College students today want to live in modern dorms, and the 50-year-old Moss and Johns Halls at Longwood University weren’t fitting the bill. The two concrete masonry, 10-story housing facilities were old and dark with poor insulation and needed a major upgrade. The university wanted to maintain the traditional design aesthetic that is reflective of the entire campus, but with a more modern flair.
Using a precast concrete brick-faced panel system, the designers were able to provide intricate detailing similar to that used for other campus buildings while staying within a tight budget and timeline. “With these structures being housing for students, timeline was a critical item,” says Jason Davis, engineering manager for Gate Precast. “The precast concrete insulated wall panels made it possible to, in effect, create two new dormitories in little more than a school year.”
The design team and the precast concrete producer worked together directly, using building information modeling software to develop the final detailing of the building envelope. This strategy allowed for the smooth development and approval of shop drawings, so that the production of the panels could be accelerated to meet the project schedule.
To reform the outdated residence halls into buildings with modern amenities, the project team had to first strip them down to the steel frame. The entire facade was then replaced with an architectural precast concrete panel system supported on separate foundations that did not add loading to the existing structural steel frame.
“Using the precast concrete facade as a new lateral force–resisting system, the structures received an upgrade to make them capable of resisting the current prescribed lateral forces without replacing the original steel structure,” Davis says.
The primary design objectives for the project were to achieve consistent architectural details and give the monotonous layout some articulation and architectural interest. The designers were able to achieve these goals while staying within the budget through the use of repetitive forms, which included thin brick embedded in precast concrete with limestone accents with an acid-etch finish. The team used different configurations to add variety to the design.
The backside of the precast concrete wall system was painted, which eliminated the need for additional trades to add insulation and drywall on the interior of the dorms. “This significantly decreased the time required to close-in the structures,” notes Travis Fox, vice president of operations for the northern division for Gate Precast Company.
Durability and precision were provided with factory-controlled production, which meant that the panels could be delivered to the job precisely when they were needed. The phased delivery minimized the number of student rooms out of commission, allowing one tower to remain occupied while the other was renovated. The off-site precasting also accelerated construction and reduced the number of trades on site at the busy campus. This helped the team meet the strict goal to have each building renovated during a one academic year.
The self-supporting precast concrete cladding system is now bringing beauty, structural capability, and excellent thermal performance to students residing in these modern campus dorms. The entire team is pleased with the outcome and the impact that precast concrete had on the project. “We transformed these buildings from eyesores to something that now attracts new students,” says Flory. “These buildings are the first thing you see when you approach campus, so upgrading the first impression was extremely important.”