Downtown construction project preserves 19 historic buildings, relocates 2 of them

- It is one thing for a developer to preserve a couple of early 20th century buildings, but it is quite another to move them in what is being called a record-setting feat of engineering.

The shifting of two four-story brick structures to fit the design of a $200 million project is now underway in Mount Vernon Square in Washington D.C.

In case you haven't noticed, the nation’s capital is in the midst of a building boom. Condos, apartments, offices – many of them brand new with eye catching designs – are changing the looks of the city's circles and streets.

But in Mount Vernon Square, a different kind of project is underway – one in which 19th and early 20th century buildings are being preserved. It has shifted some yards in order to fit the design.

"There was just dirt all the way across,” said Joe Baker, senior project manager for Davis Construction. “We drilled down into the dirt and we put the steel caisson down in it.”

Baker is responsible for preserving what was once a carriage warehouse.

"Part of the first portion of the job in order to even get close to moving the buildings was doing all of the stabilization work,” he said. “There is a massive amount of work that goes into getting the buildings prepped to be able to move them. There is masonry stabilization so we are repointing all of the joints and the masonry. We took down portions of the corners and parapets to be able to make sure that it didn't move or fall out.”

But how did they get those buildings onto steel beams in order to move them? The steel beams were drilled into the ground and a cement platform was built. Then the building was moved and dirt excavated from around the beams.

The excavation is still in progress under one of the buildings facing New York Avenue. The building is being shifted about 10 to 15 yards.

"It goes about five feet or so every 20 to 30 minutes,” said Baker. “It's a hydraulic piston that sits there and pushes the building and slides it across on what they call roll beams.”

A total of 19 historic buildings and facades are being preserved in this project, including an old brick row house built in the 1800s.

"The building that is actually behind us, the tall skinny one there, is the first one that we had done and it was 880 tons,” Baker said. “From what we know, it broke the D.C. record for heaviest building moved in the District.”

But Davis Construction set the record again by moving another building that was 1,100 tons.

The mixed retail and office space project is the brain child of Douglas Development, which has a track record of preservation in the city.

The delivery date is expected to be in 2018.

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