The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., commemorates humankind's reach for the moon and eventually onward to the planets and constellations beyond. The museum's polished concrete floor is similarly forward-looking in terms of crowd-pleasing durability. "It looks beautiful and you don't have to wax and strip it every year," says Jeff McCool, president of Jeffco Concrete Contractors.
The Tuscaloosa, Ala., company landed the contract to polish some 12,000 square feet of concrete poured as part of a major renovation to the Center, which serves as home to the internationally known Space Camp for bright and cosmically focused kids. "Polished concrete is our mainstay now," says McCool, who reports a total of 20 grinding and polishing machines in his hard-working fleet. "It's about as close to maintenance-free as you're ever going to get."
Maintenance savings and rugged durability are vital for the Center. As NASA's first visitor's center, it's hosted more than 12 million wide-eyed kids and parents since 1970. In 2007, when the Center undertook a major renovation that resulted in installation of a new main entrance and gift shop, polished concrete was specified.
Brad Jones, who served as project manager for the general contractor, B.H. Craig Construction Co., of Florence, Ala., sees the visual appeal of polished concrete as being just as important a consideration as the material's endurance and pragmatic functionality. "This is a tourist site, after all," he explains.
As for the results? "The floor looks like marble," he says.
The patient process of joint-filling, seven-step grinding from 80 grit to 150 grit, multiple resin applications and burnishing lent a touch of, well, space-age appeal to what would otherwise be rudimentary, low-tech concrete. It took McCool's crew three days, but the results are worth it. Or at least it gets a high grade from the Jeffco boss, who is proud to boast about the job. "I took my daughter, Katie, and her fifth-grade class on a field trip to the museum last year," he says. "And you bet I told them who was responsible for the floor they were standing on."