Education Nation

Redoubling its outreach to specifiers, buyers, educators and students in 2006, the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) will boost precast’s position


Redoubling its outreach to specifiers, buyers, educators and students in 2006, the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) will boost precast’s position in the growing architectural and structural building materials market. That mission, avowed by 2006 PCI Chairman Robert S. McCormack, executive vice president of Waukesha, Wis.-based Spancrete Group, Inc., was launched upon his taking office in January, after receiving the chairman’s gavel at PCI’s convention last October.

I have chosen education as my major issue because it’s fundamentally and strategically important to our industry, McCormack asserts. We have to make sure that all types of educational opportunities are addressed by PCI, its regional organizations, and its overall membership.

According to McCormack, PCI’s mission of educational outreach entails a broad undertaking. Education obviously includes the classroom and students, and that’s a critical component, he tells Concrete Products. While PCI needs to reach architectural as well as engineering students, that’s just part of our agenda. We need to reach those pursuing construction management degrees and also the professors who teach the related courses, in both four-year and two-year curricula.

Expanding outreach beyond academia is also a priority. A huge component of our educational thrust will target the practicing professional, McCormack affirms. We need to reach practicing engineers and architects, the property developers, the owners, the specifiers who make choices all the time about what building material or system to use. Educating that population is a critical component of the long-term success of our industry.

Additionally, McCormack emphasizes, PCI’s educational initiative must reach producer employees. That’s a third group, he notes. PCI has an obligation and a need to ensure the people working in this industry Û whether producer professional or associate members Û are educated as much as possible on precast. If we educate our sales staff, or engineering and design staffs, about the options that are available, they will be able to deliver better value.


To meet these goals, McCormack will be able to build on outreach programs currently underway at PCI. While not yet involved in providing actual coursework for engineering students, for example, PCI nevertheless has established a program to distribute key industry handbooks free of charge to qualified students studying in the fields of engineering, architecture, construction and CAD at colleges and technical institutes.

The publication program is available to professors requesting it on school letterhead, and publications offered include the PCI Design Handbook, PCI Hollow-Core Design Manual, PCI Bridge Design Manual, and PCI Architectural Design Manual, among other material. The institute also will forward requests to local precast producers or regional associations to facilitate the scheduling of in-class lectures by industry professionals as well as plant tours for students.

PCI always has had a solid student education focus, although there’s certainly an opportunity for increasing penetration into architectural and engineering schools, McCormack observes. We’ve done a good job with some schools, but there are many more universities to contact. The educators of the world need to know that PCI is willing and able to assist them in creating courses or devoting time within a class to precast/prestressed concrete or by participating as a guest lecturer.

That engineering curricula at this time are extremely crowded is one obstacle, McCormack says. Architectural and structural precast does not get its fair share of time within structural and civil engineering courses Û or even architectural courses. We have to figure out better outreach strategies, and we’re in the process of doing that.

Crediting immediate past chairman Tom D’Arcy with focusing on outreach (see Communicate and educate, Concrete Products, April 2005, or visit, McCormack aims to maintain that thrust. Tom recognized that education is key and set the wheels in motion on continuing education, he says. That effort addressed the second group, that is, practicing professionals who may have varying degrees of experience of precast/prestressed concrete products. To educate that group, we are building on the platform that Tom established. It’s a long-term challenge, and that’s why we are continuing his emphasis. Education will provide the building blocks for the future of this industry.


Educational seminars organized by PCI and its regional organizations around the provision of a boxed lunch have enjoyed considerable success. Gathered in an office conference room, PCI member companies can use packaged educational materials to promote precast/prestressed product applications while participants eat a provided lunch. Boxed-lunch seminars also are held at precast plants, giving producers an opportunity to provide facility tours for specifiers.

To this end, PCI offers boxed-lunch seminars in Architectural Precast, Detailing & Structural Considerations, Architectural Precast Plant Seminar & Tour, Hollow-Core Floors and Walls, Parking Garage Design and Construction, Precast Bridge Design & Construction, Precast Commercial Structures Design & Construction, Precast Hollow-Core Design & Construction, Precast Housing Structures Design & Construction, Precast Industrial Structures Design & Construction, Precast Parking Structures Design & Construction, and Precast Stadiums Design & Construction.

Robert McCormack’s company, Spancrete, goes out of its way to build interest in the boxed-lunch seminar. Seminar topics posted on its web site include Hollow-Core Plank, Structural Precast, Architectural Precast, Parking Structures, and Total Precast Systems. Spancrete representatives will visit an office, or registrants can enjoy the presentation at a Spancrete facility; in either case, lunch is provided. For educators, a Spancrete professional offering a custom presentation will address a class as needed. The web site even provides a link for more information about boxed-lunch seminars.

The boxed-lunch program tends to be delivered at the regional level or by producer members, McCormack notes. It will continue to grow as more information is generated, and more seminars are generated to convey that information. Certainly boxed-lunch seminars are a backbone of our process in getting information out in an efficient way. Hundreds and hundreds of such events are held each year on a variety of topics, and that will be a mainstream method of PCI’s continuing education.


In addition to expanding the boxed-lunch outreach, McCormack wants to increase PCI’s seminar offerings. We will become more seminar-driven, he affirms. Rather than just a boxed lunch, we want to exploit other venues Û be it a half-day or full-day seminar Û on topics we can get into more deeply.

Currently, PCI provides one-day seminars focussing on the Design Handbook, a respected working tool for architects and engineers who design and build in prestressed and precast concrete. It assists the designer/engineer in achieving optimal solutions in minimal time.

The handbook is continually updated Û the current incarnation is its sixth Û to reflect the latest changes in building codes and standards issued by ASCE, ACI, and IBC. The sixth edition, according to PCI, encompasses the most significant changes in 40 years; thus, keeping up with these developments is imperative for practicing structural engineers and architects. Accordingly, as part of its educational outreach, PCI is offering day-long seminars nationwide on those changes during 2006. A $300 fee includes a copy of the Design Handbook, 6th Edition (list price, $260), seminar notes, and lunch, plus a complementary one-year PCI membership.

The handbook seminars are designed for the practicing engineering professional, so he or she can learn what’s new and updated in PCI’s new design handbook, McCormack says. The new cycle of handbook seminars began in fall 2005 and will continue through 2006 and beyond. PCI’s quality technical publications overall will be matched by top-notch seminars, he adds, complementing the publications and providing useful information for the practicing professional.

Additional seminar courses are in the offing. We are planning other seminars, McCormack reports. PCI is cosponsoring a course with the American Concrete Institute (ACI) on parking structures, and that seminar is being run in four cities throughout the U.S. I’m optimistic about their success and the prospects for running them in our regular program in 2007 and beyond. I think cooperation with ACI will lead to other seminars in precast topics.

For seminar purposes, ACI in particular offers a synergy that serves both institutes and seminar attendees, McCormack emphasizes. ACI is an influential organization in concrete construction, he explains. It has an existing seminar program, and we thought it strategically advantageous to ensure that precast was represented within ACI’s educational program. Parking structures are a major growth area for the industry, and it’s a great opportunity for joint seminars with ACI.

PCI also will be sponsoring the 2006 National Bridge Conference, a world-class convocation for the exchange of information regarding innovative developments in precast/prestressed concrete bridge design, fabrication and construction. This year, the conference will be held in conjunction with the PCI Annual Convention and Exhibition, Oct. 23-25, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas.

A member of the PCI board of directors in 2000-2001, McCormack served PCI as secretary/treasurer in 2004 and vice chairman in 2005. In addition, his participation has included holding such positions as 2005 co-chair of the organization’s Budget Planning and Review Team; past co-chair of the Hollow-Core Committee; chair of the Market Plan: Housing Segment; and, a promotion team leader.

I’m very upbeat about PCI, McCormack enthuses. The institute has 50-plus years of history. I’m honored to be the chairman in 2006 and am hopeful that I will be able to partly shape PCI’s future. We have an extremely large backlog of projects, and the challenge will be to prioritize and work on those projects as efficiently and effectively as possible.



Besides a holding company for producers of precast and prestressed products in the upper Midwest, Waukesha, Wis.-based Spancrete Group, Inc., is the owner of an equipment line for the manufacture of hollow-core plank and wall panels. Spancrete’s 700 employees currently work throughout the company’s precast, machinery and pipe divisions.

The third-generation, family-owned company was founded by Henry Nagy, who pioneered the Spancrete process. His son, Robert, subsequently developed and promoted the Spancrete product as the building material of choice for architects, engineers and contractors. Company representatives report that its customers have used a billion-plus square feet of Spancrete precast products in commercial and residential buildings worldwide, making Spancrete Group one of the largest suppliers of precast products to the construction industry.

An in-house Drafting and Engineering Department offers design/build resources and expertise to help contractors erect concrete buildings on time and within budget. The producer offers application advice, layout options, preliminary engineering, budget pricing, and value engineering.

Spancrete Group’s producer companies in Wisconsin include Spancrete Industries in Waukesha and Spancrete, Inc., in Green Bay and Valders, plus American Concrete Pipe Co. in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Spancrete of Illinois, Inc., is located in Crystal Lake.

Also based in Waukesha is Spancrete Machinery Corp., which manufactures and markets what company officials note is a complete production and material-handling system for more efficient and profitable production of precast, prestressed hollow-core plank and wall panels. For the half a billion-plus square feet of Spancrete hollow-core plank and wall panels installed over the last half century, they add, the Spancrete machine design has enabled producers to fabricate quality precast product while benefiting from the flexibility of low-maintenance equipment. The Spancrete equipment line is sold worldwide.

The Spancrete Group, Inc. headquarters is located at N16 W23415 Stoneridge Drive, Waukesha, WI 53188, tel.: 414/290-9000; fax: 414/290-9125; web site:






Executive Vice President
The Spancrete Group, Inc.
Waukesha, Wisconsin



Consulting Engineers Group, Inc.
San Antonio, Texas



Vice President and General Manager
Coreslab Structures
Perris, California

In addition to a staff of technical and marketing professionals headquartered in Chicago, PCI comprises 2,000-plus members, including 230 certified producers operating 320 plants and over 100 supplier members. The institute’s stated mission is to improve the quality, economy, and innovation of the construction industry by establishing new levels of design and engineering in precast applications.

Since its inception in 1954, PCI with 1,000-plus professional members (engineers, architects and academicians) has been a dynamic force in the industry’s steady growth. Today, the organization is international in scope and influence.

PCI represents producers, suppliers and users of precast, prestressed concrete for the construction of commercial, industrial, residential and public/institutional buildings, bridges and transportation facilities, and other specialized structures.

Institute committees target precast, bridge design, glass fiber-reinforced concrete, seismic design, sound walls, parking structures, marketing, storage tanks, quality assurance, research and development.

The institute’s PCI Journal is an authoritative technical publication, while in a more promotional vein, its quarterly Ascent magazine features new precast/prestressed projects and application ideas.

PCI president is James Toscas, P.E. The institute is located at 209 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60606; tel.: 312/786-0300; fax: 312/788-0353; web site: