Construction students see High-Speed Rail up close

Paul Schlesinger / The Collegian

Paul Schlesinger / The Collegian

As steel, concrete and windows came tumbling down, Fresno State construction students observed the demolition of the old Del Monte building in Downtown Fresno on Monday, the property being cleared for the California High-Speed Rail project.

Part of a demolition and construction class, five students and construction management professor Lloyd Crask observed the destruction process and spoke with representatives from the project’s local contractor, J. Kroeker Inc., and the HSR design-building team, Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons.

Once a raisin processing and packing house constructed in the mid-1950s, the 110,000-square-feet Del Monte building has been abandoned for years. Located opposite Chukchansi Park on G Street between Tulare and Kern streets, it is the largest structure to have been torn down so far in the HSR project. Demolition first started Sept. 17.

Its location is in the footprint of the future HSR Fresno station, which will be built between Kern and Fresno streets. Mariposa Street will serve as the entrance to the station.

Crask said the opportunity for students to observe a real-life demolition will “expose them to the details of deconstruction” a classroom setting couldn’t.

“We want to make them aware not just from books and video and just talking about it, we want them to see the projects,” he said.

Nesthor Palomera, a senior in the upper-division class, said the opportunity gave him an understanding of the steps involved for subcontractors to actually finish a job.

“I always think it’s better to learn in the field,” Palomera said. “I mean books are good, but they only teach you the basics. You never build something exactly how the plan says.”

While there would be no explosion or wrecking ball to demolish the building, project manager Brian Herrick said the exposure to a real-world project is beneficial to students in a way that classroom settings can’t achieve.

“Once you’re out on the project, it’s quite different, especially on a state project,” Herrick said.

The contractors were able to explain to students the nuisances of a large-scale project, such as coordinating with neighbors and utilities like PG&E and the adjacent Union Pacific railroad. The HSR track will align with the UP track through Fresno County, which runs parallel with Highway 99.

Sustainability and recycling of the project was another learning opportunity for the class, Crask said.

The project is monitoring fuel and water usage, using the latest equipment and must recycle 100 percent of asphalt and steel. Meanwhile, other materials must be at least 70 percent recycled. The contractors are currently running a recycling rate of 90 to 92 percent, Herrick said.

Overall, Herrick said he believes the HSR will be beneficial for Fresno in the long run because of its success in other countries. Additionally, he said its planned infrastructure of overpasses and underpasses will improve traffic, and it would also get rid of some of Fresno’s aging infrastructure, such as Motel Drive, a string of motels along Highway 99.

The contractors have turned over 80 parcels of properties so far in the project, although some properties were empty lots and did not require building demolition, said Elizabeth Jonasson, information officer for California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Jonasson said the opportunity for Fresno State to partner with HSR was a valuable way to get hands-on experience in the demolition process. With many Fresno State graduates involved in the wider HSR project, she said the class visiting was “taking collaboration to another level.”

“For a project this big, it’s the first time Fresno has seen something like this, and it’s right in our backyard,” she said.

For Palomera, who graduates this year, the HSR also offers the prospect of future job opportunities. He said there might be positions he can pursue in the project that would develop his work experience in the construction industry.