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CONSTRUCTION: Groan and bear it

Every construction project has its hurdles. Materials arrive late. Schedules tighten. Workers prove hard to find. But then there are those extraordinary circumstances that turn a challenging project into a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

For instance, most contractors don't anticipate that sandbagging will be part of their job description. But that is exactly what Little Rock, Ark.-based Vratsinas Construction Corp. (VCC) was called to do when it renovated Park Place Mall in Tucson, Ariz.

Part of the extensive renovation involved building a new, higher roof over the regional mall's center court. Typically, such projects would require building the new roof on top of the old, then dismantling the previous roof structure. However, because many of the structural elements were in the same plane, the old roof had to be completely removed before the new roof was constructed.

So not only did the center court area need to be cleared and blocked off to mall traffic, but the hub of the 1.3 million-sq.-ft. mall was exposed to the elements. “We have done a lot of mall renovations, but we have never had to disassemble a center court,” says VCC chief executive Gus Vratsinas.

Before removing the roof, VCC installed weatherproof walls around the center court, added drains, and sandbagged the perimeter as a precaution against the region's heavy rains. “It doesn't rain often, but when it rains, it rains very hard,” says Bob Bailey, a VCC vice president.

The center court was open to the elements for a three-month period while the new dome roof was constructed. The three-phase renovation was conducted over a period of three-and-a-half years. The final phase was completed in early August.

A tight squeeze

Problems can arise when owners bring in their own materials. “When you have a client purchasing the materials or items for the job, it is difficult to coordinate what's going on in their minds with your construction schedule,” says Joseph Green, a national project manager at Pittsburgh-based Flynn Construction.

Case in point is the Sun & Ski Sports store Flynn Construction is building at the new Discover Mills mall in suburban Atlanta. The 25,000-sq.-ft. sporting goods store features a variety of interactive amenities ranging from a ski simulator to a rock-climbing wall. It was the 28-ft.-high climbing wall that presented a challenge for Flynn Construction.

The climbing wall was purchased prior to the general contract even being awarded, and certain wall measurements were not verified. It is extremely difficult to coordinate items purchased by others, especially when those purchases are done prior to a contractor joining a project, Green notes.

The climbing wall was being hoisted into place before anyone realized that the massive structure didn't fit. The wall was just inches too tall, coming into contact with a roof joist. A decision had to be made quickly on how to resolve the problem in order to keep the project on schedule and on budget.

First, the wall was supposed to sit on a reinforced footer — 12 inches of concrete — which was installed to accommodate the heavy load of the climbing wall. So changing the location would mean cutting out the existing concrete, digging a new footer and pouring new concrete, Green notes. That option also would require changing the floor plan and the aesthetics of the space.

The second, more plausible option was to modify the rock itself, and so the wall's manufacturer flew in to make alterations. “We reacted by having a welder on site to work as necessary to assist the manufacturer in making corrections,” Green says. The manufacturer removed eight inches from the bottom of the rock. Despite the slight hiccup, construction is ahead of schedule for the mall's Nov. 2 opening.


Noise insulation is a consideration in virtually every commercial building project. But sound becomes a top priority when the tenant is IMAX. Ryan Companies Iowa discovered many of the challenges involved with such a project when it built the 175-seat McLeod/Busse IMAX Theatre in Cedar Rapids.

“There was a critical nature of isolating noise and vibrations so there would be no ambient sounds in the theater,” says Brad Schoenfelder, Ryan project manager. The task was to create a space that would keep the outside noise from entering the theater. At the same time, Ryan was charged with building a suitable environment for the theater's own 10,000-watt sound system, Schoenfelder says.

The first step Ryan took was to have an acoustical engineer spend a day on the job site to understand the magnitude of the surrounding noises. In addition to the typical downtown traffic noises, the facility was situated near a helicopter flight pattern. The acoustical engineer tested daily sounds to develop a report on the different materials that would be required to dampen those exterior noises.

Ultimately, this effort required placing six inches of precast concrete around the exterior of the building, as well as pouring an extra six inches of concrete on the roof for added insulation. The interior was padded with five layers of sheet rock, as well as blanket insulation and fiberboard.

“One of the challenges was that even though the building was designed for and accounted for the acoustics, the acoustical engineer will want to make changes as the building progresses,” Schoenfelder says. So those changes needed to be incorporated into the building without disrupting the schedule or budget.

Another test was the IMAX commissioning process. Due to the sensitive equipment, IMAX has strict standards regarding factors such as noise and humidity levels. “So you have to have the IMAX folks involved throughout, and keep accommodating the changes to meet their requirements,” says Marc Gullickson, president of Ryan Companies Iowa. “It is a very dynamic process.”

Beth Mattson-Teig is a Minneapolis-based writer.

Adept troubleshooting — an essential skill

Communication is essential to solving problems quickly and efficiently. Shrader & Martinez Construction Inc. learned that lesson when it worked on the remodel and expansion of a Ralph Lauren Polo store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The Sedona, Ariz.-based general contractor met weekly with the owner, architect and construction manager to perfect details on the 20,000-sq.-ft. flagship store. “This is a flagship store in a highly detailed building in a high-profile area. Everything absolutely had to mimic and replicate the existing architectural setting,” says Steve Ehlers, an executive project manager for Shrader & Martinez.

The team worked to match the existing storefront façade — columns, capitals, bases, cornices and crown. The challenge was those features were cast by an unknown manufacturer some 15 years earlier. The exterior had to be matched down to the minute detail including color, texture, profile and even aging. “We had to make the new ones match everything else down to the smog coating and dirt,” Ehlers says.

Matching the materials was a painstaking process. “One of the keys to success was having a casting contractor and other team members all devote their time and patience to never accepting any submittal as a final answer until everyone was thoroughly convinced that it was a perfect match,” Ehlers says. The Ralph Lauren Polo store opened Aug. 30.
— Beth Mattson-Teig

TAGS: Development
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