The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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College Ready to Build Structural Testing Facility

The College of Engineering is currently preparing the site for a $600,000, state-of-the-art Structural Testing Facility, which will allow researchers to test full-size structural elements such as beams and girders. The testing facility will also lift the profile of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department (CEE) in terms of attracting top-flight students and sponsored research. With the help of many alumni, led by 1960 CEE alumnus Robert Brack (pictured), the college has raised more than 75 percent of the total cost for the facility, which will be built in the Tillson Farm area of the UMass Amherst campus, near the new police station now under construction.

Thanks to an enthusiastic response to the project from alumni and other donors, the college needs to raise only the final $83,000 it will cost to build the facility. The ground-breaking is tentatively scheduled for March of 2011.

The testing facility will contain a so-called “strong floor” and a bridge crane system to allow on-site experimental testing of large-scale structural elements. The strong floor will be a concrete “slab” with 30- by 60-foot dimensions that is highly reinforced with steel and has 200 kip tie-down points every five feet, offering a limitless variety of test setups. The bridge crane system will have a 30-ton capacity, with a 20-foot lifting height. The facility will also be sheltered by a roof.

The Structural Testing Facility, when completed, will support a key component of the Structural Engineering and Mechanics Program, which conducts multidisciplinary research to improve the safety and performance of the world's infrastructure, develop sustainable and green building technology, and analyze the mechanical behavior of solids. 

“This opportunity is extremely exciting for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,” said Professor Richard Palmer, head of the department. “The facility will provide our structural engineering faculty the ability to perform tests on campus that were not possible previously and to contribute to expanding our knowledge of the sustainability of many infrastructure components that will be extremely important in the future. For the first time, students and faculty at UMass will be able to test full-size components and to compete on equal footing with other outstanding universities in the region and across the U.S.”

Mr. Brack, the owner and chairman of the board of the Barker Steel Company, has spearheaded the funding for the Structural Testing Facility by making two gifts of $50,000 apiece. Brack’s gifts, totaling $100,000, have been coupled with $150,000 from the University of Massachusetts as a matching challenge grant.

“The Structural Engineering and Mechanics Program cannot test full-size structural elements in its present testing facility,” Brack explains. “The addition of the Structural Testing Facility offers new and unique opportunities to partner with research organizations such as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and provides undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students the chance to gain invaluable experience doing research in a full-scale testing environment.”

One reason for building the Structural Engineering Facility is to attract top-flight graduate students who need such a site to do their structural research. With the ability to test full-scale structural components, our faculty will also be much more competitive for private, state, and federal funding in the structural field. In addition, the facility will spur many more industrial and academic collaborations.

“This project is a win-win for the students, staff, and department as it continues its growth and development to be one of the finest in the country,” says Brack.

Another large gift of $50,000 was made by alumnus Ernie Selig and his spouse, Rae Selig. In all, more than 25 private donors have made gifts ranging from $100 to $50,000 toward the facility.

“In fact, the Structural Testing Facility has served as a rallying cry for CEE alumni,” says Paula Sakey, the director of the College of Engineering Development Office. “It recalls that famous quote by President John F. Kennedy that ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’” (December 2010)