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University of Tennessee, Knoxville - 2016 Engineering Quad, Estabrook Road Retaining Wall
University of Tennessee Knoxville Uses Stone Strong Blocks to Build an Aesthetically-Pleasing Retaining Wall for its New Engineering Quad
When the University of Tennessee Knoxville set out to create the kind of collaborative, community space students and faculty love, part of the project included a Stone Strong retaining wall that’s as strong as it is aesthetic. In 2015, the school embarked upon a unique landscape project aimed at improving the overall appearance of the eastern edge of campus while also giving its College of Engineering a collaborative space.
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Known as the “Engineering Quad and Estabrook Road Streetscape Improvement Project,” the undertaking took a short three months to complete from start to finish—just in time for the start of the fall 2016 semester. Key project components included a new plaza, benches, table sets, bike hoops, and the Stone Strong 4,700 square foot retaining wall.

“The quad is meant to put an emphasis on the collaboration of the diverse College of Engineering disciplines by creating different areas where students can interact with each other,” according to the university’s website. “This area gives the college a gathering space that is central for events and other activities.”

Picking the Right Ingredients
Initially, UT selected a retaining wall product that turned out to be ill-suited for the specific application and costly, requiring excavation into the existing roadway. Andy Broome, project manager at Johnson & Galyon, Inc., says his firm handled the general contracting for the project, which involved both hardscaping and landscaping very close to a creek. “The original drawings showed a different wall system that when we got into it, we learned it would require more of a cut back,” Broome explains, “or the need to excavate too far back against the road in order to get to the necessary depth.”

After exploring the alternatives, Broome called upon C.R. Barger & Sons, Inc., a manufacturer of Stone Strong Systems engineered, precast concrete retaining wall systems. “We worked with the team to present a new design, which worked better for the overall project,” says Kelly Barger. “The project was reviewed and revised and eventually we reached a design within the budget allowed by the University of Tennessee.”

Broome says UT was initially concerned about how the final product would look once installed on campus—a fear that was assuaged when officials realized the versatility and aesthetic quality of the Stone Strong product. The fact that the surrounding area wouldn’t require a complete excavation to accommodate the new retaining wall was another key selling point.
This precast system basically allowed us to excavate where we needed to place the wall and not impact the road to a certain extent.
Andy Broome, Johnson & Galyon
The Perfect System for this Application
Once the university gave its final seal of approval for the retaining wall, the team got to work on a project that was in a rush to be completed prior to the start of the looming fall semester. Using 24SF, 6SF and 3SF standard blocks, 6-28 blocks, and the 10,000-pound 24-ME mass extender block, C.R. Barger & Sons produced 240 Stone Strong blocks that would make up a 4,700SF of wall face. Using a special, fractured ledge face pattern, the precaster developed what Broome calls “the perfect system for this application.”

“We were working on a pretty tight timetable for this project, and the location itself presented additional challenges,” Broome continues, noting that the university did not want to shut down the one-way street where the project was located for an extended period of time. To work around this issue, he says the general contractor and the installer (Falin Enterprises) had to “strategically plan” deliveries of the Stone Strong blocks, always knowing in advance where they were going to be set and how long that process would take.

Joe Sawyer, senior landscape architect with Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon, Inc., says his firm designed the wall that would help stabilize the road and create a streetscape along that road to help clearly define the engineering quad. He says the Stone Strong System was a good choice because it incorporated large blocks that would serve as a stable underpinning to build from. And because the system was manufactured offsite and delivered in a “ready to install” format, it supported the university’s tight project timeline.

“We basically had June and July to work on the project before the road became busy again with student and faculty traffic in August,” says Sawyer.
Barger and Sons definitely contributed to the speediness of the project and our ability to make the deadline. And, they were a very forthright and compatible partner on the project.
Joe Sawyer, Barger, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon
Meeting and Exceeding Expectations
Chad Smock, project manager at Engineering & Testing Solutions, LLC, says he knew Stone Strong would be a viable product for this particular application given the size of the product itself, and the fact that it could be stacked to greater heights than most other materials. It also proved valuable in combating some of the key challenges that the installers faced, including the careful navigation around existing utilities.
With each Stone Strong block, we gained 24 square feet of wall, which means we were able to reduce the amount of time that temporary slope had to be open.
Chad Smock, ETS
Sawyer says the project worked out well, looks excellent, and—perhaps most importantly—met the university’s budget expectations. “Anytime you're dealing with a budget, which we were in this case, if you can use a product that stacks and doesn’t require a whole lot of forming of concrete, steel, and everything else that goes into a poured-in-place wall,” says Sawyer, “you’re always going to be much better off on the budget side of things.”

Broome concurs, and says that UT was pleased with the final result and how well its new retaining wall visually “gels” with its new, collaborative, outdoor environment. “It turned out great,” he says. “There were some doubts along the way as to how this was going to be accomplished—namely due to the location and the logistics—but it all turned out well and UT was pleased. I’m sure they’ll use Stone Strong again in the future.”
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