Adding More Masonry Rights Budget

at Parkside Town Commons, Cary NC

Matt Cable


When the GC says the project is over budget, how often does the mason contractor come forth and say, “If you want to save money, conventional full bed masonry is your best bet.”? Pinnacle Masonry in Cary NC had the answers for the sprawling shopping center. Masonry on this job was nearly doubled, while overall project costs were reduced. The masonry was completed on schedule, with more articulation and individual distinction than originally planned.

Parkside Town Commons is a mixed use development on 125 acres in Cary, adjacent to Research Triangle Park. It is being developed with apartments, large and small retail, dining and entertainment venues to serve a growing population.

Research Triangle Park (RTP), named for its proximity to the geographic triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, is the largest research park in the US. Taking advantage of the talent graduating from Duke University, NC State University, University of North Carolina and others, RTP is home to more than 170 companies employing about 50,000. This area of North Carolina is one of the fastest growing in the country and has been described as a boomtown.

Per the Town of Cary’s Community Appearance Manual, Building walls shall incorporate brick, cast stone, stone, formed concrete or other high quality, long-lasting masonry material over a minimum percentage of surface area (excluding windows, doors and curtain walls). The remainder of wall area may incorporate other materials. For commercial and mixed-use buildings, the minimum surface area requiring masonry material is 75%. The design guidelines were adapted to ensure that new construction is in line with the community’s commitment to retaining a sense of place, creating a human-scale and pedestrian-oriented environment and ensuring that the high quality of living is preserved for future generations.

Consult the Expert I knew of a new product being produced by our block supplier and a best practice that could underprice any competition that met Cary’s guidelines. The product was a modified C90 CMU with one open end to slide around rebar, made to lightweight specifications to be able to be lifted with one hand for reduction in installation time where labor accounts for approximately 60% of the masonry. An additional benefit of that open end is reduced thermal bridging for higher R-value and better energy conservation.

Hand-laid masonry is less expensive to install than often perceived. Full bed masonry can be articulated with distinction differentiating one building from another. Its modularity makes intermixing units simple. Regionally-produced units keep lead times short. It is cost-effective and efficient. Masonry budget went from $1.42 million to $2.73 million, keeping within schedule and with great added value.

Righting the Budget The first phase of the project began in 2013 and contains a big box retailer and 30,500 sf of strip retail. Construction is tilt-up concrete, but met town requirements with thin brick veneer cast into the panels. The hand-laid masonry scope of this phase was minor, consisting of 1,200 sf of architectural masonry veneer at various locations of the tilt-up walls. Phase II consists of 14 buildings totaling 111,600 sf of retail. The cost of creating tilt-up panels with the size and quantity of openings planned would have been far over budget. As a cost-saving alternative to using all tilt-up panels, this phase planned for a combination of tilt-up and structural metal stud. Tilt up was planned for rear building elevations (approximately 40%). Structural studs and thin brick were planned on the other elevations (approximately 60%) that featured many large openings and a lot of glazing.

Even so, the overall project cost came in more than a bit over the developer’s budget. The exterior walls were the majority of the building cost, so this was the first place to look for savings. Changing the wall systems had to be cost effective, yet also maintain aesthetics, keep with the overall original design intent, meet local building codes and meet the owner’s schedule. Pinnacle Masonry’s initial bid for thin brick at the structural metal studs was $1.42 million. Having worked with the general contractor on the first phase, Pinnacle teamed up with them again to evaluate two different masonry wall systems to best align costs with budget.

Exploring Alternatives; Maximizing Opportunity The first alternative evaluated was load – bearing CMU and full-bed brick masonry insulated cavity wall for the entire exterior perimeter. The second alternative was to change the tilt-up walls to loadbearing CMU and full-bed brick masonry insulated cavity wall, and change the thin veneer system on the structural metal stud walls to a cavity wall system with traditional full-bed brick veneer.

The second alternative of loadbearing CMU and full bed brick masonry cavity wall combined with structural metal stud and traditional veneer was readily accepted by the owner. The masonry alternate provided durability, minimal maintenance, thermal efficiency, sustainability, fire safety and authentic full bed brick aesthetics over brick-embedded tilt-up panels.

Cost comparison between tilt-up walls and insulated masonry cavity wall at first looked to be about the same. However, changing the from the thin brick veneer wall system to full bed brick wall system at the structural studs created savings of approximately $4.25/sf. Savings from using full bed masonry versus thin brick veneer is mostly attributed to the number of corners and jambs required to build this project. With thin brick, corners and jambs require use of L-shape brick, which are considered special shapes in the thin brick industry. With full bed masonry, corners and jambs are constructed with standard brick. Because this project had many corners and jambs, the quantity of L-shape corner brick was high, thus leading to increased brick costs. Traditional brick mortar was also more cost effective. At 70,000 sf of brick, this generated nearly $300,000 in savings.

While we were able to credit back money on one wall system, we capitalized on the other. Converting what was once a tilt-up wall into an insulated masonry cavity wall allowed an increase in the masonry materials used and the total contract amount to $2.73 million. This was beneficial to the owner, general contractor (GC) and to us as the mason contractor. These changes resulted in an overall project savings of 5% for the owner. In eliminating the tilt-up subcontractor, the GC simplified the trades and equipment that had to be managed and removed the cost of the crane from the budget. While financially beneficial to all parties involved, the mason contactor was under pressure to perform on schedule and on budget, proving that hand-laid masonry was a viable alternative to the originally planned wall systems.

Optimizing Productivity Manpower The schedule to construct the buildings was short – only 22 weeks for 14 buildings with a total of 111,600 sf. Construction was very fast paced with multiple buildings requiring masons simultaneously. Bringing the cost within budget was the first priority. The second was concern from the GC that hand-laid masonry couldn’t meet the schedule. We brought in Whitman Masonry to ensure there would be sufficient man – power and equipment to keep pace. Pinnacle and Whitman divided the project, each responsible for seven buildings. At the peak of construction, there were as many as 75 masons and laborers on site at one time.

Material Selection Loadbearing CMU walls were the first to be erected. These were long walls and ranged from 22′ to 28′ tall. 70,000 8” units reinforced at 16″ and 24″ on center had to be laid in 12 weeks. Looking for an edge on production with substantial vertical reinforcing, we chose the light weight, A-shape unit, open on one end. With the open end and lighter weight, units were laid more quickly around the reinforcing bar rather than being lifted up and over. Block production increased by more than 10%.

Flexibility Getting ahead of schedule on block work allowed crews to begin to veneer CMU walls earlier than anticipated. This kept crews working while providing relief on the veneer schedule. Veneer began halfway through the loadbearing CMU wall schedule. On paper, this was the most difficult part of the project schedule –where manpower would have to peak – keeping block crews on pace, while simultaneously beginning the veneer.

Managing Design Veneers consisted of six different brick and stone units. There were 720,000 modular brick with laying patterns composed of running bond, soldier courses, rowlocks, headers and herringbone. Colors ranged from cream to brown and grey to charcoal. The change to full bed brick veneer gave the designer more flexibility with regard to pattern variations as well as shadow lines created by recessing and/or protruding brick. Manufactured calcium silicate building stone units totaled 4,500 and were primarily 4” x 8” x 24” stretcher units with special shape accents.

Taking what is on the plans and putting it in the wall to achieve the design is a skill. Having highly qualified craftsmen on the crews and constant communication between masons and foremen and foremen and project manager was critical in achieving quality and success – and delivering the product the GC and owner expected.

Matt Cable, CMP, project manager for Pinnacle Masonry in Cary NC began his career in masonry when he joined Pinnacle in 2006. He is responsible for estimating and managing projects of all sizes. Pinnacle Masonry was founded in 1992 by its current president Danks Burton. Pinnacle Masonry constructs a wide range of masonry projects throughout the Triangle area of NC, from churches and schools to retail and office buildings to major hospital expansions. Cable is a Certified Masonry Professional (CMP) through the North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association and is a graduate of North Carolina State University. 919-469-4522

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