Harold’s Square Construction Update, 1/2020

25 01 2020

Harold’s Square on the Commons is moving right along. The Commons-facing side of the structure has been mostly finished from the outside. The brown terra cotta used on the exterior, seen in the Commons-dacing photos, is Avenere Cladding’s NeaCera Rain Screen Terra Cotta product. As you can see in the street-level photo, once the mineral wool was on, steel rails were attached to the building and the panels are clipped into place atop the rails. The westernmost face has its expansive glass installed (with metal “fins” to provide some respite from the direct sun), while the waterproofed exterior awaits its aluminum metal panel finish.

In the taller, southern side of the building, window installation has begun on the lower levels. The rough opening is coated along the edges with a blue waterproofing material. A black flashing material is attached, an exterior frame with the nailing flange is installed into the opening, leveled to make sure it fits properly, the interior frame is fitted and installed, and then the exterior is finished out along the edge with more waterproofing and metal flashing. The whole point is to make it a tight fit and prevent water infiltration. (a window installation how-to video for the curious is here). With a building of this size, the process is repeated a few hundred times.

Also included below are a couple of interior shots from a construction tour, courtesy of Councilman Ducson Nguyen (2nd Ward). The photos, about a month old, are from a one-bedroom unit the construction team was putting together. The rough-ins were complete in this unit, and they were on to the next steps. Drywall had been hung and cabinetry was just being installed. Fixtures, flooring and finishes come later. All 78 apartment units should be ready for occupancy by August.

According to the new website, monthly rents will range from $1,300 for a studio, to $3,000 for a top-of-the-line two-bedroom. The floorplans are included below. Note the studios are about just a little above the legal minimum, at 332 SF. Truly for someone who likes to live with a small footprint, I guess. Most units come with their own washer and dryer, studios will share a common room with a washer and dryer.

There are 6 studios, 42 one-bedroom units, and 29 two-bedroom units. Units come with quartz countertops, tile backsplashes, stainless steel fixtures and Energy Star appliances, vinyl plank floors, and everything is that marketing-friendly neutral color palette of subdued whites, beiges, greys and browns. Fiber optic internet is included in rent, and the units are “pet-friendly”. Higher-end units also have balconies.

Shared amenities include a dog washing station, 12th floor rooftop terrace, “Amazon Hub” apartment lockers, keyless entry, private storage and bike storage, trash and recycling chutes on every floor, a security system and access to two high-speed elevators. All units are non-smoking. 60 kW from a solar array in the Schuyler County town of Dix will be utilized to offset the building’s carbon footprint. More information can be found on the website.

The Ithacating project description can be found here.





Visions Federal Credit Union Construction Update, 1/2020

21 01 2020

For regional businesses, Ithaca and Tompkins County are attractive markets to try and break into. Compared to its Southern Tier and Finger Lakes peers (Elmira, Binghamton, Auburn), it’s a sizable market that’s more affluent and more economically prosperous, two things that bode well for business growth if a company thinks they can make the initial investment costs will pay off.

Visions Federal Credit Union appears to making the leap. Founded in 1966, Visions FCU is headquartered in the Binghamton suburb of Endwell (where it recently doubled the size of its headquarters) and currently hosts 52 branch offices across three states. The not-for-profit financial institution boasts over 200,000 members, $4.1 billion in assets and 650 employees. Currently, the closest location to Tompkins County is the branch office in the Tioga County town of Spencer.

Site plans first submitted to the city in May 2019 indicated that the new credit union branch would be built at 410 Elmira Road, on a vacant lot fronting the Elmira Road Shopping Plaza, which houses Home Depot, Kohl’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Widewaters Group, the Syracuse-based firm who owns the plaza, had quietly marketed the outparcel space on since at least early 2018, envisioning a restaurant or similar small-scale establishment would one day occupy the site, along with a sizable amount of parking.

Here, Visions Federal Credit Union is proposing to build a 3,320 SF branch office with a parking lot containing 20 spaces and drive-up ATMs. The building will be finished out in a fairly standard mix of painted aluminum metal panel system and fiber cement, with a CMU base and aluminum window system. More interestingly, the majority of the lot would be fenced in from the adjacent roadways and turned into an outdoor amphitheater. A 940 SF stage structure would be built at the southern end of the property, and the lawn would be maintained for use as an outdoor event and entertainment venue – rough estimates put the seating capacity at about 500, with the shopping center parking lot to double as a parking area for concert series attendees (the initial plan is five concerts from May-September, with smaller events in between). The remainder of the property would be fitted out with stormwater retention areas, landscaping improvements, a small amount of sidewalk, electric vehicle charging stations, a pet-friendly outdoor waiting area next to the building and bike racks.

According to the Site Plan Review (SPR) document, the $1.25 million project will take about eight months to build out – the original construction period was to be October 2019 – May 2020, but as these projects often go, the actual groundbreaking was delayed until just a couple of weeks ago (or rather, at least the site prep is underway; I did not see a building permit filed with the city when I visited the permits office last week, but then again, that’s an 800-page stack of paper including everything from bathroom remodels to new multistory buildings). The number of jobs that would be created is not stated in the filing, but a bank/credit union branch office of this size typically employs eight to 10 people. Design/build firm PWCampbell of Pittsburgh is listed as the project designer, with Rochester-based Costich Engineering serving as the engineering consultant.

Some details were tweaked during review – the amphitheater was adjusted away from the road because of safety concerns. There will be a heavy-duty three-rail wood fence and some trees between the road and seating area. The building itself was largely unaltered, which is rather unusual, but this is a less fussed-over part of the city and the project fully complies with the SW-2 zoning. The supplemental docs say they were looking into heat pumps and a solar canopy for their electric charging stations, but it’s not clear if those will be installed. Approval was granted in August 2019.

According to the Visions FCU press release, “Visions brings a new banking option to the Ithaca community that includes lower interest rates on loans, competitive earnings on savings, a shared network of fee-free ATMs, and more. As a member-owned not-for-profit, Visions is committed to both member and community service.” The credit union is looking to make a positive first impression through some monetary charitable donations to local non-profits, and plans to sponsor and participate in community service events to ingratiate itself with the greater community.

The site is being cleared and graded for construction at the moment. The elevated pad in the first photo is where the new branch office will be built. The third photo shows the graded site pad for the amphitheater.





Perdita Flats Construction Update, 1/2020

19 01 2020

Let’s start this off by taking the broader view. Climate change is real, and is increasingly harming our natural and built environments. In order to mitigate the worst of its effects and help ward off a potential global crisis, it is necessary to limit our environmental impacts. Building construction and urban planning is a major part of that, by using sustainable materials, construction practices, and following planning initiatives to limit the carbon footprint and wasted resources of older conventional approaches.

Ithaca and Tompkins County have approached this enthusiastically, though with mixed success. There is a robust environmental movement in the community, and many of them choose to practice what they preach, at least in their homes if perhaps not so much their site plans (case in point: Ecovillage, while well-designed structurally, is located so far from most goods and services and relies on vehicular travel and creates elevated infrastructure costs for installation and maintenance – in effect, “green sprawl”). Cornell Cooperative Extension maintains a database of local examples of sustainable housing.

One of the areas that has been severely lacking in truly sustainable housing, however, is the multi-family housing segment. The vast majority of eco-conscious housing built in Tompkins County is one-family or two-family. However, these are often on larger lots on the fringe of the urban boundaries of the Ithaca area. This has its limitations, not just the “green sprawl” issue, but affordability concerns related to land costs and single-family home construction costs. Given that it’s more environmentally efficient to invest in communities where infrastructure is in place and where goods and services allow for multiple transit options other than a car, it’s really crucial to demonstrate workable multi-family options, maximizing sustainability and demonstrating that it can be cost-efficient for a builder/developer to be green. But apart from a few examples like EcoVillage’s TREE apartment building, there are few local structures that really showcase what can be done these days with respect to sustainable building multi-family design and construction, especially in an urban setting.

Perdita Flats is an attempt to show that it can be done. In scale, it’s nothing particularly impressive. The site is an undeveloped lot at 402 Wood / 224 Fair Street, previously a double-lot with the neighboring house at 404 Wood (in fact, I noted its development potential when the lot was subdivided). The building itself will be 3,524 SF, three stories with a total of four market-rate units on a 36′ x 36′ footprint with a wrap-around porch. There will be one three-bedroom unit, one two-bedroom unit and two one-bedroom units – in other words, “missing middle” infill, smaller multi-family of similar unit density to many inner ring urban neighborhoods. (Apparently, the three bedroom is being reduced to a two-bedroom, but this was a very recent change.)

The building, a work of local firm STREAM Collaborative, is designed to fit in with the older homes in the neighborhood by using visual elements like the porch and the gable roof. The exterior will be finished out in natural shiplap wood siding and black standing-seam metal siding.

Where the building really shines is with its sustainability features – this is a net-zero project, meaning that all the energy it uses is provided by renewable sources. Energy-efficient features include a rooftop solar array with on-site battery energy storage, simple square shape, super-insulated building envelope (double stud wood framing and triple-pane low-e fiberglass framed windows), maximized natural daylighting through window placement and light-reflective paint, high-efficiency appliances, plumbing and fixtures, air-source heat pumps, low-emissions and non-toxic natural materials and finishes, and rainwater harvesting. To put it in perspective, the Ithaca’s Green Building Policy in the works requires a score of six points for approval, and this project would earn 17 points. The landscaping will include a shared garden plot, new sidewalk, and native greenery.

The project is the work of Umit Sirt and Courtney Royal. The husband and wife pair are staff of Taitem Engineering, a local engineering consulting firm that specializes in energy efficiency and the use of alternative (renewable) energy sources in building projects. Putting that knowledge to use, the couple recently built a net-zero energy home for their family in Ulysses — net-zero meaning that all energy produced comes from on-site or nearby renewable resources.

To give a rough timeline, Royal and Sirt bought the land for $70,000 in June 2018. The Perdita Flats project was first proposed in February 2019 and approved in April. The project sought and received a zoning variance on parking, two spaces instead of the four required, to allow for the garden space, and a reduction in the rear year setback from 20 feet to 10 feet, to better accommodate the garden and solar panels. To those fretting about the parking deficiency, on-site bicycle storage is provided as part of the project, and the Fair Street location has easy access to both stores on Meadow Street, and to Downtown Ithaca. Apart from the occasional Carshare use, life without a car here would be plausible.

The site plan review document estimated the development costs at $520,000. NYSERDA, the state’s energy sustainability agency, awarded the project $70,560 as part of its Buildings of Excellence program. Instead of the traditional hazardous refrigerants used for the internal circulation within electric heat pumps, Perdita Flats will use a more advanced carbon dioxide-based system (yes, CO2 isn’t good in large quantities, but it’s much less harmful ounce-for-ounce than refrigerant). To quote the application, “(i)n virtually every way, this building will be an example of what is possible for new construction in terms of reduced energy use and a complete lack of reliance on fossil fuels.”

Royal and Sirt’s colleagues at Taitem Engineering helped with the mechanical and plumbing design. The construction manager will be Mike Carpenter, along with the developers themselves. In case you’re wondering, Perdita is “a mythological child who brought a love of the natural world to humans”, according to the project’s website. (At this time, the website is mostly bare except for the landing page.)

At the site, not much has happened yet, though it looks like some trees were cleared. A project of this modest scale should take a half year or less once ground is broken.

 





Maguire Ford-Lincoln Construction Update, 1/2020

18 01 2020

The new exterior cladding is going up on the renovated and expanded Maguire Ford-Lincoln at 504 South Meadow Street. Generally speaking, the materials consist of Alcoa ribbed aluminum panels on the back and sides, Alpolic aluminum panels on the front, and painted panels on the old service wing being retained and incorporated into the renovation. For automakers, aluminum panels are often the desired finish of choice because it projects a clean, modern image, and automotive sales are all about pushing the latest and greatest technologically-advanced four-wheeled machines out onto the roads. You can see on the rear wall how rails are attached to the exterior wall, and the panels are attached to the rails above the sheathing. (The reason why the facade wasn’t finished out in that section is because they’ll be installing an awning atop the ribbed panels.)

Many of the windows have yet to be fitted, and the old service wing is still sheathed in Tyvek housewrap while it waits for its exterior panels given the way it was flapping in the breeze, the contractor might want to use more fasteners). The curved “airfoil” feature with the Ford blue oval has yet to be installed at the front entrance, but there are spaces on either side of the entrance that suggest where it will be attached to the main structure. The Lincoln logo will go above 2×3 black aluminum swatch on the northeast corner next to the entrance, as requested by Ford corporate design guidelines. Initially, the plan was to have an exposed concrete masonry base, but late in the review process they upgraded to stone veneer, which lends a more upscale and aesthetically pleasing appearance to the structure. It does look like some windows were changed or deleted when compared to the last set of drawings from review, but minor fenestration alterations are typically a minor enough change that re-review isn’t warranted.

According to a filing with the Tompkins County clerk on January 13th, CFCU Community Credit Union is lending the Maguire Family of Dealerships $5,362,500 to fund the renovation and expansion. This is unusually high; the Site Plan Review estimated the cost of the project at $1.5 million. The loan notes that fees and other expenses mostly related to the mortgage total $1.788 million, which still lends a very substantial $3.574 million towards the construction project itself, to be paid out in six payments, and all except about $12,000 of that going to the general contractor, G.M. Crisalli & Associates of Syracuse. The terms of the agreement stipulate a completion no later than July 1st.

Background information and project details can be found here.





Library Place Construction Update, 1/2020

17 01 2020

Library Place is making progress over at 105 West Court Street (the new mailing address; guess we should stop saying 314 North Cayuga Street now). The concrete masonry unit (CMU) northeast elevator/stair tower has topped off, and it looks like part of the northwest tower is being assembled now. The square holes above the lower levels of the tower are most likely slots for structural steel. If I’m reading the floor plans right, a third stair tower will be constructed along the south wall of the building. The concrete foundation footers have been poured, and a CMU foundation wall is being assembled; the pink materials along the outside of the wall are lightweight polystyrene insulation boards, Owens Corning Foamular from the looks of it. I see a work truck on site for subcontractor Gorick Construction of Binghamton, but rather surprisingly there’s no signage around for general contractor LeChase Construction.

Signs along the perimeter fence advertise a Spring 2021 opening for the four-story, 86,700 SF building. Prices for the 66 senior housing units are not yet available. Amenities will include a restaurant, à la carte home health services from an on-site agency, community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, warming pool, and underground parking. Senior services non-profit Lifelong will provide on-site activities and programs.

More information about the history of the project and its stats can be found here. The project website is here.