Construction of the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee commenced on Oct. 20, 1986. Just under two years later, the 18,717-capacity arena opened for business.
Regarded as a premier venue when constructed, the facility served as the home to the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette University’s men’s basketball team, various other minor league teams, and countless events and concerts during its tenure. But after 30 years in operation, the arena’s luster had worn off.
After it was deemed unfit for an NBA team, stakeholders decided to replace and demolish the facility in favor of the newly constructed Fiserv Forum, which opened in 2018 as the new home of the Bucks and the Marquette team.
Project bidding took place in the summer of 2017, after which Hunzinger Construction Company of Brookfield, Wisconsin, was named the construction manager, and Veit & Company Inc. (Veit) of Rogers, Minnesota, was named the demolition contractor. Additionally, J&J Contracting LLC, International Falls, Minnesota, was chosen to remove regulated waste materials; Advantage Blasting, Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, was chosen to implode the roof; Michels Corporation, Brownsville, Wisconsin, was brought in to handle the concrete crushing; and Milwaukee-based ZS LLC was selected for surveying and scanning.
In the run-up to demolition, Veit began laying the groundwork for the massive project over the course of a year-long planning process, according to Veit Vice President of Demolition Steve Hosier.
“Veit spent the year before work commenced completing a comprehensive demolition plan, which included addressing erosion control, traffic control, dust control, completing task-specific integrated work plans, and an engineered demolition plan to fell the roof in a controlled manner,” Hosier says. “Besides the obvious of being charged with demolishing the structure, Veit’s scope of work also included capping all the utilities, installing fencing and erosion control, removing regulated waste, salvaging all remaining assets from within the building, and finally, grading the site to drain to newly installed storm sewers.”
The demolition work began in October 2018; however, contractors were limited in the work they could perform since the stadium was still being used by the Bucks, and time was needed to decommission portions of the building and conduct salvage operations.
“Preliminary phases of work included obtaining the project permits, disconnecting the utilities, mobilization, and setting up the site security as well as installing erosion control,” Hosier says. “During this time, Veit and its subcontractors also began salvaging the electrical and mechanical equipment and removing the regulated waste from the building.”
Once the regulated waste was removed, Veit was able to move on to soft stripping the facility.
“We used small equipment to begin soft stripping the interior of the structure of its non-recyclables, such as its interior gypsum walls, carpet, trim, etc.,” Hosier says. “While soft stripping the building, Veit also removed the lower portions of the seating bowl to allow for more room to dismantle the roof when it was dropped. After the roof was dropped Jan. 13, Veit removed the remaining cast-in-place concrete superstructure using conventional top-down demolition methods.”
Tools of the trade
Taking down the 550,000-square-foot Bradley Center mechanically required a range of excavators and attachments with the power necessary to ensure operational efficiency.
Hosier says the following tools were the primary equipment the company employed to systematically tear down the structure:
- a CAT 365 high-reach excavator with Genesis attachments.
- a CAT 349 mid-reach excavator with Genesis attachments.
- a CAT 374 excavator with Genesis attachments.
- a CAT 352 excavator with an Epiroc hammer.
- a CAT 336 excavators with various Genesis attachments.
- a Liebherr 956 excavator with a Labounty attachment.
With the substantial volume of material needing to be demoed, the arena was the perfect testing ground for heavy-duty equipment. For this reason, Hosier says the Bradley Center project was used for research and development on newer pieces of equipment. He says that Veit teamed up with Ruckus and Genesis to provide feedback on equipment such as the CAT 349 excavator with various Ruckus interchangeable prototype attachments as well as the Genesis GRX 395 multi-processor tool.
Veit field crews and the Ruckus design engineers engaged in daily correspondence regarding performance, troubleshooting and possible modifications to maintain or increase production and continue safe operation.
Dealing with the challenges
Hosier says the nature of the project and its location lent itself to a number of challenges. Besides having to work while the facility was still in use, the contractors had to be diligent in minimizing the disruption and potential for damage to surrounding structures.
Prior to the start of demolition, Hosier says Veit performed several pre-demolition surveys and 3D laser scans on several historic buildings adjacent to the site to determine their integrity. Veit also provided additional scanning as well as continuous vibration monitoring during the demolition.
“There were a number of considerations that we had to be mindful of. Demolishing the stadium in a downtown setting—including felling the roof with explosives—all within close proximity of the new Fiserv Forum that stood just 30 feet directly to the north, in addition to several historical buildings that surround the site, was especially challenging,” he says. “Also, working on the structure during the heat of the NBA season with all the Bucks fans to contend with also proved to be challenging. Veit’s demolition approach took all these challenges into consideration, and means and methods were developed to minimize the impacts outside the property line.”
Veit sequenced the building removal by working within the bowl of the arena as much possible, demolishing the building components from the center of the structure and working out, leaving the exterior wall up as long as possible. This provided an existing barrier to prevent environmental nuisances such as dust from escaping.
Rather than have to use high-reach excavators to systematically dismantle the copper roof of the structure, contractors decided to implode it while leaving the surrounding structure intact. This decision limited the man-hours required to perform the work, which ultimately minimized safety risks while accelerating the schedule.
Additionally, prior to the roof felling, coordination with neighboring businesses and the city was paramount, Hosier says. Veit participated in numerous meetings to discuss traffic control, logistics and timing of the demolition to mitigate potential issues.
The Bradley Center was rich in opportunities for repurposing and recycling.
Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity got the first crack at repurposing material from the Bradley Center. Items such as cabinets, faucets, light fixtures and metal hoses were taken from the arena’s suites to be later sold to support the organization’s building initiatives. Players’ lockers were also taken to be repurposed. In all, Habitat for Humanity filled 16 24-foot trucks with materials.
Hosier says that although it wasn’t baked into the contract, recycling was a priority for Veit throughout the demolition process.
“Although there were no specific recycling mandates or goals associated with the project, Veit’s commitment to environmental stewardship is integral to our culture, and our approach to maximizing demolition debris recycling opportunities makes us more competitive,” he says. “Once completed, over 95 percent of the demolition materials will be recycled, which includes 84,000 tons of concrete either recycled on-site or brought to a local recycling facility. Nearly 7,000 tons of structural steel and over a half a million pounds of nonferrous metal, including the Bradley Center’s copper roofing structure, will also be recycled by the time the project is completed.”
In June, crews removed the last portion of the arena after months of mechanical demolition to make way for future development in downtown Milwaukee.
In August, Hosier said that the project is scheduled to be completed on time and on budget around the middle of September. Hosier adds that the lot will remain empty until at least after the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which Milwaukee is set to host. The Bucks are still considering what will be built on site.
Hosier says that along with navigating the numerous obstacles that confronted his team during the demolition process, being able to be good stewards in the community was a significant achievement of the job.
“This project had very aggressive small-business enterprise (SBE) and labor goals: Twenty-five percent of contract dollars were to be awarded to a SBE,” he says. “Veit will have exceeded this goal by over 4 percent, totaling more than 29 percent SBE utilization. Additionally, the project Resident Preference Program (RPP) goal, which is a city of Milwaukee program that helps unemployed and underemployed city residents get work on large development projects, was 40 percent RPP employment. Veit will have far exceeded this goal and provided over 60 percent RPP employment by the time the project is over.”
Even with the large number of workers on site and the project's high degree of complexity, Hosier says crews have been fastidious in ensuring safety throughout. He says he considers that to be Veit’s most significant achievement throughout the project.
“In the end, the greatest accomplishment and the most important statistic we are all proud of is that the Veit team invested over 12,000 highly dangerous work hours in the project without any incident or recordable,” he says.