Slate in Architecture: Civic project design relies on slate

June 1, 2006
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A total of 2,200 square feet of Black slate - quarried and fabricated by Sheldon Slate Products Co. of Middle Granville, NY, and supplied by Platow Tile Inc. of Bagley, MN - was added as flooring throughout the lobby of the Thief River Falls Joint Operations Center in Thief River Falls, MN, during a recent expansion.

The Thief River Falls Joint Operations Center in Thief River Falls, MN, combines multiple regional facility needs into one Joint Operations and Maintenance Center. The Minnesota Departments of Transportation (MnDOT), Public Safety (DPS), Natural Resources (DNR), State Highway Patrol and Pennington County share the headquarters, which was recently expanded to include a total of about 64,000 square feet. A total of 2,200 square feet of Black slate - in 11 5/8- x 11 5/8-inch pieces - was used as flooring throughout the facility. The material was quarried and fabricated by Sheldon Slate Products Co. of Middle Granville, NY, and supplied by Platow Tile Inc. of Bagley, MN.

According to Project Manager Randy Lieberg from JLG Architects of Grand Forks, ND, slate was selected at the owner's request for a material with a relatively high level of quality and durability. “We also wanted a darker color material that could handle some heat absorption, and we like the high color contrast between the slate and the aluminum windows,” he said. “We got a favorable price on it, and really liked the look - a relatively matte finish. It wasn't as sterile looking as maybe a ceramic tile or anything like that would have been. Color selection was very important.”

Lieberg said the crew didn't face any challenges during the 13,000-square-foot expansion. “We had no problems with the supply or availability of the product we were looking for,” he said. “We had a very good mason, so we knew the stonework was going to be good.”

Slate was selected at the owner's request for a material with a relatively high level of quality and durability, according to Project Manager Randy Lieberg of JLG Architects in Grand Forks, ND.

Installing the slate

According to Dan Platow of DPT Installation Co. of Bagley, MN, installation of the slate flooring took approximately two weeks with six workers on the job, using a thick-setting method. For 95% of the installations the company handles, including this project, they use Full Flex® or Super Flex® mortar from Tec Specialty Products. “It has always been my product of choice,” said Platow.

Platow noted some practical issues that arose while on the jobsite. “The project was broken up into quite a few parts, including hallways and the bathrooms,” he explained. “We would have to take one part of the hallway and divide it in half, so the other trades could walk down the other half.”

Additionally, the angle of the floor posed problems for the crew. “The wall running along the hallway was angled, and the wall beyond where the hallway teed off was angled as well,” he said. “It was challenging to get going on an angle and maintain that angle all the way down the hallways.” The crew overcame this obstacle by individually cutting each tile that needed to be resized.

Color selection of the slate was also very important, as the architects wanted a darker material that could handle some heat absorption. They also liked the matte finished look of the slate.

The building features a shared common space that houses conference rooms, staging, storage, lockers and support space for all users, as well as a shared building entrance and image through a landscaped courtyard.

Construction of the building began in October 2004 and was completed in November 2005. According to Lieberg, the owner really liked the outcome of the project. “We have received a very favorable reaction in general to the project,” he said. “When the joint powers - the heads of the departments - had the grand opening, they really liked the fact that everything was going to mesh.”

Thief River Falls Joint Operations Center
Thief River Falls, MN

Architect: JLG Architects, Grand Forks, ND

Stone Supplier: Platow Tile Inc., Bagley, MN

Stone Fabricator/Quarrier: Sheldon Slate Products Co., Middle Granville, NY

Stone Installer: DPT Installation Co., Bagley, MN

Installation Products: Tec Specialty Products, Arlington Heights, IL

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