Members of the Concrete Masonry Association of California and Nevada (CMACN)—and even architects and school facility planners—are well aware of the superior fire protection, thermal comfort, vandalism resistance, and low maintenance requirements that concrete masonry provides. The obstacle to getting concrete masonry specified is one that's all too familiar: initial cost.

The shortage of school facilities in California has become acute, and the potential opportunity cost of failing to make concrete masonry the preferred school construction material would be enormous.

Pete Beard, sales manager for Orco Block, a CMU supplier located south of Los Angeles near Anaheim, indicates that seismic building designs should make it easier for producers to promote lightweight materials from both a design and a cost standpoint. That's because even though lightweight concrete masonry is a more expensive wall material, it can provide other construction savings in a school and make concrete masonry competitive with alternative systems. The hard part, he says, is explaining to school district officials the reductions that lightweight concrete masonry walls can yield in terms of overall construction costs. Another example of hidden savings that lightweight block achieve is reduced labor costs, Beard notes.

With help from the CMACN, these producers have promoted their product, with some success. Vilas Mujumdar, P.E., S.E., was planning to conduct seminars in the summer and fall of 2002 specifically for architects who design schools.