Unmasked Optimism

A visit with PCI Chairman Dennis Fink

Dennis Fink

Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute members are justifiably upbeat in the year after 2020: Common sense and mass vaccinations are easing pandemic concerns among employees, customers, the general public and government officials at all levels. Commercial building market demand appears stable, with project backlogs approaching levels many producers enjoyed a year ago. And stimulus measures boosting federal, state or local agency outlays should help 2021 transportation market shipments eclipse the past few years’ flat or soft volume.

“We are anticipating a 10-20 percent drop nationwide in reported sales for 2020 over 2019. From all the economic indicators and rollout of the vaccines, we wouldn’t be surprised if 2021 sales return to 2019 levels or greater,” says PCI President and CEO Bob Risser, P.E. “Nationwide, PCI producer member sales grew more than 8 percent in 2019, greatly outdistancing the growth of overall construction at 3 percent. We were anticipating continuing growth of the industry in 2020 before the Covid downturn hit. All indications show that we can expect the growth of the industry will continue that trend through 2021 and beyond.”

A seamless transition of strong, nimble PCI leadership, he adds, fuels additional precast, prestressed producer confidence. “The pandemic created chaos across the construction industry, but throughout 2020, our members demonstrated resilience and versatility,” 2020 PCI Chairman and High Concrete President J. Seroky told membership at the conclusion of his term. “Our ability to adapt and find new ways to safely and efficiently meet client needs proved that we don’t just have a versatile material, we have a versatile industry. Surviving this crisis has made us more innovative, more collaborative, and better able to find opportunities where others only see risk.”

“My priorities are to help PCI continue to manage through crazy times, remain fiscally responsible, support the industry as it always has, and exit the pandemic stronger than before,” adds 2021 Chairman and Northeast Prestressed Products President Dennis Fink, whose eastern Pennsylvania bridge yard is about a half hour due north of High Concrete’s architectural and structural building plant. “We haven’t given up any services during the pandemic. We went online with training and quality control schools, and adapted PCI Plant Certification to allow for mobile or virtual audits. Certain virtual offerings new in 2020 might be permanent companions to regular in-person events.”

The first test of a hybrid format—where an in-person gathering is coupled with online presentation for those opting in the interim to limit travel and participate in Institute activities from desktop computers or mobile devices—will be the 2021 PCI Convention and Precast Show. Along with event partner, the National Precast Concrete Association, PCI determined that its main gathering of the year will proceed May 18-22 in New Orleans, 10 weeks beyond the original target.

“We encouraged everyone to come to New Orleans, but will have virtual companions for in-person committee meetings and education sessions,” says Fink, who cites an increased level of health and safety practices that will prevail throughout the PCI Convention and Precast Show, based at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel and Ernst N. Morial Convention Center.

After conferring with state and local officials, PCI and NPCA outlined attendee and exhibitor precautions, including mandatory temperature checks for those entering the Morial Convention Center, the main venue for committee meetings, business or education sessions, plus Precast Show exhibits; indoor setting face mask requirements, subject to New Orleans Police Department enforcement; and, stepped up shuttle bus sanitation measures.

Fabrication and safe-hauling competencies have positioned Northeast Prestressed Products to usher 175-ft. length class bulb-tee girders into Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and peer agency bridge program specifications.

Like a limited number of past PCI chairmen, Dennis Fink is a veteran of front-line precast, prestressed production. He joined Northeast Prestressed Products in 1987 as forming crew member, working up through the production, quality control, sales and management ranks to vice president, prior to appointment as president in 2020. He has served as a PCI Mid-Atlantic director for five years and chapter representative before then. At PCI, he has chaired the Productivity Committee and served on the Bridge Producers and Quality Enhancement Committees, plus Business Performance Council.

Fink is also the first Leadership PCI program graduate (2008) to be elected PCI chairman. The LPCI Committee developed the program around four in-person boot camps, enabling participants to share management strategies or best practices insights with peers from across the industry. His experience as 2020 PCI Vice Chair, plus national or regional committee work through the years, will inform a term where the Institute returns to many functions and procedures pre-dating pandemic disruptions; continues development of the ACI-PCI Committee 319, tasked with delivering the first national precast concrete construction code and complementing ACI 318, Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete; and, fully implements PCI Architectural Plant Certification around five new categories, the top two covering more technical and complex fabrication, texture and color requirements attending the designs of increasingly imaginative and demanding architects.

“A key part of our agenda is updating the strategic plan so we are ready for opportunities and challenges members face,” Fink observes. “On the transportation side, it will be more important than ever to be involved in government affairs and join forces with our industry partners to finally get sustaining transportation funding legislation our country so desperately needs.”

The PCI Board will revisit a plan adopted in 2018 and prioritizing a) development of a precast, prestressed concrete building code, spurring efforts that led to last year’s ACI-PCI Committee 319 chartering; b) increased precast, prestressed concrete market share; and, c) member business enhancement. “I hope to interface with producers and executive directors across PCI Regions and Chapters. We have made a lot of strides in recent years through this structure, and captured marketing and technical support synergies with the national office,” notes Fink, adding that such activities have especially helped realize progress in the strategic plan’s market share objective.

He and fellow PCI Directors will also oversee the assimilation of new Technical Services and Architectural Precast Systems staff supporting the strategic plan’s member business enhancement goal, plus adoption of programs from Optimum Safety Management. The Institute recently announced a partnership with the Lisle, Ill. firm aimed at helping members leverage safe operating practices to increase production employee communication, retention and workplace satisfaction. The arrangement affords PCI members a series of webinars, e-newsletters and other communications products—all oriented around Engagement Based Safety, Safety Leadership Development and Safety Management System Development ideals.

“We’re excited about our partnership with Optimum Safety Management and the added value we are bringing to PCI members in this important area,” says Bob Risser. “Optimum’s roots are in the precast industry and the firm brings a level of experience and expertise we’ve never had on staff. My goal is to continue making safety a larger part of what we do for members. We want to impact the safety culture at their companies and Optimum is uniquely positioned to help us do that. Ultimately our goal is to make precast a safer industry.”

PCI producers have proved well positioned to capitalize on post-recession project delivery and financing innovations, led by design-build and public-private partnerships (P3). Few have demonstrated the pivotal role a PCI Certified Plant can play in P3 contract success better than Northeast Prestressed Products.

“We were the lead precast girder supplier in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Rapid Bridge Replacement P3 program, covering 558 bridges from 2015-2019,” explains Dennis Fink. “We produced 1,770 beams, totaling 126,465 lineal feet, for 292 bridges.”

That work overlapped a major girder and deck panel contract Northeast Prestressed executed for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and P3 partner NYNJ Link Developer LLC, a Kiewit Infrastructure-based joint venture. The $1.5 billion Goethals Bridge, opened in two 2018 phases, was the first P3 contract in the Northeast. Linking Elizabeth, N.J. and Staten Island, N.Y., the twin cable stay structure features a main 900-ft. span plus respective New Jersey and New York approaches of 2,550 ft. and 2,780-ft. Northeast Prestressed tackled the approaches’ precast schedule, fabricating nearly 400 bulb tee girders, 47 tons to 108 tons, and just over 6,800 partial depth deck panels, averaging 8- x 9.5 ft. The girders support 35 eastbound and 33 westbound spans, bearing on piers whose volume and spacing are optimized thanks to specification of individual bulb tees reaching 175.5 ft.—a record length for trailered concrete bridge beams delivered to New Jersey and New York sites.

The Goethals Bridge and Rapid Bridge Replacement P3 contracts triggered an $8 million overhaul—new batch plant, plus expanded bulb tee girder and deck panel forming capacity—of the Northeast Prestressed plant in Cressona, Pa. “We upgraded the plant and fleet and went full steam on the contracts,” notes Fink. “In general, as an industry, we need to find ways to utilize technology as much as possible to maintain quality, increase productivity and address workforce challenges.”

Northeast Prestressed maintains office, production, storage and fleet operations on a 28-acre site in Cressona, Pa., strategic to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Interstate 80 and other major transportation arteries. Precast, prestressed fabrication is tightly controlled across 80,000 square feet of enclosed area. A new batch plant and controls package was deployed in 2017 as part of an upgrade doubling capacity of a deep bridge beam and deck panel offering.

Northeast Prestressed serves agencies and contractors from Virginia to Maine, and hauls most elements with its own fleet, which includes customized trailers for delivering bulb-tee girders in the 175-ft. range—a size class for which the producer has been a forerunner in Mid-Atlantic and New England markets. In addition to bulb-tees, the Northeast Prestressed schedule features box and I girders in simple or spliced configurations, plus the accelerated bridge construction-suited Northeast Extreme Tee (NEXT) Beam, emulating a parking structure double tee and offering a shallow profile in lengths up to 90 feet.

Among its most notable recent projects, Northeast Prestressed delivered 52 bulb-tee girders for the Coplay-Northampton Bridge in eastern Pennsylvania, shown here en route to a 2020 opening. The Federal Highway Administration chose the Lehigh River crossing as the premier installation of Electrically Isolated Tendons (EIT). Proven among European agencies, they allow inspectors to verify that post-tensioning cables have been grouted per specifications, and ease long-term non-destructive condition assessment.

Also known as the Chestnut Street Bridge, the three-span Coplay-Northampton structure consists of five lines of four spliced bulb-tees, each with four grouted P-T tendons. Along with the national EIT milestone, the bridge is the Keystone State’s first to utilize prestressed and post-tensioned bulb-tee construction. Joining FHWA and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in the tendon demonstration are Lehigh University and post-tensioning strand provider Dywidag Systems International, representatives of which will monitor tendon confinement.

Montage, Somerville, Mass.


I-91 BRIDGES PHOTO: J.P. Carrara & Sons

1515 MISSION PHOTO: Mark Schwettmann for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architect

Founded in 1954, PCI is the leading developer of standards and methods for designing, fabricating, and constructing precast concrete structures and systems. Membership encompasses producers, precast concrete system erectors, architects, consultants, contractors, developers, educators, engineers, materials suppliers, service providers, and students. The Institute maintains a staff of technical and marketing professionals to foster greater understanding and use of precast, prestressed concrete. It also operates the world’s leading certification program for precast concrete system plants and erectors, and is an accredited American National Standards Institute Standards Developer.

PCI publishes an array of technical manuals, documents, plus the PCI Journal (industry-wide, technical focus), Ascent (architecture and buildings market) and Aspire (transportation markets) periodicals. Additionally, it conducts research & development projects, along with building and transportation Design Awards programs, and is a partner with the National Precast Concrete Association in the annual Precast Show. The Institute headquarters is at 8770 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Suite 1150, Chicago, IL 60631; 312/786-0300; www.pci.org.

The 2021 PCI Design Awards served up the best in Building and Transportation categories, thanks to producer members and their customers, including: Best Rehabilitated Bridge, Lake Ponchartrain Causeway Safety Bay Improvements, New Orleans, Gulf Coast Prestress Partners of Pass Christian, Miss. Best Bridge with a Main Span More Than 150 Feet, Interstate 91 Bridges, Rockingham, Vt., J. P. Carrara & Sons of Middlebury, Vt. Multi-Family Honorable Mention, 1515 Mission, San Francisco, Willis Construction of San Juan Batista, Calif. Best Hybrid Parking Structure, Montage, Somerville, Mass., J.P. Carrara & Sons, Unistress Corp. of Pittsfield, Mass. and BPDL of Quebec.

Dennis Fink
Northeast Prestressed Products, LLC
Cressona, Pennsylvania

J. Matt DeVoss
Jackson Precast, Inc.
Jackson, Mississippi

Matt Ballain
Coreslab Structures (Indianapolis) Inc.
Indianapolis, Indiana

John “J.” Seroky
High Concrete Group, LLC
Denver, Pennsylvania

Bob Risser, P.E.