. . . Some Gave All
Arizona contractor’s work on National Memorial Cemetery project gets help from above.
Like most Americans, construction professionals tend to have a deep love for this country and all that it stands for. Almost immediately after the World Trade Center towers fell on 9/11, hundreds of construction workers were lined up at the site to do their part in the rescue/recovery effort. Similarly, when natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, landslides, etc., occur, construction people and their equipment are there to assist their fellow Americans in the cleanup. It should come as no surprise, then, that Noel Guevara, president and owner of JAG Construction, considers it an honor to have been involved in a recent project to expand the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, one of two such facilities the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) maintains in the state. To get that job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, the fledgling company drew upon GNSS technology for the bulk of its grading and specialized excavation needs. Doing so, it was able to wrap up the major expansion on time and, more importantly, with as little disruption to the facility’s goings-on as possible.
Going on a JAG
Only in its second full year of operation, JAG Construction is, nevertheless, rich with talent and expertise in the excavation and grading arenas. Owner Noel Guevara had previously headed up a grading operation for another company which, prior to his arrival, had no grading experience.
“That company asked me to come on board and start a grading division,” he said. “At the time, they were an underground contractor and their goal was to eventually be doing equal parts underground and grading. Well, after the first year we were doing 80% grading and 20% pipe. After three years I left due to some differences with ownership and chose to start my own grading firm, naming it ‘JAG’ after my two sons, Jonah and Angel Guevara.”
Largely due to Guevara’s expertise and established contacts, JAG Construction hit the ground running, ramping up to more than two dozen employees before its first-year anniversary. They were also able to land some interesting work that inaugural year — none more so, however, than the expansion of the National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix.
This is easily 70% faster than doing things ‘old-school.' Having the blades equipped with GPS gave us the confidence to walk away each day knowing that the numbers were there.”
Additional Space Needed
The project to expand the National Cemetery is meant to alleviate an unfortunate issue occurring throughout the country: a shortage of burial space brought about by the rising number of veterans of World War II, the Korean Conflict and the war in Viet Nam passing. Though there will still be room for additional expansion in the future, the current project involves development of 22 acres adjacent to the existing cemetery. The total scope involves construction of two columbarium courts to house 4,688 niches for cremains; 2,180 pre-placed crypts; grading for 1,900 in-ground cremains; 650 linear feet of roadway, two retention ponds and 1,350’ of shotcrete drainage channel.
“When we first came on site, this area was basically just scrub land dotted with creosote, palo verde and some mesquite,” said Guevara. “We had to first clear and grub, then we took a blade and ripped the surface so we could pre-wet it. We used a pair of John Deere 672/772 motor graders to cut and maintain the roads, which we actually did at the same time the mass excavation was going on. Doing so, we found, lessened the amount of mass excavation and ramped up production.”
A look around the expansion site revealed very few grade stakes, a telltale sign that GNSS technology was at work. Guevara said that he had prior experience with GPS equipment and systems and knew — particularly as a new company — that he wanted to put it to use at the Cemetery project.
“I first used GPS when I was with a company back in 2000,” he said. “So I know the tremendous boost in productivity it can give, and felt that I had to have it on this project.”
While Guevara may have felt at home with machine control and other such solutions, a couple of his men were new to the technology and had to have a crash course in working within a GNSS environment. Enter Jordan Daughters, account manager for RDO Integrated Controls’ Gilbert, Arizona office.
“As we do with most customers who are new to this type of technology, we spent a lot of time at the outset helping JAG’s team get control established, walking personnel through the training — basically just getting them up to speed. One of the company’s guys was very new to GPS, so he needed to have a knowledge base to get him through the times when we are not out here. However, we don’t mind because that’s something that’s beneficial for both them and us. And to their credit, JAG’s people picked up on the technology quickly, testimony to both their ability and Topcon’s user-friendly design.”
On the equipment side of the equation, RDO outfitted JAG’s two motor graders with Topcon 3D-MC2machine control in a twin-antenna, single-mast configuration. Guevara’s decision to place his faith in the GNSS solution put his company at what Topcon calls the “Intersection of Infrastructure and Technology,” a conceptual crossroads where Topcon helps industry professionals best meet growing infrastructure demands through technological innovation. The upshot to stopping by that metaphorical intersection is an increase in both productivity and profitability
A Channel Runs Through It
Though the majority of the cemetery expansion site is relatively flat, the retention ponds and drainage channel were areas that could have proven problematic, had they been done using traditional survey methods. Guevara said there was a limited amount of initial staking done, but it was for reference only, to ensure the accuracy of the modeling and surfaces.
“This channel is being shotcreted which meant our tolerances were extremely tight,” he said. “We needed to keep things within ¼” which would have been a real headache without the Topcon solution. The base of the 1,350’ long channel was 12’ wide — just wide enough to fit the John Deere machine — and the sides were graded at a 2:1 slope. The operator was able to concentrate on what he was doing without having to reference grade stakes or stop for grade checks. It made that part of the job a breeze.”
The company got similarly impressive results on the pair of retention ponds — one of which was just under an acre in size. Guevara said being able to do so much detail work with the Topcon system dramatically ramped up production. “This is easily 70% faster than doing things ‘old-school,’” he said. “Having the blades equipped with GPS gave us the confidence to walk away each day knowing that the numbers were there.”
Honored by Service
In addition to the site work mentioned above, JAG was also contracted to excavate foundations for a pair of columbarium courts, structures with built-in niches to house urns with cremains. Guevara once again turned to GNSS to streamline that effort, specifically a Topcon excavator system.
“The soil on this site is very expandable, so we had to over-excavate and put in select fill, material that keeps the foundation from shifting,” he said. “Because of the GPS system on that machine, the operator knew exactly how far down he had to go; there was no questioning or verifying depths — that was a nice solution for us.”
The year 2017 was one in which JAG opted to invest in technology. In addition to a Topcon HiPer V receiver and several Topcon FC-500 data collectors, they purchased six complete GNSS-based machine control systems. This year they are looking at additional machine purchases to meet what is forecast to be more than double 2017’s numbers.
“We are excited for the growth that lies ahead and the projects already on the books,” said Guevara. “The National Cemetery, however, was a unique project. Out of respect, we would stop work whenever a service was being held, and that just makes one realize the sacrifices made by so many laid to rest in this cemetery. The new expansion will make room for more of these heroes— I felt honored to have been a part of it.”