CEE Professors Launch Study of Decorative Concrete Overlay

Dr. Leslie McCarthy, PE, and Dr. Aleksandra Radlinska, assistant professors of Civil and Environmental Engineering, have initiated a study to determine the feasibility of using decorative concrete overlay (DCO) on new and existing concrete vertical infrastructure, such as bridge piers and parapet walls, retaining walls, and highway barriers. A polymer-acrylic, cementitious product, DCO has been used in commercial landscaping, architectural design, and building masonry. For transportation infrastructure, however, stamped and cast-in-place concrete are the decorative systems of choice.

Dr. McCarthy’s initial research indicates that DCO may prove to be more cost effective and easier to maintain. However, researchers must assess DCO’s durability and bonding capabilities. Drs. McCarthy and Radlinska, graduate student Jason Riegler, and Ryan DaPonte CE ’10 are conducting tests to investigate the effects of factors such as solar radiation, chloride, freeze-thaw conditions, and flexural fatigue on concrete specimens. They also are subjecting the samples to adhesion testing. “The objective is to determine whether DCO is durable enough to withstand these conditions,” Jason said.

Numerous stakeholders are interested in the study, especially since DCO may prove to be a viable tool for helping state and local agencies comply with government policies that require the implementation of context-sensitive solutions to transportation-improvement projects. “We have to address how to remove or repair old infrastructure and replace it with newer, safer transportation elements that are not plain, obtrusive structures that will alienate the community,” Dr. McCarthy said.

The study has caught the attention of Conrail, the Federal Highway Administration, and Radnor Township. Ai Restoration and Dauphin Masonry, in Carlisle, PA, have donated time and materials. “Ai Restoration is excited to see a new generation of engineers look seriously at the DCO process,” said Gavin Semrow, Ai’s president. “The term ‘decorative’ is often misleading, as DCOs aim to restore and protect the integrity of failing concrete, not simply alter the appearance. Saving structures that otherwise would have to be demolished is cost effective and green.”

Dr. McCarthy and Dr. Radlinska are establishing a niche for Villanova in the area of concrete technology. Dr. McCarthy is extremely knowledgeable about context-sensitive design and government policy; Dr. Radlinska has expertise in concrete materials and their performance under different conditions.

 

Gavin Semrow (left), president of Ai Restoration, watches David Mensching
Gavin Semrow (left), president of Ai Restoration, watches as David Mensching CE '10 uses a sponge to apply color stains to simulate a gray-stone design on concrete slabs.
The concrete slab in front of the Structural Engineering Teaching and Research Laboratory has been treated with four different DCO designs to test their field performance.
The concrete slab in front of the Structural Engineering Teaching and Research Laboratory has been treated with four different DCO designs to test their field performance.