possible, particularly from the folks who have spent their careers running, managing, and operating a site. A common mistake made by plant owners is releasing their staff as soon as a demolition has been decided. It’s absolutely crucial to maintain the most trusted members of the power plant team, including the plant manager, environmental manager, maintenance manager, and engineers.

2. The Louisville Gas & Electric—Kentucky Utilities Canal Station was a coal-fired power plant in Louisville, Kentucky, built in the early 1980s. The demolition contract included all teardown, abatement, demolition, hazardous waste removal, and site restoration for the entire power plant site. This project was alongside not only an active railroad, but also the Ohio River. The project required the floodwall to remain in place and untouched, and also required sediment control and storm water management. Courtesy: Total Wrecking & Environmental 

The input of this core team is essential to identify every historical hazard across the entire site. Few, if any, other people have the intimate understanding of the nuances of a site (Figure 2) or an understanding of its operations. Silly as it may sound, if “Bob” knocked over a barrel of lead-based paint in the supply room 15 years ago, the demolition contractor needs to know about it to ensure a full conversion of the space into a clean green site. Use the project management team from top to bottom to guide the process, aid with inspections and historical record-keeping, and ensure every potential hazard has been spotted and addressed.

Site Visits, Historical Documentation, and Estimating

In-person inspections are imperative, but even beforehand, the demolition contractor will have performed extensive research to gain insight into the site’s history, purpose (Figure 3), and the surrounding community.

3. Total Wrecking was contracted by American Electric Power (AEP) as a large part of the Clinch River Power Station coal-to-natural gas conversion project, which consisted of the demolition of three electrostatic precipitators. This plant was active through the duration of the project, which required extensive coordination between Total Wrecking and AEP to ensure no operations of the active plant were disrupted during the removals. Courtesy: Total Wrecking & Environmental  

An initial site walkthrough, a detailed inspection, and a deep dive into all historical documents will equip the demolition contractor with what is needed to begin estimating quantities for the job’s scope. A long list of considerations will be factored into this initial estimate, including:

■ Size of the plant or facility.

■ Environmental requirements.

■ Asbestos abatement.

■ Trucking.

■ Equipment requirements.

■ Specialized subcontractors.

■ Personnel.

The more detailed the inspection and documentation is up front, the more site safety and workforce efficiency can be optimized by the industrial demolition contractor, greatly reducing the risk of change orders.

Industrial demolition experts will spend countless hours poring over every document to understand the job site and add personal insights. As they proceed, they should adhere to a work plan that details specific project priorities, various phases, a sequence of events, rough completion dates, equipment needs, and other high-level details.

It’s imperative that plant owners maintain reasonable timeline expectations, because it’s impossible to know the full extent of work until it’s begun. A plant owner’s target deadline will certainly inform how the contractor determines what equipment or resources will be needed and for how long, but pushing for too much expediency jeopardizes the preservation of safety and overall project. A word of warning: the contractor with the lowest bid is likely either neglecting a component of the project, or getting dangerously or unrealistically creative with cost-cutting measures.

Critical Path Method Schedules, Work Plans, and Kickoff

Once a bid has been accepted, the selected contractor will formally develop a comprehensive work plan that goes into detail about how each phase of the project will be completed. Safety, team size and organization, transportation, equipment usage, and various timelines will comprise a broad list of high-level tasks.

A “critical path method schedule” defines the extremely sensitive order of demolition services and represents the shortest project timeline from start to finish. Each phase of a demolition project is dependent on the others, so a sensitive order of events needs to be defined and preserved. Each phase of this schedule will have documentation that drills down into the “what/where/when/why/how” of every task. Subsequently, the safety director and project manager will collaborate closely to develop specific work plans that go into even greater detail.

The final phase of this painstaking preparation process culminates in the kickoff meeting, where the contractor’s internal processes are externalized for the entire power plant management team. During this conversation, the contractor will present each finding, explain their reasoning, set achievable timeframes, and unify everyone involved on the project. This meeting also serves as an opportunity for the contractor to solicit even more insight and assistance from the power plant team before work formally commences.

4. Shown here are Total Wrecking’s twin, 200,000-pound “monsters” working in tandem to remove power plant structures. Courtesy: Total Wrecking & Environmental 

With a plan completely and thoroughly defined, the mobilization of crew and equipment (Figure 4) begins along with formal preparation of the jobsite. After decommissioning, remediation, waste removal, asset recovery, demolition, waste management, and any other ancillary services are complete, the final phase of the extensive process can begin: project closeout.

In a way, it’s what the contractor is working toward from Day 1: building and delivering definitive documentation of all work that has been performed and completed over the course of the project. As the months or years of demolition services were carried out, the demolition contractor was conducting extensive and ongoing record-keeping behind the scenes, monitoring and transcribing every procedure, safety document, waste manifest, disposal manifest, and more. This is an essential deliverable for the plant owner, a comprehensive record of the final product once the job is complete.

Every piece of information a plant owner, and subsequent site owner, might need to reference is included: what was disposed of and where, what materials were scrapped, what assets were sold for reuse, and more. It’s a full picture of the entire project, and even though it only constitutes less than 5% of the entire demolition process, the best contractors will understand that this is just as critical as every other phase.

Some demolition contractors go a step beyond by doing another full walkthrough of the site with the plant owner to discuss any potential loose ends and ensure every piece of equipment and facility support has been wrapped up. Following this sequence of events can guarantee safety and efficiency across the board.

Everyone has a budget to adhere to and a timeline to respect, but experience matters when the work is this hazardous and sensitive. For power plant owners who are ready to commit to demolition, the sooner a demolition contractor is involved, the more streamlined the project will be.

Frank Bodami is the founder of Total Wrecking & Environmental.