Penn State University's Crocker-West Building used total precast to deliver not only value, aesthetics and speed, but also sustainability. Aside from a window curtain wall, the 123,000-square foot, $16.5 million structure built on a 6.3-acre site at the university's main campus was constructed entirely of precast elements.

"Precast is coming into its own," says Bill Wolfford, vice president of Sponaugle Construction Services of State College, PA, 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.

According to Scott Smith, the building's designer and a principal at local firm Civilsmith Engineering, Inc., one of the inherent advantages of a total precast building is its efficiency and the tremendous time savings it affords the construction schedule. Using precast allowed Crocker-West to be built in phases and with a parallel construction schedule that enabled various trades to work concurrently on discreet sections of the structure. For example, while roof and floors were in place in the first phase and workers were starting to frame walls, phase five was still an open shell.

"The building went together like a jigzaw puzzle," says Smith. "Since it went up three stories at a time, one section at a time, trade workers could be in the building sooner. Without precast, a project of this size might require another six to eight months of construction time."

The interior structure and exterior shell were erected in only eight-and-a-half weeks. Since all elements were pre-coordinated, erecting the precast panels involved only one building trade, making the workflow smoother. Only four weeks into the job, the building team was able to roof completed portions and to begin installing components such as windows and rough in mechanical details. "This construction schedule is absolutely unattainable by other methods," notes Smith.

In addition, the use of welded rather than grouted connections allowed the structure to go up even faster than traditional total precast projects by eliminating the time needed to heat grout. Elements such as light fixtures, conduit and HVAC openings were also cast into precast panels, saving subcontractors time.

Strategic pre-planning in the design process resulted in enhanced aesthetics for the Crocker-West project. Repetition enabled Smith to incorporate ornate pieces in the project while staying within budget. Many of the project's 1,200 pieces were cast on a single 30-foot module Smith created. He also designed a relatively expensive mold for an ornate cornice, which was used for 40 separate pieces that spread across the entire building, greatly reducing the unit cost of each piece.

In addition, the building team used new mold technology to imply colored architectural precast on Crocker-West's exposed interior columns, which were sandblasted to provide texture. The technique eliminated the need to wrap columns in fireproofing or to paint and maintain them. Other pieces utilized a limestone-look liner or thin brick accents built into the initial design.

Carefully scheduled delivery of precast panels and hollow core floor planks (from Nitterhouse Concrete Products of Chambersburg, PA) reduced the need for onsite storage, since the prcast was off-loaded directly onto the building. And while many precast designs seek to minimize cost by limiting the number of precast pieces, Smith realized that for this project, trimming construction time would yield even greater savings, so Crocker-West was constructed horizontally, story by story, using slightly smaller pieces, but more of them.

"Total precast offered other benefits that might not be immediately obvious," added Smith, who with partner Mike Coyle formed C2S, a limited partnership that developed the property for Penn State on a leaseback basis. Since Crocker-West was a prevailing wage project, less onsite work reduced labor costs, and a compressed construction schedule resulted in a quicker revenue stream and lower construction interest costs for C2S.

Perhaps as importantly as the efficiencies in time and money and aesthetic benefits it allowed, precast construction also helped the building team to achieve a LEED Silver rating for the project.

Severe flooding prompted the township to impose rigorous site restrictions: absolutely no net gain in drainage runoff rate or volume from the 6.3-acre site for a 100-year flood event. To meet this requirement, Smith designed an underground precast cistern to capture runoff and control infiltration. The 130-foot-long, 12x12-foot concrete tank can hold 138,000 gallons of runoff, which can be filtered, treated with UV light and be reused as graywater for flushing toilets in the building. The cistern sits below ground and supports the weight of the parking area and landscaping. One of its walls is formed by the exterior load-bearing wall of the building.

"With the right project, precast can be a contractor's dream come true," comments Wollford, who had never done a precast job before Crocker-West. "I'm a huge fan of total precast now. It makes my life a lot easier."

Project Details


State College, PA


C2S (a limited partnership that developed the property for Penn State on a leaseback basis)

Architect/Structural Engineer:

Scott Smith, building designer and owner of Civilsmith Engineering, Inc.

General Contractor/Construction Manager:

Sponaugle Construction Services


• 123,000 sf, $16.5 million structure built on a 6.3-acre site at Pennsylvania State University's main campus.

Products Used:

Interior and insulated exterior wall panels, shear walls, columns, beams, stairs with landings, slabs and hollow core plank (plank not supplied by Architectural Precast Innovations).

Precast Specifics:

• 1,200 pieces cast on a single 30-foot module
• 40 separate ornate cornices from single mold
• 130-foot long, 12x12-foot precast cistern.

Finishes and Features:

Thin brick with cast stone quoins and window surrounds cast ingral with panel; colored architectural precast concrete on exposed interior columns, sandblasted for texture; limestone-look liner and thin brick accents built into initial design.

Benefits to the Customer:

Efficiency, cost and time savings, durability and maintenance-free, enhanced aesthetics, help in meeting LEED Silver rating.

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