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City Hall refurbishment project utilises leading civil composites research from USQ

Group of people at construction site
USQ graduates (from left) Nick Leggat, Kurt Lembo and Matthew Robertson at the assembly of FRP reinforcement to the concrete foundation for the new annex of the Toowoomba City Hall. They are joined by current USQ students Mojdeh Khotbehsara, Ali Mohammed, Angel Baker and academic Dr Ginghis Maranan.

USQ research into the use and benefits of Fibre Reinforced Polymer (FRP) bars has been adopted in the design of the Toowoomba City Hall refurbishment project.

The non-conductive and non-corrosive reinforcement was used for the annex extension instead of traditional reinforcement materials due to the proximity to the Ergon substation.

Dr Allan Manalo, who heads USQ’s research into FRP bars as internal reinforcement to concrete structures through its Centre for Future Materials (CFM), said the application of FRP bars for the project was a major milestone in the University’s research into civil composite materials.

“It proves that the research we are conducting here at USQ and the research training we are providing students are translating to actual applications and impacting the community,” Dr Manalo said.

Three former USQ Civil Engineering students are involved in the project, including GHD structural designer Matthew Robertson, Toowoomba Regional Council engineer Kurt Lembo and Northbuild Construction contract administrator Nick Leggat.

Dr Manalo said the three graduates learned the design and use of fibre composite materials within construction during their studies at USQ.

“I am highly impressed with these young engineers, in particular Matthew who undertook his honours research project under my supervision on FRP reinforced concrete columns,” he said.

“This gave him a better understanding on the design and behavioural aspects of concrete structures reinforced with FRP bars.”

FRP has excellent properties, such as corrosion resistance, lightweight and high-strength, which has helped it gain worldwide interest and a growing acceptance in the construction industry.

Over the past five years, Dr Manalo and his research team have been studying the combine use of concrete and FRP bars in building a high-strength, sustainable and maintenance-free infrastructure.

“In Australia, the environments are severe to use steel as reinforcement to concrete structures from the viewpoint of corrosion damage,” Dr Manalo said.

“Corrosion damage costs Australia more than $13 billion per year. Thus, FRP reinforced concrete structures for use in infrastructure applications are an emerging technology that can play a significant role in the Australian construction and civil infrastructure.”

CFM Director Professor Peter Schubel said the success of the research would boost the Centre’s efforts to expedite the uptake of FRP bars as reinforcement to concrete structures with existing industries, such as marine, building and construction.

“USQ is one of the nominated organisations to lead the development of Standards for this alternative reinforcing material, which is strong, economical, safe and durable,” Professor Schubel said.

“The work we have undertaken provides an excellent framework for reference in the development of design criteria and specifications for FRP bars so that the construction industry can benefit more widely from this technology.”

To learn more about the Centre for Future Materials, visit CFM.