Honest Disguise

Lauren Concrete leaves no good neighbor plant design criteria to chance, from acoustic and architectural factors to water volume and wind pattern measurement
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North elevation best exemplifies the architectural and low impact treatments Lauren Concrete incorporates in the Dripping Springs plant.
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Dripping Springs air pollution control measures are pervasive: A dust collector rated at 170 percent of permit-required capacity; automated, double-gate shroud engulfs mixer truck hoppers during charging; and, sprinklers along aggregate bunker walls and around plant periphery ready to douse much of the operating area with the touch of a button.
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The west elevation, facing the entry gate, demonstrates the plant’s compact footprint and key safety provisions: Slump rack immediately adjacent to driver break room and robust, extra high hand rails accompanying mezzanine and silo ladders and cages.
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Lauren Concrete has phased reservoir build out and landscaping with production ramp up and seasonal factors. Shown here in November and December 2019, the reservoir will contain virtually all foreseeable runoff of Dripping Springs plant paved area.
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Process water will travel to the primary settling pond through a main channel or from a weir at the truck washout station. Lauren Concrete expanded reservoir capacity by taking advantage of a channel separating the berm and aggregate bunker wall.
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The Stephens Thoroughbred transit mixed plant has a two-compartment, 1,000-bbl. split cement silo; four fill pipes permit additional loading from a fixed ground tanker as peak volume requirements necessitate. Pinch valves prevent accidental cement or fly ash overloading; they activate only after alarms alert tanker operator of full silo. Stephens Mfg. added 4-in. inspection pipes with screw caps to the silo cone, allowing yard staff to obtain powder samples or peer into butterfly valves and root out lumps.
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The Dripping Springs plant lighting scheme abides Dark Sky Society guidelines for a non-urban commercial facility.
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The Dripping Springs operation lies nearly a quarter mile off U.S. Highway 290, obscured by private property, live oak trees and a familiar farm fixture. Mixer, dump and tanker drivers’ approach and exit are slow by mandate.
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Loading cycle times contrast sharply with the vehicle speed limit, notes Larry Glynn, president of CMW Group, St. Louis-based Stephens Mfg. dealer. “In plant equipment and layout, Lauren Concrete does everything for speed of production. Dripping Springs runs a Thoroughbred model, known for ease and speed of erection. It is raised up a little higher than normal for clearance and faster loading on a two-way, drive through alley. We designed the equipment to let gravity take over and charge trucks in minimal time.”
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Lauren Concrete runs Command Alkon platforms.
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Built on a hayfield at the edge of a working ranch and shown here along the east elevation, the Dripping Springs plant has a standard transit mixed assembly, but by safety, environmental and aesthetic or architectural standards approaches a class of its own. Meticulous measurement or gauging of wind patterns, sight lines and sound or noise trajectories drive orientation of all plant iron and infrastructure.

Attentive U.S. Highway 290 drivers have a hint of the newest ready mixed concrete plant serving towns west and south of Austin, Texas, but only if they can detect the top of a cement silo behind a windmill. Austin-based Lauren Concrete wouldn’t have it any other way for Dripping Springs, a community 30 miles west of the capital city.

“We want a plant that doesn’t look like one making concrete,” affirms Vice President, Safety & Environmental Affairs Kurt Holman, who led the team behind the Dripping Springs transit mixed operation. “At meetings before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, we had people asking us about crushing rock or assuming that we would also produce asphalt. We have built other ready mixed sites and demonstrated concern for the community. It’s a process of educating people on how a plant functions and how we operate.”

“We provided interested parties evidence of being a good neighbor in each step of development and construction,” adds Lauren Concrete, Western Operations Manager Jimmy Grubbs. “At Dripping Springs, that meant a lot of attention to trucks, headlights, noise, dust, lighting and water.”

He, colleagues and equipment suppliers went to great lengths in material transfer and batching equipment placement to minimize impact on a landscape laden with live oak trees and befitting a town dubbed “Gateway to the Texas Hill Country.” At 100- to 150-yd./hour output, the Dripping Springs plant is modest in scale yet geared to turn trucks fast and enable Lauren Concrete to make good on delivery targets in one of the country’s fastest growing markets. The plant iron contrasts with environmental infrastructure and softer aspects that represent a Texas-sized commitment to worker well-being; air and water pollution control; plus, nuisance noise and light abatement:

Safety. Truck traffic runs counterclockwise. Mixers go through the center of the property; dumps and tankers are routed around the perimeter and exit on opposite ends of loops they enter. Mixer drivers access a slump rack immediately outside their break room, housed alongside the batch control office, and have little call throughout the day to add to foot traffic in the most active production areas.

Ladders and cages up the Dripping Springs plant’s 1,000-bbl. cement silo are equipped with straps and high handrails to provide added safety in the event of falling backwards.

Dust control. A central dust collector, rated at 8,500 cfm versus the 5,000 cfm TCEQ air permit requirement, serves the silo top and other cement transfer points. Overfill devices on four fill pipes receive signals from high level bin indicators, triggering a horn that gives tanker drivers a minute or two to turn off the blower. In the event of tanker driver inaction, pinch valves confine cement blow out to ground versus silo top level. The only readily accessible, fixed surface with notable cement dust or paste build up at the Dripping Springs plant is a double door shroud enclosing mixer truck hoppers during charging.

Sprinklers curtail dried process water and aggregate stockpile dust. Post-mounted nozzles serve bunkers and the periphery of an operating area defined by approximately 57,000 sq. ft. of concrete pavement. The entire water-based dust control apparatus can be manually activated from the batch control office or set on timers.

Vehicle speed limit enforcement rounds out dust control strategy. A lengthy approach from highway entrance to the Dripping Springs plant gate is mostly paved in decorative concrete with rock salt accent voids, excepting a .1-mile gravel zone through which drivers abide an unambiguous 5 mph limit.

Water capture, recycling. Lauren Concrete’s most prolific environmental management measure at Dripping Springs is a 1.2-million-gal. reservoir engineered to capture stormwater and receive settled, pH-neutralized process water from an adjacent vessel. Formed by earthen berm and rock riprap, the reservoir stretches from truck washout area to the rear of aggregate bunkers built of 3- x 6- x 3-ft. block, cast mostly from returned mixes. Its capacity is equivalent to what the paved plant area would incur—3 acre feet of water—in a single event totaling the region’s average annual 36-in. rainfall.

Plumbing allows Lauren Concrete to tap settled process water for requisite truck washout and plant maintenance or limited batch water usage. The main reservoir feeds the batch water line and offsets well water draws.

Noise abatement. Reservoir berm and bunker block walls are built 6 feet to 9 feet above the plant pavement, depending upon sound and noise trajectory from material handling and concrete batching. Near- to long-term landscaping plans include planting of grass across the berm, coupled with vines and other low maintenance vegetation engulfing outer bunker block surfaces.

Back up alarms at Dripping Springs are of a different breed than those piercing most ready mixed concrete production environments. In lieu of beeping varieties, mixer trucks and a wheel loader are equipped with “white noise” back up signal devices, whose “shh” sounds match beeps in alert effectiveness. Green lights inform the loader operator of full aggregate bins and quell buzzers, another common nuisance noise plant designers targeted.

Lighting. Beyond acoustic considerations, Lauren Concrete oriented stockpiles, bunker walls and a two-way loading alley to curtail the effect of mixer, dump and tanker truck headlights on the horizon. The silo likewise has no elevated lighting, while batch house and plant fixtures are all downward and of styles and lumen thresholds below those the Dark Sky Society outlines for a commercial facility in a non-urban area. A Long Island, N.Y., organization advocating practices and legislative efforts aimed at eliminating light pollution, the Society defines light pollution as “Glare, light trespass, and light which is reflected into the night sky, contributing to sky glow, through the use of unshielded, misplaced, excessive, or unnecessary outdoor night lighting.”

MY BACKYARD

Lauren Concrete has emerged in three-plus decades as one of the Lone Star State’s top independent ready mixed producers. It runs 23 plants across central Texas, with strongest concentration in the capital region, but stretching over 200 miles—from the outer northwestern reaches of Houston to markets north and west of Austin. The producer’s two aggregate operations, east and south of Austin, are strategic to about one-third of the concrete sites.

Barely visible from neighboring public right of way or private ranches, the Dripping Springs plant is Lauren Concrete’s seventh site along or in close proximity to the east-west U.S. Highway 290, which runs independently or as part of Interstate 10 from Houston to El Paso. The plant occupies the northwest corner of a 150-acre ranch owned by a Lauren Concrete executive—turning the “not in my backyard” notion, too often raised in greenfield ready mixed production, on its head.

“We worked to minimize the industrial look of the property and tried to blend it in with the countryside,” notes Jimmy Grubbs, who oversees Dripping Springs and four other plants west of the capital. “The aggregate bin is enclosed in siding common among barns. The batch office and driver break room building has a Texas limestone exterior, and the same style carries to a small structure housing mechanical equipment for the well.”

The limestone finishes speak for themselves, but perhaps the most novel aspect of the Dripping Springs plant design is the round enclosure of a 65,000-gal. well water tank. Bands of corrugated, galvanized steel, topped by a low-slope, conical roof bring a grain bin motif to the side of the ready mixed operation closest to a horse stable.

The plant positions Lauren Concrete to greatly improve mixer, dump and tanker fleet utilization. Prior to its mid-2019 start up, dispatchers might send 20 to 30 trucks daily toward Dripping Springs from three plants near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. About midpoint of the 25- to 30-mile routing for those loads, a split between the east-west U.S. 290 and a northwest thoroughfare invited significant traffic backups and delivery uncertainty.

In many instances, concrete bound for the Dripping Springs area from the airport plants was batched with aggregate and cement that had already been trucked east. The new plant sources materials from points northwest, north and south: sand from Collier Materials’ Llano pit; rock from Vulcan Materials’ Spicewood quarry, home to a sister satellite plant; and, powder from Alamo Cement’s San Antonio terminal.

Lauren Concrete’s latest major investment helps limit truck traffic in Hays County, whose population closed the decade with a gain north of 40 percent since 2010. The Dripping Springs plant stands as a prime example of designing and placing ready mixed production capacity to minimize impact on neighbors and growing communities.