Death care industry entrepreneurs use precast concrete to shape the future of above-ground internment.
By Greg Snapper
Ancient Egyptian rulers demanded skyscraping pyramids with passageways, expansive rooms and tombs to memorialize their privileged and powerful earthly lives.
With so much attention focused on matters from the earthly to the ethereal, the pharaohs would be appalled to see how the death care industry has changed. But today’s mausoleum builders couldn’t be happier.
The material of choice for the pyramids was limestone, but for present-day internment buildings, such as mausoleums, the staple product is precast concrete. Population boom and worldwide worries of space limitation have driven death-care industry entrepreneurs to become economical and efficient – making above-ground burial a popular and cost-effective method of memorializing the dead.
Mausoleums could be considered today’s pyramids; each has different building specs, but they serve the same purpose. They’re streamlined, low-rise circular buildings with crypts side-by-side, stacked one on top of the other. Plus, they’re economical, long-lasting and fit to house the dead indefinitely.
“You change the roof on the structure along with the joints, and it would likely last forever,” says David Mortimer, contractor with Construction Resource Group, Western Springs, Ill., who discussed the finest points of the newly renovated Resurrection Cemetery-Garden Mausoleum in Justice, Ill.
Mortimer answered to a higher calling in 2001; the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries division operates between 10 and 20 cemeteries in the Chicago area. The Archdiocese requested an expansion to an existing mausoleum site due to increased public demand. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction faced a problem: The project needed to be done efficiently, be cost effective and have longevity.
“Above-ground burial is a popular preference in Europe right now,” says Michael Hackiewicz, director of technical services for Archdiocese of Chicago. “We are trying to meet this demand that has made its way to the states.”
Work began on Resurrection Cemetery-Garden Mausoleum in November 2001 and was complete just one year later. The joint venture included precasters Concrete Technologies Inc. of Paxton, Ill., and Tribute Precast Systems of Delafield, Wis., along with contractor Construction Resource Group of Western Springs, Ill., and architectural firm MeKus Studios of Chicago, Ill.
Matt Duggen, project manager for MeKus Studios, says the focus of the project was to mimic a more traditional masonry building, one that was brick-clad and seamless. This was an expansion to an earlier project by MeKus Studios, which was built in 1985.
“Our goal was to have the new buildings blend into the existing buildings so as to look as they were constructed at the same time,” Duggen says. “Although we had the original precast concrete mix design, we had to adjust the color to match the aged precast.”
This look could be achieved only if the joints and angles of precast concrete had more of a natural look and less of a manufactured appearance.
“We tried to find solutions to hiding those precast joints,” Duggen says. “We used horizontal joints and connections as a solution.”
Concrete Technologies Inc. provided architectural precast concrete wall panels for the project, and in order to meet the demand of a seemingly jointless building, the precast company developed L-shaped panels for the project to give the illusion of a typical masonry control joint. Additionally, Concrete Technologies Inc. mimicked a split-faced limestone in the panels and used split-faced blocks as a mold. Walls were constructed from the molds, which took on the appearance of a true split-faced limestone wall.
Tribute Precast Systems, specialty precast concrete fabricator, provided the structural precast concrete crypts. This module-precast crypt and niche system included stackable crypts, which act as the main support for the individual mausoleum buildings. A local granite supplier provided granite faces that were fitted on the exterior of the building to cover the brass hangers anchored into the individual crypts.
Although an aesthetically pleasing façade was desired, a variety of construction demands still had to be met, and Archdiocese officials agreed that precast concrete would fit the bill for the multimillion dollar project’s needs.
“Some of my peers elsewhere in the nation swear by cast-in-place concrete, but we look at labor wages here in Chicago, and for that reason and many others, precast is a great option,” Hackiewicz says. “You’re able to keep better quality control and setup with the forms. You can lose a lot of tolerance with cast-in-place, but with precast you know what you’re going to get.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago performs 20,000 internments each year, making it one of the nation’s largest cemetery systems. Overall, the internment sites include 139,217 crypt spaces with a total of 30,000 crypts. Ninety-eight percent of those crypts have been made with precast concrete.
“Since the product is made in a plant, there are higher quality requirements,” Duggen said. “Contractors love it because it really speeds up the construction schedule, and ultimately, the owner of the project loves it because it’s an inexpensive way to go. Time is money.”
About $3 million in costs for the Resurrection Cemetery-Garden Mausoleum expansion included $525,000 for precast materials supplied by Concrete Technology.
Mike Shook, design engineer for the company, said the application of precast concrete for the mausoleum project gave him the ability to match existing mausoleum buildings on the original site and provide a speedy installation.
“Everything can be erected quickly as opposed to cast-in-place, brick or any other exterior,” Shook said. “We provided the architectural precast and coordinated the construction with the architect and contractor; precast made it possible.”
Just as Ancient Egyptians sought a long-lasting method to house their rulers in the afterlife, present-day death-care providers are using precast to ensure a long-lasting impression for generations to come.
“The precast product has been around for ages,” Duggen said. “These mausoleum buildings need to stick around for a long time – we’ve found precast to be the best solution.”
“By the Numbers”
Square feet of precast used: 20,200
Number of panels: 192
Yards of concrete: 528
4,200 man hours (hours of production)
800 hours for engineering and drafting
$525,000 delivered and erected product
Project Name: Resurrection Cemetery-Garden Mausoleum Justice, Ill.
Owner: Archdiocese of Chicago
Architect: MeKus Studios Chicago, Ill.
Contractor: Construction Resource Group Western Springs, Ill.
Precast Manufacturers: Concrete Technologies Inc. Paxton, Ill.
Tribute Precast Systems Delafield, Wis.