University of Massachusetts-Lowell South Campus Parking Structure
Administrators at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell needed to expand on-campus parking supply for faculty, staff and students. The site-selection process identified a location, footprint, and orientation that required the structure to be built into the side of a hill at the end of an existing surface lot. A structural-system selection study was performed to consider construction schedule, campus disruption, cost, availability, and long-term durability. The study identified precast concrete construction as the preferred system for the seven-level, 764-car facility.
“In the Northeast, it’s pretty common to use this system for parking structures,” says Christopher Brennan, director of operations and the project manager for Walker Parking Consultants in Boston. “It’s the most prevalent system used in this region for standalone structures, due to its availability, construction/cost efficiency, and durability.”
Precast concrete accommodated some distinct aesthetic elements on the 226,000-square-foot building, such as protruding fins on the two long sides, which attach to the exterior spandrels. “The fin elements created a design and construction challenge because they’re designed to look integral with the spandrels panels and stand away from the structure,” he explains.
The design also “pushed the limits of structure length we typically utilize without benefit of an expansion joint,” he adds. The two-bay structure is 287 feet long and includes a full-height, 80-foot-wide curtain wall enclosing the stair hall on one end. Select wall panels were hung off columns rather than stacking them full height, while shear wall elements were strategically located, he notes. “The key was to prevent certain building elements from inadvertently restricting volume change. It wasn’t a major difficulty, but it was out of the ordinary.”
The precast concrete components comprised double tees, columns, beams, spandrel panels, solid panels, spandrels with fin elements, stairs, and other elements. Unistress Corp. fabricated all of the components.
The construction team took advantage of the sparser summer schedule to begin the erection, but then the fall semester caused the site limits to be pulled in. “The structure was built between the existing parking and the main south campus, so it was being traversed by people moving between the two,” he explains. “It was a challenging site.”
In addition to the tight site, the precaster had to strategically plan routes in and out of the campus owing to local bridges that had weight limits. With a small staging area at the site shared with other materials contractors, the precaster scheduled a steady stream of trucks with the proper piece to be erected next on the timetable. “There were 15 to 20 pieces being erected a day, so there was a steady flow of trucks coming in, having their load picked and then leaving.”
The result is a functional parking space that provides a visually arresting look combining depth, concrete and glass. “It’s a very nice looking structure,” he says.