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The Heart of This Center Is in the Floor

Wed April 19, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Giles Lambertson

The project sounds unremarkable: a day care center built on a leveled spot alongside a climbing road in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sure, the one-story building has some notable architectural features, such as a tower popping from the roof here, curving walls there. Still, it does not appear to be a signature building in the making, a structure local residents will use as a landmark.

There is more to the Mountain Area Child and Family Center than meets the eye, however.

“The main thing is there is a lot of work in that hydroponic floor, said John Huggins, project superintendent for McCarroll Construction Inc. He spoke from the front steps of his job-site trailer watching his crew prepare the floor area for a concrete pour.

The floor indeed tells much of the story of this project, and that story begins with the building’s function: young children playing on carpet.

The center is being erected with grant money by a non-profit organization. It is located a few miles north of Swannanoa in western North Carolina and will serve the Swannanoa-Black Mountain area.

Once built, the center promises to be a hub of activity, not only as a care facility for young children but as an instructional center for men and women learning parenting skills.

With this function in mind, Jim Samsel Architects of Asheville, NC, incorporated into the design a radiant floor heating system developed some time ago in Europe.

Of the building’s 1,260 square meters (14,000 sq. ft.), nearly 720 square meters (8,000 sq. ft.) has rubber hosing embedded in the concrete pad. Hot water will course through the hose, warming the floor and the classrooms above it.

On this day, Beach Barren is overseeing the laying of the hose. Barrett, owner of Thermacraft, is assisted by Kenny Baughman.

Barrett’s company, which operates from the town of Horse Shoe in extreme western North Carolina near the South Carolina border, specializes in radiant floor heating systems, energy efficient boilers and solar heat and electricity. After 15 years in the business, his credentials on the technology are obvious.

“You need to talk to him, Huggins said, nodding toward the Thermacraft owner. “He knows a lot more about that system than I do.”

Barrett and Baughman laid the hose, which is nearly two centimeters (.75 in.) in diameter, in parallel patterns spaced 30 centimeters (12 in.) apart. The rubber tubing is actually a bonding of rubber and separate layers of aluminum and a fabric material. Sandwiched, the composite tube has perfect characteristics of flexibility, radiance and endurance.

The tubing is the final layer of underlayment for the concrete pad. It is wired to structural steel mesh that rets on 2.5 centimeters (1 in.) of rigid styrofoam (extruded polystyrene). Beneath that is a plastic moisture barrier, and all of that rests on a bed of .9-centimeter (.68 in.) stone.

The tubing snakes around the pre-pour floor area in five distinct zones. Each zone is controlled separately, with the tube ends coming together in a raised manifold where individual valves control the tubes.

Each zone is weather responsive so that, for instance, when sunlight through windows begins to warm a room, the floor cuts back on its radiant heat output. Conversely, when the room cools, the system anticipates need and resumes its output.

Heat from the tubes, incidentally, requires about one hour to penetrate 2.5 centimeters (1 in.) of concrete.

The hot water source is a boiler located in a small 40-square-meter (450 sq. ft.) basement area.

As central as is the radiant heating system to the building, it is not the only unusual feature of the $1.5-million project. Huggins points out that the building has in it 37 corners, 45 angles and two radii where an outer wall curves and then curves again.

Some 4,000 20-centimeter and 30-centimeter (8 in. and 12 in.) blocks form a base supporting 5-by 15-centimeter (2 by 6 in.) stud walls, The exterior wall is covered by “hardy-plank” concrete lap siding. The siding is 9 centimeters (.68 in.) thick, 30 centimeters (12 in.) wide and 360 centimeters (12 ft.) long.

The roof system by Piedmont Trusses of Shelby, NC, will be topped by a metal standing-seam roof.

Projecting from the roofline is a tower that juts 600 centimeters (20 ft.) upward into the mountain air. It is 300 centimeters (10 ft.) square and might be called a “widow’s watch” were the building situated 300 miles east on an Atlantic beach instead of in mountain foothills.

The tower is suspended in the ceiling, an engineering issue that Huggins said he is looking forward to addressing.

Several bay windows will dress up exterior walls, some cantilevered on floor joists, others rising from foundation projections.

A sewer pump station will sit on the outskirts of the building. It will pump sewage into a metropolitan sewer district.

But all those features of the .8-hectare (2 acre) site still exist only on blueprints and will become more evident as the project nears its late-July completion date.

On the day Huggins was visited, he was scrambling to ready the floor for pouring. A Bobcat 753 skid steer loader sat next to small-diameter stone piled near the foundation to be distributed by wheelbarrow.

The activity was being pushed along by lowering clouds in the west. They promised to bring snow and cold the next day and to delay the concrete pour. They delivered on that promise.

When the resulting record snow eventually did clear, Carolina Concrete of Charlotte was to provide a 52-meter (170 ft.) concrete pump truck to deliver an estimated 133 cubic meters (175 cu. yds.) of concrete to the floor area.

Rick McCarroll’s general contracting company in Asheville focuses 95 percent on commercial enterprises, otherwise building high-end residential units.

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