Atlanta's Westside Park and Reservoir Megaproject

By Dave Jackson

The 400-foot deep Bellwood Quarry – a recognizable filming backdrop for TV shows and movies – is being repurposed into Atlanta’s largest water reserve container. Oldcastle APG’s Echelon Masonry and Belgard permeable pavers, both sustainable materials, are being used for the site's facilities. (Image credit: PRAD Group Architects)

Long established as the commercial hub of the Southeast, Atlanta has experienced an abundance of growth in the past decade driven by an influx of new residents, expanding businesses opportunities, and the implementation of the Atlanta BeltLine – a pedestrian/bike pathway designed to eventually loop around the entire metro area.

With the city reconfiguring, the long-neglected Westside is undergoing a massive overhaul as its 400-foot deep Bellwood Quarry – a recognizable filming backdrop for TV shows and movies – gets repurposed into Atlanta’s largest water reserve container. The reservoir’s surrounding kudzu-invaded grounds are being developed into Westside Park, a 280-acre multi-use recreational space. This ambitious multi-phased effort addresses several issues associated with the city’s exploding population – water shortages and surpluses, an aging infrastructure, and initiatives to balance development with environmentally responsible practices.

After years of conceptualizing the Westside Park/Bellwood Quarry project, contractors dramatically broke ground in 2018 by activating a powerful boring machine nicknamed “Driller Mike” to burrow out a 5-mile-long, 10-foot diameter tunnel connecting the Chattahoochee River to the Bellwood Quarry and the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant. Tunnel supervisor, Larry Weslowski, explained, “Once it was activated, Driller Mike was on duty round-the-clock for almost a month.”

Oldcastle APG’s Echelon Masonry™ and Belgard® sustainable materials are being used for the facilities at the Bellwood Quarry. (Photo: Echelon Masonry)

No longer will the gorge be featured as a Walking Dead zombie pit or a Stranger Things supernatural playground. This 2.5-billion-gallon capacity gorge will soon hold a large portion of Atlanta’s potable water surplus, increasing reserves from three to five days to 30 to 90 days with city water supplies processed at the nearby Hemphill and Chattahoochee Water Treatment Plants. According to Atlanta’s Senior Watershed Director, Ade Abon, “The increase in raw water reserves will prove crucial if ever the city experiences a day without water from the Chattahoochee River – its only source – with an economic impact of $250 million a day.”

As the connective tunnel took shape, construction began at the plant and quarry sites. Designed for functionality, these structures – designed to house pumping stations, office space, workshops, and electrical equipment – will also become part of the Westside landscape. To combine sustainability and visual appeal, architects chose two products from Oldcastle APG’s Echelon Masonry brand – the InsulTech™ Insulated Concrete Masonry System (ICMS) complemented by Trenwyth® Trendstone® and Mesastone® masonry units. Oldcastle APG’s Belgard® Aqualine permeable interlocking concrete pavers (PICP) were used as part of the Hemphill site’s stormwater management system. The masonry and paver materials were sourced through Oldcastle APG’s Atlanta-based GMS facility.

The Atlanta-based PRAD group, a firm experienced in environmental watershed projects, has been a key player in several phases of this long-range venture. Senior architect Tom Steele, the lead designer of the quarry and treatment plant pump station structures, explained how InsulTech’s pre-assembled single-wythe structural masonry units fit the distinct specifications for the project.

“Low-maintenance materials were a priority for both the Hemphill and Bellwood Quarry sites,” the designer noted. “InsulTech provided the insulation, durability, and minimal maintenance we wanted to achieve, in a three-part system that made it cost-effective.”

As it routinely does, Echelon provided in-person assistance at both sites in order to help streamline installation of the innovative – if unfamiliar – design of the InsulTech™ masonry system. “This was the first time InsulTech was used in Georgia, so we all required some training with the system,” explains Drew Lamberson, project manager/estimator with Bibler Masonry Contractors, Inc. “The GMS and Echelon teams did a really nice job educating all of us. Len Browning, Echelon’s technical advisor, came down and showed us how to lay the blocks to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Once we understood how it worked, it saved time and labor because we finished the interior and exterior walls, insulation, and waterproofing all in one step.”

Architect Tom Steele turned the InsulTech 3-in-1 blocks around so the nicer exterior ground face was on the inside of the building, which is mainly un-air conditioned, providing a nice aesthetic for workers, minimal maintenance, and maximum energy efficiency for the central electrical room and offices around the perimeter of the central space. (Photo: PRAD Group Architects)

By combining structural CMUs, EPS foam insulation, air/water barrier and exterior veneer into a single 12 ¼-in unit, the InsulTech™ system has been shown to dramatically reduce labor time and costs as compared to traditional insulated cavity walls. Just as importantly, the system delivers true continuous insulation rated at R-16.2 – far exceeding requirements of IECC 2015 – without sacrificing the masonry aesthetic.

Steele discovered just how adaptable the InsulTech™ system was during installation at the Bellwood Quarry Pump Station, which involved executing a multipurpose design to house the pumps as well as electrical systems, conference and office spaces, a workshop, and rest rooms.

“For the interior, it made sense to have hard surfaces that were insulated and had some thermal protection, Since the space where the pumps operate will not be climate controlled,” said Steele, noting that temperatures can range from 55 degrees F to 100 degrees F in the summer months. “InsulTech was perfect for this,” he said. He flipped the InsulTech 3-part block, so the Trendstone™ in Sundown color faced inward, for a nice aesthetic.

The architect’s vision resulted in a magnificent blend of form and function. The grand structure features a native precast concrete outer shell, with a focal-point entranceway bookended by two soaring pilasters, which form a gateway for a striking arched-glass doorway. The complex will serve as the anchor for the evolving park aesthetic, and will soon be complemented by the adjacent Bellwood Reservoir, the next addition to this sweeping transformation.

(Photo: Echelon Masonry)

Although smaller in scale, the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant Pump Station required some complex coordination by masons. Lamberson found Browning’s technical advisement team to be particularly helpful during this phase of the installation. The structures included a workshop with 12’ walls and an electrical facility with 18’ high walls. In addition, three different veneer colors were used on the buildings’ façades.

The contractor recalled, “Space constraints on site made it difficult for us to lay out the pattern on the ground. This was another area where working with Len really made the difference. His diagrams showed exactly how many blocks of each color went where.”

Since these buildings will blend into the Westside landscape, Trendstone™ and Mesastone™ architectural units – prefinished, integrally colored concrete blocks – were chosen as the finished outer faces for the InsulTech system. The units are manufactured with one or more faces ground to expose the variegated colors of the natural aggregates. A pre-applied clear satin gloss acrylic enhances moisture resistance and adds a glossy finish.

During the design phase of the Hemphill Pump Station, Steele noted the mixed-style architecture of the surrounding buildings. “It’s in a light industrial area where there’s everything from a blue Ikea store to traditional brick buildings, as well as stucco apartments and others that have been there a long time,” he said.

With the Westside area predicted to undergo widespread development, architectural trends are somewhat difficult to predict. Therefore, the decision was made to design something as simple as possible for cost but with a little extra pizzazz for up-close viewing. “It has a little more flair than a typical industrial building yet is still something that will stand for a long time and not need maintenance,” the architect said.

Echelon’s comprehensive masonry offerings enabled Steele to strike the perfect balance. He created a pattern that alternated between Trendstone® and Trendstone Plus®, both in Haydite color. The “Plus” version delivers a smooth terrazzo finish, which added a glittering effect to the exposed wall – with Mesastone® textured CMUs in Sedalia color as a light-colored accent strip.
“There were a lot of control joints that made the mason’s work more complicated because of the pattern I put in, but we achieved what I was looking for,” the architect recalled. Despite the functional design of the buildings, he noted, “If you see them up close, you’re pleasantly surprised by the pattern you might find in the wall. Despite being straight-forward buildings, InsulTech with the Trendstone and Mesastone finishes give them a nice feel. We want folks to know municipal funds are going toward something nice, especially since these are very permanent structures.”

As a publicly accessed municipal project, Atlanta planners needed the materials to be highly durable and easy-to-clean. This was essential for the Hemphill site, where the exterior is susceptible to graffiti. “With the sealant that’s integrated into the block face at the factory, that shouldn’t be a problem to clean, if it should occur,” Steele said.

In the past, Steele and his associates have worked with the Atlanta Watershed Department on several projects to ensure optimal stormwater drainage on new sites. With an aging sewer system, water runoff is a central concern for any new municipal projects. As more land gets covered by buildings and pavement, storm water runoff has fewer places to drain in a highly impervious urban environment.

For the Hemphill access way, “We chose Belgard’s Aqualine ™ 9L Permeable Paver, a 9X9 inch profile, because the L-shaped paver fit the area well,” Steele said. “It also had the benefits of LEED points and drainage properties, as well as its ability to stand up to the regular heavy truck traffic. Aqualine 9L helps to keep the water on the site just long enough to actually seep back into the earth and prevent run-off.”

Tunnel supervisor Weslowski said on a recent site tour, “It just rained all night, and there aren’t any puddles around here. I love these pavers!”

This was the same paver used in 2016 for the Atlanta streets near the Hemphill project, which had the distinction of being the largest Permeable Pavement retrofit project in North America. According to the Belgard team, “The permeable pavers allow rainwater to pass directly through a wearing surface into an underlying stone reservoir that temporarily stores the surface runoff before infiltrating into the subgrade soil.”

These PIPCs have helped with storm drainage in some of Atlanta’s most flood-prone areas. The PRAD Group has developed innovative engineering technologies and partnered in countless full-cycle planning projects to promote eco-friendly solutions to Atlanta’s booming expansion. They find single sourcing from Oldcastle APG brands supports their ongoing mission of providing sustainable, environmentally responsible building products to help support these forward-thinking endeavors.

The Aqualine® 9L permable paver selected for the Hemphill project is the same paver used in the Southeast Atlanta Green Infrastructure Initiative, which replaced over four miles of urban roadways with permeable pavement to alleviate urban flooding.

With an injection of public and private funding, change is inevitable for the landscape of Atlanta’s West Side with Phase One projected for completion in the spring of 2020. As it expands, Westside Park is predicted to attract droves of real estate and business developers to its surrounding areas. Park trails will eventually connect to the Atlanta BeltLine, making the area even more accessible to city commuters. The Westside transformation is part of a broader vision to ensure that Atlanta continues to live up to its nickname – Empire of the South.