Concrete Work Redefined
Shotcrete Structures, Inc. offers contractors advantages with both poured and sprayed capabilities
Choosing between traditional concrete work and the shotcrete method is often an either/or proposition for a contractor, but Todd Hand and Rob Vonarb say it doesn’t have to be. A project can include both.
Hand and Vonarb head Shotcrete Structures, Inc., a Sylmar, California, company that is equally skilled at standard cast-in-place concrete construction with formwork and the newest innovative alternative called shotcrete.
Shotcrete is sprayed cement applied and compacted at the same time from any and all angles and with reinforced bars and steel mesh but less required formwork. This method uses a hose powered by forced water and air to shoot out cement, mixed in transit, with resulting properties that exceed the gravitational limitations of typical wet cement. It is ideal for concrete tunnel repair or construction, curved interior columns and walls, and filling voids in tight confines or with limited staging areas.
Hand, the company’s CEO, says that the either/or question seems logical since few designers would call for both types, and few companies actually do both standard and shotcrete work. Many in the construction field continue to default to standard cast-in-place concrete, uninformed about shotcrete and hesitant to change.
Shotcrete Structures targets large projects and offers a full turnkey solution incorporating both types. This gives contractors greater flexibility in processes, deadlines, costs and results.
“We’re driving sort of a niche market,” Hand says. “There are other companies here, but they just do shotcrete, and most have to go get all those bids when needing a mix of work, but we do it all in-house.”
By choosing Shotcrete Structures, contractors can choose the best options for a typical structure’s full range of concrete needs—foundations, footing, basements, columns and slabs for floors, ceilings and walls.
Vonarb, the company’s President, says that shotcrete became more prevalent in the built industry after the 1994 earthquake in the Los Angeles area that killed 57 and injured nearly 9,000. The city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County started accepting shotcrete as an effective alternative to standard concrete construction in part because rebuilding the hundreds of partially destroyed structures required pumping in cement in unique ways.
He says that shotcrete is also a welcome alternative since the 2015 Earthquake Hazard Reduction Ordinance of Los Angeles, which set a goal of massive refurbishment of the number of early 20th-century buildings in the city that were built with less reliable structural integrity and will probably not withstand the next major earthquake. Mandatory compliance in a flexible time frame means nonconforming buildings must be strengthened or eventually demolished.
Advances in technology have also paved the way for greater acceptance of shotcrete. “Contractors would be remiss today if not considering shotcrete in most project plans,” Vonarb says, noting shotcrete offers “constructive advantages over conventional cast-in-place concrete methodology.”
The company’s restoration work on the The MacArthur event center—the 1925 Elks Lodge and one-time Park Plaza Hotel—exhibits shotcrete’s capabilities in an older structure. Shotcrete Structures performed all of the new foundation and footings work, as well as upgrades to its walls, often four stories high and 2-feet to 3-feet thick, while preserving historic tile, paint, plaster and wood of the interior walls.
Man and Mortar
The shotcrete method, according to Hand, requires more human precision to achieve than standard cast-in-place work, and that aspect, in the end, can meet and exceed the overall objectives of the construction.
To Hand, shotcrete will revolutionize the concrete business.
“Shotcrete requires a high level of craftsmanship, and our company is one of the prominent and up-and-coming concrete construction companies in business,” he says.
Hand’s own acceptance of shotcrete illustrates this industry change. He is a fourth-generation worker in the concrete business. In 1932, his great-grandfather began building foundations for custom homes. The skills and focus on the trade were passed to his grandfather and his father before he decided to follow in their steps. After gaining experiences on his own for a while, his dad needed an estimator and invited him to join his company. In time, he oversaw the operations for that company and eventually started his own business.
Meanwhile, Vonarb had started his own concrete business, too. In 2016, the pair realized their depth of experience and capabilities, so they joined forces. Advantages right away: Hand had the equipment and expertise in traditional concrete work, and Vonarb had already ventured into shotcrete application.
They both realized how unique and in demand a new company would be that could produce quality work in both types of concrete construction.
Today, the company has 120 employees. Vonarb says they are experienced in all trades within the concrete industry, and they perform quality work as a team. This translates into the ability to create long-term relationships with customers so that the majority of projects come from repeat customers.
“We are customer-oriented, innovative and future-focused,” he says.
The human equation—involving both employees and customers—is a priority for Hand. He defines shotcrete in terms of good work being performed through individual commitment by each skilled, hard-working team member. Even the trend to use robotic arms in shotcrete work is seen as inferior to people doing the work.
“A guy can be immersed in what he’s doing, can even exhibit qualities of an artist when operating the nozzle, but if you have a big mechanical arm and you’re looking from a distance, you can’t see those voids and can’t do that great of a job,” he says. “It’s extremely hard work, like holding a firehose. It’s exhausting…eight hours a day, blasting concrete into a space. It takes tenacious people, highly capable people, like those on our team.”
Doing it right is something that Vonarb takes seriously. He says that the company frequently must convince customers that the shotcrete method is not inferior—and that shoddy work by other companies results in concrete flaws that send an erroneous message throughout the built industry.
He says that Shotcrete Structures ensures high quality by continuously monitoring its work and the final results to avoid faulty construction, such as the presence of rock or sand pockets, sagging, over-spraying or shrinkage.
“We’ve had to overcome other failures by other shotcrete companies,” he says.
The company strives to keep its employees trained and their skills up-to-date. On-the-job training is common, and an employee could be trained for up to a year before being deemed proficient and ready to operate the shotcrete hose.
Shotcrete Structures wants to add its name to large projects—and already has performed concrete construction for several in the region.
Its architectural shotcrete skills are on display at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Plans called for a 32,000-square-foot underground structure with sweeping and emotive interior walls and columns. The company used one-sided formwork and craftsmanship to create the numerous vertical concrete elements and poured concrete only for roofs and floors. The museum received an American Institute of Architects Honor Award.
Vonarb says that choosing shotcrete performed by his company shaved $6 million off the museum’s project and four to six months off the schedule.
Free-flowing structures are also on display, inside and out, at the Kaplan Family Pavilion at City of Hope, in Duarte, California, a 7,000-square-foot addition to the research facility for exhibits, events and administrative offices. Shotcrete Structures worked with Belzberg Architects to create a LEED Platinum-certified sustainable structure for the medical research and treatment center.
While not as artistic in vision, other projects show the unique combined concrete capabilities of the company. Extensive shotcrete work went into the foundation and basement work resulting in 1601 Vine, an eight-story office building on the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. The company used mostly shotcrete to construct the entire 200-foot-long by 100-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep subterranean basement. The structure was designed by Gensler and the contractor was J.h Snyder Co.
Shotcrete Structures points to its accomplishments in the variety of concrete work needed by architects and contractors today. Its projects include work on shear walls, tunnel linings, pools, retention walls, basement walls and seismic rehab.
“Today’s construction marketplace has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and we constantly strive to help create new opportunities for our clients through innovative shotcrete design, engineering and construction,” Hand says.