When the Frank J. Manning Apartments in Cambridge, Mass., were built in 1976 using a cast concrete plank system, the construction style was efficient and cost effective. But more than 40 years later, the style is obsolete, according to the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA), which manages the 19-story building for elderly and disabled residents. In 2015, the CHA launched a $58 million renovation project to update the façade, core systems, apartment interior and common spaces.

“A lot of public housing units in the country are well over 30 years old, beyond the usable life cycle for many things inside those apartments,” says Megan Multanen, senior sales officer for Bestbath, a manufacturer of composite bathing products in Caldwell, Idaho. “While housing authorities could build new apartments, that’s expensive and time-consuming. Renovation is key to maintaining public housing that is safe and decent.”

Bestbath worked hand-in-hand with CHA, project architect Bargmann-Hendrie + Archetype Inc. and contractor Shawmut Design and Construction on bathroom renovations for all 199 units in the Manning Apartments. The manufacturer provided showers and accompanying components, including domes above the shower, soffit walls and duct covers.

The CHA had three main priorities for the shower renovations: updating the look, ensuring they were easy to clean and maintaining air quality in the bathrooms. “There was a big concern about preventing mold and making sure the bathroom was a healthy space with good air quality,” says Multanen. “In bathrooms, the ability to quickly, easily and effectively clean surfaces is important.” That made Bestbath’s products a good choice for the project.

The company, which has done other projects with the CHA, worked with the design team and engineers on specifications for the showers. Bestbath then took the engineered drawings and built a custom mold for the showers. Afterward, it fabricated and delivered the showers based on the contractor’s construction schedule – one floor of the high-rise building at a time. Bestbath shipped the first load in June 2016 and the last one in November 2017.

Bestbath is an open mold, spray-up facility. The laminate schedule for the apartment showers included five layers. First, technicians sprayed on a gel coat consisting of a polyester resin and additives to enhance its properties and color. After the gel coat was cured with a methyl ethyl ketone peroxide (MEKP) initiator, the technicians added a proprietary barrier coat to improve the sheen of the gel coat and enhance durability. The barrier coat also was cured with a MEKP initiator. Next, they sprayed on E-glass fibers, rolled out any air bubbles and added a layer of plywood, fully backing the shower wall. Finally, the technicians added another layer of GFRP to encapsulate the wood and cure the product.