When the floor polishing sub-contractor’s sudden, unexpected departure left concrete contractor Tom Maya in a bind, his 27-year-old daughter Cori Sutton decided to jump in, finish the job, and save the day.
There was one slight problem.
Cori knew little about polishing concrete beyond some hand-grinder polishing of concrete countertops.
This job was a 6,500 square-foot expansion of the Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pa. The venerable museum traces its origins to 1898. It’s home to a wide range of fascinating objects from Native American artifacts to modern art, and hosts collections from around the globe.
Maya Brothers Inc., also of Erie, poured all the concrete, but had to look outside the company for polishing expertise. When the polishing sub didn’t work out, Tom said he didn’t know what to do.
“I didn’t think we could get someone new in time,” he recalled. “Then Cori said, ‘let’s do it ourselves’.”
The result — a new company, Diamond Designer Concrete Inc., Cori Sutton, president.
It helped that Niagara Machine Inc., a supplier of top-line concrete grinding and polishing products and equipment was just down the street from the museum. Along with supplying Cori with the gear she needed, Niagara Machines rep Chris Keyes went to the job site and provided the on-the-job training and expertise Cori and her 5-man crew, which included her brother Matt Maya, needed at every step.
It also helped that Cori was a great student.
“Cori jumped in with both feet,” Chris said. “She was attentive, asked questions and did the work. You can’t do something like this unless you’ve got the heart for it. I never doubted for a minute that Cori could handle it.”
“I found the whole process — turning an ordinary gray concrete floor into something beautiful and unique — fascinating,” Cori said. “I didn’t do all the grinding and polishing, though. My brother Matt provided a lot of the muscle.”
Though the previous contractor had done some work, Cori and Chris decided it would be best to simply start over. The process began by flattening, smoothing and exposing the aggregate of the new concrete floors for the “terrazzo look” the client wanted, Cori said.
Chris recommended a 900-pound, 30-inch planetary grinder. Armed with 30-grit metals, the grinder chewed into the floor with all the authority nearly half a ton of weight gives you.
Succeeding grinds with 60- and 120-grit metals smoothed the floor further, followed by ever-finer grinds with 50-, 100- and 200-grit resins.
Cori and crew then prepped the floor for further polishing with Consolideck® LS (lithium-silicate) Hardener/Densifier. Along with dustproofing and increased stain- and abrasion-resistance, hardened, densified floors polish faster and easier.
“LS is easy to use, so it was a natural fit, especially for a first-time job,” Chris said. “You just spray it down and spread it out. The learning curve is small and the performance is excellent.”
LS works by penetrating the concrete pores. It fills the tiny voids with tough calcium silicate hydrate, the substance that makes concrete hard to begin with.
With the floor hardened and densified, Cori and crew began polishing. The big grinder whirled the 400-, then 800-grit Prepmaster FL-07 polishing pads over the concrete, bringing up a satin, semi-gloss finish.
“That’s what the museum superintendant said he wanted,” Chris said. “He changed his mind when he saw the increased reflectivity he could get with an application of Consolideck® LSGuard.”
The protective treatment takes its name from the fact that it contains lithium-silicate and brings a further hardening-densifying effect to the floor.
After spreading it micro-thin across the polished concrete, Cori and crew burnished LSGuard in with a 3,000 rpm propane burnisher. Friction melds the treatment into the floor, so it never delaminates or needs stripping.
Simple re-application and burnishing – often, just burnishing alone – is enough to re-pop the shine.
At the Erie Art Museum, the LSGuard application increased the floor’s luster by several orders of magnitude without the extra time and expense of further polishing. The durable, but ultra-thin coating also gave the floor added protection against spills and abrasion.
The floors actually became another piece of art for the museum, Chris said.
They also helped the museum capture a 2010 GreenSite Project of the year award for sustainable building practices. The award cited the polished floor for “enhancing the project’s sustainable platform” by “eliminating carpet and mastic floor covering, eliminating the slab saw-cutting process, and using all local materials and products.”
The GreenSite Award Project is a joint venture of Concrete Construction and Concrete Producer magazines.
Next up for Diamond Designer Concrete is a 6,000 square-foot area in a manufacturing plant not far from Erie. They want to replace the old epoxy floor with polished concrete, Cori said.
To help get the job, Cori took her prospective clients to see her work at the Erie Art Museum. In addition to seeing the beauty of the polished concrete floors, the group heard from the museum’s head of maintenance. “He said he loves the floors because they’re so easy to care for,” Cori reported.
The happy ending – and beginning – come as no surprise to Cori’s father.
“As employees in Maya Brothers, Cori and Matt made my company bloom,” he said. “Matt’s still more of a flatwork guy, but Cori loves decorative.
“Speaking as a businessman and not as a father, I’d hire Diamond Designer Concrete any time,” Tom said. “From what I’ve seen, Cori is definitely on the right road to becoming a high-end contractor.
“Heck, if my business gets slow, I might even come out and push a grinder for her myself.”
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A visitor views the Erie Art Museum’s “Hidden in Plain Sight” exhibit in the newly expanded gallery space. photo courtesy Erie Art Museum