2 Sonoma County hotels part of growing wave of modular construction
The North Bay is set to make a big entry into the world of permanent modular construction this summer, as the first of two five-story hotels are set to start rising like stacked blocks in a process that can shave nearly a year off the build.
It's part of a national trend where developers are turning to manufacturers to help with soaring construction labor costs and lengthening project-approval times.
Crews started digging up a parking lot between Davis Street and Highway 101 in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square district in January for an AC Hotel location, one of Marriott International's new upscale lifestyle brands. But over 12 hours by heavy truck and a few states away, the 142 guest rooms for that hotel have been rolling of construction lines in Guerdon Modular's sprawling Boise, Idaho, factory since fall.
Elsewhere in Boise, Prefab Logic is gearing up to produce 100 rooms in 60 modules for one of Marriott's Farifield Inn & Suites locations, to be delivered to a nearly 2-acre site at 405 Martin Ave. in Rohnert Park. The company also had helped Factory_OS set up its 267,000-square-foot factory on Vallejo's Mare Island, which nearly a year ago started turning out some of the 1,000-plus modules Google ordered for employee housing.
The Santa Rosa project will have a concrete first story, with the lobby and amenities such as lounge and restaurant. With 20 days of rain since the project started and subcontractors having trouble staffing crew, the timetable for the concrete podium to be completed is four to six months.
But up to two months before that structure is complete, 80 percent of the modules will start rolling out of Boise for a staging site about a mile away from Railroad Square, according to Mark Hegarty, vice president of operations for MW Builders, the Texas-based general contractor for the project. Then will begin what's planned to be a carefully orchestrated caravan of two or three modules at a time from the staging site on specially designed flatbed trailers to where a crane will hoist each into position over three to four weeks.
As that process starts, the remainder of the modules will leave the factory, Hegarty said.
Another time-saver at the construction site with modular construction is local inspections. Because of the volume of work coming out of Boise, California has positioned building inspectors there to stamp approved modules bound for the Golden State. That leaves less for local inspectors to have to check before granting the certificate of occupancy.
Because the modules arrive fully finished and furnished, the next three to four months after will be spent largely on exterior, hallway and common area finishes, Hegarty said. Each module has a guest room and lavatory on either end of a hallway cross section. Plumbing and wiring for each room is brought to a junction box in the hallway, and after the units are stacked, crews connect utilities and finish the hallway. This plug-and-play volumetric modular construction leaves the rooms needing after installation largely just cleaning and adding flat-panel televisions, which tend to be targets of theft if put in at the factory, according to a Marriott official.
'It has eliminated six to eight months (from the construction time), depending on the size of the building,' Hegarty said. This is MW Builders's first project with modular hospitality project, but the contractor has employed panelized building, where walls and joists arrive prebuilt.
Conventional construction can take up to 22 months for this type of project, as framing for the rooms would take about a half-year after the podium was complete, Hegarty said. The scheduled opening is in March 2020.
Two big factors for going modular with the Santa Rosa project were workforce availability for subcontractors and the cramped size of the job site, said Hegarty and Todd Winnerman, MW Builders president.
'Shipping costs push (modular) out of a lot of markets (outside California),' Winnerman said. 'Hospitality projects in (conventional) wood framing is quite a bit less expensive than working projects in California.'
Rebuild activity after the wildfires in the North Bay in October 2017 and further north in California last summer have made finding local contractors difficult not just at a reasonable price but at any price, he said.
'We're pulling in some (subcontractors) from the Sacramento area and Central Valley,' Hegarty said.
Dallas-based Bedford Lodging, developer of the AC Hotel in Santa Rosa, estimates that even including sizable transportation costs of moving modules from Idaho to California, going that construction route probably whittled 20 to 25 percent from the hard construction costs, according to President Jeff Blackman. But in the middle of the U.S., modular construction may be over 10 percent higher than conventional methods.