Washington, USA - On a cool and rainy Washington State morning we donned our harnesses and stepped into the personnel basket, double clipping onto its frame. The crane was signaled and it gently lifted us off the ground, just adjacent to the last few hundred feet of the Snoqualmie River before it drops over the two hundred seventy three foot high Snoqualmie Falls. We paused mid-air, hanging over a 300 feet drop into the utter darkness of the penstock shaft leading to the underground cavity below. Wow, some days I really like this job.
The Snoqualmie Falls Power Company was founded in 1898. Work had started on an underground power generation plant in 1896 where a shaft was blasted three hundred feet straight down into the earth. A huge cavern was then excavated including a tail-race or tunnel leading to the base of the waterfall. This power generation facility was critical to the early development of nearby Seattle, Washington. Not surprisingly, the plant, which was using Nikola Tesla's 1896 technology (first used at Niagara Falls), had to be updated over time, but eventually could no longer be adequately retrofitted and demanded a significant renovation. After 112 years of nearly constant operation, Plant #1 was shut down and decommissioned in 2010. The entire cavern and above-ground building complex had been deemed as historic structures that could not simply be demolished, despite restrictive construction schedules. RE-USE Consulting was hired to come up with a plan that would inventory, remove, and store salvageable items for later use.
There were several buildings on the site, including the train depot which was to be preserved intact and complimented with reclaimed wooden benches made of wood from the other buildings onsite. The carpentry shop was stabilized, and prepared to be moved intact. The structure was a rustic woodshop and carpentry shop that will eventually house educational displays about the history of the facility. The building was lifted, moved out of harm's way, and staged out of the construction zone. The machine shop, a masonry building with many layers of paint covering the earthquake damaged brick, was scheduled for complete removal. This building was partially deconstructed with arched windows, doors, cabinets, antique lights, timbers, and decking being reclaimed. The same was true of the transformer house, a single story structure with twenty-fix foot high walls and a mezzanine structure. The power panels were all solid marble sheets with massive copper shut-off switches and relays. The one hundred year old gauges and ammeters, many with their original glass covers, still worked until the day that the Plant #1 building was silenced for good. Other items reclaimed from this building included eight round casement-style windows that would tilt in from their central axis.
The suspension bridge over the Snoqualmie River and the elevator tower were the other structures inside the work area. These structures were also fully removed after being partially deconstructed. Workers helping shut down the Plant related stories about how the river would flood and how one year the roots of a tree floating down stream caught onto the suspension bridge and started to pull it apart and eventually would have pulled it over the waterfall a mere two hundred feet downstream. They remembered a brave (or foolish!) worker cutting the roots to release the bridge and how the tree was washed over the falls and fell to the riverbed below. Two workers said that a deer that had fallen into the swift water was carried down over the falls, and was seen swimming away from the bottom of the waterfall, but I digress.
One of the most interesting parts of the project was removing the penstock pipes that had to be cut and removed from the vertical shaft. These seven foot diameter hot-riveted pipes had to be torch-cut by workers suspended in the shaft and lifted out via crane in sections weighing tens of thousands of pounds each. Some were saved for future creative reuse projects, and some were simply recycled. Safety was of the utmost importance in this procedure, as it was for all parts of the project and for the workers before us that ran the power plant. They had to deal with two thousand volt bare wires just feet from where they would walk. They had to be ever watchful for flooding, as the river would overflow the penstock shaft and fill the cavern with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, and walking the narrow suspension bridge was an adventure in itself. Ah, it would have been nice to have been there to watch as the ancient wooden gantry crane was used to pick up massive cast iron pipe fittings and turbine parts, but at least the job is safely over now.
We were successful in reclaiming and storing hundreds of doors, cabinets, windows, beams, and other materials. Many items will remain in storage for now, but we helped solicit interest from museums, municipalities, and the power company itself in using or displaying dozens of the reclaimed items. Picnic tables made from the reclaimed wood, a rain chain made of chain from the power plant, and a static display of the massive Unit 5 turbine are examples of the team's successes. The work was completed safely and quickly, and the historic preservation requirements were met. Projects such as this one are helping to raise awareness of the reclaimed building materials industry in North America. Projects that purchase or use or display the items that were reclaimed from these structures also help promote our work.
Over the next months, Re-Use Consulting hopes to relate other stories of projects that we have been asked to help with, and describe the challenges and benefits that came out of working on these structures.
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Dave Bennink of Re-Use Consulting lives in Washington State and travels internationally to consult on projects and to help start new reclaimed materials operations.
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Story Type: Columnist
Date Modified: March 01, 2012, 08:52 AM