Modular Construction: A Rising Trend for New York Builders

There are several construction challenges in the New York metro area, including rising demand for affordable housing, as well as the greater pressures laid on the shoulders of builders and firms to make up for budgetary shortfalls or face blacklisting. It’s therefore not a surprise that people in the industry have their ears to the ground for the next great idea that’s going to cut costs and delays without sacrificing quality. 

According to recent reports, modular construction may be the solution that New York City builders consider. While this method is seldom used, costs continue to increase, which appears to be outpacing any risk factors that kept it out of the running before. Current construction projects in the area that use modular methods include the AC NoMad Modular Hotel by Marriott the affordable housing structure at 581 Grant Ave, numerous other real estate ventures.

Modular Construction, In a Nutshell

For those that haven’t looked carefully at the process before, the words “modular construction” might hearken to mental images of trailers and the Sears catalog houses of yore: Prefabricated, cookie-cutter designs. In truth, the kind of modular construction that’s coming into vogue in NYC uses the same materials, techniques, and standards as your facility built the traditional way. The structure is broken down into sections, or modules, that are constructed in factory settings, then transported and fitted on site. 

What Kinds of Cost Benefits Are There to Modular Construction? reports that building in this way has many benefits, including: 

  • A safer, indoor work environment with fewer dangers for construction workers and fewer potentially costly liabilities;
  • Reduced material waste through careful control of inventory and recycling materials where possible;
  • Faster completion, up to 30 to 50 percent faster than conventional projects because work in the factory setting and the foundation can happen at the same time;
  • Fewer water delays due to weather, because the majority of construction is completed indoors, and more.

All of the above benefits have their ways of saving money, whether by reducing the cost of materials by reducing waste, or by eliminating a number of potential delays. The latter is especially crucial at a time when the law as it stands means penalties for construction firms that are deemed to be taking too long on certain projects. 

Despite the build-transport-assemble system, the result, once completed, looks no different than structures built on-site in a conventional way. 

Do Risks Outweigh the Benefits? 

There are likely several reasons, other than lack of awareness, that modular construction only accounts for about five percent of commercial construction projects. For instance, Million Acres reports that modular construction can pose a problem in a few instances: 

  • Transporting the modules poses its own unique challenges, given their size and delicacy.
  • Installing them once transported, especially in dense urban areas, will likewise be an issue to negotiate. 
  • Zoning laws, which differ from locale to locale, may prevent its use. 
  • While modular projects allow for lots of customization, it’s not as versatile as more conventional means. 

For now, a growing trend in using modular construction in commercial and residential ventures continues, with unusual optimism concerning cost-effective, affordable housing initiatives.

College Square Is a Delaware Redevelopment Project To Watch in 2020

There are many large development projects underway in Delaware this year. Among them is the redevelopment of a 325,000 square-foot shopping center into the College Square Williams Crossing Retail and Apartments in New Castle. The 46.10-acre property will now be the site for a mixed-use plaza with 305 residential units in two four-story apartment buildings.

Plans to renovate to the outdated retail center have been in the works for years, but the final plans were approved last March and demolition began in August. The residential units are expected to be primarily one and two bedrooms, with some three-bedroom units. The complex will also include a business center, fitness center, media room, and outdoor pool.

There will be some retail as well, with some stores, along with a coffee shop and restaurants expected. No tenants have been announced. New Castle-based developer Fusco Enterprises also plans to build a road through the center and offer some green space with a community plaza with tables and benches.

Previous renovation on the north side of the square will remain part of the new property. No timeline has been set, but Fusco attorneys have said the developer hopes to have it completed within two years.

LIC’s Urban Lab & Research Conversions

It might come as a surprise to some that there is an increasing demand for usable space for science labs in the New York City area, particularly space for life sciences. While it is easy to assume that this manner of work will take place largely in hospitals or on college campuses, in an area such as this, with community-wide efforts to improve human quality of life as well as the environment centered around human life, continuing research and more space to do it has come into very high demand, and rather than build new labs, converting existing structures has been the more common move. 

Just across the river from Midtown Manhattan, Long Island City is the site of one of the latest endeavors of this type, InnoLabs Life Sciences Facility. JLL Capital Markets has secured $156 million in financing for 45-18 Court Square, intending to refit it into a suitable property for a full life sciences lab and research facility. 

What Can You Expect of a Project Like 45-18 Court Square?

Currently, the Court Square property includes a 6-story office building with a freight elevator and a basement large enough for storage and equipment. It has more than 160,000 square feet of usable space, as well as another potential 100,000+ square feet of usable space. 

The intent is to convert this into a “purpose-built” lab facility with a few significant changes, such as:

  • Building a 4-story addition above the 2-story annex; and
  • Two ground-up additions on top of vacant parking lots, each 6 stories in height.  

Are There Certain Qualities a Building Needs to Be Suitable for Lab Setups?

A number of properties like 45-18 Court Square need upgrades and adjustments to be safe spaces for lab areas, to include improved electricals, making available loading areas, proper and safe ventilation, and more. The Court Square location, sources report, has several of characteristics going for it that already make it an attractive spot to start building, including: 

  • Quality and type of floor plates already present in existing structures;
  • The freight elevator setup, which makes transporting sensitive equipment and specimens much easier;
  • Its sizeable basement for storage; and
  • Ample square footage of developable space. 

Its central location in Long Island City is another characteristic that investors are hoping will make the finished property especially useful as this industry continues to boom. 

For Completion, What Remains to Be Done?

For bidders considering this or similar projects, the nature of the various tasks to be completed is present in the relevant details: Any firm taking this on can expect some refurbishing of existing systems, such as electrical and plumbing, including the need to ensure that sources of backup power can be secured. Multiple-story additions that meet the same standards as the rest of the facility are also on the docket. Firms are encouraged to keep a weather eye on the horizon for further updates. With continuing demand for lab research space in the metro area, Court Square will come up again, and so will similar opportunities. 

With the New Decade, East Side Access Project Edges Toward Completion

In recent weeks, protracted infrastructure updates have been a significant point of discussion in breaking construction news for Manhattan. In the face of major undertakings that will carry forward with ongoing work for developers and laborers for the next twenty years, there’s some optimism in knowing that another long-standing project in Manhattan may finally see an end in sight. With the 2020s underway, the East Side Access project, aiming to link Grand Central Terminal to the Long Island railroad, may, at last, be on its way to completion. In interviews this year, Governor Cuomo has boldly sworn to this, even if he has to pick up a shovel and do it himself. 

Why Have There Been So Many Delays on East Side Access? 

The East Side Access project has been in development since the 1990s, but the inspiration for it came in the late 1960s. With its completion predicted for 2009, this deadline has been missed by more than a decade now. According to City & State, the project, which would build train tunnels under the East River, has readjusted its deadline at least six times, and the budget has nearly tripled in this time. The hope, when finally finished, is that the new connection will reduce congestion on the LIRR side of things, where demand for steady transportation is growing (with 90 million riding every year), and they struggle to keep up. 

Sources attribute this tardiness to unexpected delays and budget constraints, which are issues that have been discussed at length here at CISleads that tend to sit further and further outside of developer’s hands the longer a project goes on. They are some of the major shortfalls of your average open-ended project, and the East Side Access project, in terms of project length, is not an average anything.

What Remains to Be Done?

Since at least February, sources have been reporting that the hard deadline for completion is December 2022 and not a day later. At that point in time, journalists were given a tour of the progress far beneath the streets of Manhattan, where laborers have been hard at work round the clock. Seven months later, it was reported that still more funding was sought. At the end of the year, then, what will fill the coming two years? 

Thus far, laborers are moving toward the completion of: 

  • The new tracks running under the East River.
  • The new platforms under Grand Central Station.
  • A new entrance to Grand Central Station at 48th street, as well as repairing a rail connection in Queens that has gone without refurbishment for some time.

The MTA assures that the deadline is in place, and the budget at $11.2 billion, will not go a penny over. Once open in 2022, the new connections are expected to reduce congestion in LIRR and show at least a 50 percent increase in commuters from Long Island and Queens into Manhattan.

New York Solar Panel and Green Roof Legislation Goes Into Effect

In November of 2019, the City of New York enacted new laws that will affect all roof construction in the metropolitan area. Aiming to attack issues of sustainability, including clean air and power conservation, laws 92 and 94 state that any major construction on a roof must be covered in either solar panels or a green roof system. 

Part of the City Council’s Climate Mobilization Act, these are single steps in the city’s campaign to move toward the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in renewable energy sources. 

What Is the Extent of the New Laws?

Laws 92 and 94 come together to establish the legal requirements and exceptions for new construction and the inclusion of solar panels or green space when building new roofs or improving old ones. 

Specifics include: 

  • The laws together affect new construction, new roofs on expansions and additions for existing buildings, as well as roofs that are being fully replaced. 
  • “Replacing the entire existing roof deck or roof assembly will trigger compliance with these new laws,” reports Hoffman Architects. 
  • Affected buildings and construction types are required to install either solar paneling, green roofs, or a combination of the two. 
  • There is a certain size that a contiguous roof area must meet before it is required to create a sustainable roof zone. For residential spaces, the requirement is 100 square feet or greater, and for all other buildings, it is 200 feet. 
  • Overly steep rooftops are exempted from the green space requirement, as they would be nearly impossible to plant vegetation on. 
  • Apartment terraces and schools will not be affected by this legislation.
  • Property owners are required to buy and maintain the solar panels, but legislators expect that energy savings will make up the cost. 
  • All new filings on or after November 15th, 2019, for building permits are required to certify their compliance with the new laws. 

How Will This Affect Future Construction Projects?

There are several ways in which these new laws are going to affect future endeavors, some of which homeowners and property owners have begun to voice since the legislation’s passing. Homeowners and developers have expressed concerns about the additional cost inherent in the addition of solar panels or green roofs, not just from the installations themselves but also the loss of interest from potential buyers with skeptical views of sustainable technology. For new construction, it will always mean that consideration for these new systems will go in at the planning stages, just as electrical and other utilities might. 

While property owners building or expanding their dream home must bear the financial burden of installing and managing their solar panels, to the tune of an average of $30,000, legislators believe that the savings in energy costs will make up the cost. Some say this is not happening quickly enough, and question a lack of tax incentives to help in this manner. For developers of larger structures, that savings may become more quickly apparent. However, it is still an additional cost to consider in the planning stages, just like mandated bird-safe glass on high rises, reported here at CISLeads in 2019.

Murphy Puts Focus on Fixing Water Infrastructure, Lead Issues

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy presented his state-of-the-state address this week and cited addressing water infrastructure issues and lead exposure as one of his priorities for the coming year.

Murphy spoke about the Newark water crisis last year and pledged to attack the lead issues—in pipes and paint—across the state in a way that would translate into a lot of jobs in the industry.

“We will need to mobilize a veritable army of union workers – plumbers and pipefitters, remediation experts, carpenters and laborers, among so many other tradespeople,” Murphy said.

But that work might not come this year despite the urgency. The governor admitted that the funding is not secured, and the amount needed is unknown at this point. He says it will require “a significant investment” and hopes to let the public decide on election day.

“Let’s work together, now, to come to an agreement on what this investment needs to be — so we can put it before the voters this November, and can invest in our communities that much faster,” he said.

As this is one of Murphy’s major initiatives for 2020, NJ residents can expect more details on his plan to tackle these issues and the possible number of jobs and projects that will be part of the solution in his budget address later in the year.

Pennsylvania Adds Funds for Construction Projects; Governor Pushes for Infrastructure Funding Program

January brings many state-of-the-state addresses by governors, who announce their priorities and budget plans for the coming year. In Pennsylvania, however, many counties didn’t have to wait for 2020’s speech to know some money was coming their way for infrastructure and construction needs. On December 30, Governor Tom Wolf announced the approval of more than $5 million in funding through the Keystone Communities program for 42 revitalization projects that include construction and business development.

The following funds and projects were included in the governor’s announcement:

Bucks County

  • Quakertown: $50,000 façade grant for a façade improvement program in the designated Keystone Main Street area of Quakertown Borough, benefiting at least ten storefronts.
  • Redevelopment Authority of Bucks County: $50,000 façade grant for a façade improvement program in downtown Bristol, benefiting at least ten storefronts.

Delaware County

  • Lansdowne Economic Development Corp.: $50,000 to assist in the construction of the Lansdowne Maker Space, a 2,500-square-foot tech-based maker space.

Philadelphia County

  • City of Philadelphia: $250,000 for renovations to the Happy Hollow playground at the Happy Hollow Recreation Center in Germantown, to address the failing conditions of the playground and to restructure its layout, install new site furnishings and lighting, replace equipment, purchase and install safety surface material and new outdoor fitness equipment.

Wolf is also hoping his state legislature backs his Restore Pennsylvania multibillion-dollar capital plan that he proposed last year to help with the state’s infrastructure issues. Funding the plan requires a severance tax on natural gas and has met with resistance. Wolf recently tweeted that if the plan gets approved, some of that money can be used to help with the infrastructure issues in Philadelphia schools—including remediating contaminants such as asbestos.

Four Philadelphia schools had to close this school year because of asbestos. The superintendent recently outlined an Environmental Safety Improvement Plan, which will use $12 million in funds from its budget to speed up asbestos abatement in the impacted schools.

Passaic City Council Moves to Acquire Land for Redevelopment

Keep an eye on Passaic in the new year. Big redevelopment opportunities may be coming.

This week, the city council introduced a redevelopment plan and $1.6 million bond ordinance to buy a stretch of railroad track between Pulaski Park and Dundee Island Park, which broke ground last month on a re-design that calls for a new soccer field, playground, garden, amphiteater, and river walk.

The plan proposed for the 2.7-acre plot, which would connect the two parks, calls for up to 265 housing units, with an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the units being used for low- or moderate-income housing. There will also be retail space, as the mayor hopes to lure new businesses to a neighborhood that is known as a high crime area.

A public hearing on the bond ordinance and the redevelopment plan will be held on Jan. 7.

A Waterfront Oasis: East Midtown Greenway Underway

As temperatures plummet and holiday shoppers swell in the shopping districts, so too does one of Manhattan’s latest projects kick-off, aiming to beautify the area and expand on local park space. As of late November, contractors in Midtown commenced construction on the new East Midtown Greenway, a $100 million project that will stretch over 1.5 acres of waterfront park space along the East River. Parallel to FDR drive and stretching from 53rd to 61st streets, Mayor de Blasio views the undertaking as a major step toward “returning the waterfront of New York City to New Yorkers.”

The Manhattan Waterfront Greenway: The Story So Far

This is a single leg of a much larger foreshoreway along the island of Manhattan, stretching a full 32 miles of pedestrian space separate from motorways. The aim of a greenway is to add more undeveloped space in urban areas, creating more green space as a way to benefit the environment but also provide natural surroundings and recreation space for pedestrians. The East Midtown Greenway is just one more step toward adding more flora to a living city. Right now, the planned and developed portions of the overall Manhattan Greenway include three major prongs:

  • The Hudson River Greenway. The longest greenway of all three, this one stretches along the West Side, from Battery Park in the south to Dykman street further north. 
  • The Harlem River Greenway. This one at least in part follows the path of the old Harlem River Speedway, running uninterrupted from Dykman street all the way through Lower Highbridge Park at 155th Street.
  • The East River Greenway. The last portion runs from Battery Park all the way down to 125th Street, but there is a 1.3-mile gap where this latest project will be coming in at long last, narrowing it if not filling it completely. Funding for this has been in the works since at least 2017, according to the New York Times. 

What Remains of the Current Project, and What Is Still to Come?

For now, ground has only just been broken, so most of the East Midtown Greenway project remains to be done. Current plans include the following:

  • Creating a 40-foot wide esplanade along the whole of the waterfront for pedestrians and bikers. 
  • Renovating and extending Andrew Hasweel Green Park that will touch the greenway’s northern border. 
  • Adding a new pedestrian bridge that will be accessible for any visitors with disabilities. 
  • Developing a widened area for environmental programming near 53rd street that will also include an art installation by Stacy Levy.

The full scope of labor that will go into this will involve Skanska USA as construction manager, with engineering consultation firm Stantec in charge of landscape architecture and the full gamut of waterfront, electrical, structural, and civil engineering. 

The project, expected to be completed by 2022, promises to further the City of New York’s goal to create an uninterrupted path through Manhattan for bikers and pedestrians, but until then should provide a steady flow of jobs dedicated to completing their proposed vision. The project, once completed, will be maintained by the New York Parks Department.

PATCO’s Franklin Square Station Project Secures Government Funding, On Track To Begin Construction Next Summer

The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) has secured funding to help with the renovation and reopening  of Philadelphia’s the Franklin Square Station.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded DRPA more than $12.5 million for renovation and reopening of the PATCO Franklin Square Station. The money is a Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program, which is used to invest in projects that will “have a significant local or regional impact.”

The DRPA will finance the rest of the cost of the proposed $30-million project to reopen the station, which has been shuttered for 40 years.

The architecture and engineering design phase is nearly complete, according to officials, and construction on the station–that has been closed since 1979–is expected to begin in late 2020. DRPA has set an opening date of Summer 2023, according to the PATCO press release announcing the funding.

The renovation and construction will improve the station’s civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical systems and  provide access in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the release that also said for riders to reach the concourse area, a new head house building will be constructed where the previous head house was located at the corner of 7th and Race Street.

The glass roof on the “head house” would not only allow for natural light but also a green roof of vegetation to help manage stormwater runoff and provide insulation.

When it reopens, Franklin Square will be the first stop on the Pennsylvania side of the Ben Franklin Bridge for the rail line that connects South Jersey to Philadelphia.