Cold doesn’t stop outdoor construction

No amount of snow nor 25 below keeps J. Scull Construction Service from the job site.

The Rapid City, S.D., company is building the $44 million North Highlands project for Hegg Development Group in northwest Minot. Despite the December cold, company employees have continued to pour concrete mix and frame up buildings jobs that typically come to a standstill in winter.

“We try to keep our guys employed year-round,” said Mike Charnholm, senior project manager with J. Scull. “I don’t know if we had a layoff for our concrete workers for a number of years. Not due to weather, that’s for sure.”

It takes more than workers willing to endure the cold to tackle a concrete project, though. Because concrete sets up much slower in the cold, the company tries to pick milder days in the forecast to conduct pours and uses ground heaters to ensure that frost is pulled out of the ground first.

Mike Jangula, operations manager in North Dakota, said the heaters can pull six inches of frost out of the ground in 24 hours, using glycol warmed by a boiler and sent out by hose at 185 degrees. The concrete itself creates heat as it cures, he said. Insulated blankets cover the concrete and tenting is sometimes used.

“We can average anywhere from 50 to 65 degrees underneath those blankets,” Jangula said.

Most of the company’s work is in cold climates in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

“It’s not unusual for us,” Charnholm said of winter construction. “It’s something we have learned to adapt to.”

Construction on North Highlands is on target, according to the developer. The Villas, a development of 33 luxury townhouse-style homes, is scheduled to gradually open from July to September of 2014.

Construction on an 86-unit luxury apartment building will begin next spring, with leasing in December of 2014. A second luxury apartment building with 120 units and a clubhouse is expected to open in September 2015. Shared amenities in the North Highlands Apartments will include underground parking, indoor swimming pool, business center, fitness facility and media and community rooms.

Hegg Development Group of Sioux Falls, S.D., held a ground-breaking ceremony last July at the location near the intersection of 27th Street and 30th Avenue Northwest. J. Scull began construction in October.

Hegg Companies also is developing an apartment project in Watford City and operates Amber Hills, a workforce housing project in McKenzie County that consists of eight mobile units equipped to sleep eight people each. Company spokeswoman Kelsey Sweeney, Sioux Falls, said Amber Hills is at full capacity, and the company looks for a positive response to its permanent housing as well.

J. Scull’s other ongoing projects include the Bismarck Civic Center expansion, New England fire station, various industrial park buildings in Dickinson and 96-unit townhouses in Dickinson.

Winter construction does add to the cost of a project, Charnholm said. The company has seen concrete costs increase by 7 to 12 percent on various winter projects.

However, snow can be advantageous in acting as nature’s blanket, keeping the ground from freezing deeper, Charnholm said. The bad part is, if it does warm up, the snow melts and drives frost deeper, he said. Crews will remove snow if warmer temperatures are forecast.

Frigid temperatures are just as hard on equipment as they are on people. Jangula said it is essential to plug in the Bobcats, forklifts, loaders and other equipment at night and run them an hour before starting the work day to warm up the hydraulics. Still, the cold will wear out equipment faster.

“Batteries don’t last very long in the cold,” Jangula said.

The push to keep working in all kinds of weather has its limits. Safety is paramount, Charnholm said, and work stops if conditions, particularly wind, make outdoor activities unsafe.

He said the company’s safety director and superintendent monitor the workers and encourage them to go into the worksite trailers to warm up whenever necessary.

“Proper clothing is essential,” said assistant project manager Jake Riefsenberger. “Keeping moving is a good thing, too.”

Even though their crews are ready to take on winter, the recent subzero temperatures were not on J. Scull’s Christmas wish list.

“I am sure everybody would agree, they would rather have some warmer weather out there,” Charnholm said.