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Master masons recreate iconic university passage

Master masons recreate
iconic university passage

by JEFF BERGLUND, Berglund Construction | May 29, 2015

When Berglund masons recently finished the intricate work of reconstructing a cloister link structure at the University of Chicago, they still had one more challenge to meet: convincing the owner representatives that the project had really happened.

“They could not fathom what had gone on there because everything looked the same as before,” said Roger Janiak, a senior project manager at Chicago-based Berglund Construction.

This issue, however, was more of a feature than a bug. The use of technology -- including laser scanning, iPads, and a searchable database -- aided the masons in the tedious task of taking down and putting back up 4,200 unique stones exactly as they had been set originally.

While Berglund was working on Swift Hall, engineers at the university noticed that the walls of the cloister link between it and Bond Chapel were shifting. Frozen water in the roof had pushed the walls outward and an eventual collapse was possible. They quickly realized they had a life-safety issue on the campus that had to be addressed, so the school hired Berglund to make the repairs.

At that, a team of some of the contractor's most experienced masons soon developed a plan to take down the 25-ft-x-50-ft structure, all the way to the foundation, and to reconstruct it exactly as it stood before demolition. The project began last June and had to be finished by the start of the fall academic quarter in September. To meet that tight schedule, Berglund determined that teams of 10-16 masons and laborers, working two, 10-hr shifts, would be required.

“It was so fast,” recalled Rick Sabo, project superintendent. “Our intentions were to take our time and note every detail, and that was difficult to do on such an aggressive schedule.”

According to Sabo, his team’s embrace of technology made it possible to work quickly and efficiently without sacrificing quality. Berglund hired SightLine Systems to scan the cloister link and produce drawings that assigned a number to each stone. Because no two stones were the same, it was imperative that each was identified properly so that it could be re-installed in precisely the same spot.

As the masons took down the archways, they marked the back of each stone with its own number and set it on one of 50 pallets. A foreman then tracked which stone was placed on which pallet and entered the information into a database.

When it came time for reconstruction, the masons used iPads to view the drawings produced by the laser scan to determine which stone they needed next. Then, they would type the identifying number into the database to quickly determine which pallet held the piece they needed. This process saved considerable time that would have otherwise been spent searching the pallets.

“This was just so awesome that you could turn the iPad on and our foremen could direct guys on where to find the stone,” added Sabo. “I would say the technology was really the key to getting it done on time. I had the best crew I have ever had on any job, but the tech really amped it up to the next level. By far and away, with 27 years of experience, it was the best job I ever had.”

For his part, Janiak has been involved in restoration projects for 38 years. He said the progressive use of technology to rebuild the archway freed up his managers to spend less time shuffling paper and more time directing the crews. “Without this technology, it would have been all paper,” he said. “And there would have been a ton of it.”

Once the masons finished re-installing the stone, Berglund poured a new concrete deck on the roof and introduced steel beams and corrugated metal decking to ensure the walls wouldn’t shift in the future. Janiak takes particular pride in the fact that the re-constructed archway was indistinguishable from the old one. Of all the projects in his long career, he added, “I am proudest of this one because of the unique opportunity to reconstruct one of the jewels of the university’s prized buildings.”

The author is an assistant project manager with Berglund. Email:

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