Kraus-Anderson employee Kevin Reinke is at the top of his game. And there is no elevator.
Reinke is the tower crane operator on the four-story Gore Annex project under way on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.
His office is the 6’x 6’ foot cab, 161 feet off the ground. Every morning around 5 a.m. he climbs a ladder straight up, with no safety harness, just a vertical cage and a resting platform every 20 feet. The climb takes about 15-20 minutes, so once he’s up there, he tends to stay up there all day, which often is a 14-hour day. On this project, nothing happens without a tower crane.
The Gore Annex project is a 38,324 s.f. lab building, sitting on one of the tightest and logistically most challenging footprints imaginable. Tucked into the elbow of the existing Amundson Hall, the project site is bounded by an 800-KVA light rail line, occupied classroom buildings and pedestrian walkways surrounding the perimeter of the site, serving the campus’s nearly 65,000 students. The job’s tower crane is planted about 7 ½ feet away from Keller Hall to the north; and 6 feet from the building under construction. A 13.8 KVA power feeder snakes down wall of Amundson on the west end of the site. With only a sliver of staging area for materials and equipment adjacent to the building, virtually everything has to be picked by crane and lifted, very carefully, to the jobsite, swinging only over certain paths for the protection of nearby pedestrians.
“It’s like threading a needle all day long,” says Reinke, who is widely regarded as one of the most skilled crane operators in the nation.
As of February the new structure has risen to its full four-story height, with decking in and exterior skin work proceeding around the existing building. Reinke is currently taking requests from about 14 subcontractors on the site, performing pick-ups of materials ranging from steel beams to ductwork to concrete mixing materials and equipment.
Some of the more challenging requests so far have included setting 110 panels of glass, each 5’x 15’ in size and weighing 3,000 pounds, for a new curtain wall skin which is being applied to both the new and existing buildings. So far he hasn’t broken a single item. But that’s not the most sensitive pick Reinke has made on this job, according to Dennis Feela, project superintendent.
During the foundation work, “All of the bottom rebar that ran in the north south direction in our decks were full length, about 45′ long. Kevin had to get those bars from Union street (a half a block away) to the deck without hitting the existing building or the building to the north which is only 20′ away from the edge of bar. And remember we started 25′ below ground and he had to bring the bar up and over the five-story buildings to get it there.”
“I cannot stress enough how impressed I am with this guy,” adds Feela.
Reinke’s level of quality is often matched by the quantity of work he produces.
“On this job, he could have as many as 200 picks in a day, says Feela. “Today (Feb. 13) it’s before 9 a.m. and he is over 50. On the slow days it could be as low as 20 but on this site there are very few days like that.”
As the new building rises, Reinke’s sight lines become more limited, but that hasn’t hampered his dexterity. To empty a waste container on the southeast end of the job site, he picks up the container “blind,” knowing its exact location by a combination of metrics, sight line references, and the “feel” developed over two decades of experience. He swings it over and across the new structure to a dumpster on the opposite corner of the site, stilling the container’s swing before lowering it gently into the dumpster. He then dumps the container, gently tapping one end against the dumpster to dislodge the last dregs of waste, including a stubborn packing strap dangling from the lip of the box. The entire process takes maybe 90 seconds from pick to dumpster.
While the hours are long, his commitment to safety never wavers. “People’s lives depend on your doing your job correctly. You have to have plenty of patience, be able to make good decisions on whether the way someone has rigged a pick is proper and safe. You have to be on your toes from the time you get in the seat until you climb down,” he says.
It’s an important job, but not a luxurious one. Reinke’s cab is equipped with an electric heater in the winter, an AC unit in the summer, and a microwave. Other conveniences are improvised as needed. “You need to watch what you eat,” says Reinke.
Does anything stop him? “40 to 45 mph winds/gusts and heavy rain with lighting shuts me down.”
Reinke has been doing this for 23 years, 14 of them with KA. “My dad got me started operating equipment and I just kept doing it,” evolving from crawler cranes to tower cranes. The tallest crane he’s operated was the 240’ crane for the 8000 Normandale Tower office construction in Bloomington in 2002.
While he’s content to sit alone in his box for hours a day, Reinke stays in close communication with the ground crews and the superintendent. And, he says with a smile, “a visitor is always welcome.”