Building an Aldi Under Gallons of Pressure
When our superintendent Rocky Sanders and his crew first broke ground on a new Aldi supermarket this year, there was nothing out of the ordinary. But the ensuing surprises quickly transformed a standard project into a complex set of challenges. These were the type of surprises that would lead to exponential costs and delays for many other commercial contractors. Luckily, Rocky applied quick thinking and ingenuity to overcome the obstacles.
When the Flood Gates Opened
For this Fort Myers-based project, Rocky’s crew first needed to drill into the ground to construct a loading dock with a ramp leading down. This meant drilling into the caprock that covers the Florida aquifer, which is the main source of water for Florida residents.
This impervious caprock is stronger than any man-made concrete, which makes it incredibly difficult to cut–even with a jackhammer. On top of that, they had to account for the mounting water pressure of the aquifer beneath the caprock’s surface. A geology report indicated they could drill 7 feet down before hitting the aquifer. But they ran into unexpected trouble after only 5 feet.
Aquifer water flowing out from under the caprock.
The pressure from the aquifer poked multiple holes in the rock, which acted like small geysers. As a result, a deluge of water poured out and flooded the entire construction site. Rocky and the crew were left with a mess of potentially polluted groundwater and no outlet to safely drain it.
Flooded construction site.
Rocky Sanders has managed countless ground-up builds for us in the past, but this was the first time he experienced a flood of such magnitude.
To get the flowing water under control and the site back to workable condition, Rocky and the crew used a 4-inch diesel double pump 24/7 to extract the excess water. They worked around the clock and made sure not to lose any time in the process.
The pumping proved successful. However, removing the groundwater from the flooded area was just the first step. The South Florida Water Management District has strict rules on how to properly disperse water from construction sites to prevent inundating neighboring areas with contaminated fluids. So Rocky and the crew had to create a mechanism to hold the water in place. They immediately got to work creating retention ponds.
The South Florida Water Management District sent inspectors twice a week to ensure they were preventing the water from seeping into the storm drains. The apartment complex next door sent employees to monitor the site as well. They worried that if any water emptied into the storm drains, it would flood their own retention pond as well.
Needless to say, the pressure was on. Rocky and his team had to follow the rules perfectly to pass inspections and avoid shutting down for noncompliance.
Using PVC pipes, they pumped water from the construction site into the temporary retention ponds. Throughout the process they had to continuously expand the ponds to accommodate the rising water levels. One pond could hold about 100,000 gallons of water. And when one was full, they had to quickly build another.
On top of flooding from the groundwater, it was also rainy season in Florida. That means thundershowers regularly added 3 inches of water to the ponds in a single afternoon.
When the retention ponds were finally all full, Rocky had to create solution to safely dispose of the water without letting it seep into the storm drains. He decided to use a sprinkler system to disperse the water on the ground throughout the site. This would allow the sun to naturally evaporate the droplets over time.
A Concrete Innovation
To this point, nothing about the project was simple. But it would take true innovation to overcome the third challenge: How to make concrete adhere to wet soil without shifting out of place. For this mind-bender, Rocky called local soil engineer, Matt Elmor for help.
In some areas, they were able to drill down to the caprock to get a good footing for the structure of the building. In wetter areas however, they needed a fresh workaround. Rocky and Matt put their minds together and turned to geotextile fabrics for the solution.
They instructed the team to lay the geotextile fabric over the soil to help create traction on the moist surface. After setting the fabric in place, they installed a second layer of gravel to create a barrier against infiltrating sands. They used both layers to increase the soil density to a level that would be safe enough to hold concrete in place–all while using the 4-inch diesel pump to continuously pull excess groundwater out.
This seemed like a sound strategy, but Rocky and the team still needed to pass a density inspection from Fort Myers to ensure the soil was stable enough to hold the concrete. Matt Elmor personally visited the construction site every day to make sure it was prepared properly. Later, Matt wrote a letter to the city that finally cleared the way for Rocky’s team to pour the concrete for the loading docks. The team could finally begin!
This massive barrier to starting the project could have delayed it significantly. But Rocky was determined to stay on track. He scheduled the contractors Monday to Friday at 6 a.m. and Saturdays to make up for lost time. Rocky quickly adapted to unexpected circumstances, utilized his network, and devised innovative solutions to save the project from costly delays. Rocky happily accepted the challenges without cutting corners, and our process at GSD is better for it. As a result, the new Aldi is scheduled for on-time completion. That’s just one example of how we continue building trust with our clients.