MANKATO — Concrete remains the single most widely used construction material in the world.

Made from some of the most plentiful resources on earth, it can be used to produce extremely durable structures and foundations. Though utilized for hundreds of years, architects and engineers are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to use it.

The concrete industry can be an exciting one, as faculty and staff at Minnesota State University know well. And now the recipients of a $100,000 grant from the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, they'll be able to share that excitement with their students.

“One of the nice things about concrete is it's available all over the world,” said Farhad Reza, an associate civil engineering professor at MSU.

He wasn't just referring to the "ugly," gray concrete used to make roads and driveways. With new technology, the typically utilitarian building material can be used to make beautifully unique building and structures, Reza said. A perfect example is one of downtown Mankato's future residential and commercial developments, Bridge Plaza. 

“Especially if you look at precast, prestressed concrete, nowadays they can do a lot of really nice architectural finishes with it," he said. 

The grant provides funding for a new precast and prestressed concrete training program. Called “Building a Concrete Future,” it will be a collaboration between MSU's construction management and mechanical and civil engineering departments.

In addition to reaching undergraduate students, it will serve as a resource for professional engineers in southern Minnesota, establishing MSU as a regional hub for concrete education.

“The fact that MSU Mankato was only the 10th university across the country and the first in Minnesota to receive a PCI Foundation grant shows the increasing regional prominence of the university, and the confidence that industry has in its graduates and programs,” Reza said.

The program will focus on the techniques involved in using precast and prestressed concrete.

“Precast” concrete usually implies products like floor slabs, beams, walls and stairs that are produced at a plant and then shipped to job sites, Reza said. Many precast products are also prestressed, or compressed, so it doesn't succumb to tension. 

They are used to build bridges like the Highway 169 bridge over Riverfront Drive. It is also gaining popularity in building construction. Examples in Mankato include the newer dorms at MSU and the Cherry Street Parking Ramp.

Local companies such as Wells Concrete produce the precast material and will be involved in MSU's new program. 

As part of “Building a Concrete Future,” Wells Concrete CEO Dan Juntenen said his company will provide access to “real-life” projects for students and faculty to use as case studies and for research. According to Juntenen, students will be able to follow a project’s progression through phases such as preconstruction planning, engineering design and 3D modeling, production of the components and finally, installation. 

Working with Wells Concrete will let students put what they learn into the classroom into practice, Reza said. They will also get to see the newest design technology in action.

“Another exciting part of the PCI grant is that students will take courses in Building Information Modeling,” Reza said. “There has been an evolution in the way that design professionals convey to the construction personnel how to actually build the structure. This went from the era of blueprints to the era of computer aided design and now the wave of the future is BIM. In BIM a 3-D computer model is produced which can be shared between all the relevant professionals involved in a building e.g. architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, plumbers and contractors." 

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