DINWIDDIE, Va. (AP) The economy may have slowed, but a plant in Dinwiddie County that turns out at least 40 pieces of 45,000-lb. precast concrete a day, mostly for parking decks, is expanding.
Tindall Corp. is investing $12 million in an expansion that is expected to add 75 jobs to the work force and that will increase plant production and sales by 50 percent next year.
The plant established 20 years ago is one of five owned by the family that operates Tindall. It designs, makes, transports and erects precast, prestressed concrete products.
“We do construction work faster than other means of construction,” said Andrew P. Wise, vice president and general manager at Tindall’s Virginia division.
“We make these great big pieces here. We ship them there. Bingo, you put them up,” Wise said. And what takes bricklayers and steel-girder workers and concrete pourers “maybe two, three days to do it, we do it in an hour.”
Tindall built the five-story parking deck at the Federal Reserve Bank building on Byrd Street in Richmond. The project, completed last month, consisted of 700 precast concrete pieces delivered in 530 loads. They were installed in 12 weeks by fewer than a dozen workers, officials said.
A crane at the work site unloads the delivered pieces and puts them in place on the building.
“It is like a puzzle. You start with a piece of the puzzle and you build your way up until you finish,” said Patrick Pennell, a Virginia division co-founder who supervises the plant’s operations.
Speed isn’t the only benefit. Tindall’s primary construction site is its 120,000-sq.-ft. indoor plant. Work goes on regardless of inclement weather or delays at the building site and completed pieces are delivered only when needed.
The Dinwiddie plant opened in 1988 as a result of a $17 million contract to build the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.
“That gave us enough to get a plant going,” Pennell said. “We felt that this area had good market potential.”
In the beginning, the plant employed about 20 people. In a year, with the state prison project, it grew to about 80 employees, Pennell said. With just two work stations in the plant, Tindall provided prison modules, support and administration buildings and guard towers, he said.
Now the plant has 200 production workers and 12 casting beds that range from 150 to 500 ft. long. Some of the 75 new workers have already been added to the total work force of 275. The expansion will add three buildings: a steel fabrication shop, a maintenance shop and a warehouse.
The precast/prestressed concrete industry has been around since the 1950s in the United States. This method of construction has become more practical and efficient in the past decade as new technologies have allowed the product to become more sophisticated, industry experts say. Concrete pieces can have complex designs and the color palette goes well beyond gray.
“It is an architectural piece,” Pennell said.
Norman Lach, director of architecture studies at Southern Illinois University, has been teaching about precast and prestressed concrete for about 35 years. He said he has seen no other construction material grow in use as much as this one.
“Thirty-five years ago it was just gray concrete. It is just phenomenal how that material has changed. You can make it look like wood. You can integrate brick into the panel. It is such a versatile material,” Lach said.
The material also is recyclable, he said. A building made of precast concrete panels can undergo an expansion without demolition.
“Sustainability is a big issue. Warehouses, for example. You can just take the panels off, … add another wing and put those panels safely back. You don’t have to demolish.”
The material also is being chosen for security reasons, Lach said. It is more resistant to hurricanes, corrosion and fires than other forms of construction.
“The Virginia market was right for a company that provides our products and services,” said Wise, who has been with Tindall for 33 years and has worked in the precast industry for about 40 years.
Tindall also has built industrial and office buildings in Virginia. It hopes to break into school construction, a relatively new market for the precast/prestressed concrete industry.
Although precast concrete makes up less than 2 percent of all new construction, there is potential for growth by getting into new markets, said Monica Schultes, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Precast Association, of which Tindall is a member.
If the projects have repetitive design — such as prisons, warehouses, parking decks — then precast and prestressed concrete makes sense, said Gerald Starsia, associate dean for administration at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and former owner of a construction and real estate company.
Developers decide on precast versus cast-in-place based on factors such as transportation, labor costs and their time frame, Starsia said. This year, Tindall’s Virginia division has taken on its largest contract yet: A $27 million project to build a 1.2 million-sq.-ft. parking garage at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia.
The garage will accommodate more than 5,000 parking spaces. The company is designing the structure and plans to begin manufacturing later this year with plans to ship and erect the deck next year, Wise said.
“It is not a brand-new thing that just started,” Wise said of precast concrete. “It’s been around for several decades, but it just started to come into its own over the last 10 to 20 years. And we are seeing more and more uses for [it], hence our expansion.”