Load-Bearing Concrete Masonry Gets The Job Done at Villanova

To achieve the goals of this ambitious project, concrete masonry was the right choice.

More than 450,000 high-strength and standard concrete block form the backbone of Villanova Commons, a new student housing complex opened in the fall of 2019. The Commons can house 1,135 Villanova University students at the school’s Philadelphia campus.

Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Voith & Mactavish Architects, the six-building, 425,000-square-foot project began construction in November 2015 and was completed by June 2019. In addition to apartments, the Commons features an on-campus restaurant, a coffee bar, a fitness center, six community rooms, four courtyards, and a 3,800-foot TechZone. The Commons was built to LEED standards and includes a system to capture and reuse stormwater runoff to help cool buildings, along with four rain gardens and a variety of other green building systems.

Built to last

“The floor system is hollow-core precast plank. Precast plank and block is a tried and true system”, said Eric Humes of Macintosh Engineering, the civil engineering firm on the job. “These buildings are dorms, and the university built them to last,”  Humes, the project engineer said. The masonry, he said “was a massive undertaking, with a tight schedule, but it went well.”

And that’s saying something, according to Nick Sabia, president of D.M.Sabia Co.,  the mason contractor on Villanova Commons. “The brick and stone unions have told us Villanova Commons is the largest masonry project to date in the Philadelphia Area.” Rocky Fizzano of block supplier Fizzano Brothers Concrete Products in Philadelphia, echoed Humes’s and Sabia’s comments. “At Villanova, they wanted buildings that will be around a long time. So they chose loadbearing concrete masonry.”

In addition to 450,000 high-strength and standard concrete block, Villanova  Commons required 5,000 tons of fieldstone, 28,000 cubic feet of cast stone, 140,000 face brick, 7,000 paving brick, and 113,000 cubic feet of colored and regular mortar.

Old-School Quality and Coordination With Other Trades

“This was a load-bearing masonry project. So once the foundations were completed, the immediate erection of the block walls was critical to the installation of the precast plank floors. At times we had over 150 workers on site laying block, installing rebar, grouting, and installing cast stone and fieldstone,” Sabia said. “We had over 50 stonemasons on this project at its peak. We used five different size cranes, ranging from four-ton to 70-ton capacity, and five 10,000-pound-capacity forklifts. We had 1,300 linear feet of platform scaffold running five stories high. And like the schedule, the site was extremely tight, Deliveries had to be coordinated with other trades, and laydown areas were at a minimum.”

The project demanded “old school quality,” according to Sabia. “We had separate crews for each component (insulation, block, fieldstone, and cast stone) to keep the workmanship consistent. This was a monumental task to complete on schedule and we are extremely proud to have been involved.”

Published March 11, 2020
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