Spotlight On: Gengras Volvo – East Hartford, Conn.

In addition to celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019 with Volvo of North America, Gengras Volvo of East Hartford embarked on an expansion to revitalize and upgrade their Kia and Volvo facilities.

RZ Design Associates partnered with architect, Maier Design Group, to provide structural and MEP engineering and design to integrate 10,000 sf of new construction with 16,000 sf of existing renovated space that would offer customers a new showroom, service reception area, car wash and office spaces for Gengras staff.

The existing space consisted of a metal roof deck on open web steel joists supported on steel columns. The exterior was a typical concrete masonry unit with glass curtain walls with the grade higher at the street level.

The raised floor consisted of a thin concrete slab and metal deck supported by open web steel floor joists spaced at 24-inches on center. The slab and joists were supported by wide flange steel girders spanning east – west and the southern cast-in-place concrete foundation wall. The showroom superstructure was in fair to poor condition, there were water infiltration issues and the curtain walls and height to the underside of roof structure did not meet Volvo international design standards. Below the showroom was basement storage space.

RZ Design Associates’ Geltjana Bleta and Christopher Zajda, PE led the structural engineering and design services for the project, which is the focus of this spotlight. Initially, the plan was to raze the western portion of the existing structure as well as the structure above the main floor’s showroom area. These elements would be redesigned to meet current Volvo international design standards and Connecticut State Building Code Regulations.

When inadvertent damage to a portion of the existing raised floor’s showroom slab posed a challenge to the project’s timeline, Bleta and Zajda moved quickly to design a new reinforced cast-in-place concrete slab on a composite galvanized metal deck supported by wide flange steel beams. “We were present during construction as the Special Inspector and Construction Administration. When the contractor placed their equipment over the first-floor slab during demo, part of the slab failed, so we had to design a new slab to replace the damaged one halfway through the project. It was an unplanned shift in design options but manageable,” says Bleta.

The new beams were then connected to the existing front foundation wall and to an interior wide flange steel girder providing a sound structural solution. This helped to reduce the impact on the overall construction schedule. This portion of the raised slab is where new vehicles are displayed inside the building just in the front of the Service reception area.

Zajda recalls another unforeseen obstacle during work on the two-story structure. “The existing columns leading up to the roof were not only too short, but they did not have the capacity to support the gravity loads and the new code required lateral ones. We recommended shoring the existing raised main floor structure and replacing the existing columns with new structural steel tube columns. This required threading new, two-story high interior columns through the main floor and detailing reconnected existing girders to the new columns. New roof, beam-to-column moment connections were designed to resist lateral loads.

When it came time for the inspection phase, it was intense, Bleta notes. “Communication was constant before and after inspections. And, because it was an existing building, it was important that we collaborated with the GC and contractors in addition to the Maier Design Group team. We took careful note of their suggestions on existing conditions discovered during construction. In general, anytime an unexpected condition was found in the field, Chris or I would try to respond as soon as possible, often making an unscheduled field visit, to help resolve any issues,” she says.

After 35 years at the 300 Connecticut Boulevard location, the Volvo team celebrated their new facility in August of 2020 with plenty of fanfare including their entire team – sales, service and parts.

Fortunato Construction Group’s Kyle Aivano who served as project manager says, “It was a pleasure working with RZ’s engineering and design team. The project came out great!”

Reflecting on the project experience, Zajda values the unpredictable when it comes to integrating existing structures with new construction, “Anytime you try to marry new and existing construction, especially without access to existing drawings, you are going to run into unexpected situations during the design and construction phases. This project was no exception. We faced a lot of adversity, but always rose to the challenge. The end results highlight our accomplishments as structural engineers and as part of the development team’s overall collaboration. Just look at the back lit showroom exterior,” he adds.

  • CT Innovations - New Haven, CT. Photo by Robert Benson Photography.