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Rhodes Tower renovation enters second major phase, this one at night - Business - The Columbus Dispatch


When state workers leave Rhodes Tower each night, a much smaller shift arrives to work on the second major phase of the tower’s renovation: replacing 3,162 windows in the 41-story building.

After 2,600 state workers leave Rhodes Tower each evening, a second, much smaller shift arrives at the Downtown high-rise.

About two dozen workers converge on the 41-story tower. Half take the elevator up and half come down the building from the outside.

They meet on a designated floor and get to work on the next major phase in the $70 million renovation of the 45-year-old tower: replacing the windows.

All 3,162 of them.

For Downtown workers, the Rhodes Tower renovation must seem like the project without an end. For two years, workers have scampered over the scaffold-wrapped tower that looms over the Statehouse. They have about two more years to go.

The project is the largest renovation of state-owned buildings underway, and one of the the biggest since the $113 million rehab of the Ohio Statehouse two decades ago, said Matt Damschroder, director of the Department of Administrative Services, which manages state buildings.

“It’s one of the more unique upgrades going on in the state — the size, and the fact that it’s occupied,” Damschroder said.

For project manager Turner Construction Co. and window company Pioneer Cladding & Glazing Systems, working on a building occupied by 2,600 workers adds a whole other dimension to an already challenging project.

“Our goal is to get this done without disrupting any workers,” said Dan Pisut, Turner’s project manager.

Each night, crews arrive after 5 p.m. to move enough furniture to hang a plastic curtain about 8 feet from the windows. They tear out a soffit above each window bay, which contains four to eight panes of glass, most of them 4.5 by 7.5 feet.

An hour later, glazers and iron workers arrive to replace the windows with new, better-insulated ones. They work in two or three crews, split between those inside the building and those outside, working on suspended “swing-stage” platforms or the much larger “mast climbers” erected on the south and west sides of the building.

For the next several hours, they will remove the old windows, leaving a hole about 8 by 35 feet in the side of the building, before installing new windows.

Even though the walls are wide open, the temperature isn’t the big challenge. The hard part is the wind, which is far stronger near the top of a 41-story building than it is on the ground. Gusts of 35 mph or higher keep workers off the job.

“The wind is really the driving force on whether we can work or not,” Pisut said.

Since starting the window replacement in mid-October, wind has cost the crews four nights of work, he said.

Getting the crews together was no easy task. The glazers union was literally empty when Turner called looking for workers, requiring Pioneer’s project manager, Craig J. Gibson, to poke around — to the point of asking some veteran workers he knew if they had any kids or grandkids interested in the job.

Working on Columbus’ tallest building can be a turn-off for some workers, and the night shift doesn’t help. What Turner and Pioneer could promise, however, is a rarity: a paycheck that could last almost two years.

“How often do you get construction jobs that last this long?” Gibson asked.

Pioneer worker Aaron Numbers, of Columbus, said he likes the job security of the project. But that’s not his favorite part of the work.

“Columbus lights up up here,” he said last week while replacing windows on the 28th floor. “The higher you go, the prettier it gets.”

The window replacement is the second major part of the Rhodes Tower project.

The first part targeted the granite panels that sheath the building. Some panels had cracked and chipped, in part because water was collecting and freezing behind them.

Turner crews replaced the original anchors attaching the panels to the building and drilled holes to allow water to seep out instead of freeze. Where possible, insulation was installed behind the panels.

About 300 of the building’s 15,000 panels were so severely damaged that they were replaced. The panels, nearly 3 inches thick and most measuring 4.5 by 7.5 feet (the same size as the windows), weigh about 1,500 pounds and must be lifted by hoists.

The last of the granite work should be finished by the end of 2021, bringing to an end the four-year clutter on Broad Street.

“It’s a really cool experience,” said Justin Meek, Turner’s night superintendent. “You don’t get too many like this in your career.”

jweiker@dispatch.com

@JimWeiker


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