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UES Helps Assembly Atlanta Project Get Off of the Ground

by: Debra Wood
Crews lift steel beams into place on a section of the Assembly Atlanta development.
Crews lift steel beams into place on a section of the Assembly Atlanta development.
UES acquired Georgia-based Contour Engineering, which was working on the Assembly Atlanta project.
UES acquired Georgia-based Contour Engineering, which was working on the Assembly Atlanta project.
A view of the backlots under construction.
A view of the backlots under construction.
Backlot streetscapes representing areas from around the world are being constructed.
Backlot streetscapes representing areas from around the world are being constructed.
Many of the buildings have tilt-wall construction.
Many of the buildings have tilt-wall construction.
Assembly Atlanta features multiple sound stages.
Assembly Atlanta features multiple sound stages.
Work progresses on one of the Assembly buildings.
Work progresses on one of the Assembly buildings.
The construction team recycled the old concrete.
The construction team recycled the old concrete.
New life is blooming in Doraville, Georgia, with construction of Assembly Atlanta nearing completion, but first Orlando-based UES (formerly Universal Engineering Sciences) is performing some essential geotechnical, testing, and inspections to ensure successful delivery of the mixed-use development.

“This type of development puts a spotlight on Atlanta and Georgia,” says Tyler Smith, Project Manager with Contour Engineering, a UES Company. “It’s exciting to see the growth that has happened here and in our state. It’s huge and a really cool project.”

Georgia has become a destination for filmmaking and has 4 million square feet of stage space, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The state offers tax incentives and has a wide variety of location settings as well. For the fiscal year 2022, the film and television industry spent $4.4 billion in Georgia, and the state played host to 412 productions, including 32 feature films, according to the Georgia Film Office.

One Million Square Feet of Production Space
Rising from the former General Motors Assembly Plant site, Assembly Atlanta’s Assembly Studios will bring 1 million square feet of film-production space, including television studios, soundstages, backlot streetscapes representing areas from around the world, production offices, warehouses, space for props, event space, administration offices, a dining hall, and parking decks. The city of Doraville Police Department will locate precincts at Assembly Atlanta, which will be able to be used in film or television show productions.

In May 2020, UES acquired Georgia-based Contour Engineering, which was working on the Assembly Atlanta project. Early on in the development, UES completed more than 100, 6-inch diameter soil test borings to get a good understanding of the site for design and foundation purposes. The company is responsible for geotechnical engineering at the former industrial property.

“This is a mega project,” says Scott Thomson, Vice President and Principal Engineer at Contour Engineering, a UES Company. “From our standpoint, we feel fortunate to be able to work on a project such as this.”

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Gray Television of Atlanta, owner of more than 100 television stations and Swirl Films, purchased the property in April 2021 for about $80 million, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company anticipates Assembly Atlanta construction costs of $195 million to $205 million, which it expects to be partially offset by proceeds from property sales and incentive payments in 2023.

Gray and its affiliated film companies will use some of the facilities and rent others to production companies. NBCUniversal Media is leasing some of the space and will manage all of the studio space.

Additionally in a delayed second phase, plans include adding apartments, a hotel, corporate offices, restaurants, and retail stores to the 135-acre development northeast of Atlanta in DeKalb County.

The General Motors plant opened in 1947 and closed in September 2008. The property near Interstate 285 and Interstate 85 and two MARTA stations became home to Third Rail Studios, owned by Gray; Serta Simmons Bedding headquarters; and Asbury Automotive. Gray purchased the entire property in 2021. At that announcement, Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman said he expects the planned development will attract thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in investments to the city.

Construction Aspects
The Gipson Company of Brookhaven, Georgia, just west of Doraville, serves as the developer of Assembly Atlanta, and HGOR of Atlanta the master planner for the project. Bailey Construction, a national firm in Alpharetta, Georgia, began construction in March 2022. Joe N. Guy Co. of Marietta, Georgia, also is performing work on some buildings.

“Schedule is a driving factor on these mega projects,” Thomson says. “It’s all about time. The end user expects it to open on a certain date.”

Crews dismantled the existing structure and properly disposed of or recycled the components. Eighty-eight acres of concrete were crushed and reused on the project as aggregate road base and in new structure slabs. All of the steel and rebar from the old automotive plant were recycled. All stormwater structures were brought above ground.

Grading took place in the winter of 2021, despite the difficulties with the weather. “These bigger projects cut over the seasons,” Thomson says.

Crews used lime to stabilize and dry out the soil. Workers also placed fill on the existing soil and founded the buildings on aggregate vibrated stone columns to allow for densification of the materials, Thomson says.

“The aggregate piers used were used due to the size of the buildings and the variable of material in an old site like this,” Thomson says.

During excavation, workers uncovered a 30-foot-high underground room, which had served as a basement and housed the chiller for the General Motors stamping plant. It remained buried for 14 years but has since been removed. Crews moved the pipes and steel out piece by piece and backfilled dirt into the massive hole. UES monitored the process.

The ceilings in eight studio buildings are 50 feet high – the tallest in Georgia – and have catwalks and an upper grid for hanging lights, cameras and other elements. The walls are concrete tilt-wall construction with steel trusses for the roofs. The last steel beam was lifted into place in March 2023. The project also includes a 4-acre park with a pond and water features.

About 1,100 construction workers are on the site daily. “There are multiple contractors that need our resources,” Thomson says. “We were able to staff that with the right number of people.”

UES Contributes to Development
National engineering and consulting firm UES has played a critical role in bringing Assembly Atlanta to life. The privately held company, founded nearly 60 years ago, employs more than 3,400 professionals across 77 branches in high-growth U.S. markets. UES provides geotechnical engineering, construction materials testing, building code compliance, threshold inspections, and environmental consulting.

In addition to the site borings early on, during construction, UES has provided construction material testing and special inspections.

“Special inspections hold contractors to a standard,” Smith says. “We go out and perform inspections on a set schedule that have to take place.”

The work includes sampling concrete to ensure it meets the construction document’s PSI, observing steel erection and masonry work, and monitoring soil compaction and foundation placement. “It creates a higher level of construction,” Smith adds.

The studio construction should be complete in June 2023. Smith praised the teamwork on the project.

“It has a lot of moving parts, and the construction schedule was tight,” Smith says. “With two contractors out there, we have to have our coordination down, so things are reported in a timely manner.”

Photos courtesy of UES

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