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New Library Proves Scrap Is Steel Good : Construction: Recycled metal--from junk cars, maybe even Chicago's old Comiskey Park--is being used extensively in Pasadena City College project.

March 22, 1992|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PASADENA — The trucks began arriving at the construction site early this month on a tight schedule, about a dozen at a time, each fleet carrying about 20 tons of steel.

Building inspector Ed Berg and his staff methodically checked out delivery of giant steel parts that had been custom-fabricated in Paris, Tenn., by Sun State Steel Corp. for Pasadena City College's $19-million Walter T. Shatford Library.

"I'm responsible for every nut and bolt that goes into this building," said Berg, standing amid the steel beams piled at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Sierra Bonita Avenue in Pasadena.

It didn't faze him in the least to know that it was all made from melted-down car wrecks, washing machines and maybe a few recycled I-beams from Chicago's recently dismantled Comiskey Park baseball stadium.

The new library, the kickoff of PCC's master plan for the '90s, involves extensive use of recycled steel. It is part of a national building trend. All over America, electric furnaces are cooking up liquid steel from recycled scrap.

As Alfred Johnson, vice president of the American Institute of Steel Construction Marketing, put it: "The rusted-out car hulk in the front yard and the rusty part of the 'rust belt' is becoming a thing of the past. It's going into the smelter. It's America's new ore."

Almost all the structural steel in use in America today is made from scrap, made by an energy-efficient electric oven process, Johnson said. "Steel becomes purer and stronger--actually exceeding required standards--when recycled," he said.

Those building the PCC library are responsible to the office of the state architect of California. Wayne Kiethley, the safety officer in charge in Sacramento, agreed that recycled steel "has fewer impurities than virgin steel, and reduced impurities means increased strength."

The firm that supplied the steel for the PCC project is Nucor Steel of Charlotte, N.C. Nucor has "electric ovens" in several states. The one that melted down Comiskey Park and hundreds of tons of other things like cars and even old ships is in Blytheville, Ark.

The "continuous casting" process used there, like a gigantic pasta machine, churns out "wide flange" steel beams even before the metal has cooled. These are clipped off in standard lengths and shipped to steel fabrication plants--in this case, Sun State's facility in Tennessee--for transformation into structural elements destined for Pasadena.

Besides PCC's library, Nucor's wide flange beams are the raw materials for the University of Arkansas' new football stadium. In the colorful lingo of steelmakers, a batch of molten metal is called a "heat." Twining Laboratories, Berg's employer, has had inspectors on site at the Nucor smelter in Arkansas, checking every heat for purity and strength.

Each of the structural parts arriving in Pasadena has an inspector's statement indelibly marked on it, like the serial number on a medicine bottle, showing what heat it comes from. Also, each part is marked with a grade, or measure of its strength.

There also are marks to indicate where the part fits into the building, and "inspectors' marks," from which Berg can tell whether the part was personally checked by one of his colleagues Back East.

One kind of test these fabricated steel parts are subjected to involves cutting a footlong section of steel beam at random from a finished structural component, before it is shipped to the site, and subjecting it to strength and content tests. Berg and his staff will conduct random tests during construction. The library is scheduled for completion in the spring of 1993.

Recycled steel isn't the only environmentally correct ingredient of the new library project. Built on a former parking lot, its "pad"--the scooped-out and treated surface onto which its concrete foundation has been poured--is made from the ground-up pavement of that very lot.

"It packs together and cures well," said Ernie Church, PCC's director of facilities services. He also said that the library's landscaping will be based on drought-tolerant native California plants.

Last year, the college set up an Environmental Task Force to advise Church, as well as the rest of the staff and faculty, on ways to protect the environment in the course of doing their work.

The new building's heating and cooling system will use variable-speed air circulation motors--rather than those that are simply "off" or "on"--to tailor inside climate to the specifics of what's going on outside.

This kind of equipment is so efficient that it is being retrofitted into existing buildings, said Chris Santillan, PCC supervisor of energy services. Low energy-use lighting fixtures are also being installed campuswide and will be original equipment in the library.

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