Case Study: Construction Schedule Slashed in Half for Hokie Housing Project

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By: Rick Hinson, PE

The Town of Blacksburg, Virginia, home of the Virginia Tech Hokies, has undergone significant development over the last few years. In 2014, the new president of Virginia Tech committed to growing the campus by 500 students each year, creating a commercial real-estate boom and the need for more multifamily units. The 4-story, 5 building Union Apartment Complex, currently under development near the University Mall Shopping Center, will provide hundreds of new units for students and a four-story parking garage to help fulfill that need.  But most importantly, the project will deliver 2 years sooner with the help of third-party code compliance inspectors.

The biggest challenge in this project has been maintaining the project schedule, particularly for a town in need of housing. The two factors that have affected the speed at which a project can be constructed – supply-chain issues and a deficiency of municipal building code staff to handle the volume of projects undertaken- are not just of issue in Blacksburg, but nationwide.

Working for the developer and alongside Town building officials, ECS accelerated the project construction schedule from 4 years to 2 years by providing third party code inspections on all five buildings and the parking garage. The team visits the site 2-4 times a week for 3-5 hours at a time, inspecting building, mechanical, plumbing, fire alarm, and fire suppression systems.

In this instance, project materials like wall board and wood are arriving at random due to shipping delays which constantly shifts scheduled installation times. As third-party inspectors, the team has the flexibility to change their schedules quickly if supply chain issues affect construction, which can help keep the schedule on track. Not only does the flexibility benefit the contractor, but it alleviates strain on town resources and inspectors who may not be able to adjust their schedules as rapidly.

Local staff also proved to be an asset. Because ECS inspectors have a thorough knowledge of local building codes and an office located within minutes of the project site, they can work directly with the town and coordinate with the project team to find workable solutions when code compliance challenges arise during construction. A well-rounded team that can provide a handful of services through one office proved to be of additional benefit, with ECS also providing Construction Materials Testing. For a developer, having a one-stop-shop consultant provides better coordinated plans and construction documents resulting in faster project delivery.

Despite staffing shortages and supply-chain issues, The Union Apartment Complex will open in time for next year’s incoming class. In short, third-party inspectors are an asset to project teams in need of quality work done on an accelerated schedule.