Car Park Refurbishment & Modern Safety Barrier Technology

Car Park Refurbishment & Modern Safety Barrier Technology

Perhaps inevitably in times of recession, new building projects are delayed or cancelled and existing assets have to be refurbished. Car Parks are no exception to this, indeed it’s an ever increasing occurrence. Done properly the usable lifespan of a car park can be significantly extended, facilities improved and standards raised to meet current building regulations. Car park design has moved on a lot in recent years and it’s fair to say they are generally much more pleasant places now than the dark, dank, unwelcoming environments of old. Better lighting, coloured flooring and CCTV cameras make them safer places too.

However, many of the country’s 4000+ multi-storey car parks were originally built in the 1960s when the preferred method of construction was reinforced concrete and refurbishing these can reveal some nasty surprises and additional costs. Many cases of concrete cancer have been reported and although complete structural collapses are rare, they are not unknown - a four storey car park in Atlanta collapsed as recently as June 2009 for example.

More commonly it’s the edge protection that is most compromised. The original designs often used partial walls of concrete at perimeter edges to both contain vehicles and protect pedestrians from falling from the building while still allowing air circulation for the ventilation of exhaust fumes. Over the years these walls have sustained impact damage but, more crucially, they have been exposed to the elements. Constructed to the normal building standards of the time it is now recognised that they are actually subject to a much more severe environment - perhaps more akin to that of bridges. Deterioration from reinforcement corrosion brought about by the effects of de-icing salt has resulted in many perimeters becoming dangerously ineffective. There have been some cases of cars breaking through and even falling from the building - most notoriously in Canterbury in 1996 and Sydney in 2006. A refurbishment project will have to resolve this problem to ensure that the current requirements of BS6399 are met as well as BS6180, part K of Building Regulations and the current recommendations of the Institution of Structural Engineers and the Institute of Civil Engineers.

A common dilemma is whether to completely remove the concrete wall and replace it with a steel alternative or simply make it redundant by putting a new barrier in front of it. It’s rarely, if ever, viable to remove and rebuild the concrete to recreate the original design. The cheapest option (and therefore the commonest) is to install a steel barrier in front of the current wall. If you’re lucky this may be very straightforward - providing the floor surface has sufficient integrity to provide adequate embedment for the anchors. Typically a rigid barrier post needs 170 mm and frequently this just isn’t available or the deck is so crumbly it won’t withstand the necessary pull out forces.

The use of a spring steel post, invented by Berry Systems and subsequently developed over many years, will often provide a solution. As the post bends to absorb an impact much lower full out forces are involved and embedment need only be around 125mm - and can actually be as low as 75mm in some cases. They also only require 1 or 2 bolts per post compared to 4 for a rigid system so they’re much quicker and easier to install. These are probably the commonest proprietary barrier system used in UK car parks and this was the system chosen by Concrete Repairs Ltd for the refurbishment of the Patriotic Street multi-storey car park in St Helier, Jersey, last year.

One of the disadvantages of this solution is that the barrier impinges on the parking space. Across an entire deck this can reduce the overall space available for parking with ongoing financial implications. It’s not just the space the barrier occupies but room must also be left for the barrier to deflect on impact. Column mounted systems are much more frugal. In fact if the original wall can be removed they can have a zero footprint in the parking bay and only need supporting every 7.2 metres compared to approx 1.5 metres for traditional systems (or even 800 mm in some circumstances). Berry’s first column mounted system, Berry Brisafe, was launched in 2006 and uses tensioned wire ropes anchored to structural steel columns. Infill panels provide pedestrian security so that the system gives a comprehensive perimeter solution. However Brisafe is more suitable for new build car parks than refurbishments as the structural columns need to be designed to withstand the stresses imposed on them. When IKEA opened a new store in Belfast in December 2007, Brisafe was designed into the accompanying car park.
The next development was System 3 launched in April 2009. This features steel rods rather than wires to reduce the loading on the columns and also reduce the deflection on impact by a vehicle. The same infill panels are used as for Brisafe giving architects a choice of styles and colours so that a car park can be visually personalised by the owner and corporate colours or even screen printed panels can be used if desired.

Sometimes planning requirements or architectural preferences will demand that a car park facade is fully clad - usually in a style of mesh that still allows adequate ventilation but hides, or at least disguises, the fact the building is a car park. Where the original perimeter can be removed this probably allows the most dramatic change to a car park’s external appearance through refurbishment. However, an interior barrier will still be required because it can’t withstand impact by vehicles.

With this in mind Berry Systems launched Protecta-Clad at Traffex earlier this year. This is a combined barrier and cladding system that amalgamates two operations into one. The cladding is cleverly mounted off the brackets on the spring steel buffer base plates rather than the columns or the deck. The brackets are designed so that the barrier can still deflect on impact but the cladding is not affected. Frequently installation can be undertaken from within the structure rather than by using scaffolding or cherry pickers. This not only leads to savings of time, number of fixings and money but also provides a safer working environment for the installers.

Another advantage of Protecta-Clad is that the barriers and cladding supports can be designed to take the pedestrian loadings specified in BS 6180 and can therefore negate the need for additional handrail and mesh infill attached to the barrier system.

Like all Berry Systems barriers, Brisafe, System 3 and Protecta-Clad have been independently tested at MIRA to ensure their performance exceeds British Standard requirements so that the tragic accidents of the past do not re-occur in the future.

So although economic necessity is making more and more car park operators consider refurbishment rather than rebuilding, the availability of new products from companies like Berry Systems is providing them with more choice than ever before. These new solutions give them the safety performance demanded by current standards but with a style and aesthetic appearance to completely refresh the visual impact.

by Simon Bradbury, Sales & Marketing Manager, Berry Systems

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