Granite Sets its Sights on the Future
Despite the sagging economy, Granite built and opened a new aggregates plant in California.
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Granite Construction, Inc. has focused its eyes on the horizon, and on the prize, by preparing for the sure-to-come economic recovery that we all hope is in the near future. The company recently built and opened its new Vernalis facility, a combination of construction aggregates and hot-mix asphalt (HMA) plants, to replace its Tracy facility in California.
A plan takes shape
The plan for the new plant began to take shape long before the economic turmoil hit. “We started planning this plant at least 15 years ago when we knew our aggregate resources would be depleted at the existing Tracy location,” says Randy Kremer, vice president-manager of construction materials. “We attempt to look well ahead in our strategic planning. We look at what type of market we are in and what facilities are required for a long-term investment in aggregate resources and plants to process and manufacture those products. So, we acquired the property and began preparations to construct the new facility.”
The property was chosen for its aggregate resource quantities and qualities and its proximity to existing markets and growth areas. The property is located near several major highways — Highway 132, Highway 580, and Interstate 5 — which provide quick and easy transport of materials to highly populated areas in the state such as Stockton, Modesto, and the East Bay area.
Plant design and concepts followed a few years later. “We encourage our local management teams to look at their needs from the market perspective,” Kremer says. “What do we know we can produce and sell, what will be the demand for those products, and what would be the highest value return to the company and our customers? Based on those parameters, we utilize a process of collaboration for designing the plant itself.”
The project started out as a collaborative effort and remained that way throughout the entire construction process. The whole facilities team was involved in the design, as well as outside consultants and technical experts.
When the economy went south last year, Granite was very close to depletion of its resources at the existing Tracy facility, so the decision was made to continue the Vernalis project. The larger issue that faced the company was whether it would continue the plans for the ultimate build-out design that had been planned or make considerations to adjust the project and construct a facility capable of expansion in the future, yet sized right for the present economic downturn.
Bruce Bunting, plant construction manager for the project, pulled information from geology and talent and expertise from construction. He combined them with market and sales information and then rolled everything into a design that the company determined met the feasibility model of investment and return on investment. That meant making use of both used and new equipment in the facilities without sacrificing performance and quality production of materials.
“This project would not have been successful if not for a massive effort on the part of a whole lot of people,” Bunting says. “We did an immense amount of work internally that we don’t normally do. We did probably 200 to 300 percent more work with internal resources than we have on any other new plant previously built.”
The construction materials group worked side by side with the construction group. This provided everyone with a greater appreciation for the differences that exist with personnel in a vertically integrated company. The construction group now understands what goes into processing and the making of quality construction materials products, and the materials group appreciates what is required to manage and construct a major project such as the aggregates and asphalt plants.
The finished project
“We started moving dirt in March 2008 and were substantially completed with the construction, less the shakedown and turning of some of the motors, by mid-August 2009,” Kremer says.
The plant was designed to produce 1,200 tons of material per hour — 2.5 to 3 million tons per year.
“We use 637 push-pull scrapers to feed the plant,” says Don Claunch, plants superintendent. “Material is dumped into a grizzly feeder and then run up a conveyor to the processing plant.”
The sand processing station of the plant was constructed to make three products simultaneously — ASTM C-33 sand, Caltrans PCC sand, and specialty sands for masonry, plaster, or golf courses.
The telescoping, kneeling-designed radial stacker at the 1-inch by #4 surge pile has a level detector run by a computer that ensures the stockpile is kept at the proper height. It senses if the stockpile gets too high and moves the stacker to the side or extends it out to distribute the material, which helps with uniformity in the materials, prevents segregation, and maximizes space planning of the stockpile.