A new precast wall provides an aesthetic buffer to the new student center at Southern Adventist University.
By Mark Crawford
Southern Adventist University (SAU), nestled at the base of White Oak Mountain in Collegedale, Tenn., is a suburban community not far from Chattanooga. The school draws many of its students from the Tennessee-Georgia-Alabama tri-state region.
Having outgrown the original student center built in the 1970s, the university constructed a $13 million building, the Bietz Center for Student Life, which features large areas for recreation and studying while also providing flexible space for spiritual activities.
After construction was complete, SAU contracted with Talley Construction, a road construction company in Rossville, Ga., and Bradley Tank and Pipe, a precast concrete supplier in Cleveland, Tenn., to install an attractive retaining wall to allow a parking lot to be built above and behind the building.
SAU’s architectural firm, Michael Brady in Chattanooga, performed all the planning for the student life center.
“Included in their recommendations was a block retaining wall for this purpose,” said Daniel Ford, a licensed general contractor and the large project superintendent for the university.
Due to the height of the wall and the costs associated with pouring on site, the design team decided a precast solution was the best option. They selected Redi-Rock, an engineered retaining wall system consisting of precast blocks of various sizes that can be customized to meet the requirements of many retaining wall projects. The aesthetic look of Redi-Rock walls also appealed to SAU because it “would add a new and attractive design to the campus,” said Ford.
“Because we have done several Redi-Rock walls in the area, SAU was already familiar with the look of the products,” said Andrew Butler, general manager of Bradley Tank and Pipe. “We have worked with Talley Construction on numerous projects in the past, ranging from Redi-Rock retaining walls to storm and sewer manholes.”
A precast solution
The project consists of two walls. The longer wall is 445 feet long with a maximum height of 13.5 feet; the shorter wall is 135 feet in length. A series of steps will be installed where the two walls intersect, creating access to the buildings behind the wall. More than 1,100 precast segments, ranging in depth from 60 inches to 28 inches, comprise the walls. Bradley Tank and Pipe will also supply stormwater catch basins and junction boxes for the project.
“The corners are somewhat unique in that there are seven 90-degree corners on the long wall,” said Butler. “A corner by itself is not unusual – but having seven on one wall is probably the most we have ever had on a project.”
Even though the blocks are designed to somewhat align themselves from front to rear, crews discovered there was plenty of room for them to move, so extra care was taken during installation. The corners also required some finesse.
“Two outside corners on the same wall seemed to be the most challenging, since the natural set-back of each course shortens the distance between corners as you go up,” said Ford. “We also discovered that when we got to the top, or to an end that is supposed to follow a grade, we needed to get creative with which block goes on top, to create nice grade transitions behind the wall.”
The most unique feature of the wall is the combination of cobblestone- and limestone-faced blocks that create a pattern along the length of both walls.
“The landscape director at SAU had seen the look before and liked it,” Ford said. “We also thought the pattern would minimize the magnitude of the wall. In fact, mixing the limestone and the cobblestone actually helped us get the materials faster.”
Butler noted there were some challenges with the timeline, mostly due to the weather.
“Normally, weather conditions are not too much of a problem,” he said. “With an early January start, however, we contended with cold weather, which did slow our progress. Being proactive in our production allowed us to stay ahead on this project.
“Also, maintaining open lines of communication with team members makes all the difference in the world. Josh Carter, the superintendent for Talley on this project, always worked with us to get whatever he needed, as quickly as possible.”
Ford said another delay in the project was “rain, rain and more rain.” Working around students, however, was not an issue.
“Even though we are an active campus, the construction area is completely fenced off to the general public, so there have been very few conflicts,” he added.
More projects to come
Butler said Bradley Tank and Pipe is thrilled with how the wall turned out and plans to showcase the pattern and design for other projects and potential clients.
Ford said the success and aesthetics of the project have led to the university looking at doing more work with Redi-Rock in the future.
“Personally, I really like the look of the product and have heard many positive comments from others here on campus,” he concluded. “We have several areas of old railroad tie retaining walls that are in serious need of repair. Redi-Rock is a product that we are seriously considering for this upcoming work.”
Mark Crawford is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer who specializes in science, technology and manufacturing.