Enviro Woman & Building Schools

The intention is to begin attending DeKalb School District 428’s Facilities Planning Committee (FPC) meetings despite harboring doubts that a non-construction type could contribute much to the discussion. But now the thought occurs: Send Enviro Woman! She’ll know what to say! Such as, “LEED, or get out of the way!”

Take the case of the precast concrete vs. masonry construction debate. Enviro Woman gets up to speed pronto on anything having to do with R-values. She knows, for instance, that hurricane-vulnerable Tampa is not only sold on precast construction for its ability to withstand storm-force winds but for its average insulation values of R-18 to R-20.

“Hmm, not bad,” purred Enviro Woman in her deceptively casual way as she perused the latest promotional literature. “DeKalb’s Building Code calls for a minimum R-13 in exterior walls. But energy costs are not going down, and I know of a precast with an insulation value of R-30. It’s also the world’s most lightweight precast, which brings costs down further. And to top it off, the manufacturer is local.”

Yes, tucked into Sycamore Industrial Park is ThermalShell Technologies, est. 2001. Their innovation includes a proprietary concrete formulation and interior steel; a local example of their work is the TAILS Humane Society’s shelter. Concrete Products.com featured two of their projects in an article last year, a 22,000 s.f. banquet hall and a 32,000 s.f. community center:

ThermalShell’s three-component wall panel system — comprising a 2-in.-thick, 5,500-psi concrete exterior and a prefinished, 26-gauge corrugated steel interior panel enclosing a 4-in.-thick, polyurethane foam middle layer — was selected by the builder for its insulating properties and finished interiors contributing to ease of construction. In addition to an R-30 insulation value, the lightweight panels provided interior surfaces requiring no further treatment for the gym and mere drywall in classrooms and recreation areas. For an especially rigid roof, requiring half the normal number of joists, steel sandwich panels (constructed of two high-rib 26-gauge sheets surrounding 3½ inches of polyurethane insulation) were installed and finished with a triple-seal system to prevent leaks.

Moreover, the precast exterior offered versatility with economy. A brick liner used in fabricating the wall panels, as well as skillful color application, created a genuine brick appearance. For the reveals, custom-made components were attached to the casting table to form accenting elements. A glass-smooth finish, furthermore, was achieved to avoid inconsistencies in the finish.

Besides meeting aesthetic requirements, the panels were tailored to satisfy seismic and wind load demands. Incorporating rebar and wire mesh for structural reinforcement, the walls provide a load-bearing capacity beyond that of architectural cladding.

Erection time for the walls and roof was one month. Using a 9,000-lb.-rated, JLG 944E-42 skid steer for roof and wall placement significantly reduced the cost of installation. Lightweight components, including 31-ft. 6-in. to 9-ft. 9-in. wall panels and 40-ft. 6-in. to 8-ft. 10-in. roofing units, eliminated the need for a large crane and the attendant expense.

It appears that all construction options are still on the table but if FPC ends up being sold on the precast option, Enviro Woman believes it should definitely talk to the ThermalShell people.

[H/T P.R.]

20 thoughts on “Enviro Woman & Building Schools”

  1. Hi,
    Okay, I’m lost. Is ThermaShell the same, different, competing with what Mac and Ivan are advocating? Sorry for being obtuse but physical construction is not my forte.

    I know I want safety with the least expense and I want the most environmental sound building for the buck. I’m not willing to have the school board spend money for an architectural design award, but am willing to spend more upfront in construction to save heat and electricity costs during the life of the building.

    Hopefully Enviro womean, Mac, Ivan or three random MIT architects-engineers will put all this stuff together in an undertandable table.

    Oh, something I do know about: government procedure. I really hope both enviro woman, Mac, Ivan etc. get all this material to the school board or FPC prior to meetings. This is not the sort of stuff that people easily digest from oral presentations.

    Again (I just thanked Mac on his site) thanks for doing this stuff and feel free to use me as a test case to see if you have made in comprehensible to those like me who think changing a switch is advanced building


  2. Thermashell is a local firm (Sycamore) which manufactures Precast concrete panels-of which Mac and Ivan and many others are advocating.What may be confusing is they call their precast formula “Thermashell”, its simply their name for their formula and techniques in manufacturing.

  3. Precast wall panels can be built practically to your specs. You have precast walls that are literally solid concrete and there are panels that have the concrete casting, foam insulation panels, and even wood nailers for internal sheathing systems.

    The panels can also be casted to look like brick or stone. There are different textures also that can be incorporated for interior walls. There is a lot of flexibility in the precast panel system today and will probably only become more versatile as more engineers begin to understand what can be done with this system.

    Most precast panel manufacturers subcribe to an association that requires mandatory payscales to fairly compensate the employees and along with this certification, the company is to be LEED certified. The nice thing is that this system is considered to be green due to less waste on the job site that would go to a local dump and the lack of off gases.

    Another important factor especially when children will be occupying the structure is that a precast building is considered to be an above ground storm shelter virtually making the entire building storm proof. Areas that wouldn’t be would be areas with many windows and doors. This is a nice bonus. A bonus is that the construction time is shortened due to the speed involved in the assembly (which is generally done by a unionized company). Less construction time means faster finish and less interest money borrowed to construct. Typically, this type of construction can save up to 30% of the cost vs. brick/block/mortar construction and looks great when completed example NIU’s Yordon Center.

    With more and more companies getting involved in precast construction only means that there is competitive pricing which could mean even a little more savings. With more companies popping up should also be an indicator on how popular this construction technique has become.

  4. There is a Facility Planning Committee meeting this Wed, Apr 9 (7pm). I’ve brought in industry professionals to talk of pre-cast and other techniques (tilt-up) but they are of vested interest (as is the architect). If the FPC were to hear from non-vested residents, it would be helpful.

    Great find, by the way, yinn. I didn’t know we had a local pre-caster.

  5. Thanks. I think I understand and hope that FPC listens closely. Might not make meeting as the technical stuff on construction is not my strength and I have exceeded by far my quota for public meetings this month and have several more this week and next.

    Thanks again both for discovering the technology, sharing it, and more or less making it comprehensible to me. I would though again suggest e-mailing synopses of this stuff to the fpc or school board in advance of the meeting. Maybe an e-mail to the board’s lawyer who seems to be up on such stuff might also be in order.

    The explanations and the video need to be viewed at home first and then again at a public meeting.

    herb r

  6. Where is the meeting tonight? This is for the school building, so can I guess it will be at the school administrative offices on S. 4th where the School Board meetings are held?


  7. I saw the video of the 2 x 4 ‘cannon’ experiment on Mac’s site. Not only does the precast look stronger, it has a cleaner, more attractive look, and it is cheaper? That would be fabulous, and I just told about twenty people, almost all of whom have kids in the schools.

  8. Kay, thanks for looking up the video. I’m standing behind the precast and I’m sure that many would also after watching the demostration. There is a reason that so many schools are using this construction method.

    It is fabricated in a controlled setting and shipped to the site. A minimal amount of workers are needed on the site to assemble along with a great crane operator. This system can be used year round and even during many inclement days, rain etc. Most precast companies are LEED certified and this is a green construction technique due to minimal amount of job waste that would go to a landfill.

    These are just several of the reasons that lend to it cost being less than brick/block/mortar construction. We do need community support for this method to be implemented in the construction of the new high school. I’m afraid that the schools architect would rather use a more expensive construction technique for whatever reason. We need to remind the powers to be whos money is being used!

    There are many on the FCP committee that are concerned about do right by the voters. We just need to continue to be there with concerns and comments.

  9. I’ve continued to read about precast and how it is being used in hurricane-prone areas of the country. One article about a project in Louisiana said that the precast would hold up to a Category 5 hurricane. Between that, the enviro considerations and the cost, what’s not to like?

  10. Has anyone on the FPC, school board or the architects offered reasons why not to use pre-cast? Unless such reasons are forthcoming and forthcoming in a convincing fashion, I too wonder why any other choice would be made.

    Mac and Ivan must be having some influence. Was at another meeting that had on it some FPC members (meeting had nothing to do with schools, just overlap of people) and these people were quoting to me questions that Mac and/or Ivan raised at FPC.

    I’m still puzzled why architects would want to use a more expensive technique. Mac, answered, in part saying their fees are percentages of cost, that’s one reason (that I hope the board does not allow). Some implications that pre-cast isn’t as easy to use for architectural statements; again, I want a nice looking school, perhaps with a bit of art in one location, but no more than that.

    Mac, Ivan and Yinn are persuasive on this one and am puzzled why no counter arguments are being made.

    A question: in a competitive bidding process won’t a contractor using pre-cast have a less expensive bid for a project of the same size and general design and hence prevail?


  11. With regards to nice looking, they can do just about anything that can be thought up. Radius’, circles, angles, brick look, block look etc. Just google Trump building in Chicago and see his high rise that is being built. Georgeous and all precast. The Yordon Center at the north end of the NIU football stadium is great looking.

    I’m afraid masonry unions are not fans of this type of construction. Many more employees involved in brick/block/mortar. Very small on site crew needed for the precast panels along with a crane to set in place. The only rebuttal has come from the architect reps. That is why Mac is asking that their contract comes with a full disclosure with regards to materials and compensation.

    As for the bidding process. Bids will only come in for what the prints call for. That is why we need to persuade the committee that the precast construction is a very viable solution for our high school. At a time when there is a substantial downturn in new home construction, new home projections for the next years will have to be recalculated (general feeling among many committee members), and basically just the fact that we do not need to spend $88.5 million dollars if we don’t have to. I really feel that the students in this new school will have the environment that the teachers feel is truly condusive for a proper education and can be done for less. I feel many committee members are starting to see this also.

  12. Many on this site can email the school board members to encourage them to open their eyes to this product. Awareness that there is something else out there which really does make sense for our situation is very important at this time.

    I can say one thing about the committee process that is ongoing concerning the school construction. The discussions have been very good and it is great to see the concern that many of the committee members have. It is a great opportunity for this community to stay involved in the building of DeKalb’s biggest school to date.

    As Mac says, the legacy that we can give our children and the many other children that will walk through these halls of education is very important to this community. What is decided today can make or break the community in the future and I fully believe that this committee understands that.

  13. I’ve e-mailed the Board and noticed that the address is incorrect. If you click the one button for the whole Board, it pops up with a space between “board” and “@” that you have to close up before you can send your message.

  14. I llobbied for ivan and mac weeks ago (to make sure they were heard). I didn’t write to the entire school board only those whose e-mail I had in my contact list as the web site clearly was having a bad hair day. I got the same e-mail address for two of the board members.

    I guess Yinn figured out the problem I gave up in frustration though did write individually.


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