Data Centers Sprout in Iowa Cornfields
While silos are a regular sight on the Iowa landscape, a new type of storage facility is sprouting where corn once grew. Data centers have taken root in the Des Moines area providing many man-hours of work for local businesses and especially for one Iowa pumper. “What started out as just a local rumor three years ago has provided plenty of concrete pumping for us,” according to Chris Smiley, sales manager for longtime ACPA-members, Sun Concrete Pumping, Grimes, Iowa.
A data center is a facility used to house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. It generally includes redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls and various security devices. Large data centers are industrial scale operations using as much electricity as a small town. Owners can be large financial institutions and internet companies. And they can be big. Two buildings that Sun is currently working on cover nearly a million square feet. The data centers require amenities found in the Midwest, such as available land, cheap electricity and no earthquakes or hurricanes. Turner Construction, a leader in data center construction, is the general contractor working out of their Kansas City office.
“I met the Turner people when I was driving out to the proposed site three years ago, “explains Smiley, “I heard about it from a local source and when I explained our capabilities and number of pumps, we were chosen after a couple of meetings.” Smiley didn’t realize the scope of the project at the time. “We will probably end up pumping 50,000 yards when it is all done.” Sun has been a long time pumper for the concrete contractors on the project, George J. Shaw Construction Co, also from Kansas City. Sun has 15 concrete boom pumps ranging from 32-meters to 61-meters.
Building One was started in August 2013 and at 476,000 square feet, it is 20,000 square feet larger than the second building to accommodate offices for the employees. The structures are two-levels with small third story penthouses. Steel frame construction is erected over a slab on grade. Pre-cast walls enclose the structure that contains hundreds of aisles with racks for thousands of servers. The footprint is approximately 300×800-feet. Footings were pumped using the company’s smaller booms. Twenty generator pads with concrete up to three-feet thick were pumped to support diesel back-up power with 1,000-gallons of fuel storage for each unit. The importance of staying on-line is paramount. These data centers can operate without outside power for up to two months.
“Pumping the second level required multiple moves in a day and the addition of system to reach all of the decks,” explains Smiley, “We didn’t have a 61-meter for the first building and the crews worked pretty hard setting up system and dragging hose.” When Building Two was announced before Building One was completed, it was an impetus for the company to buy the longer boom. “During the overlap of the pumping of Building One and Building Two, we sometimes had five machines on site in a day.” Sun is located thirteen miles from the jobsite.
Where there had been 150-feet of system attached to the end hose of their shorter booms when pumping the first building, the Schwing S 61 SX with 4-section Overhead Roll and Fold boom made pumping more efficient for the second structure. “We could stick the first two sections into the building which covered more than 100-feet,” according to Smiley.
“These data centers are not your normal big box concrete structures,” according to Travis Hachmeister, project manager for George J. Shaw Construction. “We learned so much on Building One about coordinating with the precast panels, the utilities and how to deal with limited access for pumps and ready-mix trucks that we will save considerable time on Building Two.” In order to meet the owner’s flatness profiles, the concrete contractor worked with ready-mix producers Manatts, Inc. a diversified producer and contractor with locations throughout Iowa.
“We teamed up to meet the owner’s criteria and the concrete has performed way beyond our expectations,” explains Hachmeister. The decks and roof are 5.5-inches thick. Another aspect where pumping paid off is on the curbing poured on top of the decks to support equipment. “We started with buggies for the curb pours on Building One but developed a pumpable mix for Building Two,” Hachmeister explains.
Despite a rainy spring, Building Two is ahead of schedule. “Our 61 has the rear steer which helps enormously because it is also a drive axle, but it also allows the driver to steer the pump out of ruts left by the truck mixers when reversing in muddy conditions,” Smiley explains. He adds, “The 61 has been a real time saver moving around the site with the Super X outriggers that deploy quickly.” Sun has also used their Schwing S 39 SX, S 46 SX, S 47 SX and S 52 SX on the project that also feature the Super X outriggers. Smiley also credits the Turner team for allowing the pump operator to decide if site conditions are suitable to set up a concrete pump in wet conditions.
More than $1 billion is being spent on the 200-acre data center site near Altoona, Iowa over three phases. One reason given by the owner for their development in the area is the desire to utilize sustainable and environmentally friendly wind-power. And Iowa has it, ranking No. 3 nationally last year in the generation of wind energy, according to the American Wind Energy Association. An adjoining electrical substation is part of the project and more than 2,000 new wind turbines are expected to come on-line in Iowa in the near future.
General contractor: Turner Construction, Kansas City, Missouri office
Concrete Contractor: George J. Shaw Construction Co, Kansas City, Missouri
Pumping Contractor: Sun Concrete Pumping, Grimes, Iowa
Concrete Pumping Equipment: Schwing BPA 500 line pump, S 39 SX, S 45 SX, S 46 SX, S 47 SX, S 52 SX, KVM 52 and S 61 SX truck-mounted concrete pumps with placing booms.