While rehabilitating World War II-era Army barracks in rural California might sound like the opening of a haunting work of fiction, Joe “J.P.” Rodriguez had the very real challenge of transforming 200,000 square feet (18,581 m²) of gutted structures at Camp Roberts into fully functional living quarters for incoming troops in just 180 days. A majority of Rodriguez’s work involved asbestos abatement using Freedom Chemical polyurea coatings, and both manufacturer and applicator came across some unique challenges along the way.
One of the more positive hurdles was the increase in size of the project as originally it consisted of just 16 barracks, but the Department of Defense was so pleased with Rodriguez’s application of the Freedom products that they rewarded him the remaining 32 structures. All crewmembers had to undergo in-depth background checks in order to enter government property and shifts ranged anywhere from typical 8-hour stretches to as many as 12 hours in order to accommodate curing times in the summer months.
Not only was it imperative that Rodriguez and his crew meet the deadline despite issues like heat and location, but at times 12 trades were working side by side to complete the project on schedule. “It was a ‘fast track’ project,” Rodriguez explained, “so they had all trades working together at the same time. And sometimes things would get out of order and break the routine.”
To prepare for the unexpected, Rodriguez and his eight-man crew stocked a box truck with spare parts and brought a second trailer with a fully equipped spray rig so that even in a worst case scenario, the team was prepared in the isolated Central California region.
After deciding to encapsulate the existing asbestos tiles on site rather than remove them, the decision was made to cover the substrate with 5/8 -inch (16 mm) CCX plywood and the Freedom Chemicals polyurea coating system. “When production started in August, typical summer temperatures were in the mid-90 to low-100° F (~32–38 ° C) range, which was good on one hand since heat lowers the viscosity of the materials, particularly the polyurethane caulking, which spreads like butter on hot toast,” noted Rodriguez. “However, in the winter it was the extreme opposite: We dealt with wind, rain, and cold weather,” he added. And since the barracks only had temporary power and no heating, Rodriguez imported heat using electric space heaters and wrapped drum blankets with adjustable thermostatic controllers on drum sets.
Application had to follow manufacturer’s specifications carefully in order to assure asbestos abatement. After thoroughly vacuuming the substrate, the crew installed Straight Jacket Mesh Fiberglass Tape at all plywood seams to create a slip joint. Sikaflex 1A polyurethane caulking was applied over countersunk fasteners and slip joints on the plywood while the existing concrete was profiled using shot blasters and angle grinders.
After masking surfaces not intended to receive the coating, the crew dipped and rolled Freedom FT6160 Epoxy Primer to an average 5-mil (127 microns) dry film thickness (DFT). Once the primer was dry, the crew spray-applied Freedom Tuff 2202 100 percent solids aromatic polyurea at an average 80 mils (2,032 microns). They used a Gusmer HV 20/35 proportioner at 165 degrees.
Meanwhile, a second crew was preparing the Graco GH300 airless sprayer. As soon as the triggerman finished spraying the 2202 polyurea, the second crew would follow and spray a final coat of Freedom Tuff 4000 polyaspartic.
“We put an emphasis on the prep work at the plywood floor, and our primary concern was the telegraphing at joints that was highlighting on applications by previous contractors,” Rodriguez explained. “In order to correct the problem we used a new system that proved to be a potent selling point because, upon inspecting the first completed barrack, the commanding officer overseeing the renovation commented it was the ‘best polyurea job on the base.’”
Environmental concerns were minimal, and other than complying with all applicable federal, state, and local environmental laws, regulations, and ordinances, all the crew needed to do safety-wise was employ a secondary containment system in the material storage area. This was used to protect the environment in the event of a spill.
Additional safety measures included a positive airflow system, non-explosive lighting, Tyvek coveralls, air-supplied full face respirators, nitrile chemical resistant gloves, spray hoods, ear protection, and hard hats. The crew also had weekly onsite safety meetings and a dedicated safety officer.
Kyle Flanagan of Freedom Chemicals came into the project with previous government experience, as did Rodriguez, but “in terms of size and scope, this is the largest one we’ve done,” Flanagan said. Additionally, having worked with Rodriguez with the same line of polyurea coatings in recent projects was a huge help given the hurried timeline and rural location.
Flanagan made frequent trips to the jobsite to address technical concerns, peculiar situations, and conditions not described in an existing specification. For example, he noted that, “In the showers, there was construction done ahead of time and there were some drains installed that, under normal conditions we would have installed coating before, but we had to develop a technique to install after.” But Rodriguez and his skilled crew were able to overcome any out of those out-of-the-ordinary situations.
“In our business it takes a strong partnership between the manufacturer and the applicators,” Flanagan added. “Plus, [Freedom] does a lot of things other coatings can’t do, and that’s why we’re being chosen for these types of projects. We also find ourselves with a trusted network of installers.”
Both Flanagan and Rodriguez have future government projects in the works, with Rodriguez recently winning a three-year project for Lockheed Martin in the High Desert outside of Los Angeles. So, although rehabilitating these World War II-era Army barracks weren’t the opening to a haunting work of fiction, this job definitely became the opening for something else.
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