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From Steel Plant to Performance Venue

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Best Small Project (under $10 million)

Photos: (Top ) courtesy of Wallace Roberts & Todd; (bottom) courtesy of Forrester Construction
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The last time several thousand people showed up at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem, Pa., they were reporting for a shift at the historic facility, whose 30,000 workers churned out steel for such projects as the Empire State Building and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. With most work at the plant ceasing in 1995, the 1,600-acre site now is a monument itself, awaiting a major redevelopment that will preserve facilities and draw crowds to SteelStacks, an arts district on the property.

Some of that work already began last summer as groups of up to 2,500 people headed to performances at the newly opened $3-million Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks. But the visitors were on site many months ahead of time after the owner, the Bethlehem Economic Development Corp., asked the project team to slice the original construction schedule in half.

The new band shell and stage structure standing in front of the old plant's giant blast furnaces broke ground in February and opened for a July 2 performance. “It goes to bid and all of sudden there was a time crunch where the manager of the facility wanted to start booking acts for this summer,” says Matthew Johnson, associate principal for Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, structural engineers based in Waltham, Mass.

“The challenge is the same as for any project that's small not only in size but also in budget, to try to do something compelling within a fixed fee,” Johnson says. “The architect envisioned this dramatic steel structure that both recognized the history of Bethlehem Steel and shows what we can do with steel now versus 100 years ago.”

Ensuring that the project had the proper acoustical and waterproofing features and that the contractors could efficiently and quickly build the structure were among the design team's hurdles. The work had to be done despite odd angles and unique sizes, depths and shapes for the steel pieces—all of which influenced the planning of the cantilevered sections.

The project was completed in July with no recordable safety incidents across 7,760 man-hours.

Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks, Bethlehem, PA

Owner: City of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Economic Development Corp., Bethlehem, Pa.

General Contractor: Bracy Contracting Inc., Allentown, Pa.

Construction Manager: Boyle Construction Inc., Allentown, Pa.

Lead Designer: Wallace Roberts & Todd, Philadelphia

Civil Engineer: Keystone Consulting, Bethlehem, Pa.

Structural Engineer: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Waltham, Mass.

MEP Engineer: Lehigh Valley Engineering, Bethlehem, Pa.

Steel Fabricator: Levan Associates, Emmaus, Pa.

Steel Detailer: Lehigh Valley Technical Associates, Northampton, Pa.

Submitted by: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger

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