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College students are using concrete to reach into the past and form ties with a prior generation at the scene of one of the most heroic and trying moments in history.

Tanya Wattenburg Komas of California State University, Chico, had a captive audience as she described how her Concrete Industry Management students are investigating the concrete at the site of the D-Day landings at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France.

The students are evaluating World War II concrete bunkers using onsite in situ testing methods and non-destructive testing equipment. Their goal is to stabilize the eroded D-Day landing site on the English Channel so it is safe enough for veterans to visit the cliffside monument.

“For our younger people preserving a site like this, there is no better way to communicate what really happened and to understand the tragic events,” she explained.

Komas was the first speaker at the fourth annual Women in Concrete Luncheon and Forum at World of Concrete in February. Co-hosted by CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION and THE CONCRETE PRODUCER magazines and sponsored by LaFarge, the two-hour program brought together women from all segments of the concrete construction industry, and provided them with a unique opportunity to connect with peers.

Outside the box

The next speaker, Shellie Rigsby, owner of Acanthus/Concrete Stain Designs, Plano, Texas, talked about the many opportunities available in decorative concrete. “The technology has changed so much in the last 11 years, it's so exciting,” she said.

Rigsby provided a step-by-step account of the techniques and materials she used to create a downsized version of the Alamo, which included insulating concrete forms, stamped vertical overlays, stencils, and handcarvings. “It's a lot more fun if you go outside the box to explore what you can do,” Rigsby said of decorative concrete projects.

She went on to say the recession does not have to be bad news for decorative concrete contractors. A key, she said, is to provide cost-effective options to architects who want artistic elements in scaled-back budgets. “There's still a lot of business out there, but we have to tell the architects what's available,” Rigsby explained.

Sustainable design

Julie Babb Smith of the FIGG Engineering Group, Tallahassee, Fla., detailed how the new I-35W bridge in Minneapolis incorporated sustainabilty into every aspect of its design.

“When I talk about sustainable design for this bridge, I refer to protecting the environment with eco-friendly materials and practices, and creating a lasting design for the future with quality, innovation, and planning,” said Smith.

With an expected 100-year service life, the bridge opened in September 2008—11 months after the project began, three months ahead of schedule, and a little more than a year after the collapse killed 13 people.

Eco-friendly materials used in the project include recycled aggregate and photocatalytic cement products that reduces airborne pollutants, thereby cleaning the air. “They clean the air and they are also self-cleaning. It was the first use of this cement in North America,” said Smith.

Smith also explained how this was truly a community project, down to the children making decorative tiles to adorn a permanent part of the new bridge.

Send your comments, story suggestions, and other ideas to Kari Moosmann at