Joe Maty did a nice job capturing the process and back story on this article. Please pass along my congratulations -
Robert S. Berz, Jr
Architect, Principal, LEED AP
Old Donation School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is decidedly
forward-looking in its educational mission, complete with facility
design approaches geared to innovative learning concepts.
One of the school’s design features, however, offers a view in the
other direction — to the long-ago past, as measured in millions and
billions of years.
This design element is the school’s Geologic Time Walk, a
collaborative construction feature conceived and built by Virginia Beach
City Public Schools, RRMM Architects, faculty members and general
contractor McKenzie Construction Corp.
A major supporting role, however, was played by Carolina Bomanite
Corp., the decorative and architectural concrete contractor that
installed and served as a key design participant for the Geologic Time
Walk. Carolina Bomanite recommended materials and design details, such
as stamping tools, and provided answers to various design challenges
that took the time walk from abstract design concept to built reality.
"These kinds of projects are what define the level of expertise in
what we offer and bring to clients,” says John Fletcher, Carolina
Bomanite president, of the time walk. "We do the extraordinary, not the
Not your mom and dad’s school
Old Donation School, completed in 2017, replaces facilities for three
"gifted learner” programs operated by VBCPS. The $63 million,
225,000-square-foot facility uses "circulation space” as "learning
space,” with small collaboration rooms in between classrooms called
"think tanks” for smaller independent groups. Outdoor classrooms also
provide learning spaces.
Much of the school’s curriculum focuses on the geography and ecology
of the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.
The region’s concern with storm water runoff and rising sea levels are
reflected in the curriculum’s emphasis on ecosystems, aquatic and marine
life, and environmental sciences.
The school is designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, with
advanced HVAC systems, LED lighting, extensive daylighting, collecting
rainwater to flush toilets, and other "green” design elements.
"Students and staff asked for colorful, wide-open spaces and lots of
daylight, so that’s what we gave them,” says Rob Berz, RRMM’s design
architect for the school.
Jurassic walk and more
On the Geologic Time Walk, one can find replicas of fossil remnants of
the various eras and epochs of the Earth’s past. There’s the Mesozoic
Era, for example, some 252 million to 66 million years ago. If that term
doesn’t ring a bell, surely you’ve heard of the Jurassic, made famous
by Hollywood through a series of films with immense special effects. The
Jurassic period is the portion of the Mesozoic when the great dinosaurs
dominated the planet.
The Geologic Time Walk dramatizes the mind-boggling size and scope of
geologic time, and the miniscule place human history occupies in the
scale of Earth’s existence.
The earliest modern humans are thought to have emerged some 200,000
years ago, during the current geologic era, the Cenozoic. The
Precambrian eon of geologic time, meanwhile, is dated to when Earth was
forming some 4.6 billion years ago. Along the way from coalesced mass
orbiting the Sun those many years ago, to earliest life forms, to the
age of reptiles and age of mammals, to the dawn of man, the succession
of geologic periods etched a fossil record documenting the genesis and
evolution of life forms both extinct and existing.
So, the Geologic Time Walk task facing Carolina Bomanite and the
school design team was downright dinosaur size in scope of design and
installation challenge, if not in sheer physical size.
Concept to concrete
The Geologic Time Walk came to the attention of Carolina Bomanite in
late 2013 or 2014, when architects for the Old Donation School project
contacted the company. After talking to suppliers of concrete stamps and
artwork templates, Fletcher got back to the architects on what was
possible in delivering on the design concept.
He submitted samples of time walk sections that included fossils
created with stamp tools and acid etching, concrete surface textures and
integrally colored concrete.
For fossil imprints, Carolina Bomanite enlisted the craftsmanship of
Matcrete Decorative Concrete Products and Surface Gel Tek. Matcrete
supplied a variety of stamp tools from its Fossil Effects product line.
Surface Gel Tek’s role was significantly more complex, as the company
produced customized templates of fossil images, words and numbers to be
etched into the concrete using Surface Gel Tek’s gelled-acid etching
Marching forward through time
For Carolina Bomanite, installing the time walk presented the challenges
of skilled concrete construction, geometric precision and artistic
craftsmanship. Fletcher went with a relatively small crew, recognizing
the need for tight management of all the processes involved.
In the spring of 2017, "Wind was the biggest issue,” Fletcher says.
"It was an open area, and unusually windy.” This put the crew to the
test in ensuring consistency in the pours.
with integral colors was used, with each color of the walkway
indicating a different span of geologic time. The colors from Scofield,
most of which have since been discontinued, were Sombrero Buff, Navajo
Red, Roman Tile, Surrey Beige and Moonlight Gray.
The entire walkway surface was textured with a Bomanite slate mat. To
lend authenticity to the visuals, other textures were matched with
individual fossil images and used on the concrete surface adjacent to
the fossils. The texture and fossil stamps from Matcrete were placed as
the sections of walkway were poured.
The Carolina Bomanite crew laid out the design for each section of
walkway with precise measurements in the surface for saw cuts, fossils,
wording and numbers. "Logistics were everything,” Fletcher says. "It
required a concerted effort. Everyone had to be on the same page.”
The fossil templates from Surface Gel Tek were "sticky” self-adhesive
elements attached to the hardened concrete. Here, acid gel was used to
etch the surface prior to a secondary coloring process using Bomanite
Gelled acid and concrete art
The gelled-acid Flattoo process from Surface Gel Tek was used for much
of the walkway’s fossil artwork and geologic timeline elements. For the
project, owner Tamryn Doolan created custom vinyl adhesive templates
based on images of fossils specified by the Old Donation design team.
Doolan also created templates for the geologic terms and the numbers
indicating years of various geologic periods.
To create these elements, Doolan employs a software graphics program
that creates multidimensional templates that can be used for acid
etching and coloring concrete. Following design-team approval of the
artwork, a vinyl adhesive template is produced and shipped to the
To create the intended image, the template is "weeded” before it’s
placed on the surface – meaning parts of the template are removed to
expose areas of the concrete that will be acid-etched for color
contrast, or etched and colored using products such as dyes, stains or
acrylics for more dramatic coloring. Areas that remain covered by the
template aren’t etched and colored.
The acid etching opens up the concrete’s pores, allowing the color to
penetrate and permanently color the concrete. "It’s very much like
tattooing,” Doolan says. Acetone dyes are typically applied without
prior acid etching, as the acetone penetrates the concrete on its own.
Doolan emphasizes how important communication is when it comes to
matching process details with color specifications and other project
parameters. "We are the contractor’s art department, in that we
understand graphics that work with concrete,” she says. "We take the
fear of art out of the equation.”
School as teaching tool
Tim Cole, VBCPS sustainability officer, says LEED and sustainable design
have been part of the district’s mission for new facilities for some
time. Old Donation is the ninth LEED design project for the district,
and these facilities incorporate features that capture rainwater,
emphasize daylighting, and use geothermal heating and cooling, among
other sustainable-design functions.
"What we’ve gotten better at is designing the school to also serve as
a teaching tool,” Cole says. Old Donation’s atrium floor — a terrazzo
installation — is a scale replica of the Chesapeake Bay watershed,
depicting the region’s geography and ecology and serving to illustrate
the challenges the low-lying region faces from pollution, surging storm
water and rising sea levels.
The Geologic Time Walk also serves the school’s teaching-tool
aspirations in a big way — millions of years of planet Earth’s history
in a brief stroll from parking lot to school.
General Contractor: McKenzie Construction Corp., Virginia Beach, Virginia
Architect: Rob Berz, RRMM Architects, Chesapeake, Virginia
Concrete Mix Supplier: Capital Concrete Inc., Norfolk, Virginia
Scope of project: Creating a Geometric Time Walk
including stamping, texturing, etching and coloring customized templates
of fossil images, words and numbers
Most challenging aspect: Crew had to be highly skilled
and knowledgeable in the use of customized templates for gelled-acid
etching process; placement, stamping, acid etching and texturing of
decorative concrete had to be very precise
Products used: Scofield integral colors, Matcrete
Decorative Concrete Products stamps, Bomanite Imprint Systems texture
skins, Bomanite Micro-Top, Surface Gel Tek customized templates
Surface Gel Tek’s gelled products are patented with quality control as our top priority. Our products are used in concrete surface preparation,
cleaning, increasing slip resistance, remediation, renovation, and decorative etching industries.