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CNN Building destroyed by tornado and rebuilt using Beta Max Hoists!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Friday night, March 14, 2008, at about 9:45 pm, an almost unthinkable weather event happened in Atlanta. A 135 mph tornado tore through the city’s commercial center, blowing out windows from tall buildings, throwing about chairs, benches, trees and cars, injuring about 30 people (two people were killed outside the city) and severely damaging many landmarks. The city’s Centennial Olympic Park saw its Olympic torches smash to the ground, and structures like The Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, and Grady Memorial Hospital were hit hard.

Employees at the national cable news network got a closer view of the storm than they would have liked. Inside the CNN Center, water poured through the damaged roof into the building's atrium. Windows were shattered, welcoming clouds of dust into parts of the building including the CNN.com newsroom. The next day, CNN was faced with even more difficulties after parts of the ceiling collapsed.

Although CNN was back to business as usual in a couple of days, people charged with repairing the building had a lot of work to do. David Freise, construction manager for W. S. Nielsen Co Inc., a skylight system installer and specialty contractor hired by the CNN Center to repair the over 600 windows destroyed by the tornado, had re-glazed windows in the CNN Center in 2003, but that job could be handled from the ground up. This post-tornado work, with most of the damage done to windows on a series of step roofs with no direct access, posed some new difficult challenges.
Freise explained, “The challenge presented by the area that saw most of the storm damage was that it was step roof elevation – 100 foot long steps that were only eight feet wide. We had to completely rethink the logistics that we’d previously used with the CNN Center; this time we had to bring materials from the top down, as opposed to the bottom up.”

Freise contacted Ron Poplawski, outside sales representative for Sunbelt Rentals, an Atlanta-based construction equipment rental firm, with expertise in designing and implementing scaffold strategies and systems.

“We often recommend and provide Beta Max equipment when a job requires that equipment be moved up scaffolding,” Poplawski said. “In the case of the CNN Center, we understood that W. S Nielsen Co Inc. needed a different type of hoist. They needed to lift glass off of a roof and trolley it to another roof. The Leo Glass Master System from Beta Max was the right solution for that job.”
Based in Melbourne, FL, Beta Max has been in the business of providing the construction and restoration industries with alternate methods of lifting construction materials for over 20 years. The company’s Leo Glass Master System has been specifically designed for the purpose of easily and safely lifting and moving heavy, fragile materials, such as large panes of glass.

“One of the main reasons we decided on the Leo was its ease of starting, slowing and stopping,” Freise said. “We can’t have any hoist that comes to an abrupt stop or takes off too rapidly, because it could fracture the glass. The Leo Glass Master was unique in its ability to address this concern.”

The Leo Glass Master System features Variable Frequency Drive Controllers, which help to provide the hoist’s soft start and stop capabilities. This feature makes the Leo Glass Master perfect for maneuvering easily breakable products – operators can lift glass panes in finite increments and set them down without fear of causing damage. The Leo also has a maximum lifting capacity of 2000 lbs and can travel up to 200 feet high, features which were ideal for the CNN Center job where the hoist must be capable of carrying heavy panes of glass up and down nine floors of step roof elevation.

“The building is very unusual,” explained Freise. “It’s broken up into different sections, with an atrium in the center. We had to replace about 600 pieces of 5 x 12 glass, one piece at a time. There was a crane set up on the roof of the CNN Center, and the area we were initially delivering glass to was on the north elevation with no direct access.”

The Leo Glass Master System is a natural fit for a job like this, as these hoists can be equipped with motorized trolleys to provide horizontal and well as vertical movement.

“Using the Leo hoist and a single monorail system,” Freise continued, “we are able to trolley the glass from the upper to the lower roofs.”

In past jobs, Freise had typically used electric chainfalls for hoisting heavy materials, but he vows to never use them again.

“There are risks with the chainfall that I’d like to avoid,” Freise said. “We never lost a load, but there were some frightening instances where the chain would misfeed because of a bump or something, and we had 75 pounds of chain falling on the load – not something you want when you’re moving glass. Also, we’ve had motors in the past that couldn’t handle half the load they were rated to pull up. I told myself that when the opportunity arose for a job like this, I would come up with a more effective method. The Leo motor works extremely well, handling the large loads and providing smooth operation. The Leo Glass Master System from Beta Max proved to be just what we needed.”

The repair project is currently moving along right on schedule, with the step roof elevations nearly completed and two other elevations to go.

“With the Beta Max system, everything is simple and clean,” said Sunbelt’s Poplawski. “Their technicians were readily available when we had some questions about implementing the monorail system. Beta Max is great when it comes to trouble-shooting. The one time we needed a minor replacement part, Beta Max had it to us the next day. The people are helpful, and the product does the job – even a difficult job like this one.”

Freise has had such success with the Beta Max hoist in the CNN Center job, he plans to use Beta Max hoists in another upcoming project that features access challenges and requires an innovative solution.

“We’re in the early stages of a project with the Bank of America building in Charlotte, NC, “ Freise said. “In late, 2009, we’re scheduled to install a skylight that is about 180 feet up, with no access from cranes. I’ve created a sled that has suction cups that will pick up a piece of glass and hoist it to the top using a Beta Max system.”

Meanwhile, thanks to a lift from Beta Max, the CNN Center is starting to look like its old pre-tornado self, albeit with some new construction and clear, new windows. For the CNN employees, the sun shining through those new windows must feel better than ever.

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