The Milwaukee Bucks’ arena project will reach a milestone this week with the placement of its roof trusses.
SCHOFIELD – The Milwaukee Bucks’ arena project will reach a milestone this week, one that will extend to Merrill Iron & Steel, a local company that has supplied the most critical elements of the busy construction project.
Crews plan to lift and gently lower into place the first of nine enormous roof trusses high above the steel cocoon that forms the shell of the new stadium. The lift is scheduled for Tuesday and will involve workers from Merrill, as well as JP Cullen, a Janesville-based construction company, and Mortenson Construction, the project construction manager.
“This is considerably more complex than what we’ve done to date” on the fast-moving Bucks project, said Ellen Becker, a Mortenson project engineer.
“It’s really high in the air, and it’s substantially heavier. And that offers a few more challenges.”
Adding complexity is the length of the trusses. They max out at about 200 feet each and are so large they must be assembled inside the bowl, on what will eventually be the basketball court. They’ll be lifted in two pieces and bolted into place by workers hundreds of feet off the ground.
The truss lifts, which will take place into the summer, culminate a key phase of the $524 million project that has involved Merrill, Cullen and other Wisconsin-based companies. The Bucks owners’ promise to use local businesses was a key commitment made when they secured $250 million in public funding for the project.
The trusses and every other piece of steel in the frame of the arena — with its signature swooping shape — were cut, drilled and painted at Merrill Steel and hauled to Milwaukee. The family owned company has been in business since the 1960s and employs about 175 people in Schofield, said Brian Geurink, project manager.
The steel assembly has proceeded at a breakneck pace in recent months. The Bucks plan to open the new arena in time for the 2018-’19 NBA season.
Merrill measures projects of this sort by the number of tons of steel the company works on. The Bucks arena is a 7,200-ton project, and while that is large, the company has seen other projects, such as power plants, that reached 11,000 to 12,000 tons, Geurink said. Merrill also worked on the Lambeau Field expansion and was part of a Mortenson team that built the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, which opened last year.
Merrill got its start manufacturing steel structures for the commercial agriculture industry. The company moved to Schofield in 1995 and has seen steady increases in work on major projects, said Geurink, who has been with Merrill for 15 years.
“When I first started, most projects were 30 to 40 tons,” he said.
Merrill buys the stock steel from manufacturers in other states. A small portion — the roof truss components —– came from Europe and arrived at the Port of Milwaukee last November. Those steel components were rolled in Germany and milled in Luxembourg, Mortenson said on its website.
The Bucks say 96% of the steel used for the arena comes from domestic manufacturers. The heavier grade steel needed for the trusses was only available from the overseas manufacturers, Geurink said.
The project requires 7,673 main structural steel pieces, such a beams and columns, and more than 6,000 smaller pieces, such as angle braces, Mortenson says. Merrill has the exact dimensions and finishing details for each piece loaded in 3-dimensional computer software and creates them as they are needed.
Most of the stock steel comes in 65-foot sections. “We order it down to the inch and make the best use of the material,” Geurink said. “We can program in every hole, every cope in the piece.”
Once finished, the steel is painted and loaded onto flatbeds — sometimes with extended loads — for the 200-mile trip to Milwaukee.
Another Wisconsin company, D&M Express, a Lone Rock-based trucking company, does the hauling. Loads of 20 to 24 tons have departed from Schofield up to four times a day for the past two or three months, Geurink said.
As the steel portion of the project wraps up, attention shifts to the next phase — getting the walls and roof up so the building is completely enclosed and weather tight by November.
“Everything is right on schedule,” Becker said, noting that a mild winter helped. “The success path of our project runs through the structural steel.”
As the roof truss lifts take place, in the back of many minds will be the 1999 Big Blue crane collapse at the Miller Park construction site. Three workers died when the 567-foot crane collapsed while lifting a 450-ton roof piece. The disaster cost $100 million and set back the opening of the stadium by a year.
Becker said this week’s truss lift will be a well-rehearsed undertaking.
“Three different engineers looked through our pick plan,” she said, referring to the cranes that “pick” the steel off the ground.
“We’ll go through our plan, and we’ll go through it again, so everybody knows what’s going to happen. Safety is our No. 1 concern.”
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