By Shari Held
Sometimes a leap of faith pays big dividends. That’s exactly what happened for Eunice, La.-based Coastal Precast Inc.
In 2012, South African chemical company Sasol Ltd. announced plans to build an $11 billion petrochemical complex near its Lake Charles, La., facility (1). At the time, Coastal Precast’s business was only four years old. But Terry Brown, president and owner, treated Sasol’s announcement as an incentive to build a larger facility in anticipation of the work and the doors it could open.
“We started preparing in advance so we could handle the workload,” Brown said. “And it all worked out according to plan.”
With prolonged heavy rainfall and severe flooding being common in southern Louisiana, a crucial piece of infrastructure for the Sasol expansion was an extensive underground drainage system. The goal was for a series of catch basins to control the excess water, allowing the new plant to remain in production during torrential periods of rain.
In April 2016, James Construction Group, one of the major contractors on the job, awarded Coastal Precast – a Louisiana Department of Transportation approved and National Precast Concrete Association certified plant – a contract to manufacture a 55,000-pound precast concrete catch basin for Sasol.
“This catch basin was one of the top 10 biggest ones out of the hundreds that we have on our scope of work for the project,” said Paul Redmon, estimator/project manager for James Construction Group. “It’s a pretty significant piece of the drainage system for the project.”
Gearing up for the challenge
“We laughed, we high-fived, we celebrated,” Brown said. “Then we geared up our equipment.”
Prior to this project, the largest catch basin Coastal Precast had manufactured weighed 11 tons. Preparing to manufacture a 27.5-ton catch basin that measured 10-foot-by-14-foot inside dimension required serious planning.
“When you go from 20,000 pounds to 55,000 pounds, the whole ballgame changes,” said Rob Ellifrits, plant manager. “It took a lot of planning and a lot of preparation to come up with a game plan.”
It also took a capital investment. Coastal Precast purchased Symons Steel-Ply forming systems in a variety of sizes for the job.
“They’re safer to use because you can carry one 2-foot-by-5-foot form that weighs 10 pounds compared to an aluminum or steel form that could weigh from 100 to 200 pounds,” Ellifrits said.
Getting down to business
After considering several different approaches to manufacturing the catch basin, Coastal Precast opted to pour one big slab for the floor of the structure. They reinforced it with two layers of continuous, heavy-duty rebar cage on 4-inch centers for additional stability. Waterstop and Xypex waterproofing was applied at the intersection of the joint of the wall and the base slab.
The specifications called for the concrete to test at 4,500 psi at 28 days, but Coastal Precast used a modified self-consolidating concrete mix that reached 7,326 psi at 28 days. The company also exceeded requirements for aggregate moisture and surface resistivity testing.
Coastal Precast used up to 200 form panels for the inner and outer core of the catch basin. Setting up the wall panel took a little more than a week. Once in place, workers attached the wall panels to the slab and poured them.
Coastal Precast constructed the catch basin at the end of its facility, where there is an overhead opening. That opening was just large enough to accommodate a 120-ton crane that would lift the catch basin and place it onto a heavy hauler positioned directly underneath.
Precisely calculating the lift points on the catch basin was critical to safe positioning and transport. Get them right, and you get a straight pick. Get them wrong, and it’s a 55,000-pound disaster. Ellifrits got it right, and the crane lift was perfectly level.
“When it gets down to game time and everything works as it’s supposed to, it’s such a relief,” Brown said.
In May 2016, Coastal Precast shipped the catch basin to the site. However, the installation was delayed several times.
Southern Louisiana is known for heavy rains and flooding, and the spring brought heavier, more relentless rain than usual. Slick, wet conditions made it difficult for equipment to maneuver and the excavations for the catch basins had to constantly be pumped out.
When Coastal Precast got the green light, Brown, Ellifrits and the sales team from sister company Coastal Culvert & Supply were there to assist.
“They’ve been great to work with,” Redmon said. “Everything we’ve asked them to produce, they’ve produced. And they produced it on time. Vendors like Coastal have made it a lot easier to deal with such a large project.”
The chance Coastal Precast took on the Sasol project continues to pay off. The company now has orders to manufacture 30,000- and 40,000-pound catch basins.
“It just opened up the door,” Ellifrits said.
Shari Held is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based freelance writer who has covered the construction industry for more than 10 years.