Aiming for faster delivery of a new hotel, with fewer disruptions to neighbors, while ensuring high-quality results, LeChase Construction built North Carolina’s first modular hotel – the AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown.
“It was fun watching it go together,” says Josh Moore, Senior Project Manager at LeChase Construction of Durham, North Carolina, the construction manager at risk. It went “from a concrete slab to a four-story hotel in just three weeks.”
The owner, OTO Development of Spartanburg, South Carolina, sought a contractor able to build the hotel using a modular approach. LeChase had experience in prefabricated bathrooms and other components, but this was its first primarily modular project.
“The owner, a national hotel builder, was looking to build the hotel faster, more cost effective and with higher quality,” Moore recalls. “Modular construction made sense as it can be a better way for franchisees to build hotels by minimizing unknowns and reducing the contract schedule.”
The AC Hotel in Chapel Hill is Marriott’s third modular project constructed in the United States.
While this project represented LeChase’s first modular job, the full-service company has operated in the construction industry for more than 75 years. It employs 750 people and generates more than $1 billion in revenue annually.
“LeChase builds partnerships in everything we do,” says Seth London, Vice President of LeChase. “Josh and his team took partnership to the next level. Partnership was key to the success of this job.”
A Blend of Modern and Traditional Design
Overcash Demmitt Architects of Charlotte, North Carolina, designed the 114,334-square-foot hotel to have a European vibe with modern sophistication and blended with Southern traditions.
“AC Hotel Chapel Hill melds modern sophistication with the traditional warmth of Southern hospitality,” says Corry Oakes, President/CEO of OTO Development, which operates the new property. “More than simply somewhere to stay, this hotel is an opportunity for guests to experience the essence of Chapel Hill, a place locals call ‘the southern part of heaven.’”
The hotel’s first floor contains a lobby, a fitness center, a restaurant and bar, 650 square feet of meeting space and seven guest rooms, built using conventional construction methods. Floors two through four hold 116 guest rooms, built using the modular method. Two levels of underground parking provide space for 111 vehicles.
The hotel earned LEED accreditation. Green features include a green roof, minimizing the heat island effect; a high-performance HVAC system; LED lighting; low-flow plumbing fixtures; the use of recycled, regionally sourced products; electric car charging stations; expansive windows to bring natural light into the structure; and diverting 75 percent of the construction waste.
A contemporary façade, with floor-to-ceiling windows, complements the surrounding downtown structures. The roofline of the hotel’s wings “step down” toward the neighboring residential Northside community, creating an attractive transition between larger commercial buildings on one side and homes on the other.
The hotel is expected to help in the revitalization of Chapel Hill’s central business district and is within walking distance of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, providing lodging for visitors to the campus, especially for sporting events.
“In Chapel Hill, there are not enough hotels to serve the need, and this hotel was built to fulfill that need,” London says.
Reducing Construction Time
LeChase began the $21 million project, in July 2016, by demolishing three buildings with businesses and a restaurant on the site, which is surrounded by homes, businesses, and two streets. Two buildings required asbestos abatement. The company repurposed some materials and a stone retaining wall. The city was concerned about the effect construction would have on the neighborhood. The modular design reduced the time of construction and the number of workers needed at the site.
Then excavation for the underground parking deck began. Crews removed about 25,000 cubic yards of soil. During excavation, crews encountered rock, which was drilled and broken up using conventional equipment.
A concrete foundation supports the structure. LeChase used a 25-foot-tall soil-nail shoring system prior to pouring the foundation and the garage’s concrete walls up to grade. The system included reinforcing bars of up to 30 feet under adjacent properties and roads.
Above grade, the building features a structural steel podium, resting on footings. The top of the first floor has a metal deck topped with concrete, providing a surface for the 68 modular components, which were manufactured by Champion Commercial Structures in Liverpool, Pennsylvania, using an assembly-line process. Each unit was fully inspected before it was shipped to Chapel Hill.
“There is a lot of work that goes into modular before they show up on your site,” Moore reports. “You have to make sure everything is right, because the day the modules show up, the project goes into high-gear.”
Each module consisted of two rooms, separated by a hallway. The rooms were complete, with everything needed – furniture, mattresses, bathroom fixtures, a television, windows and an HVAC system. The hall was not finished, so crews could connect the electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems to the units. Then LeChase hung drywall, painted and installed carpet in the hallways.
The 35,000-pound modules were lifted into place by a 550-ton tower crane. LeChase stacked the modules all of the way to the roof. A temporary roof comes installed on the top-floor module. Therefore, crews lifted modules on top of each other rather than completing the second floor before the third and fourth floors sequentially.
LeChase left sleeves in the second floor concrete slab to install water drains. Everything had to line up correctly. Additionally, the second floor slab had to fit exactly. Even a few inches off on a 200-foot-long slab would create problems when setting the modules. LeChase hired a surveyor to ensure the correct placement of everything.
“There was tight coordination,” Moore says. “Instead of measuring twice and cutting once, we measured four or five times.”
The AC hotel was constructed in only 17 months, three months faster than with traditional methods. LeChase received an Eagle Award from the Carolinas Associated Builders and Contractors.
“Our team took on a new concept and made it work through a lot of work and effort to deliver a very successful project,” Moore says.
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