L’Oreal Matrix finds precast to be a quick, efficient solution to its fire escape needs.
By Bridget McCrea
When Kurt Seidler got the call to design an extensive fire escape tunnel under a new L’Oreal Matrix facility in Streetsboro, Ohio, the engineer scanned the specifications and zeroed in on one that immediately raised a red flag in his mind.
“They wanted us to create it out of cast-in-place concrete,” says Seidler, president of Seidler Engineering Inc. in Youngstown, Ohio. “Just looking at it and seeing the way it was constructed, I knew right away that precast would be faster and more economical.”
With time constraints a key issue for the new 600,000-square-foot distribution facility, Seidler says he investigated the precast option and realized that L’Oreal Matrix would not only save money by using that option, but it would also get the job done much faster if it had the tunnel built off-site then delivered and installed.
“We knew it would be a much faster way to get the job done,” says Seidler, “instead of having to form and place all of the concrete on site.”
Getting the job done
As the leading professional hair care company in the United States, L’Oreal Matrix is a division of L’Oreal USA’s professional products division. Founded in 1980, Matrix offers a wide range of hair care products and is the exclusive sponsor of Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that creates custom-fitted hairpieces for disadvantaged children with long-term medical hair loss.
With $16.9 billion in total sales last year, L’Oreal is expanding its Matrix division, which originated in the United States but now serves an international customer base. The expansion has undoubtedly driven the company’s need for more distribution centers, hence the 2003 construction of the Streetsboro facility, which also includes office space.
Greg Seifert, an architect with Streetsboro-based Geis Construction, says the sheer size of the new building dictated the need for the underground fire escapes. “It exceeded the Ohio building code’s (egress) distance, so in order to make the facility work at the desired scale, it needed horizontal exit structures,” says Seifert. Such structures can be built on the floor, the roof or underground, he adds, but taking up floor space in the distribution center would have been out of the question.
“We visited a L’Oreal facility in New Jersey where underground tunnels were used,” recalls Seifert. “It obviously satisfied the same building code requirement and worked out well, so we did likewise.” Seifert says the original bid discussed using reinforced concrete block walls for the job, and that the idea of using poured concrete walls as the project progressed was also thrown around.
“In discussing these ideas with some of our subcontractors, it was suggested we look at the precast culvert channel as an option,” says Seifert. “That’s what we went with.” The finished project includes an underground fire escape comprised of 59 precast concrete box culverts averaging 5 feet by 8 feet in size, which formed a T-shaped structure made up of two tunnels that intersect perpendicularly.
Once it was decided that precast would work best for the L’Oreal Matrix building, the various designers, contractors and manufacturers sprang into action to meet a tight construction deadline for the overall project. “Everything needed to happen as quickly as possible,” says Fred Geis, president of Geis Construction. “We started in September and realized that we needed to have the building fully enclosed and all of the dirt work completed by the end of December.”
Geis says the scope of work included pouring a foundation, setting steel and installing storm sewers – all at the same time. “Even though it’s a large building, things got pretty crowded,” says Geis. The cramped quarters alone made the precast option even more attractive, since the bulk of the work could be finished off-site, away from the hubbub.
“The fact that the precast was manufactured at a remote facility then delivered on a truck had its obvious advantages,” says Geis, who adds that the precast also helped move the construction process along swiftly. “We were able to set all of them within two weeks, whereas it would have taken a minimum of 2½ months to get the job done with block or poured-in-place concrete.”
Expediency aside, other key considerations for the project included a number of tight specifications for L’Oreal Matrix’s distribution center floor. That meant ensuring that whatever was installed underneath the building did not negatively impact the floor slab situated above it. Seifert says that because L’Oreal Matrix uses heavy racking, the floor and structures beneath it had to support between 500 and 600 pounds per square foot. “We designed for the loads,” says Seifert, “and the precast was more than adequate for handling them.”
“Making sure the precast tunnels didn’t affect the structures above them was our most important consideration,” says Geis, who adds that using precast over poured-in-place concrete or concrete block saved money. “Most important is the fact that we were able to minimize the overall impact on the project. That helped us save money in ways that we probably haven’t realized yet.”
To illustrate just how quickly the new building was bid out, designed and built, Mike Hoffman, general manager at Canal Fulton, Ohio-based Lindsay Concrete Products Co. Inc., says he put in a quote for the project Oct. 15, 2003, and got the purchase order from Kenmore Construction, the site contractor for the project, about two weeks later. “Seidler Engineering was looking at different objects that wouldn’t be weather dependent, and we proposed a four-sided box culvert,” recalls Hoffman.
Less than a month later the precaster delivered the products, and installation was complete within seven days. “There was a weekend in there and some weather issues,” says Hoffman, who recalls a frenzied pace throughout most of the project due to the new facility’s geographic location and the fact that winter was already setting in. Being able to manufacture three sections a day in a controlled plant environment meant not having to rely on pouring concrete on site, where inclement weather can hamper the progress on construction projects.
“We were able to set the pieces very quickly and get the project installed within the requested timeframe,” says Hoffman. “From what we knew, we were up against pretty severe liquidated damages had it not been completed on time.”
Hoffman says coordinating the precast installation around the rest of the construction activity on site was another challenge. “The building was done and the roof panels were already going on,” says Hoffman. “We had to get a crane inside the building to handle the culverts with very little headroom.” Hoffman says the fact that precast put the project ahead of schedule helped the contractor “get paid on time” for all sections of the project and virtually ensured future projects for the precaster. “The subcontractor, excavator and others were all very pleased with the performance on this job.”
Tom Postak, executive vice president at Kenmore Construction Co. Inc. in Akron, Ohio, says the choice of precast for the underground fire escapes worked out very well on the L’Oreal Matrix distribution center. “We installed the precast and some cast-in-place in three entry locations, stairwells and stairs that came off of the T-shaped structure to create three exit locations on the tunnel sections,” says Postak. “It went very smoothly.”
Geis says he’s “perfectly satisfied” with the outcome and particularly impressed with the tunnel’s smooth interior finish. “The finish on the precast is better, quite frankly, than the few pieces that we did pour in place on this project,” says Geis. “Building the fire escapes went much better than anticipated, especially considering that we were using a product that wasn’t designed for this purpose.”
Project Name: Fire Escape Tunnels
Owner: L’Oreal Matrix, Streetsboro, Ohio
Architectural/Engineering Company: Seidler Engineering, Youngstown, Ohio
Builder/Developer: Geis Construction, Streetsboro, Ohio
Contractor/Installer: Kenmore Construction Co. Inc., Akron, Ohio
Precast Manufacturer: Lindsay Concrete Products Co. Inc., Canal Fulton, Ohio*
*Lindsay Concrete Products Co. Inc. is a certified plant under NPCA’s Quality Assurance/Plant Certification Program.