Precast Serves As The Material Of Choice For A New Community College Residence Hall In New York
By Bridget McCrea
Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., ranks as one of the top 11 community colleges in the nation and serves as a model for 1,200 other schools of its size, according to The New York Times. Since 1980, MCC students have advanced to more than 400 colleges and universities – including Ivy League schools, state universities, international institutions and historically black colleges. This level of success naturally attracts more students. But the flipside of MCC’s popularity is that it ran out of room for hundreds of students seeking housing. To address the housing demand, last year the MCC Board of Trustees approved construction of a new residence hall for its Brighton campus, adding a second phase to a plan to expand student living quarters. Precast concrete figures prominently in both phases of the housing project, according to David Hofmeister, P.E., project executive for Rochester-based DiMarco Constructors, the general construction firm that handled both phases.
“They were happy with phase one and selected us to handle the most recent project,” Hofmeister says. Phase two calls for precast load-bearing walls, stair shafts and stairs with acid-etched insulated panels on top. A thermal mass composite system was used to build the insulated panels, and the floors are hollow core. In total, about 274 precast walls, 21 shaft units (which created six stair shafts and two elevator shafts) and 110,000 square feet of 10-inch hollow core floors are being installed.
The Fine Points
Community leaders in Rochester established Monroe Community College in the early 1960s to fill a need for nursing education in the region. Led by local physician Dr. Samuel J. Stabins, MCC’s mission was to prepare students for work in local hospitals and health care facilities. MCC became part of the State University of New York system, and its program offerings were expanded to prepare graduates for a wide range of job fields or transfer to four-year institutions.
MCC’s first class of 720 students enrolled in September 1962. Since then, enrollment has increased steadily and new programs have been developed to meet the changing requirements of the local community. With more students enrolling, the college found itself and its students without enough on-campus housing.
Phase one of the project houses approximately 10 percent of the school’s student body, while phase two will accommodate an additional 8 percent. Built in a seven-pod configuration, the new dormitory comfortably fits more than 360 new beds, with each pod comprising four separate apartments, each of which contains two or three bedrooms, living space, a kitchenette and two bathrooms.
To handle the job, DiMarco selected three precast concrete manufacturers: Empire Precast of Rochester; Lakeland Concrete Products of Lima, N.Y.; and Jefferson Concrete Corp. of Watertown, N.Y. Jim Boyce, president of Empire, says his company was involved in phase one and was called upon by DiMarco to consult on the second half of the project. “We pulled together the team that did the actual precast design,” says Boyce. “Then we helped DiMarco bid out the different parts of the project.”
Boyce says the expediency of installation and the durability of the product were the two key reasons MCC selected precast concrete. Casting started in July 2006, and the precasters moved on site in October and spent the next six to eight weeks installing the pieces.
Todd Clarke, president of Lakeland Concrete Products, says the fast erection time and the fact that the materials required no exterior or interior finish work beyond painting, made precast concrete especially attractive for the residence hall project.
“Within the building itself there is drywall and some finishes, but the dorm rooms themselves are all precast,” says Clarke, whose firm manufactured 156 insulated and 118 noninsulated precast walls that varied in size from 8 feet by 10 feet to 10 feet, 2 inches by 35 feet, 3.5 inches. The panels were shipped to the site and staged in trailers, which were then moved around to the specific construction zones as needed. “Every piece was laid out in the trailer for the erector to pick and use,” says Clarke. “They had everything they wanted right when they needed it.”
When working with the various contractors and engineers to lay out the MCC residence hall project, Doug Morlock, associate/project manager at Kideney Architects in Buffalo, N.Y., says precast concrete stood out as the best possible choice for several reasons, not the least of which is its fire-resistance ratings. Noise reduction was another key criterion, says Morlock, because the precast significantly reduces floor-to-floor transfer of noises.
“You’re using concrete plank instead of a more hollow (or less dense) material that could cause sound transfer from one apartment to another,” says Morlock, who points out that concrete’s thermal characteristics also create more energy-efficient structures – something not all of today’s college dormitories can boast. “One of the big selling points for the project – and for phase one – was the fact that this building was to be constructed of concrete, as opposed to being predominantly wood frame like most dorms are.”
But while the 100 percent concrete approach worked well for the project’s owners and contractors, it posed some special challenges for the precast concrete manufacturers themselves. For example, Clarke says each piece was extremely detailed when it came to matching up connections between cast-in-place footers and the precast panels, and between the precast pieces themselves.
“There were mechanical connections in there that had to be carefully matched up,” says Clarke. To handle the challenge, the company relied on its quality control processes during the actual manufacturing to ensure that the mechanical connections were in the right spot – and useable once installed. “They checked everything very carefully, because if the sleeves were in the wrong locations, we wouldn’t have been able to connect the panels,” says Clarke.
Conduit and electrical boxes were also inlaid in the panels. “There was no surface mounting of electrical boxes or anything required within the rooms themselves,” says Clarke. “It’s all integrated into the panels themselves.”
The MCC site itself also presented hurdles for the team working on the new MCC residence hall, according to Hofmeister, who says existing site materials had to be moved, trees removed and new gravel and soil installed under the structure to serve as the building pad. The permitting process through the town of Brighton also took some time, which set construction back a few weeks.
Working on an aggressive timeline, Hofmeister says getting those early aspects of the project completed quickly was of utmost importance. “We needed to get the site work accomplished and foundations in before winter so that we could set all of the precast,” says Hofmeister. “It was pretty tricky.”
The precast helped to pick up some of the slack, since the pieces were constructed off site at the various manufacturers’ facilities. “The speed with which we were able to erect the building, roughly eight weeks, was certainly a benefit,” says Hofmeister. “It allowed us to close in the building pretty rapidly to allow interior finish work to begin, which was critical given the severe weather elements here in the Northeast during the winter.”
On track for completion in July, the project is going smoothly, according to Hofmeister, and will be ready to welcome a new group of 360 residents in the fall. “The project owners are happy,” says Hofmeister. “It’s been a pretty good experience for them, with very few problems. The ride has been relatively smooth.”
Project: New seven-pod dormitory at Monroe Community College’s Brighton Campus in Rochester, N.Y.
Project Owner: Monroe Community College Association Inc.
Design/Builder: The DiMarco Group, Rochester, N.Y.
General Contractor: DiMarco Constructors, Rochester, N.Y.
Architects/Engineers: Kideney Architects, Buffalo, N.Y., and Q-Tech Engineering, Rochester, N.Y.
Precast Companies: Empire Precast, Rochester, N.Y., Lakeland Concrete Products, Lima, N.Y., and Jefferson Concrete Corp.*, Watertown, N.Y.
*Jefferson Concrete Corp. is an NPCA Certified Plant