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Crane in the Bethesda sky

Crews worked night and day last weekend to dismantle the 250-foot tall “tower crane” that has been moving materials at the 17-story 7770 Norfolk apartment building since last April.

The crane construction and removal process is becoming common in Montgomery County with dozens of multi-story buildings going up. Last month, a block of Old Georgetown Road near the Bethesda Metro station was closed to allow construction crews to install a crane for a 15-story apartment project being built by Kettler.

So how do you take down a 250-foot crane in the middle of an urban area? Painstakingly, it turns out. J.P Quinn, a senior superintendent with Clark Construction, which is building 7770 Norfolk, told Bethesda Beat how it’s done.

Before the weekend, engineers had to figure out where to place a 500-ton crane that would be used to disassemble the tower crane. They ultimately decided on a spot in front of the former Blackfinn building on Fairmont Avenue—and had to negotiate “swing agreements” with neighboring properties—to make sure it was okay to swing the crane over neighboring property lines. Also, permits to shut down the road had to be obtained from the county. Those processes took about eight months, according to Quinn.

Around 3 a.m. Saturday morning crews brought in the 500-ton crane and a 100-ton crane to begin the dismantling process. The 100-ton crane was used to assemble the 500-ton crane. It took about four hours to assemble the 500-ton crane, but by the time that was done—around 7 a.m.--winds were gusting at more than 30 mph, so the process had to be suspended until Sunday.

Crews started again at 6 a.m. Sunday. The 500-foot crane first took away sections of the boom of the tower crane and then the 250-foot tall “tower mast” or base. Work crews had to first disassemble each section. Then the operator of the 500-foot crane had to lift each section away from the building and lower it to a waiting crew on Fairmont Avenue. The smaller crane then picked up the sections and put them on a truck for removal.

The tower crane was out of the eye sight of operator of the 500-foot crane. He had to rely on images from a video camera at the top of the crane assembly and radio communications from the disassembly crew.

By 7 p.m. Sunday the tower crane had been disassembled and by 9:30 p.m. the two smaller cranes were disassembled and being transported from the scene. Quinn said construction on the building should be complete in November. When finished, the apartment building will include 244 units and about 6,000 square feet of ground floor retail, including the new Community Diner.

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