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Project Focus: Shopping Malls

The Challenges of Mall Renovations Are Many, but the Rewards Are Great Here Are Some Tips from the Pros for Getting the Job and Doing It Right

KHS&S’ Web site rightfully boasts the technical challenges it overcame
in constructing compound radius vaulted ceilings using laser
technology and flexible track high above the floor of one of Florida’s
busiest shopping malls.

But what challenges did KHS&S, and other contractors who have
completed mall projects, deal with behind the scenes? What challenges
are peculiar to malls? The KHS&S Web site hints at one key issue with
renovations of existing malls: “To allow the mall to remain open during renovation, all construction began at
10 p.m. and was cleared and stored
before 8:30 a.m. daily.”

What Are You Doing Tonight?

As Vince Kirby, project manager at
KHS&S Orlando pointed out, the first
hurdle to overcome was finding “people
willing to work at night and clean the
site every morning.”

Gary Elledge, project manager for Brady
Company in Anaheim, Calif., has the
same perspective: “Finding 50 guys willing
to change their whole lifestyle, working
at night and off-hours, is a hurdle. Fortunately, we had 30 loyal employees
who were willing to make the sacrifice,
and then we looked through union halls
and went through quite a few guys
before we achieved a stable crew. We
paid them a couple of dollars an hour
extra for swing shift and also paid our
regular guys $20 a day for accommodations,
as they were away from home.”

Dennis Mehrer, vice president of Troy
Metal Concepts in Wixom, Mich., paid
“$3 to $5 per hour premiums to employees,”
but mentioned that the real hit
“was if the employees work one afternoon
or night shift, then they are not available
for the opposite shift the next day. We
tried to keep guys on one shift all week.”

What’s with the Dirt and the Noise?

“Working in any operating mall,” adds
Mark Nabity, president of Grayhawk,
LCC, in Lexington, Ky., “presents a
challenge in dealing with dirt and debris
so that it is not visible or impacting the
mall operations. Every morning, we’d
come off work to do a full cleanup.”

Mehrer relates, “The place had to be
immaculately clean before the mall
opened-no dust or debris at all. We
had a crew that dusted and mopped the
last couple of hours of the day, and the
general contractor had a crew that went
behind us to put the spit shine on surfaces.”

Minimum impact is sometimes extended
to mean being completely invisible,
as in the case of the mall the Brady
Company of Anaheim, Calif., worked
on in Palm Desert. Project Manager
Gary Elledge states, “Containing all the
dust and mess and cleaning it up every
day before the mall opened was very
important to the mall management, as
was not making any obstacles for the
buying public. We worked exclusively
off scissor and boom lifts; scaffolding
inside the mall was out of the question
because it would deter shoppers from
coming in. It is pretty tough working on
nothing but scissor lifts and boom lifts
when you are used to working on the
ground or with scaffolding. It slowed
down production, but we predicted that
during the estimating phase.

“We had to protect storefronts from
dust and debris as we hung drywall,
taped or demo’ed. On the first night,
dust floated right into those stores that
only had chains across the entrance. Several owners called the mall management
complaining of their products being
covered in dust. We closed that can of
worms by rolling Visqueen around a
2×4 and screwing that to the wall above
each storefront, so we would just roll it
down every night and then back up
again in the morning.”

Roy Vernor, office manager at Fireproof
Coatings in Encinitas, Calif., notes night
work is generally demanded at high end
malls. For those contractors allowed to
work in the mall during the day, as
Nabity reports, “Noise was typically taken
to night-time working. Such factors
need to be accounted for during the bid
process, also bidding for the unexpected,
because they can be costly: Temporary partitions, staggered work hours
and dealing with issues of tenants who
have the authority to shut down your
work during the daytime if it becomes
too noisy or dirty, even if it is for another

Apart from not getting up the noses of
tenants or mall management, it makes
sense to work at night. Mehrer points
out: ‘Anytime we work in an existing
mall, it benefits us to work on off hour
shifts when the public is not wandering
around and being a distraction. We had
one project, Somerset South, in which
they added a whole second story to an
existing mall. The project ran for a long
time, and we did it on off-hours so as
not to disturb the mall customers and

What Goes In Must Come Out

Mehrer does make it clear that working
at night has a downside. “The primary
challenge is moving your equipment and
material in and out with limited access,
without disturbing the customers and
without damaging existing finishes. We
scheduled our deliveries for before 9 a.m.
or after 10 p.m., coordinating with mall
security and maintenance for access.
Ensure material handling costs are covered,
as they will be higher than on a project
with access during business hours.”

Anthony Martinelli of Toro Acoustical
in Ridley Park, Pa., puts it more strongly:
“The loading and unloading of
equipment, tools and materials at a certain
time after the mall closes and before
it opens again always turns into a nightmare.”
What kind of a nightmare?
Elledge describes a typical night’s work:
“Half the crew would spend the first
hour every night moving material near
the doors of the mall while the other half
would bring out the scissor and man
lifts. By 9:30 each night, after the retail
workers left the mall, we would then move the material and lifts
into place inside the mall and by 10:30 p.m., we would start
performing work that would actually make us money, as
opposed to just covering our costs. We were then able to work
for about six hours before we had to start moving lifts and material
out of the building.”

Richard Seate, director of business development at Precision
Walls in Raleigh, N.C., offers one shortcut to the nightly logistics
grind: “We devised a way to store part of our materials on
the scaffolding system, which itself requires more planning so
it can be engineered to support crews as well as dead loads of
materials stored on them.”

Oops, Sorry About That

Naturally, moving materials, equipment and tools in and out
opens up another problem, as Elledge explains: “When we bid
the job, we put in a cost for incidentals. I had looked over the
mall and thought of all the possible items that could bite us in
the butt. Driving a 50-foot boom from one end of the mall to
the other, past all these little kiosks, tent stores, light posts and
other obstacles in the way what were the odds of doing that
every night without damaging anything? As it turned out, those
tents cost about $11,000, and we ran into a couple of them with
boom lifts. One night we were welding above one, and the
sparks went through the protective cover we had set up and
burnt the tent and some merchandise. We hit a couple of lamp
poles and had to buy new ones. We broke a couple of cover
plates in front of the escalators. The money that we threw into
the incidentals cost was right on target, as we spent almost every
dime of it.”

Even more critical, of course, for those mall jobs done during
the day, is safety of the “civilians.” As Bradley Baker, president
of Triangle Plastering Systems in Mesquite, Texas, states: “With
remodeling, you have to deal with people coming and going by
blocking off and even covering areas.”

Adds Nabity: “We built temporary barricades at storefronts to
enclose a work area, and used safety fencing outside as well as
barricading, routing traffic with signs and even personnel directing

Seate’s company uses “Various nettings along the sides of the scaffolding
to prevent any debris or construction materials from
falling into customer areas. We’ll also use different types of product: Instead of loose screws that can slip
through netting, for instance, we’ll use
ones that are premade into plastic

Night and Day

Some renovation situations call for day
and night work. Martinelli reports:
“Some mall management firms and operations
managers are easier than others.
They want the stores open as soon as possible,
but then many of them don’t give
you much help. Often you can’t work in
a mall until it closes because they don’t
want to hear screw guns and saws during
the day. We try to work during the day
whenever possible, saving the loud work,
like shooting track, for night.”

Steven Regalbuto, senior project manager
at Raymond Interior Systems in
Orange, Calif., brings up one issue in
such an arrangement: “The existing mall
at Mission Viejo was kept open through
construction on the expansion and renovation
project. We deployed day and
night crews with nights for the areas that
were open to customers and days for the
new construction areas being built. The
challenge was getting night crews operational,
as well as information sharing
between day and night crews. The day
crew had exposure to the GC’s management
team, the architects and through
daily meetings, so I would go in and get
the night crew up to speed and turn
around and keep the GC’s management
team briefed on the night crew’s experiences
so the team could resolve those
issues, and I would then relay their data
to the night crew.”

What Did You Want, Now?

A key element in any mall environment
is tenant owners, and Kirby tells the story
of KHS&S’ experience with their different
needs in the Millennium Mall.
“The tenant work involved very different
requirements for each tenant. The Gap
stores, Tiffany and Crate and Barrel generally
deal with the same contractors and
subs who are up to speed on their customers’
needs—they know where all the
problems are buried and how to get the
tough work done and still make a bit of
money. Not knowing what was wanted
on a day-to-day basis made it harder for
us to stay competitive and be profitable.

“In the case of Crate & Barrel, wood is
really important to them, so we picked up
a lot of wood finishes for the flooring,
wall panels and ceilings. Even though the
wood looked immaculate, they picked it
apart while going through the punch list,
because they were looking for certain
things that they had not told us about
before. Having full boards everywhere,
with each wall starting and stopping with
full boards, not partials, was key.

“Tiffany on the other hand, was real big
on the drywall finishes being as smooth
and slick as could be. We thought we
had a great product for them until they
took out their special lighting and
broadcast all the shadows. Tiffany did
not want shadows anywhere and were not happy with the usual
finishing of areas that were actually lit by permanent lighting.
We had to Level 5 finish, skim all the walls and ceilings.”

“Fortunately, the GC knew what the Gap owner wanted, and
the punch list had a few small items that we breezed through.
There were the usual late changes three quarters of the way
through the job the city requires an additional access panel,
so we need to change the rated walls but these things are common
on these jobs. Regardless of how much work an architect
puts into a project prior to the start of work, there are always
more changes on the fly with themed projects such as malls,
because things don’t work out as exactly expected or the owner
wants a different look. So we establish some kind of unit pricing,
an hourly rate that is agreed upon with the GC and owner,
prior to any extra work being done. While contracts invariably
forbid any extras until a change-order is in hand, the pressure
to get the item done now and ‘We’ll sign the ticket’ means
the contract is rarely followed. Agreed upon unit pricing or
hourly rates therefore protects us more.”

Keeping Things Moving

A challenge that many contractors mentioned was the subject
of schedules: “The schedules are terrible on these mall jobs,
worse than any other kind of job,” complains KHS&S’s Kirby,
“with everybody working on top of everybody else in the same
small spaces and time frame. And sometimes the quality of subs
on tenant jobs is poor: They are not there on a regular basis, not
keeping up with the schedule, or messing up the work we have
already done.

“Our biggest focus is to stay productive early on in the schedule
for framing, hanging and finishing, because when it comes
to the end of the job, the deadlines don’t slip much and we are
left to pick up the slack as one of the last people to leave. Many
people have to be there for these deadlines to be met, and these
need to be met on a weekly basis. When one little guy holds up
the job, we talk to the general and babysit the sub as much as
we can. I don’t want to tread on any toes, but even the GCs need
help on these smaller jobs—they bring one guy in from out of
town who doesn’t know who to contact in the area, so we play
their role quite a bit to get the job done.

“While it is the GC’s job, it is the responsibility of each sub to
hold up his end and to broadcast widely and early on if another
sub is holding up the show. At the end of any job, one’s ability to negotiate the reason why one was
not done on time is minimal. The time
to act is when you are being held up.
You have to give the GC and the other
subs the opportunity to repair their
problems when they arise, not wait until
the end to say, ‘I am not done because
so-and-so did not, etc.’ You don’t have
leverage anymore. And if it is not in
writing, whatever delay you are reporting
on, it did not happen.”

Elledge was luckier with his general:
“Another obstacle we had to fight, of
course, was the other subs, but we had
a good management team who scheduled
the work.”

As Chip Anderson, executive vice president
at Applied Finish Systems in
Houston, Texas, points out, ultimately,
“Mall projects turn fast as the retailers
want to start selling, creating some time
constraints.” Beth Mattson said it best
in her 1998 article “On the fast track,”
in Shopping Center World: “Contractors
are under intense pressure to deliver
retail projects in a shorter time frame,
and they’re shaving weeks, even months,
off traditional construction schedules.
Retail has always been time sensitive, but
never more so than today. The demand
for malls and stores to be up and running
in time for peak shopping seasons
and grand opening celebrations leaves
little room for delays. Moreover, retailers
and developers are facing their own
pressures to produce quick returns.”

Which brings us to the last peculiarity
of mall work: Kirby notes, “If you have
the luxury of doing both the tenant
spaces and the concourse, you will have
picked up the gaps between the tenant
and the owner. But when you are dealing
with other contractors working for
tenants, responsibility for the gaps
between the owner’s demising wall and
the storefront bulkheads may fall
between cracks—Who is responsible for
final finishing, insulation, where the
drywall starts and stops, etc.? Sometimes
you also run into material losses, things
walking off the job site. Some small contractors
may have taken a job too cheap,
or they are doing anything to make a
buck. You don’t meet that in the commercial

For Seate, the challenge with having one
contractor for the shell and numerous
contractors for tenant build outs is coordinating
the schedule, staging and performing
the work so the shell can be
worked on without cutting across the
tenant build outs below, each of which
is working on a different schedule.

Keeping projects on track is not a problem
peculiar to mall work, but renovations
on existing malls, working around
shoppers, irritated store owners, mall
management and fellow contractors
crammed into small spaces are certainly
hurdles to factor in when bidding and
taking on such projects, especially when
it means crews work at night and spend
hours cleaning and moving and removing
materials. But forewarned is fore armed.
The rewards are obviously there,
and it never hurts to have a high profile
mall in your portfolio.

About the Author

Steven Ferry is a freelance writer based
in Clearwater, Fla.

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