The Berg family has a strong foundation of knowledge based on more than 100 years of experience in the demolition and scrap recycling industries.
David Berg, founder of The Berg Corp. in Baltimore, says his grandfather Samuel Berg emigrated from Russia to Baltimore in the early 20th century and got into the scrap business.
“He was a junk peddler, you know, like, Sanford & Son,” David says. “And, in 1932, he bought his first yard for, I think, about $7,000.”
In the late 1960s, David’s father, Gerald “Buzz” Berg, closed the original business founded by Samuel and founded the Buzz Berg Wrecking Co., which grew to become a premier demolition contractor in the Baltimore area. Buzz Berg Wrecking evolved into Berg Recycling, which is a separate company (owned by David’s brother Adam) from The Berg Corp., says Austin Berg, David’s son and director of business development for Berg Corp.
In the 1960s, David says his father was the first paying member of the National Association of Demolition Contractors, which was renamed the National Demolition Association (NDA) in 2002.
During the 1980s and ’90s, the Berg family developed a variety of related companies, including a scrap business, interior demolition company, a roll-off company and an asbestos abatement company, David says.
Living the high life
In 1998, David founded The Berg Corp., bringing with him some talent from outside the family. Zack Gilden, Chris Trendell and Rick Maska Sr., who previously worked at Berg Group, followed David into the new venture.
Gilden was Berg’s president for more than 20 years and has transitioned into the CEO position, while Trendell is Berg’s vice president of operations and has the most experience in surgically demolishing high-rise structures.
“There are very few companies in the industry that are capable of taking down these high-rise structures in D.C. and northern Virginia with heavy utilities and neighborhood structures around us,” Austin says. “I really think that sets us apart from our competition.”
Austin says the firm’s equipment operators, many of whom have been with The Berg Corp. for more than 30 years, are a key advantage to the firm’s success. But the company also has invested in high-reach excavators and other modern-day equipment that helps make their jobs easier.
“We actually just purchased a piece of equipment that is one of the tallest excavators on the East Coast and can reach 160 feet,” Austin says. “This gives us the ability to be able to take down structures mechanically, so you don’t have to spend time and labor … taking down the top three stories or four stories, whatever it is, to get to the height of our machine. We’re able to go in there right away because of the reach, and it’s a faster process and a safer process.”
That excavator is the Komatsu PC1250 UHD, which can dismantle buildings up to 14 stories tall. It is useful for taking down buildings in confined spaces where implosion is not a good option.
From left: Director of Safety Chris Brophy, Senior Project Manager Corey Woods, Chief Operating Officer Brandon Bonnano, General Superintendent Adam Trendell and Senior Superintendent Rick Maska. Photos by Joanna Tillman Photography
Much of the company’s equipment is geared toward reaching difficult locations with minimal disturbance to surrounding structures, including a robotic machine capable of working in very confined quarters from Brokk, which has its North American headquarters in Monroe, Washington.
Tall buildings often come with deep foundations, for which The Berg Corp. owns excavators with long sticks. Those machines can reach the bottom of three- to four-story deep foundations to remove dirt and other demolition debris and materials without requiring space-consuming ramps to access underground levels.
Dismantling a high-rise building begins with a detailed engineering study, which helps determine the course for the project, David says.
One factor he says he thinks is important on high-rise projects is the ability of a building’s upper floors to bear a heavy load. “We have to see how the structure is made and determine what type of weight you can put inside that building to take it down because you can’t have something overloading the floors,” he explains. In considering the weight the floors can bear, “You have to look not only at equipment but also the load of the debris coming down to the floors.”
If a building’s floors cannot bear a great deal of weight, David says the crew would have to shore up the floors three to four stories below to support the additional load.
One project the company was honored for is the partial demolition of a building in preparation for the construction of the Museum of the Bible in Washington. The project earned the 2017 Urban Demolition Award at the World Demolition Summit in London.
It involved taking down a 1982 addition to a 1922 historical refrigeration warehouse, according to a summary of the project on the museum’s website, www.museumofthebible.org.
The museum site was adjacent to the subterranean Metro subway stop, and Berg Corp. also could not harm the portion of the building that was slated to later become part of the museum.
“Berg is extremely proud of this award as this project was comprised of everything that Berg does well—surgical demolition for historical preservation, complete high-rise demolition and a four-story foundation excavation,” Austin says.
Another notable project won The Berg Corp. NDA’s Excellence in Demolition award in 2023 for projects ranging from $500,001 to $2 million. For that project, the company had to remove a series of three 100-foot post-tension canopies from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority station in Rockville, Maryland.
“We had 21 days to do a job that would normally take us two-and-a-half months,” David says. “We [worked] two 10-hour shifts [per day], and we had to employ a 500-ton hydro crane to lift all the big pieces over the tracks to get them into the drop zone.”
The tracks on one side of the station were active during the project, which meant the company had to screen that side of one of the canopies, he adds. Berg’s crews also had to install a shoring system so the canopies wouldn’t collapse on the tracks while being detensioned and demolished.
The Berg Corp. managed to accomplish the job in 20 days with a 95 percent-recycling rate while coming in 25 percent under budget, according to a summary of the project submitted for the 2022 NDA Excellence in Demolition Award.
“We were all so thrilled and appreciated the recognition,” Austin says. “We liked to fly below the radar in the past, but now we are really gearing up our marketing to try to work with new clients. It was very important to the company, and it’s the first topic we bring up when talking to new clients [that] are bidding a unique job like this.”
“A lot of these guys have been in it since they were young. It’s really a family business.” – AUSTIN BERG, DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, THE BERG CORP.
All in the family
One piece of information Austin says he took from the NDA Annual Convention and Expo in Phoenix earlier this year is that demolition companies often are family businesses.
“A lot of these guys have been in it since they were young,” he says. “This was my third or fourth NDA conference. I did realize the family connections before, but it was really emphasized this year—especially at the banquet.”
The Berg family is a perfect case in point. Austin says he has three uncles, a cousin and a brother-in-law in the business. Additionally, several father-son duos work for the company.
One of his uncles—Adam Berg—owns Berg Recycling, which is based in Baltimore. Austin says The Berg Corp. often works with Berg Recycling when it needs to sell scrap metal following demolition work.
Another of Austin’s uncles, Howard Shearer, has served as chief financial officer at The Berg Corp. for the past 15 years.
David’s other brother, Richard Berg, was a premier demolition contractor in south Florida.
Austin says his cousin, Alex Berg, founded Cratos Equipment, Pompano Beach, Florida, which specializes in zero-emission, battery-powered equipment. “He’s at all the conferences because he has to know all the [subcontractors], and he’s selling equipment all across the country,” Austin says.
David says that generations of accumulated knowledge have enabled the company to expand into areas that are tangential to The Berg Corp.’s core demolition business.
“We’re able to expand into so many things because of our knowledge base,” he says. “We started a company called Berg Brownfields with Aron Mandelbaum, my son-in-law, and we’re actually buying real estate—buying industrial, environmentally challenged properties that we’re able to repurpose and bring back for reuse.”
David says he spent many years watching real estate companies repurpose properties and decided this was something he and his family should take on.
From 2003 to 2006, David says The Berg Corp. did very well, and he had extra money to work with.
From left: Senior Superintendent Rick Maska; operators Felix Cruz, Wilmer Monteros, Humberto Juarez, Don Seward Agustin Aparicio and Eusebio Morales; laborer Anthony Coleman; and General Superintendent Adam Trendell. Photos by Joanna Tillman Photography
“I said, ‘You know what? If I was smart, I would be taking some of this money and investing in real estate because I’ve been a demolition contractor since I was 23 years old,’” he says.
After consulting with peers in the development space, David purchased his first brownfield property: a paper mill in York, Pennsylvania, that had 400,000 square feet of buildings on 25 acres.
“I paid a million bucks for it. Three years later, I did my demolition. I did a huge environmental cleanup, and I was able to sell it to York College for five times what I paid for it,” he says.
After that success, David says he continued investing in real estate, founding Greenspring Realty Partners (GRP) in Lutherville, Maryland, in 2015. He is a principal along with Dan Flamholz and his daughter, Nicki Berg.
David says GRP and Berg Brownfield buy properties, conduct the demolition and environmental cleanup and then lease or sell the clean property to a developer, business or other party.
Austin says the synergies between demolition and real estate are strong.
“A good example of how demolition and real estate sometimes match up is when we did a big demolition job on a school in Baltimore, and we were able to crush the concrete and hard materials into a usable aggregate on-site,” he says. “Instead of paying the hauling and disposal fee for over 2,000 loads, we were able to bring it to one of our real estate sites where we were building a parking lot.”
While Greenspring Realty and Berg Brownfield provide an outlet for recycled aggregates recovered from demolition projects, Austin provides an additional outlet for The Berg Corp.
He is the director of Hawkins Management LLC, founded in 2021, which operates and maintains niche landfill sites in the Mid-Atlantic market.
One of the company’s landfills in Curtis Bay, Maryland, known as the Hawkins Landfill LLC, accepts friable and non-friable asbestos. Also, Hawkins Management is working to open a Class III landfill site in southern Maryland that will accept 5 million cubic yards of brick, block, concrete, dirt and mud.
David says all these related businesses create a “symbiotic” relationship that makes each one stronger in its own right.
“All these knowledge-base things are just stuff that we’ve learned from demolition, but we’re able to take them to another level because we’ve had the ability to get our fingers in other things,” he says. “It’s just a matter of increasing our knowledge.”
The author is the managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Construction & Demolition Recycling Magazine – Written by Bob Gaetjens