Capital Investment

Superior Concrete Materials deepens, broadens District of Columbia, northern Virginia market profile

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PHOTO: Amanda Shepherd, Superior Concrete Materials

During a decade of demographic shifts fueling above-normal residential and commercial development in mid-sized and larger cities, no major ready mixed player has expanded its urban market footprint like U.S. Concrete Inc. Undaunted by the challenges of operating in high-density population centers, the Texas-based producer has pursued major bolt-on acquisitions for Northern California and New Jersey business units, Central Concrete Supply Co. and Eastern Concrete Materials, over the past five years. Strategic ready mixed and aggregates production or distribution deals have yielded strong footholds in San Francisco and the four New York City boroughs—Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island—where batching concrete and maintaining a mixer truck fleet are feasible.

Down the Atlantic Seaboard from the Big Apple, U.S. Concrete’s Superior Concrete Materials business unit has further demonstrated a command of urban market operating fundamentals, among them a) staying well below permitted air emission or water pollution control thresholds; b) building plants at the lowest profile possible for targeted output; c) candidly informing city officials and residents of the need to have concrete production close to downtown area job sites or up and coming neighborhoods; and, d) recognizing certain capacity sacrifices or extraordinary capital expenditures, especially on greenfield projects, as “a cost of doing business.”

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The South Capitol Street elevation includes the mixer truck entrance, directly forward the charging alley; admixture tanks housed in shipping containers; and, maintenance shop (note page 43). Admixture and fly ash tankers unload at the front of the site, the latter feeding the first of two auxiliary silos. A companion slag cement vessel (right) is in the rear of the plant at the alley entry. The Workhorse reversing drum mixer (center) in the Stephens Eagle plant offers space, speed and maintenance related benefits compared to a tilt drum model. PHOTOS: Concrete Products, Superior Concrete Materials

Through 2017, Superior Concrete operated one plant on a leased, Washington, D.C. site for which eminent domain handwriting was on the wall. Reimagining the Buzzard Point industrial area, District agencies included the property in a master plan for a waterfront neighborhood at the Anacostia River and Washington Channel convergence. Leased land harboring Superior Concrete’s ready mixed production and delivery activities would eventually be within a landscaped traffic oval between the Washington Nationals Park (opened 2008) and DC United Soccer Stadium (2018). The oval is part of a $600 million South Capitol Street Bridge/Corridor project improving sports facilities access to and from Interstate 95, and advancing a Buzzard Point master plan.

Thanks to expedited permitting and construction, Superior Concrete now operates a new DC plant on a two-acre, South Capitol Street site across from the old facility, where a tilt-drum mixer, silos and other iron topping out at 80-85 feet were showing their age. The rebuilt operation is the base for 30-35 mixer trucks and equipped for routine days of 2,000 yd. or more output. Property entrances on the main (north) and east (S Street) elevations support a key safety provision: Separation of mixer and material delivery trucks. Site-bound and returning mixer trucks use the South Capitol St. entrance—closest and perpendicular to the charging alley—while dumps and tankers are routed to stockpiles and silo ports through an S St. entrance.

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A trench drain at the mixer truck entrance captures runoff from two-thirds of the site subject to process water flow or exposure. Water drains to a four-pit weir with 56,000-gal. storage capacity. The final pit feeds an automated truck wash station fronting the truck charging alley plus a batch water line. Three tanks totaling nearly 40,000 gallons’ capacity can store settled process water as weir levels dictate. Leftover concrete is ribboned on pavement adjacent to the weir; broken up after a day; and, hauled to the sister Dulles plant for crushing into RC-6 grade recycled aggregate.
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Superior Concrete dedicates one-quarter acre to a permit-driven bio-retention pond, scaled to capture stormwater runoff from one-third of the site. The facility is rich in water-filtering vegetation: 34 shrubs of three different varieties; 1,100-plus perennial and grass plantings of five different varieties; and, seven perimeter willow oak trees. Prior to storm sewer discharge, captured water passes the plants, mulch and a specialized bio media filtering layer placed a top a #57 stone and pea gravel bed.

District eminent domain proceedings compelled landowner Stuart Investments to cancel Superior Concrete’s lease on the old property, and open the adjacent parcel for the near term. That latter property will afford the producer time to secure a permanent site, and participate in a wave of commercial and residential building, plus agency work, in Buzzard Point and equally or more active areas north.

New plant construction progressed under U.S. Concrete Special Projects Manager Amanda Shepherd, who transitioned to the role after nine years staging and running portable operations for the company’s On-Site Inc. business unit. “We went to the DC Department of Energy and Environment [DOEE] in fall 2017 to start the air permit application process,” she explains. “We had to have that permit before actual building could start, and asked that the application be prioritized as the District Department of Transportation, other District agencies and Stuart Investments pressed us to move quickly.

“The air permit was the biggest hurdle. It’s not like going to get a driver’s license with a standard procedure. Every permit is written for each applicant and can differ from a neighboring plant operator’s permit. DOEE and applicants have to respond in writing to concerns community officials, activists and residents raise in public meetings or comment periods that follow formal notice of construction plans. Getting out of the gate with the replacement plant was somewhat difficult, but we were able to start paving the new yard in December and begin plant erection in mid-January.”

More than three-quarters of the square site was paved with 8 inches of concrete. Delivery and erection of a new central mixed batch plant progressed from January through May. By Memorial Day, the new Superior Concrete DC operation was running trial batches, then produced 100-plus yards on each of multiple pours over several weeks to break in and test equipment and prepare for decommissioning the old plant. The former officially went live the third week of June, as the existing operation kept orders for various District agencies and large commercial building customers on schedule.

NEW IRON

Superior Concrete left nothing to chance in addressing dust control plus process and storm water management—the main concerns expressed in the DC plant permitting. “We have a fully paved yard, skid steer-mounted sweeper, water truck frequently circulating the property and surrounding streets, sprinklers for coarse aggregate stockpiles, and sheltered sand storage,” notes Amanda Shepherd. “We have also entered an air quality monitoring program placing dust sensors along three site elevations. Any hourly dust concentration level exceeding EPA allowable limits sets off an alarm and notifies our team and DOEE staff.”

Early in the plant operation, she adds, airborne particles emanating from a fire less than a quarter mile away near the Nationals Park activated the dust sensors and alarms; District officials quickly acknowledged the actual culprit. Under normal operating conditions, monitors show Superior Concrete DC dust emissions hovering or below half the allowable legal limits nearly 100 percent of the time.

Matching dust control plan performance is the process and storm water management plan. Process water is captured through sloping pavement and trench drains, ensuring all flows to a four-pit weir treatment system. Water from the final pit is recycled in truck and plant mixer washout and select concrete batches. Storm water is diverted to a quarter-acre bio-retention pond along the plant’s front (South Capitol St.) elevation. Although not readily visible from points other than the immediate street, the pond is loaded with vegetation varieties equal to water filtration, yet worthy of professional landscaping.

Neighborhood sensitivity and permit-besting gestures do not stop with water and dust factors. The new plant has a height restriction of 65 feet, almost 20 feet below the prior operation’s level. At the expense of some production capability, Superior Concrete dropped equipment and silo height to 53-55 feet and built an enclosure with architectural, insulated wall panels to make the main structure aesthetically pleasing to neighboring businesses and future residents, while eliminating dust emissions during batching.

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Dump and tanker trucks enter Superior Concrete DC at the least-trafficked of four surrounding streets, and navigate tire-cleaning grates inbound and outbound. A skid steer with sweeper attachment works in tandem with a water truck to minimize dust from the extensively paved operation. Also contributing to dust control are coarse aggregate stockpile sprinklers and a fabric roof shelter for the sand, set back-to-back with a similar structure for the maintenance shop. The plant is well equipped for high volumes of temperature controlled mixes, running Pearson Systems’ P-30 Direct-Fired Water Heater, with 30,000-gal. tank, and companion PH-3000 Air-Cooled Chiller.

Concrete Plants Inc. of Severna Park, Md. and Steel Systems Inc. of Quarryville, Pa. configured material handling, ramps and the enclosure around a Stephens Mfg. portable, 250 yd./hour Eagle batch plant with 10-yd. Workhorse reversing drum mixer. Compared to conventional tilt drum models, the reversing drum better suits low slump mix production, has fewer moving parts, and requires less maintenance. At Superior Concrete DC, the mixer choice contributes to overall plant height reduction, and equates to an output potential of 250 yd./hour versus a tilt drum alternative’s 180-200 yd./hour range.

Along the rear site elevation, facing the DC United Soccer Stadium entrance, Superior Concrete partially conceals view of four covered conveyors, 30-in. x 140-ft. at 18.5 degrees, charging four 50-ton overhead aggregate bins. Concrete Plants and Steel Systems completed the material handling and storage plan with 450-bbl. fly ash and slag cement silos alongside the front and rear alley enclosure entrances, respectively. A horizontal silo at grade, placed beneath the main conveyors, is the primary cement storage vessel and feeds the Eagle model’s 350-bbl. in-truss silo.

POTOMAC CROSSING

The DC plant relocation occurred with Superior Concrete’s assimilation of DuBrook Concrete Inc. assets, acquired in 2015 and netting a northern Virginia market presence. To concentrate production along corridors most accessible to target projects, Superior Concrete has maintained DuBrook’s flagship Chantilly plant near Dulles International Airport, and—after a nearly four-year permitting and site preparation phase—opened a third ready mixed site in Lorton, Va., along Interstate 95. The Dulles, DC and Lorton points form a triangle framing or in proximity to a sizable portion of building and infrastructure work ahead for Metro Washington, including Arlington, Va., areas of Crystal City and National Landing pegged for Amazon HQ2 and attendant commercial and residential development. The Chantilly and Lorton plants are also strategic to the Dulles Corridor, which has become the top U.S. location for leading technology players’ data centers.

“We looked at long-range factors for Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia and saw the case for investment. The market has strong dynamics, barriers to entry and commercial building prospects suited to U.S. Concrete,” says Superior Concrete General Manager Todd Martineau. “Between infrastructure and commercial building contracts, there are unique opportunities for the types of high performance and specialty concrete applications where we excel.”

“U.S. Concrete has made a major commitment to this market by purchasing DuBrook Concrete and building two greenfield ready mixed plants over a span of three years,” he affirms. “We have positioned ourselves in the capital region and are looking for more opportunities to grow.”


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MAP: DC Office of Planning
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Front elevation (South Capitol St.)
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Rear elevation (Half St.)