Atlanta’s Westside Park/Bellwood Quarry Megaproject Finds Echelon and Belgard Materials A Perfect Fit
No longer will the Bellwood Quarry in Atlanta, GA serve as a Walking Dead zombie pit or a Stranger Things supernatural playground. The 400-foot deep gorge, a recognizable filming backdrop for TV shows and movies, is part of an ambitious multi-phase project that will utterly transform the long-neglected Westside area as well as address several long-term municipal objectives.
Under the project, which started construction last year, the Bellwood Quarry will be repurposed into Atlanta’s largest water reserve container, while the surrounding kudzu-invaded grounds are being developed into Westside Park, a 280-acre multi-use recreational space. Atlanta has experienced an abundance of growth in the past decade driven by an influx of new residents, expanding businesses opportunities, and the implementation of the Atlanta BeltLine—a pedestrian/bike pathway designed to eventually loop around the entire metro area. The Westside Park/Bellwood Quarry project addresses several issues associated with this exploding population: water shortages and surpluses; an aging infrastructure; and initiatives to balance development with environmentally responsible practices.
Water For The Future
After years of conceptualizing the project, contractors dramatically broke ground by activating a powerful boring machine nicknamed “Driller Mike,” to burrow out a five-mile-long, 10-foot diameter tunnel connecting the Chattahoochee River to the Bellwood Quarry and the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant. Tunnel supervisor, Larry Weslowski, explained, “Once it was activated, Driller Mike was on duty round-the-clock for almost a month.”
This 2.5-billion-gallon capacity gorge will soon hold a large portion of Atlanta’s potable water surplus, increasing reserves from three to five days to 30-90 days with city water supplies processed at the nearby Hemphill and Chattahoochee Water Treatment Plants. According to Atlanta’s Senior Watershed Director, Ade Abon, “The increase in raw water reserves will prove crucial if ever the city experiences a day without water from the Chattahoochee River—its only source—with an economic impact of $250 million a day.”
As the connective tunnel took shape, construction began at the plant and quarry sites. Designed for functionality, these structures—designed to house pumping stations, office space, workshops, and electrical equipment—will also become part of the Westside landscape, requiring visual appeal.
Low Maintenance Materials
The Atlanta-based PRAD Group, Inc., a firm experienced in environmental watershed projects, has been a key player in several phases of this long-range venture. Senior architect Tom Steele, lead designer of the quarry and treatment plant pump station structures, says specifying “low-maintenance materials were a priority for both the Hemphill and Bellwood Quarry sites.”
To combine sustainability and aesthetics, two products from Oldcastle APG’s Echelon Masonry brand were chosen: the InsulTech™ Insulated Concrete Masonry System (ICMS); and Trenwyth Trendstone® and Mesastone® masonry units. Oldcastle APG’s Belgard Aqualine permeable interlocking concrete pavers (PICP) were used as part of the Hemphill site’s storm water management system.
“InsulTech provided the insulation, durability, and minimal maintenance we wanted to achieve, in a three-part system that made it cost-effective,” notes Steele. By combining structural CMUs, EPS foam insulation, air/water barrier and exterior veneer into a single 12 ¼-in unit, the InsulTech system reduces labor time and costs as compared to traditional insulated cavity walls. The system also delivers true continuous insulation rated at R-16.2 – exceeding requirements of IECC 2015 – without sacrificing the masonry aesthetic.
As it routinely does, Echelon provided in-person assistance at both sites in order to help streamline installation of the innovative – if unfamiliar – design of the masonry system. “This was the first time InsulTech was used in Georgia,” explains Drew Lamberson, project manager/estimator with Bibler Masonry Contractors, Inc., “so we all required some training.” He continues, “The GMS and Echelon teams did a really nice job educating all of us. Len Browning, Echelon’s technical advisor, came down and showed us how to lay the blocks to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Once we understood how it worked, it saved time and labor because we finished the interior and exterior walls, insulation, and waterproofing all in one step.”
Beyond time and labor, Steele appreciated the flexibility of the system since the Bellwood Quarry Pump Station involved a multipurpose design to house pumps and electrical systems, as well as conference rooms, office spaces, a workshop, and rest rooms. “For the interior, it made sense to have hard surfaces that were insulated and had some thermal protection, since the space where the pumps operate will not be climate controlled,” says Steele. He said temperatures can range from 55 degrees F to 100 degrees F in the summer months. “InsulTech was perfect for this,” notes Steele, who actually flipped the InsulTech 3-part block, so the Trendstone™ in Sundown color faced inward, for a nice aesthetic.
The architect’s vision resulted in a magnificent blend of form and function. The grand structure features a native precast concrete outer shell, with a focal-point entranceway bookended by two soaring pilasters, which form a gateway for a striking arched-glass doorway. The complex will serve as the anchor for the evolving park aesthetic, and will soon be complemented by the adjacent Bellwood Reservoir, the next addition to this sweeping transformation.
The Hemphill Station
Although smaller in scale, The Hemphill Water Treatment Plant Pump Station required some complex coordination by masons. The structures included a workshop with 12 foot walls and an electrical facility with 18 foot walls. In addition, three different veneer colors were used on the buildings’ façades.
Lamberson recalls, “Space constraints on site made it difficult for us to lay out the pattern on the ground. This was another area where working with Len [Browning of Echelon] really made the difference. His diagrams showed exactly how many blocks of each color went where.”
During the design phase of the Hemphill Pump Station, Steele noted the mixed-style architecture of the surrounding buildings. “It’s in a light industrial area where there’s everything from a blue Ikea store to traditional brick buildings, as well as stucco apartments and others that have been there a long time,” he explains. With the Westside area predicted to undergo widespread development, architectural trends are somewhat difficult to predict.
Therefore, the decision was made to design something as simple as possible for cost savings — but with a little extra pizzazz for up-close viewing. “It has a little more flair than a typical industrial building, yet is still something that will stand for a long time and not need maintenance,” explains Steele.
Steele created a pattern that alternated between Trendstone and Trendstone Plus, both in Haydite color. The “Plus” version delivers a smooth terrazzo finish, which added a glittering effect to the exposed wall—with Mesastone textured CMUs in Sedalia color as a light-colored accent strip.
“There were a lot of control joints that made the mason’s work more complicated because of the pattern I put in, but we achieved what I was looking for,” the architect recalls. Despite the functional design of the buildings, he notes, “If you see them up close, you’re pleasantly surprised by the pattern you might find in the wall.”
“Despite being straight-forward buildings, InsulTech with the Trendstone and Mesastone finishes give them a nice feel. We want folks to know municipal funds are going toward something nice, especially since these are very permanent structures,” Steele adds.
As a publicly accessed municipal project, Atlanta planners needed the materials to be highly durable and easy-to-clean. This was essential for the Hemphill site, where the exterior is susceptible to graffiti. “With the sealant that’s integrated into the block face at the factory, that shouldn’t be a problem to clean, if it should occur,” says Steele.
Storm Water Drainage
In the past, Steele and his associates have worked with the Atlanta Watershed Department on several projects to ensure optimal storm water drainage on new sites. With an aging sewer system, water runoff is a central concern for any new municipal projects. As more land gets covered by buildings and pavement, storm water runoff has fewer places to drain in a highly impervious urban environment.
For the Hemphill access way, “We chose Belgard’s Aqualine ™ 9L Permeable Paver, a 9X9 inch profile, because the L-shaped paver fit the area well,” explained Steele. “It also had the benefits of LEED points and drainage properties, as well as its ability to stand up to the regular heavy truck traffic. Aqualine 9L helps to keep the water on the site just long enough to actually seep back into the earth and prevent run-off,” explaina Steele.
Tunnel supervisor Weslowski commented on a recent site tour, “It just rained all night, and there aren’t any puddles around here. I love these pavers!”
This same paver was used in 2016 for streets near the Hemphill project, which had the distinction of being the largest Permeable Pavement retrofit project in North America. According to the Belgard team, “The permeable pavers allow rainwater to pass directly through a wearing surface into an underlying stone reservoir that temporarily stores the surface runoff before infiltrating into the subgrade soil.” These pavers have helped with storm drainage in some of Atlanta’s most flood-prone areas.
With Phase One projected for completion in the spring of 2020, change is inevitable for the landscape of Atlanta’s Westside. As it expands, Westside Park is predicted to attract droves of real estate and business developers to its surrounding areas. Park trails will eventually connect to the Atlanta BeltLine, making the area even more accessible to city commuters. The Westside transformation is part of a broader vision to ensure that Atlanta continues to live up to its nickname—Empire of the South.