Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Ill., needed a new, 40,000 ft2 field house. The goals of the project were to provide a cost-effective solution that would also deliver a unique appearance with a low-maintenance and durable design.
The design team originally considered using a metal panel with polycarbonate accents to create a unique design that represented the school; however, they found that a precast concrete wall panel design featuring Graphic Concrete technology would offer far greater cost savings and lower maintenance costs.
Relatively new to the United States, Graphic Concrete technology allows designers to impart durable patterns and images onto precast concrete surfaces. In addition to providing the well-known resilience of precast concrete, this technology opens up a bold new range of design possibilities for architects because any image they create can be used.
The technology transfers patterns or images as a surface retarder via membrane placed at the bottom of the form, and then concrete is cast on top of the membrane. After the concrete is cured and extracted from the form, the retarder is washed away with a high-pressure washer, revealing an image that results from the contrast between the smooth surface and the exposed aggregate surface.
The designers used the Graphic Concrete technology to cast the school’s initials in an artistic pattern, as well as the school’s full name, onto one hundred nine 10 × 40 ft composite panels. A sandblasted, ribbed formliner was also incorporated, which tied the new structure to the existing structural design. The wall panels include 4-in.-thick foam insulation and use white cement, pigment, standard limestone aggregate, and locally sourced sand. The interior features a steel-trowel finish.
The precast concrete wall panels took about three months to manufacture and were erected in just two weeks in the fall, while school was in session. The precast concrete was set on cast-in-place footings, and then the precast concrete walls became the structure for the envelope.
The quick installation allowed the general contractor to get other trades on site quickly to keep the project moving along. The addition was completed in August 2021, just in time for the upcoming school year.
The new building houses basketball courts, an indoor track, a long jump area, and a batting cage that drops down from the ceiling. The courts are much more appropriate for high school competitions than the school’s previous facilities, and physical education classes will be able to use the field house for instructional space.