Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Forest City: 10th floor modules in B2 prefab tower must be realigned before building higher (but what about lower floors?)

Lower floors of B2, just above scaffolding
Developer Forest City Ratner has finally admitted that modules in the long-stalled B2 tower--once touted as "cracking the code" for modular construction--require realignment before the building can be finished.

Curiously enough, Forest City on Monday disclosed plans to realign (and possibly lift-and-reset) modules only on the tenth and current highest floor, as if setting a new base for the additional 22 floors.

Forest City acknowledged that the tolerances--the permissible range of variation--of the tenth floor modules require tightening.

However, as shown in the photo at right, the lower floors seem slightly out of alignment as well. Former contractor Skanska has warned that "No one knows if the building is going to leak."

So the announcement--which said work could begin April 1--leaves some question marks. Realigning the lower floor modules would be more complicated and likely require modules to be removed.  (It's unclear when the cumulative effect of out-of-tolerance modules becomes a problem.)

Forest City, which sunk millions of dollars into the modular factor at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has said only a finished building will be proof of concept and, potentially, the launch of a new business line. It has been producing new modules at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and should have a stream available for construction.

In the shorter term, it likely wants simply to finish the 32-story B2, not default on construction loans, and deliver the promised housing. Half of the 363 units will be below-market/affordable.

Stalled since August

The tower at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, the first started in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Project, has been stalled at ten stories since last August, after a bitter dispute between Forest City and Skanska--also the lead partner in the modular factory--emerged.

The two parties have filed dueling lawsuits; Skanska asserts that Forest City's plan was flawed, while Forest City blames Skanska's execution. Forest City has since taken over the modular factory, rehiring some workers, newly hiring others. (Updated and clarified) While not involved in the factory, Turner Construction is the new general contractor for the overall construction of the building.

While modular construction was originally supposed to save time and money, the building may take four years, not two, and Forest City announced a $146 million impairment (potential loss) only some of which may be recovered in litigation. 

Forest City's new partner/overseer, Greenland Holdings, since decided that it was feasible to build the next towers via conventional construction. That means--take your pick--that Greenland thinks (unlike Forest City) it can make a sufficient profit; or Greenland can accept a lower profit; or the market has since changed. 

Or maybe it just that modular would not work as expected, and Forest City made a deal to share some risk.

The tower, when launched in December 2012, was supposed to be the tallest modular building in the world, but has since been eclipsed.

Announcing the plans

The latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Brooklyn Construction Update (below), issued yesterday by Empire State Development after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, contained the following news regarding B2:
B2 is targeting 4/01/15 as the commencement date for the activities to prepare for the erection of modules for floors 11, 12, and 13. Preparation may require 5-10 business days depending on how difficult the work is as well as weather conditions. These preparation activities will be to focus on tightening up the tolerances of the 10th floor modules that are in place in preparation for setting the next floors. Work shall include re-aligning modules in plan [updated: horizontal view] and elevation using bolt on adjustment plates and/or possibly lifting some modules with the crane and re-setting. Other activities on site that may be performed during this time will be to prepare temporary sprinkler standpipe and the metal stairs for the setting of the 11th floor.
An "easy fix"?

“Am I right that some of the mods are out of alignment,” asked resident Robert Puca at a meeting last November.

“So I know that a lot of people have asked this question, it’s been written about,” responded Forest City executive Ashley Cotton. "Any alignment issues that may exist… is an easy fix. I know what you mean, that’s why I don’t want to say you’re imagining it, but I have been assured again and again that we know exactly what's going on there, and that will be fixed."

Now we know at least the start of the fix.

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