The success of construction projects hinges on sound project management. It’s no surprise then that project management is an integral part of construction management, along with industry knowledge and construction science. Historic preservation projects pose unique challenges. The complexity varies by the method(s) used, and the scope or extent of work. An example would be renovating a building to its 1850’s iteration, versus stabilizing and conserving its present appearance. Techniques like value engineering and substitution of materials are often utilized to meet budgets and schedules. Value engineering specifically has become a popular method of generating alternatives, across a wide range of project types.
In this article, we will analyze Charleston’s One Broad Street, and its preservation-minded adaptive reuse. The exterior of the structure was renovated to its 1850’s appearance, while the interior will host a full-service restaurant and café, along with office and residential spaces. The structure at One Broad Street was built in the 1853, and is an extraordinary example of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. Originally constructed as a bank, it reopened recently. This prominent landmark had previously been unoccupied for more than a decade.
Mr. Mark Beck, the owner, was kind enough to provide the following answers to my interview questions. Mr. Beck is the Founder and Chairman of Bridgetree, a data analysis and marketing firm based in Fort Mill, S.C., and as I discovered in our interview, he simply loves preservation. One Broad Street is one more impressive building on a growing list of preservation projects Mark Beck has tackled. During the interview, he explained that his projects manifest out of a love for historical places. Preservation is truly a labor of love! When One Broad was sold to Mr. Beck, he had already formulated his vision of the finished building. I proceeded by asking the following questions of Mr. Beck:
Zach: What was the greatest challenge in initiating this project?
Owner: Finding the time. I was mentally into it for three-and-a-half years, and towards the end, you get kind of burned out. However, I already had the methodology in my head. Organization is key to getting these kinds of projects off the ground. Staying focused on both the big picture and the little details, as well as maintaining your determination to finish, is critical. This is how you achieve a good final result.
Zach: How was scope managed on this project, i.e. change orders from contractors/subcontractors?
Owner: Originally, I went through the architect, who worked to make my overall vision tangible. It got to be like one of those kids’ games, where you whisper the message and pass it along a line of people; by the time the information reached the guy doing the work, it was all messed up. Eventually, I worked directly with the contractors, and even subcontractors. When I did walk-through, I’d point out what I liked and didn’t like. The contractor kept track of changes and drew redlines on the drawings. These will be compiled into a finished, as-built set.
You can’t subcontract-out your vision. Nothing beats doing frequent inspections to keep things from going irreparably off-track.
Zach: How did the actual duration compared with the original project schedule?
Owner: I had originally planned to spent two-and-a-half years on it. It will be three years by the end. That’s just how these projects are; there are [unseen] conditions that have to repaired or replaced. Older buildings are generally in worse shape. I had to install an entirely new roofing system—I never planned on that. Manhandling structural steel through the 3rd floor windows wasn’t anticipated. Plus more.
Zach: How was cost information gathered? Who estimated project cost?
Owner: I have done several of these projects, so I did my own budget before I completed the purchase of the building. The contractors also did a budget, and the two were initially pretty close. However, as stated before, older buildings generally require more work than planned. It will be over the original budget, but I am ensuring that the finished building will be as I intended to a very high standard.
Zach: What part or deliverable of this project had the strictest quality requirements? Structural system, walls types, storefront, etc.?
Owner: The systems. Air-conditioning, heating, plumbing, electrical. If you plan to own something a long time, quality systems eliminate hassle and cost…I’d place it in the same ballpark as structural integrity. A lot of people tend to skimp on [MEP] systems if they’re going to “flip” the building. These are in areas not necessarily within eye-view—it’s an area that easy to skimp on. However, that’s not good for a long-term investment.
Zach: How did you find/acquire qualified tradesmen?
Mark: I relied on the local General Contractor, who already has a great reputation for these kinds of projects. His selection of subcontractors was good. He has high quality companies and resources that he works with regularly.
The idea of the trades as an “art” is fading. There are fewer people capable of doing the quality of work, as seen in historic buildings. Builders used much different construction techniques in the 19th-century than what is done today. Much of this is due to ongoing engineering and material innovation, but some of it is the result of the advent of regulated building codes.
Zach: What is your preferred method of communicating project information? Email, in-person, licensed software, etc?
Owner: The contractor had an internal system that they used to track budget and schedule. I prefer to communicate via telephone. Email was moderately effective but I found that I could get text responses much faster. Texting is constrained though; you’re limited in how much info you can communicate. I’ve found that people rarely use their phones to call anymore.
Zach: What were two major risks for most of the project’s duration?
Owner: The pre-existing conditions and structure is one of the biggest. You don’t know entirely what you’re getting into until you tear into it.
You also have to be sure that the work being done meets your vision. I was onsite a good bit throughout this project to make sure of that.
Zach: What were some procurement challenges? What materials or contracts were especially challenging to get?
Owner: Some subcontracts were hard to get. Getting the skilled trades can be dicey, particularly plumbing. There is a lot of work involved, and these trades are very busy. These subcontractors are very in-demand around Charleston.
As far as getting materials, there wasn’t much difficulty there. I could get what I needed without much issue.
Zach: Which stakeholders on this project were specifically concerned with historic preservation?
Owner: I talked with these [historic preservation] groups, but I don’t consider them stakeholders. They didn’t invest any money into the project project—which to me is the mark of being a stakeholder. I don’t think you should not allow your vision to be subcontracted to them.
However, they did provide information on the building, and expert opinion, which was very helpful. The way buildings were historically built is drastically different from today (some of what they did, you could never build now). The preservationists provided some of that knowledge.
Conclusion: Historic preservation projects involve a lot of risk and contingency planning, but the rewards are immense. Besides creating a tangible link to our past, these buildings can exponentially grow in value given the proper attention. They present a unique set of construction challenges, and one reason that Charleston has flourished is the availability of professionals who specialize in this work. Selecting a trusted, experience general contractor is an excellent start. They should have a network of pre-approved vendors and subcontractors that they use. One planning aspect that a project manager should closely examine is the structural and mechanical systems. These will effectively set the “tone” of the project in terms of delays and cost overruns. A detailed scope for these aspects in particular, can prevent unnecessary changes later on. At the same time, you must have processes in place to quickly and effectively handle a flood of change requests. This includes being able to evaluate their impact, as well potential costs and duration. These types of projects can quickly accrue change orders that become prohibitively expensive.
The success of One Broad Street was celebrated with the presentation to Mr. Mark Beck of the Whitelaw Founders Award by Historic Charleston Foundation. Among the highlights of the building’s history included occupancy by the U.S. Army Signal Corps after the Civil War, as well as surviving the infamous 1886 Earthquake. Mr. Beck commented that “you have to know the history” before you begin work on a project like this. With Bill Huey, AIA, and Rob Schneider of NBM Construction, the team delved into the structural forensics. Artillery damage, earthquake rods, and interior renovations (from 1948) attest to the building’s legacy in Charleston. The interiors were even re-designed by famous local architects, Simons and Lapham, almost 70-years-ago. After thousands of decisions made and alternatives created, the building retains much of its original character. The prudent use of preservation, and abandoned building, tax credits are also of note to other developers seeking preservation projects. This award is truly fitting for a project that accomplished so much, and contributes to the historic landscape.
Zach Liollio, a native of Charleston, S.C. grew up across the river in West Ashley. After graduating from The College of Charleston in 2016, he started on a Master’s of Science in Technical Project Management degree at The Citadel. He now works for the S.C. Dept. of Transportation and runs, Z.P. Liollio & Co. As time permits he enjoys shaping steel as well as academic writing. Zach is a member of the Philip Simmons Guild, S.C.’s guild of artist blacksmiths, and volunteers at the Lexington County Museum where he demonstrated blacksmithing. Pictured right at Historic Brattonsville – 2018
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