Villanova University Rises Up

How The Harman Group Used an Existing Precast Parking Garage to Vertically Expand Villanova’s Parking Supply

Villanova University, a private college of about 10,500 students located in the Philadelphia suburbs, is in the midst of a campus wide expansion.  The Harman Group, in association with Voith & Mactavish Architects, expanded the existing two-level SAC garage vertically into a four-level garage.  The original 270-space capacity was increased to 493 spaces. This resulted in a net gain of 223 spaces for the University.

There were many challenges associated with the vertical expansion of the existing precast parking garage. These included the following:

1) Lateral Stability

The original garage was designed in the early 1990s with reserve expansion capacity for one level. While an analysis of the existing foundation by The Harman Group and the geotechnical engineer showed that a two-level vertical expansion was possible, the original design did not provide adequate lateral support for such a two-level vertical expansion.  The building code requirements had become more stringent.

In order to complete the expansion, new cast-in-place concrete shear walls were inserted into the existing precast garage for the additional levels. Micro-piles were utilized to support the new shear walls given the low working clearances present in the existing garage.  The shear walls were constructed within floor openings that had to be cut into the existing floor of precast double tees to allow for shear wall continuity up to the new floors.

2) Access-Ramp Connection and Improved Pedestrian Access

A new internal ramp was required to access the two new upper levels from the existing supported level of the garage. Galvanized steel framing, cast-in-place concrete, and special precast detailing were utilized to provide a smooth transition between the new and existing garage portions.

An elevator and a pedestrian bridge were also added at opposite ends of the expanded parking garage to allow pedestrian access to all floors. Previously a stairwell, the new elevator shaft was carefully inserted into an opening in the existing garage. Design, detailing, and underpinning of an existing retaining wall at the elevator pit, allowed for the elevator to be accommodated within the existing garage footprint without the expenses of an external elevator tower.

3) Blending In

The architectural design of the newly expanded parking garage was important. Since the size of the original two-level garage was obscured by the sloping site and landscaping, the perceived mass of the newly expanded garage was much greater and required appropriate architectural detailing to break down its scale and blend more contextually with the campus.

4) Crane Access  

Sufficient crane access around the perimeter of the garage was essential for the vertical expansion with precast concrete. Typically, for construction of a new precast garage, a large crawler crane is utilized from within its footprint, allowing the crane to be close to the structure. With a vertical precast expansion, the crane is on the perimeter, reaching over the existing garage for erection of the expansion. A wheeled hydraulic over the road crane was used instead of a tracked crawler crane for its better mobility around the garage perimeter.

5) Construction Schedule

 An aggressive construction schedule was specially tailored to minimize disruption to Villanova’s campus and its academic calendar. The total time the garage was under construction, and therefore unusable, was reduced by installing the foundations for the vertical expansion with partial closures of the ground floor parking area. In addition, precast allowed for the schedule to be compressed further as its elements were fabricated offsite at the same time foundations were being installed.

Vertical expansions of existing garages are inherently more complicated than that of new garage construction as there are pre-existing obstacles to overcome. However, a vertical expansion, like the one on Villanova’s campus, may allow owners to increase their parking supply on tight sites or where available land is limited.

Authored by William Kavanagh