Nightmarish ground conditions and a fast-tracked schedule are not stopping the design-build team for a 1.2-million-sq-ft airplane assembly plant in South Carolina from delivering the building in just 18 months and on budget. There was no time for a learning curve for the 1,037-ft x 616-ft Boeing Co. facility, which encloses the equivalent of 12 football fields, says the team.

“Speed was the [project's] overriding theme,” says Kenny Anderson, project executive for BE&K Building Group, Charlotte, N.C. “We signed a contract on Nov. 7, 2009, and within 10 days we were breaking ground.”

BE&K joint-ventured with longtime partner Turner Construction Co., with offices in Greenville, S.C., to build the $250-million 787 Dreamliner Final Assembly Plant. The two firms have a track record, which includes the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. But the key earlier collaboration was on an aviation plant project in North Charleston, S.C.—for a company now owned by Boeing. With that in mind, the team called in BRPH Cos., Melbourne, Fla., which had designed the plant, to join in on the 787 facility.

“We could have never started with the speed that we did if we didn't have good communications and a good level of trust already” among team members, says Brian Curtin, BRPH's president. He says the good relations shaved months off the schedule. “The owner trusted what we could do as a team ... and knew we could produce.”

There was “intensive management of estimates and budgets while the project scope was evolving and becoming more defined,” adds Brian Knowles, Turner's project principal. And with material prices down in November 2009, it turned out to be a “very favorable time” to buy the contracts, says Anderson.

Critical Path

Preparation of the “fluff mud” site—a spoils-covered former phosphate mine chosen for being adjacent to the Charleston International Airport—became the critical path. Undisturbed for the past 100 years or so, the wooded site had the consistency of pudding and couldn't support a person walking on it, much less a massive building capable of containing several passenger jetliners, says Anderson.

To remediate the site, O.L. Thompson Construction Co., Charleston, removed the top 10 to 15 ft of the 150-acre site, using about 100 trucks and heavy equipment, and hauled away an estimated 3.1 million cu yd of inert material. Crews then replaced it with an engineered sand fill. Boeing estimates there were more than 206,600 dump-truck loads of material removed.

The remediation took six months of nonstop work. Crews also relocated a 1.5-mile-long, four-lane road that ran through the site, a task Anderson calls “a logistics nightmare.” To complicate matters, during site work there was about 30 in. of rain, which was above normal for that time period.

To deal with the rain, “we threw more hours and equipment on [the job],” Anderson says. “We had to have multiple borrow pits, where we were getting the good soil from, so we could rotate through the different borrow pits, and make sure we always had a dry source of material on site.”

There was a lot of double-handling of the material. This included spreading it out, letting it dry and taking advantage of the few good drying days, says Anderson.

O.L. Thompson reached substantial completion of its work by the spring of 2010.

Revving Up Design

Design continued throughout site preparation. “It was really just-in-time design,” says Anderson. The team did not finalize the design until the summer of 2010.