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Concrete Program Inhabits Alcatraz Island

Monday, November 28, 2016

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There was a time when you had to do something pretty bad to end up on Alcatraz Island for a few months.

Some students and military veterans working with the Concrete Preservation Institute recently ended up with just a sentence—but it was a positive experience all around, especially for the buildings on the former penal colony off the California coast.

Field School participants
Photos: BASF

The CPI program looks to repair and preserve concrete structures on the island that were built over the years, mostly by the military.

For 12 weeks this summer and fall, CPI, partnering with the National Parks Service, ran its hands-on Field School at Alcatraz program on the island, in which participants used materials supplied by BASF Master Builder Solutions to restore buildings there.

The Field School program, which first launched in 2010, now has three sessions each year. CPI also holds a field school program at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Alcatraz History

Alcatraz is a 22-acre island in the San Francisco Bay, about 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco. In the 19th century, it served as a lighthouse, then a military fort and prison.


In the 19th century, Alcatraz served as a lighthouse, then a military fort and military prison, before becoming a famous federal prison from 1933 through 1963.

From 1933 through 1963, it famously served as a maximum-security federal prison, largely for individuals who were difficult for other prisons to handle. Officially, there was never a successful escape from the prison, though in 1962, three men made it off the island, and though they were presumed dead, no remains were ever found.

The island is a National Historic Landmark, and is run by the National Parks Service. It receives 1.3 million visitors per year.

Preservation, Hands-On Experience

The CPI program looks to repair and preserve concrete structures on the island that were built over the years, mostly by the military. At the same time, students and military veterans working with CPI get hands-on experience with concrete preservation and construction.

Alcatraz social hall

Participants work with concrete structures that are in various states of deterioration, such as the warden’s house, social hall (pictured) and main cell house.

Participants work with concrete structures that are in various states of deterioration, such as the warden’s house, social hall and main cell house. Given the island’s location on the bay, the buildings are subject to the salty air, in addition to wear from the island’s many visitors.

Expert Training

Representatives of BASF worked with the seven participants in this most recent session, helping to train the students with regard to materials and techniques.

“In addition to the ongoing classroom and hands-on CPI curriculum, our students benefit immensely from the guidance of the BASF restoration experts,” said Dr. Tanya Komas, founding director and CEO of  CPI. “I am not aware of any other place in the world that is so well-suited for the training of construction talents.”

“When you look at the challenges of working on Alcatraz, all the CPI participants take ownership of an aspect of the project to accomplish a goal,” said Brian Denys, vice president, Construction Systems, BASF Construction Chemicals North America. “This program is phenomenal in terms of developing those life skills.”


Tagged categories: BASF; concrete; Education; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Worker training

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