Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Atlantic Yards Modular Dispute Could Have Citywide Echo

Atlantic Yards Modular Dispute Could Have Citywide Echo
Posted by Jarrett Murph, City Limits online | Sep 22, 2014

The dust-up between Forest City Ratner Company and Skanska is, at its essence, a business dispute involving conflicting claims about a single building. But could the episode have broader implications for affordable housing in the city?

The beef boils down to this: Skanksa and Forest City got together to build B2, a residential tower at the Atlantic Yards site that was to be the tallest structure in the word built with modular construction. But now the two companies are trading barbs over who is to blame for delays at the site, with Forest City pegging it on incompetence by Skanska and Skanska attributing it to flaws in Forest City's designs.

As Atlantic Yards Report's Norman Oder reported today, Skanska claimed in a lengthy early August letter to Forest City that, "It is impossible to predict that the building when completed will perform as designed; and in particular, it is impossible to predict that the curtain wall joints will be and, over time, will remain effective barriers to the passage of air and water." While Forest City has not responded formally to that charge, it has previously issued assurances that the building is sound.

For those of us without any skin in the Atlantic Yards game, the question isn't just whether Skanksa is telling the truth, but whether any of it has larger implications for the affordable housing potential of modular construction.

Some see modular construction as a potential solution to the always difficult task of building housing that can be supported by low rents and government subsidies. The affordable housing problem in New York isn't just about landlords charging higher rents because the market lets them; the fact is, high rents to some degree reflect the high cost of building in New York City. Building densely, as Mayor de Blasio wants to do, is a way of squeezing more value out of the city's scarce land. But high-rise construction is complex and expensive. Modular offers a chance to build high more cheaply.

According to an early August article in Commercial Property Executive, the Department of Buildings was reviewing more than three dozen applications for permits to build modular structures. Not everyone is enthusiastic about the possibility of a larger shift toward modular building, with some critics concerned about building quality.

It's possible, of course, that there's nothing wrong with the building. It's also possible that even if there is a flaw, it is unique to B2, perhaps reflecting the particular challenges associated with building an extraordinarily tall modular structure. Or the saga there could reveal a systemic problem in the modular approach.

In any case, the outcome will affect more than just one structure on the corner of Flatbush and Dean.

Preparing for the Next Modular Housing Downturn

The stronger your business is, the less likely it is to be affected by the next downturn in modular housing. Nonetheless you have to be continually preparing for it.

Strengthening your business doesn't just involve financial management. It also includes strategies to retain and broaden your customer base, market your business affordably, keep morale high among your staff and improve business practices. You should also look for opportunities to network and form alliances; this will help minimize your exposure to risks. Doing these things now will mean not having to ‘play catch’ up if it hits.

To strengthen your business during an economic downturn you should consider the following strategies.

Making customers a priority
Customer service is about providing your builders with what they want, when they want it. If your business provides quality customer service, you have a greater chance of keeping and increasing your builder base. During a financial downturn it is particularly important to find ways to retain your existing builders by providing good after-sales service.

Making customers a priority in an economic downturn may also involve:
  • running loyalty or builder incentive programs
  • adapting your products and services to be more suited to your builder's current needs
  • Diversifying your business to minimize potential damage from the loss of a significant customer. Think what other types of housing and commercial can be built by your factory.

Marketing strategies
Reviewing your marketing strategies can help you come up with new ideas to increase sales and find better ways of using your marketing dollars. You should focus on communicating your competitive and builder advantages. It's important to also develop strategies to measure the effectiveness of your marketing.

Marketing your business can be an expensive exercise, and during an economic downturn it's especially important to explore free marketing tools available to you, including social media and press releases.

Managing staff
Make sure you have an up-to-date human resources (HR) plan. Use your plan to detail your staffing costs, which in turn will allow you to accurately cost your products or services. Will your top reps stay with you if housing starts drop?

Build morale and motivation by clearly communicating with your staff what is happening within the business. Try to involve them in decision-making and finding solutions.

You may also consider training your employees to undertake more duties. You can conduct a staff skills assessment to identify the training your staff may need.

Networking during an economic downturn can be useful to understand how other businesses are coping. Joining and participating in organizations like MHBA and reading this blog will keep you informed and better prepared. You may also discover new opportunities, customers, staff, suppliers and business partners with minimal cost to your business.

Developing innovative practices
Developing innovative practices may help you adapt to changing market conditions and stay ahead of your competitors. As part of this process you should review if using new technology will increase efficiency, reduce costs and make your business more competitive.

Is a housing downturn in our near future? Let’s hope not but like the Boy Scouts Motto says “Be Prepared.” 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Blu Homes Story as Told by Bill Haney

I am always impressed with the professionalism of Blu Homes. This interview is no exception. No wonder they got over $165,000,000 in investor money. Damn, that's a lot of money.

Keiser Homes Rebuilds Burned Apartment House

An arson fire gutted the large apartment building on Lewes St in Lynn, MA in March 2013, leaving residents in 25 apartments homeless. Property owner Andrew Perkins said he made plans after the fire to build on the building site even as he tried to find new housing for displaced tenants.

“I placed 20 of the families and helped them get furniture,” he said last week.

He made good on his rebuilding commitment by contracting for 145 Lewis’ new concrete foundation and arranged for Avalon Building Systems of Peabody to coordinate construction. Lynn-based Landmark Engineering surveyed the fire site to determine exactly where the new building should be built, and Avalon coordinated with Keiser Homes in Oxford, Maine, to start assembling the building.

“Twenty-five units — that’s what we had there — that is what we are putting back,” Perkins said.

Each one of the 24 “modular boxes” stacked on the Lewis Street site contains halves of two separate apartments with a hallway section running between the halves.

Each box is paired with another to create two full-size apartments complete with bathrooms outfitted with fixtures, front doors and kitchens equipped with cabinets and appliances. Eight boxes will be stacked on each of the three floors with an additional basement unit.

Each apartment has 9-foot-high ceilings.

Keiser crews started parking the big boxes on Monday with the goal of stacking them in place on Lewis Street by Friday. Crews will bolt the boxes together, erect vinyl outer walls and a slightly-peaked insulated roof while plumbers and electricians do utility work.

Prefabricated stairways will round out the building’s common areas.

The advantage of a prefabricated building over traditional construction includes avoiding weather delays and quicker assembly methods. Tenants will move into 145 Lewis by year’s end.

Worst Description of Prefab Ever!

As you know, I scour the Internet every day looking for videos, stories and pictures about the modular housing industry to share with you. This time I thought I might have a winner with a video about Prefab Modular Homes but instead I found one of the worst videos I have ever watched.

Two people trying to act very informative about prefab lose me when they start talking about Yurts and Domes and make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Here for your viewing pleasure is the worst interview ever about the advantages of prefab modular homes.

Support the 8th annual Kelsey’s Fall Festival

Lynn Kuhns, owner of Apex Homes, and Kylie Kuhns, would like to invite every modular person within driving distance of Mifflinburg, PA to join them to support this festival in memory of Kelsey who passed away on November 1, 2005, after an 8-year battle with Leukemia.

The 8th annual Kelsey’s Fall Festival is Saturday, October 11th! The Festival will be on the Mifflinburg VFW Grounds, just west of Mifflinburg on route 45 and will take place from 11am to 7pm. Come on over for food, fun, and to support a great cause!

Kelsey’s Dream™ is a foundation that was formed with the mission to make life a little brighter for children with cancer and children in need. Kelsey’s Fall Festival is held in memory of my sister, Kelsey Kuhns, who passed away on November 1, 2005, after an 8-year battle with Leukemia. 

Kelsey’s Dream™ supports Camp Dost, a specialized summer camp for pediatric cancer patients and their siblings.  Kelsey’s Dream™ has been able to fund t-shirts for the campers and counselors (freeing up funding for other opportunities) and provide a handmade blanket for every camper (about 100) every summer. Funds raised are also used for the Snack Pack Program at Geisinger for Pediatric Cancer Patients and handmade blankets and hats are provided to Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant patient in three states. Check out the Kelsey’s Dream™ website to see what other programs we support. 

One new and exciting addition to the Kelsey’s Dream Team is “Hopper the Cancer Crusher”. Hopper is a plush stuffed animal frog dawned with pajamas and a fun ladybug bandana. He has a mediport that will help medical teams explain certain procedures and surgeries that young children have to go through for their treatment. Kelsey’s Dream™ has provided over 5,000 Play Therapy toys to children diagnosed with cancer all across the United States. Go Hopper go!

Kelsey’s Fall Festival will kick off with an old fashioned Apple Butter boil.  Plenty of fun events are planned for the entire day:  Sumo Wrestling, kids crafts, build a bluebird bat or butterfly house, Cake Wheel, Hayrides, Blue Barrel Tractor Rides, adrenaline rush inflatable, win a goldfish, soda ring toss, face painting, sand art, football throw and more. Kids should also keep an eye out for Elmo and Cookie Monster!

Come enjoy entertainment provided by Enterline’s Dance Center from 11am-12pm, American Academy of Martial Arts from 12pm-1pm, Ensembles from Mifflinburg Middle School band and choir from 1pm-2pm, and Riser Crew from 2pm-4pm. After 4pm we invite local musicians to take the stage.  ContactKelsey’s Dream™ if you are interested in entertaining, so we can schedule your gig!t

Come hungry because you will want to indulge in all the homemade goodies:  Homemade Chicken Corn Soup, Aunt Amie’s famous baked potato soup, Whoopee Pies, Apple Dumplings, Fish sandwiches, Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, hand cut French fries, Homemade baked goods, apple cider and more!

Please help us spread the word by forwarding this email to EVERYONE in your contacts.  We have ¼ sheet and full page flyers that we can get to you to give to your church, your co-workers and friends. Please let us know how many you would like.

On Friday, October 10th, we need your help.  From 8:00am – 1:00pm we will be peeling apples in preparation for the apple butter boil.  We need you, your friends, your relatives, your friend’s relatives and more, to help accomplish this large task.  Bring your favorite knife or your apple peeler slicer corer and be ready to peel many apples.  You will have a lot of fun, while helping a great cause.  The apple peeling event is held at the Mifflinburg VFW grounds.

Kelsey’s Fall Festival is a community event sponsored by many local sports teams, businesses, and churches. It wouldn’t be possible without the numerous volunteers helping out at this event.  For more information about Kelsey’s Fall Festival, to help sponsor, or to volunteer at the festival, contact Kylie Kuhns at570-966-4605 or kylielk@windstream.net or visit the website at www.KelseysDream.org. Don’t forget to like Kelsey’s Dream™ on Facebook (www.facebook.com/KelseysDream) and to follow us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/KelseysDream)!  We have $200 sponsorship opportunities available. Your sponsorship gets your business or group recognized on our social media sites, our website and a sign recognizing your sponsorship is placed at the item you sponsor at the festival. All sponsorships are tax deductible and you will receive a receipt confirming your donation.  Contact us to become a sponsor of Kelsey’s Fall Festival. 

Hope to see you at Kelsey’s Fall Festival.  In the meantime, please take a moment to watch this video:

Commercial Modular Looks to Overcome B2 Snag

Recently Engineering News-Record ran an article about the huge problems facing B2, the 32 story modular Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. While it is quite long, every modular person needs to read it. Like all modular projects, both residential and commercial, planning and organization are the keys to a successful build.

Issue: 09/15/2014 Engineering News-Record
The Promise and Pitfalls of Modular Buildings
By Nadine M. Post

Modular-building boosters, including traditional owners, developers, contractors and designers, maintain that off-site construction is faster, safer, leaner, greener, better quality and potentially less costly than site construction. But there is a big hitch, they caution: Building teams are not likely to reach modular delivery’s pot of gold unless they plan and execute the off-site strategy properly. And that is no simple proposition.

“Everyone thinks it’s a silver bullet,” says Jeffrey M. Brown, the developer and general contractor for the Stack, a mostly factory-built seven-story residential building in Upper Manhattan that opened in May. “It really isn’t unless you put the right ingredients in the bowl.”

Few know that better than developer Forest City Ratner Cos. (FCRC) and its team building the world’s future tallest modular tower: the 32-story B2 BKLYN residential building in Brooklyn, N.Y. Stalled at 10 stories, the B2 project at the $4.9-billion Pacific Park Brooklyn site, until recently called Atlantic Yards, is a glaring example of modular gone sour. The B2 project, designed by SHoP Architects, was going to take factory-built modular to the next level through the use of sophisticated digital tools to design, fabricate and manage assembly of the 930 modules.

Instead of a poster child for improved high-rise modular, B2 has become the poster child for modular run amok. Unable to solve their differences privately over delays and cost overruns, FCRC and Skanska USA Building Inc.—B2′s construction manager and FCRC’s partner in a new modular plant, called FC+Skanska Modular—are battling it out in court.

Despite the situation, both Skanska and FCRC say they are committed to factory-built modular. “We believe in modular as the future of the industry,” says Richard A. Kennedy, Skanska’s co-chief operating officer.

In a Sept. 4 letter to Kennedy, FCRC President and CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin says, “We remain resolute in modular technology’s potential and promise.”

Modular-building veterans are rattled by the B2 feud. “I’m angry because it gave this industry a black eye,” says Tom O’Hara, vice president for business development at Capsys Corp. The factory builder is supplying modules for a 65-unit residential building in the Bronx, N.Y., called 3361 Third Avenue.

Modular is of interest to traditional builders because, in part, it has been identified as a means for improving building production. Collaborative delivery and advances in digital tools for design, coordination, clash detection, project management and fabrication support the movement, as do advances in lifting equipment.

“This is not a new process, but there is newfound interest of late,” says Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute (MBI).

Until 2009, the 31-year-old MBI had no traditional contractor members. Now, there are a dozen, including Gilbane Building Co., Mortenson Construction and PCL, but not Skanska or FCRC.

Off-site construction is most appropriate for buildings with repetition, including schools, housing, hospitals, multifamily residential, hotels and dormitories. Many recent modular buildings are a mix of site-built, non-repetitive lower floors topped by assemblies.

The B2 drama is serving as a cautionary tale. The 85-member Off-Site Construction Council, formed last year by the National Institute ofBuilding Sciences (NIBS) to advance all types of prefabrication and preassembly, “is interested in learning what works and what does not in all projects that pursue the use of off-site construction,” says Ryan Colker, the council’s director. “As the case unfolds, we will be looking to understand any role off-site construction had in the dispute.”

To the NIBS council, “off-site construction” is the design, fabrication and assembly of building elements at a location other than their installed location. “Off-site construction is characterized by an integrated planning and supply-chain optimization strategy,” says the council, in its draft off-site construction glossary.

Permanent modular construction, also known as volumetric or 3D modular, is a subset of off-site. NIBS defines it as “an innovative, sustainable construction delivery method utilizing off-site, lean manufacturing techniques to prefabricate single or multistory whole building solutions in deliverable module sections.” PMC buildings are made in a safe, controlled setting and can be framed in wood, steel or concrete. Modules can be delivered with mechanical-electrical-plumbing systems, fixtures and interior finishes.

“The application of manufacturing principles to design and construction enables us to put buildings together in more innovative ways,” says Sue Klawans, Gilbane’s director of operational excellence and planning and the council’s vice chair. “Why bring 2 million individual bricks, studs and wire connectors to the site? Let’s reduce that by a factor of 10 or 100.”

Off-site construction leaves “many owners, architects and builders confused and sometimes put off by the process,” says Ryan E. Smith, chairman of the NIBS council and director of the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center at the University of Utah. “It is not easy for those in their first rodeo.”