A Crown Jewel For Redevelopment
Atlanta’s ambitious Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry is providing a breathtaking backdrop for engineers, architects and contractors to shine. Engineering and economic development go hand-in-hand, and there may be no better example than the creation of Atlanta’s major emergency water source that will also become an ambitious greenspace and the city's largest park.
When complete, Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry will span 280 acres, besting Piedmont Park by 100 acres, on Atlanta’s transforming westside. Several Georgia engineering, construction and design firms, including Pond, CERM, HGOR, Willmer Engineering, PC Russell Joint Venture, and Reeves Young, are involved in various components of the project, from the boring of a five mile-long tunnel that will bring water from the Chattahoochee River to the quarry, to the overall design of the $26.5 million park. “The future of Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry will eventually be the breathtaking skyline views against the backdrop of the natural environment of the park itself with the reservoir anchoring that view,” says Amy Phuong, Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the City of Atlanta. “We don’t have a waterfront, but in many ways, this is designed to transform the space to face the public space toward that reservoir and skyline view.”
A water supply project, expected to cost $300 million, is at the heart of the transformation of Bellwood Quarry from a century-old eyesore into a mixed-use reservoir and recreation space. When the massive infrastructure project is complete, the inactive quarry will provide the city at least 30 days, and possibly up to 90 days, of drinking water. “It’s kind of a rags-to-riches story. You look at the long-term benefits of solving the problem of only a three-day water supply currently for the City of Atlanta to upwards of 60 or 90 days. And, with part of the Atlanta BeltLine remediation and the park investments, it's going to beautify the area,” says Trevor Ames, PE, Mining Geotechnical Services Director for GeoStabilization International, which has offices in the U.S. and Canada.
As the first phase of the park nears its opening in late 2019, the project is driving business and work opportunities for architecture, engineering and construction firms, who will be involved in creating a sense of space for residents and visitors. The Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry will be world-class and a well-visited park, Phuong says. “It really will change how people interact and engage with Atlanta and think about Atlanta – whether they’re living here, they’re native Atlantans like myself or they’re visiting Atlanta for the very first time.”
Tunneling a Route for the Water
The City of Atlanta has nearly 1.2 million water customers, including those who pass through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The need is only going to grow in the next 20 years, as metro Atlanta’s population is expected to increase by 50 percent in the next two decades, from 5.5 million to more than 8 million residents by 2040. The City of Atlanta’s population is expected to triple from 463,000 to upwards of a million people, says Kishia Powell, PE, Commissioner of the Department of Watershed Management for the City of Atlanta.
The Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry project leverages the natural setting of the former granite quarry, a 400-foot deep site that the city purchased in 2006. It’s a “resilient site,” Phuong says, that will hold 2.4 billion gallons of emergency drinking water in its new state. “It's an important water reservoir along – with anything to do with the community,” says David B. Hartnett, Chief Economic Development Officer for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “It’s an important reservoir that needed to be done.” A five-mile tunnel will run from the Chattahoochee River to the Bellwood Quarry and connect to the city’s Department of Watershed Management’s Hemphill Water Treatment Plant, which will treat the water for use. New pumping facilities will also be built at all three sites.
Pre-construction on the tunnel began in August 2015. Construction on the tunnel, which will be 10 feet in diameter, started in spring 2016 and is expected to be complete at the end of 2019, says Bob Huie, Project Director for PC Russell, a joint venture of PC Construction and H.J. Russell & Co., which is leading the construction management at risk project. When Ames saw the quarry in person, he quickly noticed that the access road followed the perimeter, which was the high wall. “If you’re a miner and you’re a quarry person, you know that the high wall is where you don’t go,” he says. He says it was urgent for GeoStabilization International, which provides geotechnical support on geohazards, to get in early to make it safe for access when the tunnel boring machine was assembled in the bottom of the quarry. “To drive these tunnels to different water systems required some scaling of the high wall slopes, and you had to make sure the area was safe because you’re following that perimeter of the high wall, so it was very proactive of PC and ourselves to get a plan together,” he says.
In spring 2016, the firm worked under Atkinson Construction, which was awarded an $81 million contract for the phase one extension of the water supply program, which included the shafts. The extension connects the Bellwood Quarry to the Hemphill Water Treatment Facility and includes construction of four shafts and the tunnel. GeoStabilization performed the initial scaling with its team of 16 workers over eight weeks, Ames says. The team of scalers removed loose rock from the quarry walls to prevent them from falling to the quarry bottom. “The slopes had a lot of loose debris hanging up. There was excessive vegetation growth in the slope, which is a pathway for water, and water to migrate into,” Ames says. “With water inside your slope, it’s adding pressure onto the rock face so it actually loosens material; we had to secure the base so that we can provide safe access. We removed quite a bit of debris and that all had to be expedited, which is why we had so many guys on it, so that they can start the construction phase.”
A major milestone, Powell says, was launching “Driller Mike,” a 400-foot-long tunnel boring machine that could be considered the project’s mascot. The $11.6 million machine — named after Atlanta rapper “Killer Mike” in a watershed management department contest — was brought on site in summer 2016 and was assembled in the quarry. Huie says typically, a tunnel boring machine is put together in pieces and dropped in through shafts. The Onsite First Time Assembly (OFTA), which involved multiple crews coordinating together, lasted two-and-a-half months, according to the manufacturer, The Robbins Co. The tunneling operation started in October 2016, with "Driller Mike," the nickname for the machine excavating the granite. “Driller Mike” has completed three miles of the five mile-long tunnel, Huie says. “‘Driller Mike’ will be making his way through and will be completed late next year, which is about the time that we are hoping for the first phase access,” Phuong adds.
Flexible Planning and Design
“The biggest challenge that this project had from the beginning for everybody was schedule. The design schedule was aggressive. The construction schedule has always been aggressive,” Huie says. Once the first phase is completed, Phuong says it could move to an “ongoing implementation” with other construction phases, which creates continued opportunities for engineering and construction firms.
“Obviously the city’s been very interested in getting this project completed as quickly as possible. When we got involved with the project as the construction manager at risk, we recommended that the project needed to be designed and constructed in parallel,” Huie says. “We came up with different design packages that were used to get the work started as quickly as possible.” For example, an early site work package for both the Hemphill and quarry sites, which had no utilities, allowed the design engineers to focus on that part of the job, for preconstruction to get set up in August 2015 and for construction to commence within three to six months. As soon as the design was complete, they went into competitive procurement process for the tunnel contractor, which happened in two to three months, Huie says. Working out of a common office at the quarry allows the project team to talk daily and expedite the design, procurement and construction processes, Huie says. Having the common office also provided communication when plans needed to be adjusted, for safety or other reasons.
For instance, initially the plan at the Hemphill site was to have a couple of 300-foot-deep shafts blasted and then excavated. But the team decided to change the type of technology in order to protect the reservoir at the Hemphill site and the local area, Huie says. It employed blind bore drilling to create five eight-foot shafts that would be drilled at the Hemphill site. “The timeframe for doing this was probably longer, but it protected the neighborhood and the environment. It also protected the reservoir from any kind of exposure to problems,” Huie says. “It did not affect the overall schedule.” The work, in spring 2016, gave them the advantage of being able to finish by end of 2016 to start the pump station facility. “As each phase of the project or each package of the design was completed, we were able to price that work, get approval from the city and actually start that work within a month or two of actually having design documents in place,” Huie says.
Projects around the world, including in China, France and the Grand Canyon, provide design ideas and lessons in terms of scale and sense of space. “None of them have a reservoir in it - it was how they got to the different experiences that ultimately the users will have, and that’s what was most important for us in pushing this project forward,” Phuong says. Here are three of those parks:
Millennium Park in Chicago: The 25-acre park had multiple landscape architects but one master firm that led the civil engineering in the public-private project. Millennium Park also was built on top of two parking decks. “The engineering feat of that was impressive, but more impressive was how they designed each room within the park with a unique landscape that led folks through a very open, flexible experience, but very intentional at the same time,” Phuong says.
Governors Island in New York: A playful landscaped-designed section has elevation changes that gives users breathtaking views of New York City, she says. The 172- acre park — accessible via ferry — provides ideas for using the topography at the future Westside Park.
Mount Royal in Montreal: The sprawling 470-acre oasis is embedded in a residential community with multiple entrances, which Phuong says the quarry park will eventually become. The uses of what’s known as “The Mountain,” which was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, also vary from cross-country skiing to snow tubing to mountain biking to running.
Rebirth at Westside Park
The park’s Phase I will feature a new gateway entrance at Johnson Road and Grove Park Place, which will be on its north side. Dazzling renderings released in 2017 show a sculptural gateway folly, the quarry as a lake and trails swirling through the greenspace.
Other elements will include a pedestrian connection to Proctor Creek Greenway, which opened in May. “Proctor Creek down there is unbelievable. It is just the most amazing watershed that comes through there and is somewhat pristine in its sense. The park abuts that,” Standish adds. Standish notes that a master planning component will be initiated with the community, and efforts for the park to sustain itself could include educational facilities and venues for events, weddings and festivals. The design will seek to take advantage of the park’s three natural high points, such as overlooks and a possible venue spot with the city in the background, Standish says. Phuong adds that the site’s steep slopes will be a huge engineering feat, from a number of aspects, such as circulation via trails and stormwater management.
The city is trying to achieve a platinum certification from the EnVision rating system by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, which has categories spanning quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, natural world, and climate and resilience. From the beginning, the park has been planned to be an indivisible part of the larger community, according to a 2012 report prepared by Pond and Carol R. Johnson Associates for Atlanta BeltLine. The quarry and park project will benefit engineers, architects and construction companies and their suppliers, as well as draw new pedestrian investment, in terms of products and services, such as restaurants and bike rentals, Hartnett adds. “You’re opening up a door to a new asset that will benefit the local community and be a nice draw for those who can come and experience and enjoy this new space, which is going to be fantastic,” he says.
Featured in Engineering Georgia Magazine’s May/June issue.