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R.I. builder tapped for 9/11 memorial

New England Boatworks brought the sculpture “Postcards” to life with composite construction

A new 9/11 memorial to be dedicated in Staten Island was built by Rhode Island-based New England Boatworks, makers of leading-edge racing yachts.

“Postcards,” designed by architect Masayuki Sono is a metaphoric reference to the site of the twin towers, and features commemorative “stamps” that bear the name and profile of each Staten Islander lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The design was selected from 179 entries from 19 countries, and will be erected at a site on the St. George waterfront.

The challenge with Sono’s softly curving design was how to build it. Post-reinforced concrete would be unable to withstand the loads that high winds would impose on the design’s 12-foot cantilevered wings.

So project organizers turned to New England Boatworks and its experience with composite construction.

Steve Casella, a partner at NEB, says the boatbuilding company branched out into architectural projects years ago as a way to ensure a steady flow of business, even during a boatbuilding slump. The engineering team develops new solutions for “leading edge” racing yachts, where the demand for lightweight and high-strength components and structures is paramount. That technology can also be applied to architecture and sculptures.

The company’s first architectural project was to build a clocktower for the top of New York’s City Hall. Three fires had ravaged the original tower and officials wanted a fireproof replica.

Using aerospace-grade phenolic resin and a specially built composites oven (similar to the oven used to build pre-preg composite yachts) to post-cure the structure, NEB constructed the tower in six interlocking sections. NEB also built several turrets and a 20-foot diameter dome for QuinnipiacCollegeLawSchool’s campus in Connecticut.

“Composite construction can withstand high loads and repeated flex without cracking,” David MacBain, a partner at NEB, says in a statement. “By applying composite technology to buildings and sculptures we are able to find elegant solutions to structural problems.”

After conducting a structural analysis of the “Postcards” design, NEB’s engineers decided on a composite laminate of E-glass, foam core and vinylester resin. They built the structure using a resin-infusion technique.

Casella, who grew up in Brooklyn, says the project took nearly nine months to complete. There were a few “hiccups” along the way, but by early August the project was nearly ready to be transported by barge to dedication ceremonies on the third anniversary of the attacks.

Casella, MacBain and Tom Rich — all experienced in building racing yachts including America’s Cup boats — launched NEB in 1988.

Soon the company expanded from its rented facilities to ownership of EastPassageYachtingCenter in Portsmouth, R.I., adding a full-service marina and haulout yard.

Other projects that the company recently completed include the 52-foot Nelson/Marek-designed IMS Cruiser/

Racer Ptarmigan, the 36-foot Rodger

Martin-designed sportboat/skiff Diode, and stem-to-stern refit of Dennis Conner’s 55-foot Cotton Blossom.