Turner Construction Co. Completes Huntsville Torch Technologies Renovation
Huntsville, a city reliant on the defense and aerospace industries, has embraced the redevelopment of the Alabama community’s south side. Torch Technologies has set the stage for growth in the area, after Turner Construction Co. completed a $7.5 million renovation of Torch’s headquarters and built a conference center, together referred to as the Freedom Center.
“We understand the history here and are proud to have worked alongside the city of Huntsville to breathe life back into this once-vibrant area of town,” said Bill Roark, CEO of Freedom Real Estate and Capital, owner of the buildings.
The Revitalization of South Huntsville
Lee Holland, Project Executive with Turner’s Huntsville office and operations lead on the project and a Huntsville native, explained that the South Huntsville area was a thriving area for retail and businesses in the 1960s and 1970s, until newer shopping centers opened and drew some of those businesses away. The project is part of an effort to revitalize South Huntsville, near the country’s Redstone Arsenal.
Holland called this Freedom Center and renovation project significant for the city. “The projection is that we will see more development go on along South Memorial Parkway,” Holland says.
Matheny Goldmon Architecture + Interior, Huntsville, designed the new building and the renovations. Turner participated in preconstruction activities and offered suggestions about materials, systems, costs and alternatives.
The buildings, built in the early 1980s, originally had been the offices of Nichols Research, a space and defense company. Roark, founder of Torch, had worked at Nichols early in his career. One of the buildings had been vacant for years before Roark’s real estate company, Freedom Real Estate and Capital, developed the Freedom Center, connecting two existing office buildings for Torch Technologies, a defense contractor.
Torch employs about 700 people, adding nearly 300 jobs since the project was initiated. Torch received incentives from the city and state to stay in the city, to add jobs and to redevelop the properties. Torch added almost twice as many jobs as was projected.
“I’m pleased to see Torch Technologies expanding in the Tennessee Valley, bringing 150 new jobs to the area,” said U.S. Representative Mo Brooks at the groundbreaking. “This employee-owned company has had a presence in the community for over 10 years, and The Freedom Center will continue their mission to provide superior research, development and engineering services to the Department of Defense.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and Mayor Tommy Battle also praised the expansion project and the job creation at the groundbreaking.
The city is expanding South Memorial Parkway, the road in front of the Freedom Center, and adding new overpasses. The city also is building a new high school in the area.
The project included three phases, which all took place while Torch occupied the buildings. Phase one, completed in October 2015, included renovation of a 40,000-square-foot, four-story building at 4090 South Memorial Parkway. During phase two, Turner constructed a one-story, 12,000-square-foot building, which connects two existing properties, adding conference rooms, a main entrance and a catering kitchen. Phase three remodeled the 40,000-square-foot, four-story building at 4035 Chris Drive. Turner also added a new parking lot.
Turner gutted the buildings and went floor by floor adding new finishes, upgrading flooring, refurbishing the lobby, adding new electrical and information technology wiring and installing a new HVAC system.
“The challenge was we had occupied buildings,” Holland says. “There was close coordination with the client. And in the case of the addition, there were two operating facilities, and we were building between the two.”
The new conference center building has a steel frame and is founded on geopiers and spread footings. Aluminum panels, masonry and storefront glass clad the exterior. It is topped with a white, reflective thermoplastic polyolefin roof. The company used high-efficiency glass.
The design of it has an elliptical shape, which created some interesting challenges for the layout crew. It ties the two existing buildings together. At one of the buildings, crews had to cut into an existing glass curtain wall. Matheny Goldmon brought in a third-party envelope consultant, Steve Ward & Associates of Nashville, Tennessee, to ensure it went well.
Employing Lean Methods
Turner implemented Lean construction practices on the project to eliminate waste and operate as efficiently as possible. It’s a comprehensive management approach to delivering the most value from a client’s perspective while consuming the least amount resources possible.
The construction company implements Lean thinking during both design and construction phases by facilitating development of a clear definition of the owner’s needs, clarifying the scope and hand-off criteria of all specialists, and rigorous management of hand-offs between specialists.
Lean processes included using pull planning – a scheduling method that allows crews to work backwards from project milestones to help identify inefficiencies and produce a predictable flow of work.
“We take traditional scheduling and flip it,” Holland says. “Rather than us putting together a schedule, we bring all of the parties involved and together, using a white board and post-it notes, and [we] develop the schedule. We can do it faster and more efficiently.”
The trades performing the work help determine the critical path and the best way to build the job. Turner schedules six to eight weeks at a time. The objective is to keep design teams and construction crews working on well-defined deliverables at a reliable and predictable pace, eliminating waste in all forms but especially re-work and waiting.
“The project goes smoother and you have some time savings,” Holland says. All together “that makes the project more successful.”
Turner also employs a “ladders last” approach to building its projects. “We are going to find another way to accomplish that task without getting on a ladder,” Holland explains. That may involve using scissor lifts, boom lifts or personnel lifts. If a ladder must be used, the worker has to sign it out and receive a tag for it. The superintendent assesses the risk and offers suggestions about how to avoid them.
“It resulted in a great safety record on the project,” Holland reports. “There were no lost-time accidents on the project.”
The company also used a “nothing hits the ground” policy. Everything was stored on pallets or portable racks and carts. The intent is to keep a clean work site and keep the job site safe. If a worker is cutting a metal stud, the piece being cut off falls into a trashcan, not the floor.
“All of these things work together to create a more efficient space,” Holland says. “A clean job site reflects on the client as well.”