Administrators at Binghamton University set an ambitious program to revamp their on-campus student housing after a study showed that the existing facilities required upgrades that would cost more than 80% of the cost of new structures. Rebuilding also fit strategy for expanding enrollment and realigning facilities to group academic spaces better. Their plan involved eight buildings encompassing 1.130 million square feet, which had to be built on a fast-track schedule. To help achieve this, designers specified load-bearing precast concrete wall panels, many embedded with thin brick.
“In deciding how to construct this amount of square feet, we had three goals: construct it quick, maximize efficiency, and create a character that was appropriate for the campus,” says Christopher Miller, project manager at architectural firm Stantec. The final portion of that plan, occupied in August 2013, features four buildings totaling 587,683 square feet. Called the Dickinson Community, it runs along the campus’ loop road and serves as the divider between academic from residential space. Architectural Precast Innovations supplied the precast concrete components for this final four-building project.
The panels significantly reduced enclosure time compared to conventionally laid brick, says Miller, estimating the savings at about five months per building. “This is what made building four halls at a time even possible.”
Cross-bracing was reduced by designing the panels to handle sheer forces parallel to the building’s face. “Coupled with using precast concrete floor planks between braced bays, the structure was extremely efficient because it eliminated the need for spandrel steel beams that would have been required to support exterior brick or poured-in-place concrete floors.”
The panels and flooring also provide flexibility in relaying out interiors if desired in the future, he notes. “The floors are general wide open with minimal structure impacting any future layout.”
The combination of exposed precast concrete in an acid-washed buff texture and thin bricks replicates the look of stone-and-brick structures on campus. Four colors of brick were used throughout the eight-building campus. Two main field colors consisted of red and a lighter, yellowish hue, which helped break up the mass of the red brick and reduced the buildings’ height by being used for the top floor. Two accent colors were used for banding to add horizontal lines. Standard brick sizes were used to emulate conventionally laid brick, with L-shaped bricks at corners and windows openings.
The biggest design challenge came in areas where the façade was projected outward to create small cantilevered areas. As a result, rather than being able to extend the load-bearing panels to grade, they had to be supported by a wing of the precast concrete planks. The structural designer worked closely with the precaster to ensure the design could be created without steel supports, which would have added cost, material, and obstructions in rooms.
All phases of the project had limited sites due to campus activity. Panels were staged at a yard about one mile from the project, where they were quality-reviewed and sequenced to match the erector’s construction plan. Two trucks then delivered them to the site individually so one panel was arriving as the other was returning to load another panel.
“This allowed the erection process to progress quickly and to keep the project on schedule.” The residential program met its timetable, with the first building completed in August 2009, the next three finished in August 2011, and the final four completed in August 2013.