Denver firm cements history

By on October 25, 2017
This  rendering  shows  the  Statue  of  Liberty  museum,  now  under  construction.

This rendering shows the Statue of Liberty museum, now under construction.

High Concrete to craft 144 pieces for Statue of Liberty Museum

Helping to construct a museum on tiny Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty, is not an ordinary task.

That’s why the project’s designers turned to a company that’s demonstrated extraordinary skills — High Concrete Group.

Under a $2.9 million contract, Denver-based High Concrete is producing and erecting 144 pieces, mostly architectural precast concrete panels, for the striking building.

“We have a reputation of taking on sophisticated and complex projects…,” said President J. Seroky. “I think they looked at us because we have experience with challenging projects similar to the one they have.”

The Statue of Liberty — Ellis Island Foundation, with the support of the National Park Service, is building the 26,000-square-foot museum on the 14.7-acre island.

Liberty Island remains open to visitors during the construction of the $70 million museum, set to open in 2019.

The new museum will replace one that’s in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Due to safety upgrades following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the existing museum can accommodate only 20 percent of the 4.3 million people who visit the island annually.

The panels being produced by High Concrete for the museum are massive, as architectural precast concrete panels generally are.

Many are about 400 square feet. They weigh up to 50,000 pounds and are 16 to 21 inches thick.

Deliveries to the island began in August and will end in December.

But making deliveries is easier said than done.

The panels are trucked to Jersey City, New Jersey, on flatbed trailers, one panel per trailer. Once there, four trailers at a time are put on a barge for the trip to the island. A truck on the island takes the trailers to the job site.

There’s no room at the island to accumulate a backlog of panels, which would speed construction.

“On a typical precast project, we can do 12 to 18 panels per day. Here, though, we can’t stage any on the island. We’re going to manage eight panels a day, if we’re lucky,” said Bob Pabst of High Concrete.

The panels are erected with a crane that was disassembled to be taken via barge to the island, then reassembled there.

Besides crimping High Concrete’s ability to stage panels, the New York Harbor location also takes a bite out of each employee’s workday. About 30 to 40 minutes are consumed by ferry rides to and from the island.

“So productivity slows down,” said Pabst, vice president of sales and marketing.

High Concrete, though, offsets the lost productivity by adding efficiency in other ways.

The precast panels are finished in Denver, providing a completed portion of the museum wall, complete with insulation rated at R-21 — high for exterior walls in this climate.

The museum designers initially wanted to have granite walls, which would have required numerous workers from multiple trades to squeeze onto the island to build the museum’s walls from scratch on the site.

High Concrete’s approach is saving about $700,000 worth of time and materials, said Seroky.

“We’re producing the product in a quality controlled environment here, then shipping the finished piece of concrete — which has an inner wall, insulation and an exterior wall all put together already.

“The wall system is complete when it leaves Denver,” he said.

The panels are what Seroky calls “engineered to order,” meaning they’re customized for this particular job, both for function and appearance.

In this case, the panels have a “unique” and “very striking finish that meets the vision of the designer. This is architectural precast in its truest form,” said Dave Nicholas.

“It’s not prefab. It’s not, ‘We make a lot of this stuff. Let’s make some more today,’” said Nicholas, corporate marketing and communications manager for High Concrete and other High companies.

High Concrete, Seroky added, is among “the very few (companies that) could do this work to the level of quality necessary that it looks as good as it does before it gets on a trailer and goes there.

“There’s not a whole lot of opportunity, once it gets there, to make it look better,” he said.

To make these panels, High Concrete is casting the concrete using form liners to produce a vertical rib pattern (that creates a shadow effect desired by the designers) with profiles four inches deep.

When the concrete is sufficiently cured, the panels are sandblasted to give a textured finish, exposing a certain degree of the stone in the concrete mix.

These features on the panels, as well as the museum’s green roof and angular lines, are intended to make the museum appear to emerge from the earth.

The lowest wall panels have an extra feature unrelated to the building’s appearance — 16-inch-tall slots, where waves from storms can pass through and go under the museum, minimizing their punch.

The project’s architect is FXFOWLE, based in New York. Phelps Construction Group, based in Boonton, New Jersey, is the project’s general contractor.

High Concrete was formed in 1977 when its parent company, Lancaster-based High Industries, acquired the precast business of Kurtz Brothers.

Since then, High Concrete has grown into one of country’s best known architectual precast producers and the largest precast producer in the mid-Atlantic region.

With annual revenue in excess of $100 million, High Concrete employs 450 people, including about 300 in Denver.

High Concrete is often associated with parking garage work. And, indeed, the company has produced precast concrete for many of them — about 1,000 of its 5,000-plus projects done in its history, Seroky said.

But the vast majority of the remaining 4,000 are architectural precast projects, he pointed out. (Architectural precast, a sharper-looking product than regular precast, contributes to a building’s architectural form and effect.)

Projects such as the Statue of Liberty Museum spotlight High Concrete’s skills in its larger business segment.

“We’re ecstatic that we have the opportunity to do this, as well as the fact that there’s going to be 4 million people a year or more who get to walk up right next to our precast,” Seroky said.

“There aren’t many opportunities for us to do that. We’re also excited that we get to be a part of history. There aren’t going to be many more Statue of Liberty Museums being built in my lifetime, I don’t think,” he said.

Tim Mekeel is Business Editor for LNP. 

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