Lancaster Convention Center and Marriott Hotel
Logistical and Aesthetic Challenges Overcome with Precast
Like many cities, Lancaster, Pennsylvania sought to fuel a downtown renaissance with a new hotel and convention center that could draw hundreds of additional people each day to the business district. However, erecting a large modern facility amid a traditional and already dense center city environment presented the building team with logistical and aesthetic challenges.
But with challenge comes opportunity – and the chance for precast concrete to offer simple solutions for the $170 million project in the city’s historic square.
Big building, small space
Established in 1718, Lancaster is the oldest inland city in the United States. Its town square can be traced back to 1730 when James Hamilton laid the city out in a traditional grid. Structures with lasting, historical value have been fixtures on the square for years. The central area has always been among the most densely developed parts of the city.
Certainly, constructing an intricate project that would bring new architecture to an established, compact downtown would require imagination and thoughtful planning. Knowing that precast could solve many of the potential issues, the architectural firm engaged High Concrete Group LLC from the earliest planning stages.
The biggest obstacle consisted of working around the existing structures, many of which would be integrated into the new complex. This severely limited the size of the construction site. Because precast is manufactured off-site and delivered to the job as needed, it was preferable over field-built options that would have required significantly more space.
“Staging was a big issue,” explains Kevin Iddings, general manager of Midwest operations for High Concrete Group. “We developed a regimented schedule that allowed us to ship the precast pieces one at a time as they were needed. It helped avoid a backlog of materials in the field.” In addition, High worked with the architect to simplify the job as much as possible, eliminating unnecessary pieces and identifying ways to reuse molds, thereby minimizing costs.
Something old, something new
Nestling an 18-story steel-frame hotel and conference center into the historic streetscape wouldn’t be easy, but the architect said she was determined to be respectful of the existing architecture while incorporating the modern amenities expected of a high-end facility. “The goal was to minimize negative impact on the streetscape,” says the architect. The impressive façade of the landmark C. Emlan Urban-designed Watt & Shand Department Store was preserved and restored as the new face of the hotel. Blending in with the 1890s limestone façade was paramount. The precast concrete was finished with a buff sandblast finish to complement limestone, and detailed pieces above the windows and doorways throughout the new structure echo its ornate Beaux Arts carvings.
Additionally, the adjacent Federal-style Montgomery House, designed by the architect Stephen Hills, who also designed the first Pennsylvania State Capitol building, as well as the homes of abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and of African-American landowner Lydia Hamilton Smith were incorporated into the convention center complex. Because precast concrete is manufactured in a controlled factory environment, the wall panels achieved a level of uniformity unmatched by poured-in-place construction. This includes consistent door and window openings, which eliminated the need for costly fieldwork to correct gaps and irregularities.