Riverfront Park Upgrades with Prefab Buildings

Restroom concession building for Newark Park is prefabricated from durable, modular precast concrete, requiring limited work on site.

When Essex County Riverfront Park was in planning back in the early 1990s, it was a critical part of Newark's plan to recapture its waterfront and make it a new greenway of public amenities, including a hotel, a baseball stadium for the Newark Bears and more. New recreational fields, dubbed Riverfront Park, would draw families, soccer teams and joggers to the edge of the Passaic River – for the first time in generations.

The county executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., "lobbied Governor Chris Christie and Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni to provide $9 million in grant funding to purchase the land," according to Essex County officials. Sensing the momentum, politicians in Newark including Mayor Cory A. Booker transferring ownership of a portion of the former Morris Canal to the county. With that move, the project started in earnest in mid-2010, with construction commencing in August the next year.

With just over 12 acres of land, the compact park is designed to make the most of its space and infrastructure – and its budget, according to officials for Essex County. In addition to a new soccer field and baseball field with synthetic grass surfaces, the design added tennis and basketball courts, a passive meadow, walking paths, two playground areas and small parking area. The plan also included new, small buildings to serve as a maintenance shed and house wastewater treatment, pumps and motors, restrooms, and dugout facilities. One of them, a new concession and restroom structure marked by brick finish and a metal-clad roof, is the most prominent in the park.

To speed the construction and keep costs low, the project team proposed high-quality prefabricated buildings made of durable precast concrete panels, delivered ready to fit out with all necessary equipment, says Tom Ely, an executive with Oldcastle Precast of Easton, Pennsylvania. Ely's company – formerly known as Modern Precast – serves as a licensed producer for Easi-Set Worldwide, which developed the preassembled techniques for the durable concrete structures.

"There are a few key points to be made about this plant-assembled building," says Ely.  "While they are cast and assembled in a factory setting, the resulting structures are impact resistant and durable, with no concerns about infestation by vermin or rodents." In fact, the precast panel assemblies resist fire, hurricane-level winds up to 150 mph, and earthquake shocks for Seismic Zone 4. The Easi-Set roof and floor panels are post-tensioned to achieve the needed strength, with airtightness and moisture control exceeding that of traditional precast concrete buildings.

Even more important, says Ely, they are fully customizable, as Riverfront Park shows: "We can customize a building to fit any specific need and floor plan," he explains.

Architects for the park buildings considered and dismissed alternative prefab technologies. For example, some companies provide "municipality kits" shipped in a trailer load with instructions. "These look like a great deal on initial cost, until you read the last line of the contract that says, ‘All labor provided by the municipality,'" says Dave Worthington, manager of the Easi-Set Buildings division for Oldcastle Precast. "Other manufacturers have transportable buildings, but they are frequently limited to certain standard models."

Instead, the project team settled on the Easi-Set building system (a Easi-Set Worldwide licensed product), which is installed in a few modules. Each panel or module can be pre-plumbed and prewired with electrical conduit installed as required by the floor plan; all the general contractor or public-works team had to do was prepare a level, 6-inch sub-base of sand or crushed stone as well as site connections for water, sewer and electrical service. Outside, the horizontal clapboard siding and brick exterior blend comfortably with neighboring residential buildings in Newark and Harrison. Above, a standing-seam metal roof provides a lasting and architecturally attractive finish.

Like all Easi-Set buildings, these prefab structures feature a turn-down roof and door guards to protect from exposure to driving rain, as well as a raised aluminum threshold with an integral neoprene seal. A step-down floor perimeter ensures moisture doesn't enter the building at the floor level.

A variety of special features were specified for the park buildings. For example, 5-inch-high window openings were prepared, mainly as a security feature to restrict unwanted entry into the buildings, like the sturdy steel doors. The metal roof was designed with no gutters, so that baseballs and soccer balls would be returned to the park users. Articulated corner guards were finished in a color to complement the brick. Twin privacy screens, which protect the openings to the restrooms, were finished in brick, adding to the finished look of the concession-restroom structure.

"The brick is produced in the concrete casting process, using a grid system and a special stain," says Worthington. "So the grout joints remain in the concrete color and look natural and authentic." Recently ranked as the largest precaster in the United States, Oldcastle Precast also commonly adds custom formwork to the Easi-Set building projects, says Worthington, for larger windows and door openings as well as special finishes. "We also offer formliners that can be custom-formed and colored, and we've done manufactured stone exteriors," he says.

Behind the finishes is a continuous wire strand in a greased plastic sheath that is embedded in the fresh concrete of both the roof and floor panels at the time of casting; the strand is post-tensioned, placing the concrete in compression. The resulting proprietary casts are 40 percent more resistant to punch and shear impacts than similar, conventionally reinforced designs. And the elements are virtually impermeable to moisture or gas penetration without the need of membranes or sealers.

For the Essex County Riverfront Park, however, the subtle and secure new buildings seem to blend into the landscape design. Just as important, the larger enclosures were assembled in only a few days, from start to finish. The smaller structures, which usually arrive at a site with crane access in one piece, are in place and ready to work around in a few hours. The speedy delivery and erection process were much appreciated by the municipal client, which was eager to introduce neighbors to their new riverfront. Construction started in August 2011, say Essex County officials, and the ribbon was cut only 10 months later in late May of 2012.

Project Facts: Essex County Riverfront Park

Buildings:   4 new buildings

Project type:  Parks & recreation

Location:  Newark, New Jersey

Project challenge:  Cost durability and security concerns

Precaster:  Oldcastle Precast, Easton, Pa.


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