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Modular construction slashes cost, time and maintenance

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by Ron Stang last update:Sep 26, 2014

It’s been a long time coming for students faced with perennial parking problems at the landlocked University of Windsor campus sandwiched between the Ambassador Bridge and the Windsor’s west side business district.
A crane lifts Newton Group’s precast slab off of a flatbed for placement on the University of Windsor’s parking deck.
A crane lifts Newton Group’s precast slab off of a flatbed for placement on the University of Windsor’s parking deck. - Photo: Ron Stang

But as part of the university’s three year “campus transformation plan” which sees a series of renovations, additions and street beautifications, Ontario’s most southwestern university has chosen innovative parking structure design to add 1,000 badly needed spaces.

Foundation work began in the summer but the “meccano” like erection of the seven storey, $23 million garage started in mid-October by the Guelph-based Newton group.

It’s Newton’s second garage after acquiring the European-derived rights for the system which slashes construction time and cost as well as long term maintenance.

The first garage, some 400 spaces, was opened last fall at Markham’s GO Train station.

Newton has branded the construction process its CanadaCar System.

It’s unlike any other parking structure. First, all major materials are prefabricated and precast at Newton’s cement and steel plants back home in Guelph. The materials are then trucked to the site and assembled.

As for the materials, there are the 18 metre steel beams, cambered to give added strength and hot dipped galvanized to protect against the vagaries of weather.

The deck is comprised of a series of 18 metre two-slab (nine metres each) modules attached end to end providing for the individual parking spaces and ingress-egress lanes. They’re made from high performance concrete (HPC), which exceeds CSA standards and has a lifespan greater than the conventional poured-in-place 40 years. Also, waterproof membranes aren’t needed except on connecting joints.

“We use a higher performance concrete therefore it is impervious to water and therefore salts and chloride,” says Newton’s sales and marketing manager Joanne Bertrand. That reduces maintenance costs by 90 per cent.

All this results in considerable time saving constructing the building since, among other things, curing has already taken place. On a 400 space garage, for example, start-to-finish takes eight months compared to “18 to 24” by conventional methods, Bertrand says.

Each slab accommodates a vehicle space of 5.5 metres. The slabs at 105 millimetres thick are about half the thickness of traditional decks yet their compressive strength is higher than 70 MPa.

The slabs have stamped raised or knurled patterns for slip resistance and better drying, and each deck has a one to two per cent slope to eliminate water with a perimeter drainage system along with drainage every third space.

On Oct.16, a Newton crew was into its third day of erecting the first — and most critical — of the six sections, each seven storeys high.

“Once they’re locked in position we’ve got this section squared up, plumbed up, then everything will be added on to here,” project manager Ruud Meereboer says. “We have to get the first section completely square and plumb...because if this one is out of square or out of plumb everything else will follow it.”

There is a minimum crew putting each slab in place. One man is stationed below on the flatbed (six slabs are usually trucked daily from Guelph) attaching a slab to a patented hoist with specially designed grippers.

The slab is lifted horizontally and guided into place by two other men up top. It’s released in sequence from one end to the other and anchored by hooks into the beam’s studs.

Meanwhile the whole structure is in tension using hydraulic jack stands to provide bi-axial compression to hold everything together until joint grouting is completed. The purpose: to provide a lighter structure and prevent precast cracking.

That impressed the university’s facility services manager Dan Castellan.

“They release the tension off the beams and then the slab goes in compression on the site,” he says. “That’s pretty neat, pretty innovative.”

It’s bright and sunny this day but Meereboer says the prefab and precast materials eliminate the hassle of working in lousy weather.

“The advantage of this system as such is that you can manufacture everything off site in the factory so that inclement weather doesn’t affect you in any way,” he says. “The assembly is only held up if you’ve got severe rain or severe winds — the assembly on the job site — but you’re not affected by cold weather at all.”

The garage, save for landscaping and connections to an adjoining building across the street from the campus’s new Ed Lumley engineering faculty (just being completed this fall) will be finished by April, with the entire project handed over in late summer.

Windsor’s Danruss demolished a former surface lot and Pupatello & Sons Ltd. is doing concrete forming.

last update:Sep 26, 2014

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