Masonry is the Preferred Wall System for Ohio Schools

Tom Nagy

Few facilities are better suited to masonry than a K-12 school. Local school districts count on their buildings to provide high-performing service for decades. Most school building programs are based on a 50-year cycle, since it is not usually fiscally-responsible to build more often. Consequently, it is important for owners to understand the qualities of unit masonry based not only on aesthetics, but performance as well. Brick, block, stone, tile, terrazzo and other masonry materials have long been considered among the most beautiful building products. But as awareness of facility permanence and performance has heighten – ed, masonry plays a leading role in supporting high-performing, low maintenance and healthy schools.

Performance First and foremost, exterior wall systems are charged with managing effects of weather, which can often be severe. Many of Ohio’s schools are masonry cavity wall design, with exterior and interior masonry wythes. In this system, the backup or perimeter walls are frequently utilized for structure, carrying the loads of the subsequent floors and roofs, therefore negating the need for other structural systems. Interior partition and corridor walls are also often used as loadbearing, creating a simple and efficient structural system.

Control layers designed into the masonry cavity wall system manage the effects of Mother Nature, including bulk water, air and vapor infiltration/exfiltration and thermal differences. One advantage of this assembly is that these control layers can be suited to the client’s specific needs. Is a higher R-value desired? How about a vapor permeable air barrier? As there is a cavity between the exterior and interior wythes of masonry where these layers live, adjustments can be made by the designer to satisfy the client. Given that water is the number one enemy of any building, high-grade through-wall flashing systems are integrally part of Ohio school wall assemblies. Couple in the inherent weather ability and durability properties of masonry for a high-performing and codecompliant structure that will serve a district well for many years!

Fred Innamorato, president, Foti Contracting in Wickliffe OH and builder of Ohio schools says, “The obvious benefits of masonry in schools are that it is structural, secure, durable and high performing. Elimination of mold issues is paramount in the education market. Energy efficiency, to heat and cool, reduces carbon emissions and achieves the communities’ desire for sustainable solutions to benefit our climate. The not-so-obvious advantage is that the availability of masonry materials results in virtually no lead time, reducing the construction schedule significantly, and providing cost savings for the owner. We participated in 2014 with IMI in producing a BIM video model to demonstrate how the use of CMU bearing walls, compared with a skeletal frame, reduces the project schedule. I have witnessed reactions to this video by owners, architects and construction managers who were amazed that they were seeing 200,000 wall bearing concrete masonry units – and the corresponding MEP rough-ins – placed while alternate systems would still be in fabrication.”

Low Maintenance We cannot discuss masonry in schools without mentioning interior walls and floors. They must be code com pliant, durable, functional and low maintenance. Clay brick and concrete masonry walls stand the test of time by being abuse-resistant. They also provide excellent thermal mass, sound isolation and fire resistance properties.

“Designers have little trouble encouraging the use of masonry to their school clients.

The range of masonry products can be combined to create all types of appearance and form from traditional to contemporary. Specifiers like masonry structures because the materials have dependable qualities and performance. Contractors are familiar with the materials and know how to assemble them. Industry associations provide timetested guidelines and if problems do occur, the material can be restored. Masonry walls are self-healing; if they do get wet and are allowed to dry out, it is not damaged,” says Dennis Hacker, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED AP BD+C. Hacker is specifications writer, manager and senior associate for Fanning Howey Associates, a leading Ohio school design firm, with billions of dollars of school projects under their belt. “Schools typically require local funding in the form of bonds. In order to sell these bonds, a district must first receive local voter approval. Voters like to know that their money is being well spent and they have a favorable opinion of masonry. They understand it to be a good value with a positive life-cycle.”

Terrazzo and tile floors withstand daily foot traffic with minimal maintenance. When discussing terrazzo floors in a new high school, one district’s maintenance supervisor said, “Well, they’re nice because there is so little to do to keep them clean and good looking, but the downside is that we’ve had to cut back on maintenance staff because our workload has decreased with the terrazzo.” No better testimonial!

Ohio Governmental Agency Collaboration The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) was formed to assist local school districts fund, plan, design and build (or renovate) schools. The state funds a percentage of a new or renovated school and the district is responsible for the balance of design/construction costs. As part of the state funding mechanism, the Ohio School Design Manual, updated annually, is required to be used as the template for building design. Masonry cavity wall is the predominant system identified by the Manual for exterior walls.

In 2008, the International Masonry Institute (IMI) Ohio Area office and Brick Institute of America (BIA) met with the OSFC to discuss school masonry design. Based on the amount of construction, the Commission proactively collaborated with IMI and BIA to share best practice design information, maintain quality construction and keep abreast of new technologies. Specific masonry details were identified as focus items.

Born from this meeting was a series of fullday, OSFC-sanctioned educational programs presented throughout the state. OSFC staff and regional architects, engineers, GCs, CMs involved in the design and construction of state-funded projects attended. Topics ranged from structural masonry, moisture and energy management, movement control and final cleaning. Subsequent regional educational programs were presented, in order to reach the vast majority of school designers, managers and contractors. Programs were registered with professional organizations, such as AIA and ASCE, for attendee credit.

It is all about educating decision makers. Having owners’ representatives understand the durability, code compliance (structural, fire, sound, energy), schedule friendliness, cost effectiveness and aesthetic attributes of the materials is a huge advantage. Of course, material/system selection is only one slice of the successful building pie – they also need to be designed, detailed and installed correctly. That is where the educational series came in. Not only were there technical seminars on specific masonry topics, but full scale, pre-constructed mockups supporting class topics were on hand for participants to physically view. Additionally, an interactive hands-on masonry installation was a part of each session, allowing attendees to become more familiar with masonry materials.

As the program continued, the relationship bet – ween OSFC and IMI solidified. Tom Brannon, former OSFC senior post construction administrator noted, “With the prevalence of masonry construction on OSFC projects, IMI and BIA have served as a great resource. They’ve worked with us to create a special ized program that is based on improving aspects of masonry design and construction. This relationship has proven beneficial to our agency and the professionals we work with by bringing a better awareness of installation techniques, materials and best practices.”

At one point, alternate building systems were being considered. Meeting with the Commission, IMI, along with the OH-KY Administrative Council of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (OH-KY ADC), reinforced the benefits of masonry, and how it support ed the needs of school district end users. Function by function, the advantages (and limitations) of each product/assembly were discussed and analyzed. In-depth talks regarding the ease of integrating weather control systems, durability of finishes, availability of materials and qualified contractors, project sequencing and overall wall system performance were aided by historical data and visual images. As a result, masonry cavity wall has remained a preferred wall system in the design of Ohio Schools. Newer systems will always be introduced, but the wise and prudent decision maker never discounts the value of tried and true building materials. While masonry materials are traditional, masonry wall systems continue to evolve through development of products and processes that accommodate current building needs.

Healthy and Environmentally Conscious Building behavior and performance, as well as associated effects on its occupants, is at the forefront of today’s construction industry. Ohio has led the way nationally by setting the bar for environ mental friendliness. In 2014, the OSFC announced that the Columbus Scioto Middle-High School in the Columbus City School District had become the 150th public education facility in Ohio to achieve LEED certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). No state has more. According to USGBC1, Ohio’s LEED certified schools are 34% more energy efficient than comparable schools designed and constructed to traditional standards and have diverted almost 200,000 tons of construction waste. Since 2007 the Commission has required that each OSFC-funded building achieve a minimum LEED Silver rating. Masonry materials and systems play an important role in realizing LEED projects and offer measureable impacts that result in the creation of sustainable buildings.

An advantage of LEED is built in energy savings. School districts, like any building owners, are often faced with limited funds. Once the building is complete, operating and maintaining the new facility begins. O&M costs, over a building’s life, can consume a large portion of a budget and merit serious consideration when selecting materials and systems.

Incorporating high-performing wall and flooring systems is the best ethical choice and good business. Maria Viteri, AIA, LEED BD+C, and IMI director of Sustainability and Program Development says, “Time has shown that masonry’s use in educational buildings uniquely supports the combined performance requirements for building and occupant operation. Masonry’s functionality begins at the enclosure serving as a collaborator in energy performance and continues through its interior use where it supports occupant performance by contributing to improved indoor air quality and thermal comfort. Masonry’s ability to integrate acoustic performance, aesthetics, and safety with human health is directly in line with today’s LEED requirements for creating strong learning spaces in educational buildings. IMI is proud to be an active partner in the creation and construction of K-12 as well as university buildings.”

Masonry materials do not produce any volatile organic compounds (VOC), improving indoor air quality. LEED for Schools also includes credit for acoustic performance and mold prevention for occupant comfort and safety, to which masonry can contribute.

Highly Trained Man power – Answering the Call The construction industry can be volatile, with many peaks and valleys. Forecasting the supply and demand markers is not always easy. As the K-12 market continued to grow, so did the need for properly trained masonry installers. A steady pool of competent brick layers, tile/marble/terrazzo workers, caulkers and cement finishers to stitch the systems together is required. IMI, in conjunction with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, and local Joint Apprentice Training Committees, funds formalized, sstate-accredited trainings for future masonry workers. A 2004 report on man pow er shortage in the industry by the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT), strongly recom mend ed that “contractors, contractor associations and labor organizations must invest in training curriculum and programs to ensure that a qualified, skilled workforce is available to meet industry needs,” and that “owners must do business with contractors who invest in training and maintaining the skills of their workforce.”

“Our philosophy is to continually work with the signatory masonry contractors to deter – mine the amount of new workers necessary to serve and support the industry. Recruitment of new installers comes from many areas, including those displaced from other sectors of the workforce. Also, we work with local high schools to encourage the students in construction trades programs to look at masonry as a career. This concept truly brings the system full circle – we are employing the population that we are building the schools for. Regarding the training itself, it is very formalized and rigorous – we are not just producing qualified craftworkers, but productive and responsible citizens,” notes Ken Kudela, director of OH-KY ADC.

Past, Present and Future While it is clear that masonry has proven to be a beneficial staple in the design and construction of Ohio Schools, it also must be said that the Ohio school construction initiative has provided a boost to the masonry industry. Many regional design and construction firms have seen increases in market share as a result of this massive campaign. As the initiative has blossomed, many companies have become specialists in the design and/or construction of schools, and are well prepared to keep high-performing school buildings on track for years to come.

Schools will always need to be built, and owners will rely on tried and true building products/systems to provide dependable, repeatable and decades-long service. Decision makers are looking to get the best bang for their buck. By under standing the benefits of masonry – excellent aesthetics, top performance, competitive life-cycle costs and schedule friendliness, they are assured that true value is delivered in their new school. Masonry products have been the material of choice in schools for many, many years, and will continue to serve the industry well into the future.

Thomas M Nagy is Area Director of Industry Development and Technical Services for the International Masonry Institute. In this role, he provides technical consultations, plan/specification reviews, jobsite troubleshooting, craftworker training and education and professional seminar planning and presentation. Nagy has a strong masonry background, having spent many years in the general contracting field prior to joining the IMI. He has been a member of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 5 in Cleveland OH since 1981. He is also a member of CSI, AIA-Cleveland, The Masonry Society and Cleveland Engineering Society. Nagy has presented various masonry seminars to architects, designers, engineers, code officials, contractors and masonry trades people. tnagy@imiweb.org | 330.342.0365

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