Innovative Mast Climber Solution Tackles Complex High-Rise Glazing Project

Towering 321 ft. over Church St. in New Haven, Conn., 1 Columbus Plaza has been a local landmark since 1969. But by 2012, time had taken its toll on the icon, and after 43 years, the exterior glass on the tower’s 23 stories of office space needed to be replaced. Changing hundreds of 10'x12' glass panels would have been challenging on a normal skyscraper. But on this particular job, getting the glass and workers into the right position was the bigger undertaking.

First, each floor’s windows sit 5 ft. behind a lattice-steel sunshade. Second, the ground below lies over a subterranean space. Third, the first available spot to tie access equipment into the building for stability was 47 ft. above ground. To top it off, the building owner said tie-ins couldn’t leave any trace on the steel sunshades—no welding or holes.


In addition to the weight of two or three workers, the glass, and other materials being removed and installed, each platform needed to carry a custom transport system for moving the glass panels across the 5-ft. gap between the front of the sun shade and the window frames. It’s the kind of challenge that would leave some contractors scratching their heads, or steering clear of the job altogether.

But for Massey’s Plate Glass and Aluminum, Branford, Conn., it was all in a day’s work. That’s because the 40-year-old contractor had complete confidence in a partner it has worked with for years: Safway Services, Waukesha, Wis.

Having provided scaffolding since the 1930s, Safway has made a name for itself in recent years by providing motorized solutions to complex access challenges like this project. So Safway was up to the challenge of getting people, materials, and equipment in position to replace the glass effectively, quickly, and safely.


Creative solutions
Working with Massey project planners, Safway’s team decided that using eight gas-powered, high-speed mast climbing work platforms (MCWP) would be best—two on each face of the building.
Though the work would be done up high, the challenge started underground. The space below ground level was actually inside the building. It could not support the MCWPs, each of which would weigh about 45,000 lbs. fully loaded. So the support system had to include a custom-engineered structure to span the underground void.


In addition, the windows Massey needed to replace started 47 ft. above ground, but mast climbers can typically stand freely no higher than 45 ft. The team answered this challenge by starting each mast with a triangle of three towers at ground level for extra support. Once this base structure reached high enough, they built a transition to the typical single-mast configuration.

Safety-conscious MCWP providers require masts of this type to be tied securely to a building every 30 vertical feet, but the building owner would not allow drilling or welding in order to tie the masts to the building’s steel exterior. So Safway devised a friction clamp system that tied the towers securely to the steel sun shades.

On top of everything else, all the work had to be done at night, so it would not disturb the building’s occupants, and the work platforms had to be protected from weather to ensure quality workmanship. That made lighting and enclosure additional considerations.

“It was a very challenging setup environment,” said Matt Breur, Safway project manager. “Nothing about this project was typical.”

The challenges didn’t end once the masts were up and tied to the building. Just installing the glass would have been tough, regardless of what was supporting things from below. Massey had to hoist and position the rectangular plates of glass, each measuring about 10'x12' and weighing 400 lbs. And it had to get them acrossthe airspace that the steel sun shade created between the mast-climbing platform and the walls where the glass needed to go.

A typical 5'x35' work platform wouldn’t have space for all the needed equipment, so Safway engineered a 10'x35' platform that let Massey use a special system of rollers and hoists to move the glass plates across the airspace and install them on the building.


Keys to success
The Safway product array is designed with clients like Massey in mind, says Chad Baumgartener, head of the firm’s hoisting and motorized division.

“We know access is just one of the challenges our clients face,” Baumgartner said. “Because we have broad capabilities, we can provide one-stop shopping, so to speak, that makes life easier for contractors.”

He said each job involves several factors. There are the physical requirements like lift capacity. Then there’s the price tag, the speed of set-up and take-down, and the contractor’s need for efficient work flow during the job.

This last point, he notes, is vital because for most jobs it’s controlling the time and cost of labor—not materials—that determines a contractor’s profitability. For example, when a window company can set up a vertical assembly line to maximize the speed and quality of the work, it can bid aggressively and still be profitable.

“When it comes to finding the right solution, there are a lot of moving pieces. We have the experience to make sure all the pieces work together to give the client the best combination of options,” Baumgartner said.

He noted that the Safway’s 91 branch locations are supported by several centers of expertise across North America—go-to people with deep product knowledge, engineering skills, and broad understanding of customers’ diverse needs.

But most of all—beyond the broad product array and the deep engineering skill—the key issue is dependability, Baumgartner said. When equipment is maintained well and operated by knowledgeable people, the client gets work done, costs are controlled, workers are safe, and schedules are met.

“But when it’s not, the client is held hostage,” he said. “We understand that, and our customers know we share their sense of urgency.”