From bleachers to ash urns, precast concrete proves its versatility.
By Fernando Pagés Ruiz
With the season opener for the Colorado Eagles just 18 months away, Steve Rodgers, project manager for The Neenan Co., fixed his eyes across 18 miles of dry Colorado grassland toward the cloud-hidden snow cap of Longs Peak for inspiration. The task before his Denver design-build firm seemed daunting: In little more than a year, the company would have to transform this scenic grassland in Loveland, Colo., into a premier regional events center for Larimer County. The job entailed 150 acres of site work plus six major buildings, including the Budweiser Events Center, a 250,000-square-foot, three-level indoor arena that would accommodate 5,300 cheering Colorado Eagles hockey fans by Sept. 20, 2003, or else …
Rogers knew that only the most efficient group of subcontractors choreographed like synchronized figure skaters could bring the project in on time. So when selecting his crew, Rogers chose Colorado Precast Concrete Inc. of Loveland to construct the concrete bleachers. This was going to be one of the most critical and time-sensitive elements of construction because the concrete stands would have to incorporate the irregular geometry of an oblong arena and the precise installation requirements of a third-party seat manufacturer. Casting the concrete on site would have required nearly three months of assembling forms, tying rebar, pouring concrete, stripping forms and curing before the luxurious button-back, upholstered theater seats and cup holders could be screwed into place. Rogers couldn’t risk the uncertainty of cast-in-place concrete.
A tough job made easy
For a precaster, tight schedules and precise tolerances are not a unique challenge; they are a standard practice. Colorado Precast was able to build forms and start pouring the bleacher components long before the stadium was complete. Working from preliminary architectural drawings, Colorado Precast prepared nearly 1,000 shop drawings and built more than 650 forms. “Out of the hundreds of pieces we made for the stands, not even five were identical,” says Scott Hayward, general manager for Colorado Precast.
The “pieces” consisted of 18-inch-high by 30-inch-deep “L” shaped concrete benches running 14 feet to 35 feet in length. Each piece was mitered and fit to accommodate the asymmetrical outline of the stadium. As the building neared completion, Colorado Precast worked alongside the steel erectors who installed the structural rakes on which the precast sections would sit. “We were in and out in about eight weeks,” says Hayward. The cost: “A little less than cast-in-place concrete, but a lot more efficient,” says Rodgers, who cannot imagine completing the project on time without the precast components.
“Every two weeks, Colorado Precast completed a quarter of the bleachers, allowing mechanical, electrical and railing contractors to work over the surface without delay,” explains Rodgers.
Of course, Larimer County Fairgrounds Director Jay Hardy was also pleased that precast concrete helped construction come in on time and under budget, but what really turned him on to precast concrete wasn’t the bleachers. “It’s trash cans and picnic benches I’m most proud of,” says Hardy.
Swanky trash receptacles, benches and ash urns
The Larimer County Fairgrounds and Events Complex, known simply as “The Ranch,” sprawls across bucolic grazing lands with a stunning view of the Rockies. It’s a cowboy movie setting that belies its urban location, less than 40 miles north of Denver. Besides bull riding, women’s professional basketball and minor league ice hockey, the venue hosts comedians like Bill Cosby, rock bands such as REO Speedwagon, international business conferences, dog shows and more than 400 events yearly serving 1 million guests. The patrons attending these events may enjoy the country views, but they bring along their big-city appetites – and wallets.
To satisfy its cultivated clientele, The Ranch boasts a five-star restaurant and brewpub with 180-degree views of snow-covered peaks. The Ranch grounds feature manicured landscaping and award-winning architecture. But when it came time to order the furniture, the enameled steel fixtures found in most large-scale public venues looked, well, cheap in this high-class setting.
Although the budget was tight, Hardy wanted to explore alternatives; he hoped to find site furnishings and accessories that were as tough as steel, but better looking. Colorado Precast Concrete offered a solution: to custom-cast any furniture the architect could design. Hardy agreed to consider it, “But I expected to pay a premium,” he says. Instead, precast concrete provided the designer look Hardy wanted for about $9,200 less than steel.
Precast concrete also provided a personalized touch that no other product could offer. On each of The Ranch’s tables, benches, trash receptacles and ash urns you can spot the venue’s distinctive “T-R” lightning logo, which Hardy says is “synonymous with the high-energy entertainment we have at Larimer Fairgrounds and Events Complex. It ties it all together,” he explains, with obvious satisfaction.
The furniture has a high-gloss, auburn finish that coordinates with the earth-toned split-block facing used on the exterior of The Ranch buildings. To achieve this high-gloss finish, Colorado Precast used integrally colored concrete in steel molds. The company coated the finished product with a super-smooth concrete sealer that makes the finish look like polished stone.
A precast landmark
The custom-cast benches, tables and accessories lining the walkways and concession stands at The Ranch show how precast concrete lends itself to architectural creativity. In this case, architect Roger Kenny of Kenny and Associates didn’t have to choose from a catalog of manufactured parts. He was able to specify the design, emboss it with a custom logo and still save the owner money. Increasingly, precast concrete products have become more visible in architectural detailing. At The Ranch, Kenny was able to tie in the color of the split-face block used for columns with durable precast concrete caps and parapet tops. The builder even had the steps made from precast concrete, not only because it cost less, but because “We had much higher confidence in the aesthetics of the finished product,” explains Rodgers.
So if you pass through Loveland, Colo., stop by The Ranch for some good eats and entertainment. But before you sit down to enjoy your refreshments, remember to check out the stadium risers and the stylish picnic tables, trash receptacles and ash urns. They’re sure to look as burnished and new as they did the day Colorado Precast delivered and installed them.
Project: The Ranch
Owner: Larimer County, Colorado
Architect: Kenny & Associates, Loveland, Colo.
Contractor: The Neenan Co., Denver
Precast Manufacturer: Colorado Precast Concrete Inc., Loveland, Colo.*
* Colorado Precast Concrete Inc. is a certified plant under NPCA’s Quality Assurance/Plant Certification program.