July 13 2011 12:00 AM

Accident Fund project gets national steel award; Lansing shares the prestige with New York and San Francisco


People give plenty of ink and gab to the
Academy Awards, but other professional organizations give out annual
awards. Take the American Institute of Steel Construction. What’s the
award for, you may snicker — best supporting beam?

Structural steel awards are no joke to
the people who design and build amazing things in the United States.
This year, the industry’s top award, the Presidential Award of
Excellence, bypassed spectacular new buildings from New York to L.A. to
settle on Lansing and its signature redevelopment project.

The transformation of the 1939 Ottawa
Street Power Station into the world headquarters of the Accident Fund,
completed in March, “took the judges aback,” according to Larry Flynn,
an institute spokesman.

The combination of saving a historic
landmark and solving a titanic engineering problem was irresistible to a
national cross section of design and engineering experts.

“Rehabilitating a public landmark is
always noble, always complex, and this project redefines both,” 20-year
design architect and awards juror Wesley Walls of Little Rock, Ark.,

Only one or two Presidential Awards are given each year. The Accident Fund got the only one for 2011.

Lansing steelman Larry Kruth said “it’s
an extremely difficult award to get.” Kruth is a vice president at
Lansing’s Douglas Steel, the steel maker and erector on the project.

“We’ve applied with other jobs, and never
even made the cut,” Kruth said. “It has to be the right project with
the right mix of things to impress the jury.”

Flynn said many of the judges hadn’t even
heard of the Accident Fund project until they huddled in Chicago in
February to sift through the entries.

“They were really impressed,” Flynn said. “This project really stuck out.”

The judges looked at 100 entries, from an
airport terminal in San Jose seven football fields long to a tiny,
steel-plated restroom on a bike trail in Austin, Texas.

Besides the Accident Fund project’s top
award, a dozen other buildings got “national” and “merit” awards,
divvied up by cost and size of the project. Winners included San
Francisco’s “House of Air” trampoline pavilion, a 30-story glass tower
on Madison Avenue in New York and a dramatic new restaurant pavilion at
New York’s Lincoln Center with a warped, grass-covered roof.

One Merit Award went to another power
station conversion. A small power plant on the James River in Richmond,
Va., once used to power the trolley system, was converted into a boat
club and restaurant.

No project in the United States matched
the scale, beauty and complexity of the Accident Fund project, Flynn
said. The challenge was immense: how to shoehorn a modern, nine-story
office building into an idle power station without harming the historic
Art Deco masonry shell.

The steel team dropped hundreds of beams
and girders through small holes in the roof and assembled them into
floors, from the bottom up. Working from a computer model of the
building’s 2,000 structural beams, the old steel was “surgically
demolished” as new steel went in.

To match the new steel to the power
plant’s old beams and girders, Kruth used tables for designing riveted
connections from a 1955 book he inherited from his father, an engineer.
Old crane rails, once used to service turbines in the power plant’s west
side, helped move steel into place.

The awards also recognize early and close
teamwork among designers and builders. The Accident Fund project’s huge
team filled that bill by swapping ideas and computer models back and
forth from the beginning.

Consequently, the Presidential Award will
go not only to Douglas Steel, but also to the project’s construction
manager (Christman Co. of Lansing), the architects (HOK of St. Louis and
Quinn Evans of Ann Arbor), the structural engineer (ARUP of Chicago),
and the construction engineer (Ruby & Associates, Inc., of
Farmington Hills).

Kruth picked up Douglas Steel’s award at
the national steel conference, held at Pittsburgh March 11. Wednesday at
11 a.m., a ceremony was scheduled for the Accident Fund headquarters to
recognize all the team members. Flynn will fly in from Chicago to
present the award.

“I can’t wait to see the building in person,” Flynn said.