Turner Construction Creates New Huntsville Botanical Garden Welcome Center
A community treasure for nearly 30 years, the Huntsville Botanical Garden will soon open a $13 million welcome center, designed to put an iconic new face on the 112-acre year-round Alabama attraction.
“Our goal is to be able to serve our members and visitors as best we can,” says Paula Steigerwald, CEO of the gardens. “We want to offer additional amenities.”
The garden’s attendance, volunteers and memberships continue to grow and demand for event space in the community remains high. Garden leadership identified five projects in its strategic plan. The welcome center was one of those projects. The others included a new entranceway and parking space. The garden also added a trillium collection, now the largest in the country accredited by the Plant Collections Network.
“The architect and contractors all understand what this project means to the community,” Steigerwald says. “They are making something special for the community.”
Design and Construction
Matheny Goldmon Architecture + Interiors of Huntsville designed the 30,000-square-foot, two-story welcome center. It contains a grand hall for 350 seated guests, a carriage house with space for 150 to 200 people, a glass conservatory that seats 50 people, two catering kitchens, office space, a gift shop and café open to the public, and a two-story atrium with a cupola on top.
“It’s dramatically different than what is there now,” reports Lee Holland, Project Executive with Turner Construction Co. in Huntsville.
Turner provided preconstruction services and worked collaboratively with the architects and owner and garden board members, throughout the process.
“All team players were at the table as the design was developing,” Holland recalls. “That is our preference on any project. We are proponents of everyone working together. This project has been a huge team effort with collaboration and open discussion.”
That teamwork continued after construction began in January 2016. Turner used Lean Construction best practices, including Last Planner Scheduling.
“It has gone well,” Steigerwald says. “Lee has pulled a team together that has been able to coordinate every aspect.”
Safety remains a priority. Turner asked all subcontractors to use scissor lifts or single personnel lifts to reduce the use of ladders and their associated risks. All stored materials are on pallets or on racks to keep a clean jobsite and, therefore, reduce the risk of injuries. “A clean jobsite is a safe jobsite,” Holland says.
Additionally, with some materials having a long lead time for production, Turner did not want items on the jobsite where they could be inadvertently damaged, since it would not be easy to replace them. “This project entails just about every type of construction possible,” Holland says.
The welcome center has a structural steel frame on a concrete foundation, resting on geopiers. The roof combines a metal-truss system, a light membrane roof on another section, architectural shingles and a glass ceiling on the conservatory. The ceiling was constructed on site and lifted into place with a crane.
The exterior includes brick, stone and cast stone. The building features miles of trim work on the exterior and interior. Turner is self-performing some of the exterior trim and has hired a subcontractor to handle the interior trim.
All work, including utility relocations, took place while the gardens remained open for business. “We were the guests,” Holland says. “We tried to be as self-contained as we could.”
“What makes this special is it’s the community’s garden,” Holland says. “It’s been a community coming together with fundraising and ideas.”
With that in mind, Turner leadership brought together a team to build the project with not only the construction skills but also years of experience and the ability to manage and work well with people and communicate to ensure the project’s success. Company team members routinely give tours of the project to volunteers, community leaders and board members.
“It’s high visibility,” Holland adds. “We are making sure all of the people who have played a part in the project have an opportunity to see it and experience the construction.”
Turner hired local subcontractors wherever possible. Turner, and its predecessor Universal Construction, has been in Huntsville for more than 60 years and has built many of the federal, industrial and commercial buildings in the region. After World War II, Huntsville grew as a defense, space and research community.
“It’s a unique market and our people have a unique skill set and are talented people with experience,” Holland says. “We take a lot of pride in being a part of this project.”
Turner invited students from the Limestone County Technical School to visit the jobsite. About 50 students learned about safety on a construction project and met with representatives of various skilled trade workers who discussed what they do and how they became interested in their field of expertise.
“We tried to set it up as fun and educational and thought it would help the high school students think about what they want to do in the future,” Holland explains. “It was fun for us and the subcontractors.”
Turner and the garden have celebrated many project milestones and held a groundbreaking ceremony in January 2016 and a topping out ceremony in September, when the iconic cupola was placed on the building. The event went smoothly with donors, board members and community leaders in attendance.
The project is on track for a March 2017 finish.
“It’s been a wonderful experience getting to know the volunteers, the garden leadership, and the board members,” Holland says. “It’s become a personal project for our team. Many of us are natives of Huntsville. The garden is special to a lot of people.”