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Pyramid Masonry Contractors have done their part to revitalize Orlando, again. Masons from the Atlanta-based contractor's Orlando, Fla., branch returned downtown to complete 55 West, a mixed-use high-rise. The 32-floor, 1 million-square-foot structure is on the former site of a two-story brick building, which Pyramid built several years before.

55 West is a new destination in historic Church Street Station, a popular tourist area. With 377 lofts and rental units, retail space, and restaurants, the upscale building is advertised as part of a “long-awaited renaissance of urban living on Church Street.” The Esplanade courtyard at its entrance welcomes visitors and residents with fountains, palm trees, and outdoor dining areas.

Curb appeal

The masonry contractor's choice of materials enhance the property's luxurious appeal. The design originally included a 1-inch-thick limestone facing for the Esplanade's columns. “We suggested using Arriscraft stone instead to make more of a statement,” says Melvin Fowler, Pyramid's project manager and estimator.

To achieve the perfect look, foreman Ted Glockzin had the task of ensuring all 4200 square feet of stone coursed out correctly. Without original drawings, he relied only on sketches that were being drawn as construction progressed. In the end, it was worth the effort. “The Esplanade is as much the focal point of the building as Church Street is the focal point of downtown,” Fowler says.

Pyramid's masons were responsible for completing the building's first and second level façade, including the parking deck, for which they placed 115,000 modular brick. They built concrete block walls inside the parking deck and placed large cast stone frames around its entrances. Behind the scenes, the masons also built stairwells, restroom facilities, and mechanical rooms.

At the top of the tower, the team built a 4-foot-high block wall to support a glass curtain wall along the executive penthouse suites, complementing the building's striking profile. They used a total of 140,000 concrete blocks and 1700 feet of precast lintels, and they set 135 linear feet of precast sills on the project.

An urban worksite

While the design of 55 West is unmistakably modern, its location anchors the city's historic entertainment district. To maintain the site's unique character, masons expanded the scope of their work to include restoring Gertrude's Walk, a brick path on the west edge of the building. Before the railroad came to town in 1880, Gertrude Avenue was Orlando's widest street. The remaining portion along the railroad tracks became a popular pedestrian walk, but it had fallen into disrepair.

Pyramid's team replaced crumbling and missing brick, and repaired brick columns. Where possible, they reused existing brick, tying the path's original look with the new construction.

Jobsite conditions proved as much of a challenge as selecting materials. Trains constantly interrupted the mason as they worked near and around the tracks. They also fought traffic on busy downtown streets around the building. To the south, portions of Church Street had to be closed while they worked on the enclosed footbridge between 55 West and its sister property, 54 West. The bridge had originally connected the two-story retail structure with a similar building across the street. To tie it in with the new high-rise, masons removed brick from a portion of the façade and replaced it with stone to match the Esplanade courtyard.

With an average of 12 to 15 masons, tenders, and foreman onsite at all times, Pyramid's team worked around these obstacles and finished the job in just more than 20 months. They finished work in August 2008, and the building opened in September 2009.

Project Participants

Owner: FFWO, LLC, Netherlands

Building Management: ZOM Residential Services, Orlando, Fla.

Masonry Contractor: Pyramid Masonry Contractors Inc., Atlanta

General Contractor: PCL Construction Services, Orlando

Architect/Designer: Baker Barrios Architects Inc., Orlando

Structural Engineer: TLC Engineering, Orlando

Industry Leader of the Year

Keith Sommer, regional vice president at Pyramid Masonry Contractors' Orlando office, is MASONRY CONSTRUCTION's Industry Leader of the Year.