Penn State’s new Applied Research Laboratory building, a 121,000-square-foot, $16.5-million project, features a total-precast concrete structure to create an efficiently constructed design that saved significant construction time.
Structural Frame Erected In 8-1/2 Weeks
The use of precast concrete components allowed the Crocker-West facility to be constructed in five segments, so various trades could work concurrently on different sections once work progressed. In all, the building was constructed in five phases, in three-story increments. The buildings structural frame took only 8-1/2 weeks to erect. After only four weeks, some portions were ready to be roofed, leading to the installation of windows and mechanical details.
Using welded connections rather than grouted ones sped up construction further, as it eliminated the need to heat grout. Subcontractors saved more time by having a variety of amenities, including light fixtures, conduit and HVAC openings cast into the panels. The project was completed five weeks ahead of schedule.
The precast panels, which offer an Insulation value of R-28, serve four functions: exterior façade treatment, structural wall floor support, fireproofing, and insulation. The repetition in casting the forms allowed the designers to incorporate ornate pieces at an economical price that helped lower costs for the project. About 1,200 pieces were fabricated, with many of them cast on a single 30-foot module.
Dyed architectural precast was used on exposed interior columns, which were sandblasted to provide texture. The dying process eliminated the need for fireproofing on columns, saving more time and cost. Other pieces feature a liner that resembles limestone or embedded thin-brick accents.
Scheduled Deliveries Made Easier with Precast Concrete
Carefully scheduled delivery of precast panels and hollowcore floor planks (from Nitterhouse Concrete Products of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) reduced the need for onsite storage, since the precast was off-loaded directly onto the building itself.
While many precast designs seek to minimize cost by limiting the number of precast pieces, Scott Smith, the building's designer and a principal at local firm Civilsmith Engineering, Inc., realized that by constructing Crocker-West horizontally (story by story), and using slightly smaller precast pieces (and more of them), he was able to trim the construction time and thus yielded an even greater savings to this total precast building.
Precast Comes into Its Own
"Precast is coming into its own," says Bill Wolfford, vice president of Sponaugle Construction Services of State College, Pennsylvania, the construction manager for Crocker-West. "The way precast manufacturers have been able to incorporate technology into molds to produce architecturally pleasing panels is getting more people interested," says Wolfford.
The precast concrete components also are helping the project achieve its goal of a LEED Gold rating. These include its energy efficiency, waste management, use of recycled materials, and other benefits. The rating also is aided by an underground precast concrete cistern that captures runoff water.