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From a Pit to a Park

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To create a sprawling 160-acre recreational site, Utah contractor’s impressive range of services draws heavily upon GNSS solutions.

Often derided as eyesores or environmental risks, areas such as capped landfills, depleted mines and spent gravel pits are finding new life as areas designed to benefit the general public. Noted examples of this effort include Butchart Gardens in Vancouver, B.C., which turned a depleted limestone quarry into a huge complex of multi-use gardens; the Washington Park Arboretum, built on the site of what was once Seattle’s 62-acre Miller Street Dump; and Shanghai’s Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental Hotel which created a luxury hotel down the expanse of a quarry’s face (the world’s first “Groundscaper”).

This move toward the sustainable redevelopment of once-undesirable property is also happening in the Salt Lake City suburb of South Jordan where 160-acres of land once used as a gravel pit is being re-purposed as a multi-faceted recreational destination called Bingham Creek Regional Park. Heading up the transformative effort is Provo, Utah-based Kenny Seng Construction (KSC) which is not only handling almost the full range of early-phase construction services at the site, they are maximizing those efforts through the use of GNSS technology and solutions. When it comes to getting results, KSC does not play around.

"We find that, on any machine, the reaction time with the Topcon system is much faster than with the OEM gear."

Vance Baxter, field operations manager, Kenny Seng Construction (KSC)

The Whole Package

Established in 1985 by Kenny Seng, who, wanting to get into general contracting work, sold some cattle he owned, purchased a dump truck and a backhoe, hired three others and set out to make his mark on the Provo/Salt Lake City area. Today, it is all but “Mission Accomplished,” as KSC boasts a personnel roster more than 200 strong, owns and operates more than 200 pieces of construction equipment and tallies sales in excess of $50 million each year.

According to Travis Price, the company’s chief financial officer, KSC focuses on earthwork and grading, structural and site concrete, and utility installation, which includes sewer, water and storm drain lines. “In addition, we have a gravel pit, at which we offer custom aggregate crushing as well as recycling of concrete and asphalt,” he said. “It is that full-service capability — the resources to do literally everything — that has helped us grow in the way we have and, in fact, probably helped us land the Bingham Creek job.”

Vance Baxter, the company’s field operations manager, agrees. “We have a package that basically takes our customer up to brick — and while we subcontract out the asphalt, we still control it. The alternative is for the customer to hire one company to do earthwork, another to do utilities, another for asphalt, footers, sidewalks, curb and gutter, and so on. With us, they only have to deal with one source, the process is smoother and, more importantly, any ‘finger-pointing’ is eliminated.”

The ambitious undertaking at Bingham Creek — when complete, it will be the largest park in Salt Lake County — will feature multiple playgrounds, a disc golf course, biking and other multi-use trails, a splash pad, tennis courts, pickleball courts, sport fields, bike skills course, volleyball courts, basketball courts, open lawn space, and additional trails.

Early Adaptors

The first phase of the park project, which is taking place over the course of four months, is aggressive by anyone’s standards. In that time frame, more than 700,000 cubic yards of soil will be moved onsite to literally lay the groundwork for what is to come. Yet, a close look around the site reveals not a single survey stake — testimony to the long-time credence KSC has placed in GNSS technology.

“We’ve been using GPS in one form or another for about 18 years now; I believe we were one of the first in the area to do so,” said Brandon Bunker, a KSC site superintendent. “Since then, we’ve recognized the benefits the technology brings to the job and have a GPS solution on the majority of our heavy equipment, including most of our excavators, scrapers, dozers, motor graders and our curb machines. Our owner is a huge believer in GPS and what it can do.”

It’s interesting to note that, although equipment manufacturers have in recent years, begun offering their own brand of machine control system direct from the factory, KSC has chosen to bypass that option in favor of Topcon solutions. According to Baxter, their decision is based on performance-based benefits.

“We find that, on any machine, the reaction time with the Topcon system is much faster than with the OEM gear,” he said. “The single mast is another advantage; we don’t have to worry about twin masts. Or, on a motor grader for example, we can run a tracker on one side and GPS on the other to improve accuracies even further — a huge plus for us when doing athletic fields which demand super-tight tolerances.”

Shared Success

KSC’s use of GNSS solutions at the Bingham Creek site — roughly 16 machine control systems across the equipment spectrum — is dramatically reducing the need for survey, minimizing crew size and improving accuracies in almost every facet of the job. And that level of efficiency extends all the way to a single digital model, created in-house, that is shared by every GPS-equipped machine working onsite.

“Right now we are grading for both this and future phases,” said Bunker. “We have a fleet of excavators, dozers and scrapers getting everything to subgrade — including creating berms, and prepping for a bike track, bike trails, splash pad, soccer fields and a sledding hill.”

Though it is not currently in play at the Bingham Park site, KSC’s expertise also includes precision curb and gutter paving — performed without the use of the traditional stringline. That approach, said KSC’s concrete operations manager, Tim Olsen, has followed form (no pun intended) in setting them apart from others doing similar work.

“We’ve been using the stringless solution for a couple years now,” he said. “Prior to that we were either hand-setting everything or subbing that portion of the job out to other contractors with their machines. But, the Topcon Millimeter GPS system on our GOMACO GT-3600 paver makes us extremely efficient, affords us a huge time savings and, because it is all self-performed, even if we schedule things far in advance, we know exactly where we will be so the earthwork people can begin to prep things. When we get there, we simply run off a short distance of curb to make sure we are online and on grade and are confident the rest will be on the money.”

"Many people don’t realize how crucial the model is. It gives you the ability to go to the owner at the outset and say: ‘We’ve identified a problem area and we can fix it now for this amount or we can fix it in the field for three times as much.’"

Vance Baxter

Role Models

While a huge percentage of construction firms drawing upon GNSS solutions choose to outsource the digital model creation facet of the workflow, KSC prefers to keep it in-house. Using a dedicated crew to both build models and perform its necessary survey functions, has paid dividends, according to Baxter.

“We feel we can turn things around much quicker by having our own people do it,” he said. “If there is a change or an adjustment that needs to be made, we can call in to our people, tell them of the issue, and it is fixed in 20 minutes. We can also spot any problems before we even turn a bucket of dirt, which helps tremendously with QC.”

KSC has also taken to using a GPS-grade, laser scanner-equipped drone to fly many of its jobs — including Bingham Creek — in advance, using it as an opportunity to confirm that things are what they are supposed to be, that quantities are right and so on.

“Many people don’t realize how crucial the model is,” said Baxter. “It gives you the ability to go to the owner at the outset and say: ‘We’ve identified a problem area and we can fix it now for this amount or we can fix it in the field for three times as much.’ It’s a compelling argument.”

It’s About Time

Given the massive scope of its GNSS arsenal, KSC demands (understandably) a high degree of knowledgeable, responsive service and support. They get that through a dedicated team from the Salt Lake City branch of Rocky Mountain Transit and Laser (RMTL). With Joe Micklos, RMTL’s co-owner and sales engineer, as their point man, the dealer has proven itself invaluable in their level of commitment.

“They really do bend over backwards to help us,” said Bunker. “Joe will drive down to help us with something that is sometimes plainly our own fault and turn it into something positive. He is also great in talking us through a problem over the phone. If we didn’t have that relationship, chances are one of our machines would be out of commission for a couple days while we waited for a call back. Their whole office treats us so well.”

The admiration flows both ways. Micklos said that, without Kenny Seng’s ability to know what he wants and needs, RMTL’s job would be much tougher.

“Kenny is one of the few owners who realizes that time is probably the most valuable commodity on the job,” he said. “A while back, they constructed a pair of elementary schools, and, to prove out the processes, Kenny built one using all traditional methods, and the other modeled and done using all GPS. When complete, he said the two jobs were similar in cost, but they finished the GPS-driven project 30 days early. A month of savings for a fleet of equipment represents a lot of money. Ultimately, it is the fact that jobs can get done faster without sacrificing accuracy that has continued to sell Kenny on the technology.”

COVID-Resistant Business

KSC has fared exceedingly well, despite the changes the COVID environment has thrust upon them and business in general. According to Gary Nelson, KSC president and general manager, the effect of the pandemic on their business has been very minimal.

“We had one or two projects where owners have held off waiting to see what’s going to happen, but that’s it,” he said. “The Salt Lake City area — the entire state, in fact — is doing great; I believe we have the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

While we have traditionally relied upon work for several of the area school districts, we are always looking for other areas in which to expand; the Bingham Creek project is a great example of that. In the not so distant past, we would have never been able to competitively bid a project like this. But with the people that we have and the technology they have at their disposal it makes it possible for us to not only bid on jobs like this, but to fare very well as a result of it.”

Though KSC is currently only handling the initial phase of the Bingham Creek project, subsequent phases hold a lot of promise for showcasing its GNSS-rich capabilities, should they secure those bids. That includes paving/curb and gutter work, excavation of footings, utility installation, creation of the bike tracks, and more.

“Those parts of the project have not bid yet,” said Price. “However, right now, largely thanks to our GPS solutions, it is looking like we’ve saved at least a month on the phase one schedule. That certainly can’t hurt going into the bid process.”

Bingham Creek Regional Park is scheduled for a Fall 2022 opening.