Tyler Junior College President Dr. Mike Metke got the highest view possible of the campus’ largest construction project, 160 feet up.
Metke, his executive assistant Ellen Matthews and Chapel Hill ISD Superintendent Dr. Donni Cook joined representatives from HGR General Contractors on Friday for a climb up the tower crane to see how it works and get a different view of the project, the college campus and the city as a whole.
“There aren’t any mountains around here to climb,” said Metke, who along with the other climbers donned a hard hat and neon yellow vest. “This is the closest we can get.”
The tower crane and its operator Richard J.D. Langley, 39, of Atlanta, have been working on the construction of the Robert M. Rogers Nursing and Health Sciences Center on the west side of TJC’s main campus.
The three-story, 135,000-square-foot facility will more than triple the classroom and lab space of the college’s existing health care programs, according to a TJC news release about the August 2013 groundbreaking.
The college will add programs and expand many of its 11 existing nursing and health sciences programs.
Three programs that will be added first are physical therapist assistant, certified occupational therapist assistant and wellness and personal fitness specialist.
With the new programming, the college is expected to produce 50 percent more graduates in health care fields, going from 600 in 2013 to 900 by 2017, according to the news release.
SmithGroup JJR is the lead architect on the project and has partnered with four local firms: Eubanks Harris Roberts Craig Architects, Fitzpatrick Architects, Brannon Corp. and David C. Scarbrough Landscape Architecture.
HGR+Turner Joint Venture is the construction manager-at-risk for the center.
The tower crane at TJC can lift up to 72,000 pounds, but the farther the trolley, which holds the hoisting block and hook, gets out on the jib, or operating arm, the less weight it can carry.
A computer inside the operator’s cab lets him know how much weight the crane is carrying, how far it is out on the operating arm and the wind speed.
The computer will actually shut the crane off if the operator tries to overload it, Langley said.
Langley has been working in this type of job for 21 years. Although the crane on the TJC project is about 140 feet high at the cab level, he has worked on cranes more than 1,000 feet high.
Those cranes have a temporary elevator for the operator to ride partway up before climbing the rest of the way, he said.
The crow’s nest on the TJC crane is positioned about 160 feet above the ground.
A radio allows the workers down below to communicate their needs with Langley. On Friday, as he moved the crane to pick up about 4,200 pounds of metal decking, the visitors watched. Men on the ground made hand signals to let the operator know when to lift the items and when to stop while depositing them at a different location.
“Oh, this is impressive,” Dr. Cook said. “I love it. This is really impressive.”
A joystick allows the operator to control movement of the crane left and right. Another joystick lets the operator control the lifting of items with the hook.
As the operator rotates the crane, the fastest the tip of the crane can go is about 60 mph and he’s maneuvering a machine that weighs about 200,000 pounds.
The crane will be removed from the site in early May. Metke said the project is on schedule for a spring 2015 opening.
He said this is the time when the construction workers will be able to make up for any lost time because once the buildings are covered, they will be able to use double crews and double shifts.
Metke said all of the construction going on in Tyler is good for the city. In addition to the TJC campus, projects include the Smith County Jail expansion, the downtown parking garage and Tyler ISD schools.
Randy Reynolds with HGR General Contractors said there have been three tower cranes in the city recently, for the Smith County Jail, the downtown parking garage and the TJC project. Two remain.
After descending the ladders successfully, Metke had one description for the experience.
“It’s the best view in Tyler,” he said.