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As the 20th Century draws to a close, this is the first in a series of articles on building projects, milestones and changes in the construction industry during the last 100 years.
On the calendar, the summer of 1999 came to an end last week, and thermostats all across the state were clicked over from "cool" to "heat."
It was a hot summer - the kind that made many people wish they had air conditioning if they didn't already. Back in 1899, however, for the vast majority of the world, air conditioning was pretty much limited to a fan and a block of ice. But like so many technological advancements this century, air conditioning was about to change our comfort levels, and our lives.
Mainly through trial and error, a spurt of technological developments after the turn of the century started to bring down the temperature in a few buildings, while an entirely new job classification sprang up that thrives in today's building environment - the air conditioning mechanic.
"The practical application of mechanical refrigeration to air cooling for the purposes of personal comfort, no doubt has a field and the day is at hand, or soon will be, when the modern office building, factory, church, theatre and even residence will be incomplete without a mechanical air cooling plant." That prediction was made during the 1904 World's Fair by the editors of the trade journal Ice and Refrigeration.
Throughout the 1800s, scientists, mechanics and crackpots had a lot of ideas about how to artificially create lower temperatures, and some of them worked.
According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), vapor compression refrigeration had been proposed as early as 1805, and a working model had been constructed in 1834.
The demand for brewing, and later, ice-making, led to the establishment of numerous firms that could install complete refrigeration systems. By 1900, the ability to install mechanical cooling was well established in the food industry, but the technology hadn't yet been adapted into the ability to effectively cool entire rooms or buildings and make the occupants consistently comfortable.
At the turn of the century, many cooling engineers settled on a forced-air design for cooling buildings - after all, the "plenum" system of blowing forced-air over a steam or water-heated surface to distribute heat had been used effectively for the last 50 years.
But settling on a method to cool the air, size the equipment, and remove moisture from the air proved vexing.
Some of the early cooling agents that worked to varying degrees included ammonia-refrigerated brine coils, calcium-chloride brine, and direct expansion carbon dioxide coils.
Through trial and error, engineers started to come up with a series of formulas to determine: the temperature to which the air must be cooled to remove a given weight of moisture, the amount of latent heat that must be removed, and the surface area of the cooling coil.
They had to determine how much outside air to bring into the system, and how much interior air should be re-circulated. And they had to figure out where to place the ducts: at the baseboard, near the ceiling, or in the ceiling?
One of the pioneers who brought everything together was an engineer whose last name is familiar today: Willis Carrier. In 1901, he worked for the Buffalo Forge Co., a fan heating apparatus manufacturer. He was assigned to solve a humidity control problem at a printing plant, and after using scientific methods, designed a system to control humidity using calcium chloride in refrigerated pipe coils to absorb moisture.
In 1906, after more tweaking, he received a patent on his invention, called "Apparatus for Treating Air." He was among the first to realize the importance dehumidification, that air could be dried by saturating it with water. The Buffalo Forge Co. was on its way to building the device for other industries.
"Carrier's great contribution was in his ability to see that air conditioning could be an industry," said ASHRAE.
Although the New York Stock Exchange building was the first "laboratory" for air conditioning in 1901, theatre owners were among the first groups to fully embrace the new technology. The earliest system was a direct expansion system using carbon dioxide refrigerant installed in 1911 at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles.
It wasn't a perfect system - theatre patrons were known to wrap their feet in newspapers or carry blankets to "refrigerated" theatres in hot weather. Designers later found that diffusing cold air from the ceiling seemed to solve that problem. The first theatre to employ that kind of system, the Metropolitan Theatre in Los Angeles, opened in 1922.
Automatic controls came along that combined diffusion, bypassing cold air with incoming warm air, and re-circulation. The public began demanding the cool air - four theatres were cooled in Chicago in 1922; 14 were in operation three years later. Air conditioning spread to other industries, offices, and then homes. Detroit's J.L. Hudson building was the first department store to be air conditioned, in 1924.
Marketing was still behind the times in the 1930s - but there was also a Depression going on. It cost at least $1,500 to air condition a home during that time, and two-thirds still would not pay for the convenience when buying a new home.
The average American didn't enjoy air conditioning in the home until after World War II. Most people couldn't argue with manufacturers who claimed at the time that it promoted better sleeping and eating, healthier air quality, and cleaner interiors free from pollen and dust.
The big change came with the arrival of the "flivver," in the early 1950s, a simple, self-contained box that could be plugged into an electrical outlet.
After World War II, mechanical cooling allowed the development of the modern glass-walled skyscraper - the symbol of freedom from traditional construction systems as well as heating and cooling methods. Glass-walled skyscrapers such as the United Nations (1952) linked modern architecture with the new technology.
By 1962, 6.5 million homes in the U.S. had air conditioning, six out of 10 hotel rooms, and 500,000 office buildings.
While much of the world gets along fine without it, air conditioning changed the quality of life for Americans, and transformed the way we do business. Before air conditioning, bread grew mold, film attracted dust, pasta lost its shape, and chocolate turned gray when temperatures and humidity fluctuated. Air conditioning made the City of Houston possible. Most of all, a good night's sleep is readily available on those nights when the low is 75 degrees.
A turn-of-the-century engineer who worked on the New York Stock Exchange's cooling system, Alfred Wolff, had it about right.
"If the refrigerating plant is instituted and the entering air is cooled and the percentage of moisture lowered, the result will be that this room will be superior in atmospheric conditions to anything that exists elsewhere. It will mark a new era in the comforts of habitation."
Information for this article was excerpted from American
Heritage Magazine, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating
and Air Conditioning Engineers Journal and the National Building
Delegates to the Michigan State AFL-CIO have chosen Mark Gaffney, a Teamsters Union representative, to lead the labor federation for the next four years.
Gaffney, 44, was elected president of the federation at the group's 23rd Constitutional Convention at the Dearborn Hyatt Regency Hotel Sept. 22-24. Tina Abbott from the UAW was elected to the No. 2 post, secretary-treasurer. The state AFL-CIO represents the interests of Michigan's more than one million union households.
Setting up a strategy to get Michigan's union members mobilized for election year 2000 will be Gaffney's first priority, under a "New Alliance Plan" adopted by the national AFL-CIO.
"Most of our efforts are going to be focused on making sure that central labor councils, including the building trades, know what needs to be done in order for us to reach our goals in November 2000," Gaffney said. "We're going to be doing everything we can to mobilize the connections we have with union members across the state."
Formerly a Maritime Trades union member who worked on Great Lakes shipping, Gaffney has a labor relations degree from Michigan State University and has worked for the Teamsters for the last 12 years. He is a Saginaw native.
Gaffney said beyond getting prepared for the next election cycle, finding an end to the Detroit newspaper lockout will also be a high priority. So will organizing - Gaffney proposed joint campaigns among numerous unions aimed at single geographic areas of Michigan, like Alpena, Gaylord or Traverse City.
"There is strength in unity, power in numbers, and without unions this nation's economy would be lopsided in favor of business," he said. "We have to mobilize our membership, because our strength is in them."
On hand to welcome Gaffney during the convention was national AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who said the nation is beginning to see the light when it comes to joining unions. While the overall percentage of union members in the nation has remained flat, unions signed up 475,000 new workers last year, and he said more will come into the fold this year.
"We're restoring the voice of working families like never before," Sweeney said. "You in Michigan probably have more organizing campaigns going right now than any other state in the country. You've shown your commitment. We haven't turned the corner, but we've reached the corner."
Sweeney said the national AFL-CIO plans to devote more money and human resources to local labor councils in an effort to improve organizing.
A standing ovation welcomed outgoing President Frank Garrison, and sent him on his way after he made his final address to the delegates.
"I can't thank you enough for the support you've given to me over the past 13 years," Garrison told the delegates. "Our principles haven't changed since I first went to Lansing, but the political climate has changed. There are some real clouds on the horizon.
"There's no rocket science here. We have to get members involved. Republicans control the state Senate, the state House, the governor's office and the state Supreme Court. If we can't get our members out to vote and win back the state House and a Democratic majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans will control reapportionment of districts. And Michigan will soon be a right-to-work state, because the Republicans know they'll have 10 years of control without repercussions."
By Mike Hanley
Although it has been some time since I've worked in the shop, I have remained a member of my union, UAW Local 699, because it really represents my roots, and I am firmly committed to the causes of labor in our great state.
As I know you are aware, our state is under complete Republican control, from the Governor's office, through the Senate and House, and on to the Supreme Court.
What does this mean to organized labor? It means that we are facing a political agenda that favors the wealthiest people and corporations in this state, a political agenda that does little for us "average" folks. I don't know about you, but I don't think the executives at big corporations who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars are the ones who need their taxes reduced.
How about those of us who struggling to send the kids to college,
to pay for day care, to just make ends meet? I simply haven't
seen enough done for that group, and I want to do something about
We are advocating legislation that would cut taxes for average families; improve our schools' infrastructure; reduce class size; see that students are instructed in the basics of a good education; provide a free community college education to those who wish to obtain one; guarantee that our senior citizens have safe, clean nursing homes in which to live; make prescription medication affordable, and continue the fight to protect Social Security.
But the reality is that we face an uphill battle, and your support is critical. Sure, we need you at the election, to vote Democratic, and we know we can count on you for that. But in the meantime, you can be proactive for the cause.
Ever wonder what happens to those letters and calls people make to their state legislators? Believe me, we read those letters and listen to those calls, and they make a difference. I'm going to do my best to keep you informed of when proposals which are not in your favor are on the forefront, and I need you to get active and make those calls and write those letters to the appropriate people.
I'll even provide you with names and addresses. Another way to get the message out is your local newspaper. Letters to the editor are a great means of communicating with the community, and they come from you! That's what makes them work: they are not from some politician in Lansing who people think doesn't know his head from a hole in the ground. They're from people who are living in the world who are directly affected by such proposals. They are from your friends and neighbors!
In the coming months I will keep you posted on what we are doing in Lansing, but remember the Legislature legislates for the entire state. I know you will be there next year as we near the election, but we can't afford to wait until then. Get active now. If you need some ideas on what you can do, call my office and I'll help get you started.
Keep in touch with your thoughts and concerns. My district
office number is (517) 752-1710. My toll-free office number is
(800) 952-9559. Do you have Internet access? If so, check out
the House Democratic web page at www.housedems.com and
see what we are up to. You can even e-mail us. Remember: involvement
is the key, and it does make a difference!
MUSKEGON - Emissions from Consumer's Energy's B.C. Cobb Generating Plant should be improved in a few months, thanks to the continued use of low-sulfur coal and ongoing upgrades performed by the building trades.
The project, which began last summer, involves enlarging 25-year-old precipitators on both of the plant's operating boilers. Precipitators are pollution control devices which pull fly ash out of the flue gases. The trades are installing larger precipitators.
Consumers Energy initiated the $5.5 million project as part of its ongoing environmental enhancement activities, which include burning increased amounts of low-sulfur coal from Wyoming and Montana. The coal burns cleaner than coal purchased from eastern mines, and enables Consumers Energy to surpass one of the standards of the amended Clean Air Act for sulfur dioxide emissions.
However, more of the coal needs to be burned in order for the plant to maintain its power generating capacity. Since more coal needs to be burned, larger precipitators are necessary. The plant burns about 1.2 million tons of coal every year.
Some 40-60 building trades workers working for Northern Boiler and Newkirk Electric will be on the job when the new precipitators are tied in early next month.
Consumers Energy Engineering Manager Tom Spelman said Sept. 15 that in preparation for the precipitator equipment, the trades are "building boxes on the roof right now.".
"This upgrade isn't required by the state or the federal government to improve our emissions," he said. "Consumers is just being proactive in doing a better job in cleaning the emissions at B.C. Cobb."
Spelman said parts for the precipitators are being brought in from all over the country, and assembled more than 200 feet above ground on the roof of the B.C. Cobb Plant.
He said this is the first of a number of "sizable" projects that will be taking place at the 50-year-old facility over the next five to six years. Most, he said, will involve modifications to improve emissions quality.
Located on 300 acres on the shores of Muskegon Lake, the B.C.
Cobb plant's two turbines can generate 300 megawatts of electricity,
enough to provide power to a community of 160,000 people. The
plant employs 123, many of them members of the Utility Workers
Union of America.
Dems seek limit on campaign money
In an effort to increase public confidence in the electoral process, Democrats in the Michigan House have proposed a package of bills to limit the influence that big money has on campaigns.
"The people in Michigan have lost confidence in the democratic process, and doubt the integrity of their elected officials," said state Rep. Deb Cherry at a Sept. 15 news conference announcing the package. "This public cynicism can be traced to two major factors: big money and the influence of special interests on elections.
"This legislation will help curb abuses of negative political advertising and make it more difficult for special interest groups to circumvent state election laws."
The Michigan AFL-CIO News reports that the proposal would limit soft money contributions and extend reporting requirements. Individuals would be limited to donating $50,000 to all political committees.
In addition, House Bill 4815 is designed to improve disclosure and reporting requirements for candidates for state elected office.
Employment dips; but pay is up
The U.S. construction industry had gained 48,000 workers in June and July.
The DOL also reported that average weekly industry pay went up from $687.48 in July to $690.80 August.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that there were $390 million in new construction spending during the first seven months of the year, an increase of 7.1 percent over the same period in 1998.
Inflation hits more building materials
This spring and summer, the nationwide shortage of drywall drove up the price of that material - up 36 percent in some areas from a year ago. Now, reports the Engineering News Record, inflation is nipping at the heels of other building materials.
Inflation, the ENR said, "is striking key materials with rapid price hikes and shortages that appear to develop overnight." PVC water and sewer pipe is the latest victim, with prices up an average of 12 percent in a 20-city survey.
Delivery times for high-strength PVC pipe are stretching out months, and some utility contractors who can't wait are switching to ductile iron pipe on some projects.
In addition, wall insulation prices are up 18.4% for the year, after climbing another 4.1% during the third quarter. Prices for wood products dropped in September, but remain 12 percent above last year's level.
Price stability in steel and concrete have meant that construction-related
cost index hikes have been relatively mild, up 4.3 percent this
quarter, said the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Down the street from the infamous "Battle of the Overpass," where Ford Motor Co. goons beat the daylights out of UAW members on the Miller Road overpass in 1937, the building trades, Fluor Constructors and CMS Energy recently staged a battle of another sort.
On Sunday, Sept. 12, the trades wrestled a remarkably heavy 120-foot trestle into place over Miller Rd. The 340-ton span was lifted complete with two 96-inch diameter circulating water lines and single 84-inch diameter blast furnace gas line. The big pipes will be part of a system feeding power from the Dearborn CMS Industrial Generation Plant now under construction east of Miller Road, to Ford Motor Co. and Rouge Steel operations at the Ford Rouge Complex west of Miller.
"That was the largest lift I've ever been around, and I've been in the business 26 years," said Operating Engineers Local 324 general foreman Leo Bodette. "And it was one of the smoothest operations I've ever seen too. It was planned really well."
Bodette's brother, Billy, was at the controls of the Triple 8 Manitowac ring crane, which was saddled with 1.3 million lbs. of counterweight. To limit the disruption to traffic on Miller Rd., the job was done on a Sunday morning.
Allen Adkins, construction project manager for CMS Energy, said the trestle was constructed on the ground "because we felt it would be safer and more economical."
Adkins said "tremendous planning and leg-work by Fluor Constructors" was necessary before the activity that Sunday morning, with coordination among not only the people doing the lift, but with Dearborn authorities as well. The city gave its blessing to close Miller Road.
Construction of the $300 million power plant began before the tragic explosion and fire on Feb. 1 that knocked out the Ford Rouge Powerhouse, which was scheduled to be replaced. The explosion accelerated the construction schedule of the new gas combustion turbine plant, which will be rated at a total of 710 megawatts.
The plant's first 160-megawatt gas turbine was put into commercial operation on July 9. The plant's second phase is scheduled to begin operation in the spring of 2000, with full operation expected in June 2001. CMS Energy will provide 400 megawatts to power the Rouge facility. The plant's remaining capacity of 310 megawatts will be available for sale to electric utilities.
Adkins said about 120 Hardhats are on the job now, and 400 to 500 will be working when the project peaks out next spring.
"The quality of work we've seen has been super; not a
problem at all," Adkins said.