Once-in-a-Lifetime Projects

Steven Ferry

January 2006

In November 1800, the U.S. Congress gathered in the first completed portion of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., today’s small, north wing. Since then, the U.S. Capitol has grown as has the United States itself. The latest addition is the Capitol Visitor Center, designed to make the U.S. Capitol more accessible, comfortable, secure and informative for the millions of visitors each year. Major construction began in July 2002 on the 580,000-square-foot facility (compared to the 775,000 square feet of the Capitol itself). The project includes space for exhibits, visitor comfort, food service, two orientation theaters, an auditorium, gift shops, security, a service tunnel for truck loading and deliveries, mechanical facilities, storage and much needed additional space for the House and Senate.

Needless to say, C.J. Coakley Co. Inc. of Falls Church, Va., a member of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry since 1964 (Mr. Connie Coakley served on the board of directors of the association as well as the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry), was asked to add the CVC to its roster of high-profile projects.

"We have a $9 million contract for three packages in the CVC,” explains Ana Assis, senior project manager. Sequence One was the shell of the main structure, the infrastructure. Sequence Two is the fit-out of the main structure, and we’re doing that right now with Manhattan Construction as the general contractor. It includes a lot of acoustical ceilings, bulkheads and three-coat plaster, gypsum veneer plaster.

"We also received the tenant fit-out for the Senate/House, and that package we’re doing with Grunley Construction, including everything in the first package plus a lot of drywall partitions. The third package is the fit-out of a small area called the Exhibit Gallery with a sound-absorbing ceiling system and some ornamental plasterwork, all under another GC, FEI Construction. It’s all very, very impressive.

"The three-story Visitor Center is under the East Capitol grounds, underground in other words, so as not to detract from the appearance of the Capitol and its historic Frederick Law Olmsted landscape. Coming up to it, you’ll see a large plaza, not the structure.

"The Food Service Area is the first area in the schedule. Measurements for the ceiling panels are taken by looking at the stone shop drawings. We tried to fill in as much as we could. In the end, everything will work out because we can always find a way, given the talent of our employees and the talent of our manufacturer and the GC team. We had a lot of three-coat plaster, so to save time they are considering changing many areas to two-coat veneer systems.

"Everyone working on the project is very proud: It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! When we have our safety meetings or any gatherings, the carpenters and people ask me when I’m going to get them there; they want to start!

"In terms of recommendations to other contractors, on a job of this scale, it is critical to have a good relationship with all trades, pre-plan the work, coordinate in detail the work with the trades involved with your scope, and have strong material suppliers. Manhattan Construction holds a partnering session every semester with all parties involved (owner, architect and all subs) that is very productive.”

  From Barrel Vaults …

Another AWCI member, Ware Paint & Drywall, Inc. of Waycross, Ga., points to the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport project as the jewel in its crown for the year past. "We did the metal framing, [wallboard] and insulation, painting, exterior stucco and vinyl wall covering, the FRP—basically, an interior finish, framing and painting package,” relates Stephen Adams, Ware’s general manager/project manager. "We started work in August 2004 and completed the bulk in February 2005. The original contract was about $924,000, but with change-orders it ended up being just under a million. The scope included 60,000 square feet of painting, 100,000 square feet of [wallboard], about 40,000 square feet of exterior sheeting and more than 100,000 linear foot of metal put into the building.

"It was a nice project with one of the unique features being a large barrel vault ceiling down the entire center isle/main entryway of the airport. The barrel had an 18-foot radius on it, was about 84 feet long, and was painted sky blue to make it look like the sky. We tried to procure pre-manufactured components, but with the time constraints, we ended up fabricating it right on the site. We had four to six guys laying it out on the floor and using several scissor lifts to install it as they built it. It took them three to four weeks just to frame the barrel vault, then they drywalled it and finished and painted it, all accomplished using scissorlifts.

"The time frame on the job was really a crunch, because we started about three months behind schedule due to other trades and problems. There were already some conflicts with the architect and the contractor prior to us even arriving, and we of course became wrapped up in all of that. As you might expect, though, we coordinated right there on the job weekly and put in more men as needed, peaking at 32. We brought in extra men, of course, at the drywall stage, and had an extra crew doing the exterior stucco.

"As a note, though, the owner, architect and GC had weekly job meetings, but I think they should have held more weekly meetings with just the contractor and the subs. Sometimes things aren’t talked about in meetings with the owners and architects like they should be—more communication is always the better!

"As for challenges, we are still trying to receive payment for the work done. There were some problems with the architect and the GC—the contractor’s still got some punch items he’s trying to complete, so we haven’t received final payment yet. That’s one of the problems with being a sub: You can be roped into all the other problems. That’s one of the reasons why keeping a good paper trail and records is very important.

"But overall it’s neat being involved in and part of a project that hundreds of thousands of people will experience. I’d say the airport is one of Brunswick’s main facilities. I imagine one day we’ll be using the airport, too. Some of the workers talked about that on the job, and how it turned out to be a real nice job.”

… to Grand Ballroom Ceilings

Another AWC member, Phase 2 Company of Denver, was asked to help create the Denver Convention Hotel. "It has been a pretty difficult job from a time-frame standpoint in relation to the complexity of the work to be accomplished,” states Project Manager Nate Reimer. "We had basically a 10-month schedule to complete $6 million worth of work, handling all the metal-stud framing and installation of drywall in all the public spaces of the hotel.

"The details and the intricacies of the job were very tough with very little repetition on the specs that included a lot of drywall ceiling work, soffits, curves and flared ceilings that they don’t call for typically. But it looks fantastic! At the peak, we had close to 80 men on the job.

"We handled the project with a lot of front-end planning by myself and our field personnel, making sure we had all our bases and details covered, looking at what we wanted as an end-product and coming up with the best solution to reach it. There were many instances in which we used methods that were maybe not unique to our industry, but that you don’t see very much of, and that resulted from everybody putting their heads together to come up with great solutions.

"On several occasions toward the end of the job, as we were walking through and looking at our product, a lot of guys were really happy with the way the job looked. On the third level, for instance, outside the Grand Ballroom, we had a 7,000 square foot drywall ceiling that was one large curve from front to back, and it just turned out magnificently; the way the guys suspended it from the concrete above and then framed it all out of studs and drywall finished it. There is no substitute for quality and good, experienced field staff. That made the job—it really did, the experience of our field staff.”

AWCI Members Team Up

Ken Navratil of J&B Acoustical, Inc. of Mansfield, Ohio, familiar to many as AWCI’s president in 2003–2004, describes the Kalahari Water Park Resort as a project on which he was proud to have worked. Kalahari is an 83,000-square-foot indoor water park located in Sandusky, Ohio, that is connected to two four-story hotels and a six-story condominium. The exterior finishes and the interior finishes of the entire complex were somewhat of a joint venture as it was not a single contract, but controlled by three subs, all of them AWCI members: One exterior, one interior and one interior/exterior.

"Ohio Ceilings and Partitions out of Toledo, Ohio, and Saylor Plastering, also out of Toledo, were the other two other AWCI players,” Navratil reports. "The $8 million metal framing and drywall, and $1.5 million carpentry contracts were shared by J&B and OCP; the $3.5 million EIFS contract was awarded to J&B and Saylor. OCP handled the indoor water park and the condominium wing; J&B the two hotel wings, and two thirds of the EIFS work was carried out by Saylor. It wasn’t by luck of the draw—we put our heads together and worked ourselves into it. The satisfying point being that Kalahari involved everything that our association is involved with, from exterior steel framing and exterior finish systems and light-gauge steel trusses and light-gauge walls. We joined forces not only in the field but also back at the offices in order to coordinate all phases of construction, including submittals and closeout documentation.

"The exterior of each building was light gauge metal framing, skinned with Dryvit EIFS over 5/8” Densglass sheathing. The top floors of the condominium and hotel buildings utilized load bearing metal studs to support pre-engineered light gauge metal roof trusses. The interior walls were typical of hotel sound barriers but pepped up with African themed adornments. Keeping up with the schedule meant feeding in six boom-truck loads of drywall each and every day.

"The challenges this particular project presented were more than those of volume, beginning with the frustrating but slightly humorous task of identifying the appropriate stud gauges and lengths when they were buried under snow drifts. Snow, ice and mud, of course, meant we were battling nature in addition to personnel, schedule and material issues. On the personnel side, the compressed schedule meant the anticipated 65 men had expanded to 200 in reality before the project was over, with the men working six 10-hour days—thereby making motivation and on-site management more demanding. Few receiving areas meant daily material deliveries to the long and narrow facility were not as easy as they might have been. We experienced metal-stud shortages. And while the original contract called for metal framing, drywall, insulation and Densglass, the specs expanded to include doors, frames, hardware, window and slider installation, interior trim packages, toilet accessories, wood blocking and carpet.

"So how big was this project? Materials for the more than half-a-million square feet of floor space included 286,000 square feet of EIFS, 1.8 million square feet of drywall (85 semi truck loads), 15 semis of metal framing and 95,000 square feet of light gauge roof trusses.

"The finger-like buildings had very long and narrow exterior wall conditions that were started on in early fall of 2004 and work continued through May 2005, the time lapse being the result of the frequent snow and ice storms that winter, with occasional power outages that left crews scrambling to make up for up to a week-and-a-half of downtime. Each segment of building was completely scaffolded, enclosed and heated to strict requirements set by Dryvit for a 10-year warranty.”

Jess Saylor, Ppresident of Saylor Inc., Ohio, a company about to celebrate its first 50 years in construction, speaks equally proudly about his firm’s contributions to the Kalahari project. "This has been the largest exterior plastering project in the Midwest. There have been a few out in California and a few other places like Disney that are slightly larger. We’ve been in business since 1956 and I can’t think of any bigger project. Even the casinos in Detroit, which we did all the exteriors for, weren’t nearly as large. EIFS is our specialty rather than something we ‘also’ do and, we are probably the largest EIFS contractor in the Midwest. We have gone to great lengths to be certified through the AWCI programs, being one of the first 20 companies in the United States to be EIFSmart certified. So we are pretty serious when it comes to EIFS. Exterior plastering is a specialty product, and many people don’t look at it that way. Fortunately for us, the planning design-build firm out of Madison, Wis., understood that EIFS is a sensitive product and can cause some significant problems if it’s not applied properly. So we felt we were the right guys for the job, and, fortunately, we got it, because it’s one of those jobs you want on your Web site, on your resume if you will. We ended up with contracts for the exteriors of the water park, the convention center and the condominium project.”

Describing the project more, Saylor explains that "The Kalahari is billed as the largest water park in the United States—there’s one larger park, in Edmonton, Canada. The basic concept is a sizeable convention center geared toward families; in other words, a guy who’s going out of town for conventions can bring his family to enjoy the water park and the other parts of the facility, such as the two adjoining, outdoor beach-like pool settings—it’s almost like an amusement park under a roof, meaning climate controlled. Now dad doesn’t have to be out of town for three days; the whole family can be for three days of fun. After four o’clock, instead of returning to an empty hotel room, he can interact with his family.

"The theme for the entire park is North African Safari, and the biggest challenge was achieving some of the custom exterior textures. The architectural design team utilized 12 different exterior finish colors and five unique surface textures throughout the four main structures. Drawn on paper by a designer or an architect, they look like great concepts, but maybe they are not practical or even possible with the normal finishes. So, we spent quite a bit of time with the manufacturer, Dryvit, and pre-fabbing a lot of mock-ups in our panelization warehouse.

"I actually took four of my guys to the original park in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., after we were informed that we were the successful bidder, so they could see how such a park looked that was already up and running, how some of these textures looked, and what the owner’s expectations were. Our craftsmen are able (most of the time) to look at something in the real world, rather than on paper, and say, ‘Oh, I think we can do it this way.’ And so we spent quite a bit of time in the front-end of this, researching. I actually went to Wisconsin a couple of times even before we were awarded the project—I had to see what we were getting ourselves into! So we put a plan together on how we were going to achieve the textures the owner was looking for. That was probably our biggest challenge and how we tried to solve it.

"The second biggest challenge was the schedule, which became a moving target. We had the schedule set and then it was compressed, and then it was compressed again, yet we were still able to meet the "double-compressed” schedule, completing May 2005! To make that happen, we sat down with the designers, GC and construction manager, and I don’t think I have worked with a finer group of people. They were awesome, they really were—easy to work with, understanding our problem, that we just couldn’t control Mother Nature. So things just had to be ramped up, and we sat down with those guys and re-revised our schedule, and most of the time it was just a matter of just putting more guys on the job site and making other areas available to us ahead of time. They worked with us, and that’s how we solved it.

"With the challenges of getting it done on time and of creating these special textures, I could tell that my lead guys were excited. They’d complete a wall and say, ‘Well, this doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen, but it’s pretty cool looking!’ This project created more of a sense of community and teamwork than any other project. Quite a few of the guys that worked on the project have already stayed at the Kalahari, feeling a sense of ownership.

"One of the apprehensions that we had was the sheer scope of the project. I’m one of those guys who breaks down projects into small pieces. Around here, I have been known to say for years ‘How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time!’ And that is the only advice I can give to anyone looking at any project that is a little bit out of their comfort range: ‘Don’t try to complete the whole project in one day.’

"From our perspective, we thought the project went extremely well. Duration was about eight months, and at peak we had about 70 plastering guys on site. For me personally, it was a lot of fun to do, even though it was just like any other project from the standpoint of the nervousness that’s involved with a contract, but it was sure a lot of fun to do. And it was even more fun once it was completed.”

No doubt. We tip our hats to you all for work well done.

About the Author
Steven Ferry is a free-lance writer based in Clearwater, Fla.