Restoring a Legacy in Missouri
Lightweight block was the material of choice to rebuild the historic Fulton State Hospital.
By Anderson Williams
Designers of the new Fulton State Hospital in Fulton, Mo., faced a critical deadline. The oldest psychiatric care facility in the state was woefully out of date and urgently needed replacement. For a time, it appeared the new state-of-the-art campus would be built out of modular precast concrete. But a coalition of experts demonstrated how concrete masonry was actually a better choice for the massive complex.
Masons with John J. Smith Masonry Co. of St. Louis had the daunting task of placing more than 1.1 million load-bearing concrete masonry units for the facility. Because the project was being fast-tracked, the mason contractor needed every advantage to keep the project on schedule and concrete masonry delivered.
“Because this project of restoring a legacy was on such a tight timeline, speed was a big factor,” says Danielle Bach, architectural sales representative for block supplier Midwest Block and Brick. “The fact that the masons could lay a lightweight block faster than a normal-weight block really helped in the decision to switch from precast to concrete masonry.”
The concrete block for this project of restoring a legacy were manufactured with lightweight aggregates produced by Trinity Lightweight in Erwinville, La. The product was barged to St. Louis and shipped to three Midwest Block plants.
“Lightweight aggregate is manufactured specifically for production of concrete masonry units,” says Trinity’s Jeff Speck, P.E. “Study after study have shown that the lighter the unit, the more units a mason can place in a given period of time. On a project of this scope, the number of days required to construct all the masonry walls is reduced drastically by going to a lightweight block.”
The crews placing the units also benefited from concrete masonry’s design flexibility. Mark Wilhelms, VP of sales for Midwest Block, says that benefit came into play quickly as masons worked to achieve the architect’s vision for campus buildings with a distinctively sleek roofline.
“There are numerous slopes, curves and differing roof levels, and trying to accomplish this with other materials, such as pre-cast, would be very difficult,” says Wilhelms. “Masonry is flexible and site built. If we need to be 2 inches higher or 2 inches lower, it’s easy to accomplish with masonry.”
Wilhelms says a big part of the coalition’s push to switch to concrete masonry focused on the product’s long-life cycle. “We made an effort to say that when restoring a legacy like this, it’s got to last,” Wilhelms says. “We won’t be replacing this hospital in 25 years. We talked a lot about 75-year and 100-year design life for these buildings.”
Another aspect of the presentation was devoted to masonry’s improved performance in severe weather events. “Missouri is prone to tornadoes and high winds. In this type of hospital, there’s no way they could move patients in the event of a tornado. They can’t move them to a tornado shelter. We talked about masonry’s durability in storm situations and pointed out the fact that it can be designed to withstand heavy winds.”
One key member of the coalition was a structural engineer who provided models of various wall designs that analyzed potential stresses of masonry walls during the design phase.
“We ran different wall configurations through finite analysis and graphically showed how stresses were transferred around windows and doors to the surrounding masonry,” says Wilhelms, “and how masonry walls and foundations could pick up those stresses and transfer them out through the wall. That went a long way to document that masonry does work. The wall works as a system and not as individual pieces.”
Fulton State Hospital organizes 12 distinctive living areas into four unique program communities. Most of the interior walls will feature durable, painted lightweight concrete block that can stand up to vandalism and provide lower long-term maintenance costs. “Lightweight block does have a consistency to its texture that, when painted, brings a little nicer appearance to the interior,” Wilhelms says.
The exterior skin of the building features accent areas made up of ground face concrete masonry units in a striking black finish. “Designers typically have a very distinct aesthetic that they want to achieve or have in mind,” says Bach. “On this project, the designer wanted a charcoal color with cool undertones. Eventually, we were able to come up with a custom color that was exactly what they were looking for. It gives the building a modern edge with the charcoal color.”
Beyond the aesthetics, concrete masonry also helps the new campus meet today’s energy guidelines. “Energy compliance today has become a huge part of a building’s planning,” says Bach. “The building codes are ever-changing and becoming more stringent. So, when working with the designers from the very beginning on the cavity wall construction, the lightweight back-up along with the ground face veneer was extremely important. Lightweight also has a greater thermal value than normal weight, so that was helpful in playing into the whole cavity wall system.”
This project of restoring a legacy broke ground in April 2016, and contractor River City Construction says the project is on track to be completed by October 2018.