Self-Storage Construction Benchmarks and Targets, From Day One to Facility Completion
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Benjamin Burkhart
Posted on: 08/05/2013



 

Now you’re ready. This is the easy part, right? It only took a year of planning to get to this point. Surely the challenges of site selection, feasibility, survey, partnering, dealing with the bank, design, politicking, submitting plans, redesigning, resubmitting plans, approvals, amendments, bidding, dealing with the bank, negotiating, dealing with the bank again, requoting, renegotiating, hiring, banking, accounting and getting the approvals was the hard part! Or not.

“The most common comment I hear when comparing self-storage to other types of construction is ‘It’s just a self-storage building,’” says Warren Bishop of Southeastern Design & Construction Inc. in Hope Mills, N.C. Bishop has built everything from churches and office buildings to single- and multi-story self-storage projects. “But self-storage construction requires the same expectation of planning, quality and time management as any other project to ensure a good, quality build,” he adds.

You’ve worked diligently to get to this point, but now is the expensive part. As the first ounce of dirt begins moving and the contractors descend, you, the self-storage property owner, will be in high demand. Managing your team and project will require lots of energy and time, attention to detail, and focus on benchmarks and targets. This article provides a broad, typical construction timeline while underscoring that every project has its own unique demands. I’m dividing our plan into four sometimes overlapping segments: site work, pads and concrete, buildings and finish. First, let's talk about ground zero.

Day Zero

A good general contractor (GC) will keep your job moving in the right direction according to the demands of your project. This may be you or a contractor you employ. But as the owner, you are still the enforcer of the golden rule of construction, “He who holds the gold, makes the rules.”

A great facility begins with a solid foundation. Pictured: Community Self Storage in Powhatan, Va.***Your first step as CEO of your building project is to orchestrate your team in the same direction. A pre-construction meeting with all members of your team is a crucial first step. Those attending this first gathering should include your site-work contractor, the GC, foreman, key subcontractors, design professionals (i.e., architect and engineer), and any local officials with authority over your project commencement. This is the time to set expectations of your contractors, review contracts and payment triggers, make sure all permits are in place, post specific permits, formalize your timeline, and make sure everyone is on the same page according to your goals.

You want to avert surprises with this first meeting. You want the professionals to do their job, but you also want to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed when it comes to permits, access, authority, contracts, specs and expectations. Ultimately, you sign the checks and pay the bills. Be clear with those in your employ about what you require for acceptance and payment, as well as your expectations for progress before payments are made. Be sure you’ve aligned your funding-source requirements with contractor expectations, and you fully understand the process of lien waivers and funds requests from lenders or investors.

At every new phase of your project, a contractor meeting is important to update the project timeline and approve any changes to the overall plan. Beginning on day zero, clearly communicate and define who has authority to make changes or amendments to the approved plans.

Phase I (30-60 days): Site Work

A good site-work contractor will likely tie everything together on your project. From removing the first tree to planting the last seed of grass, he’s the contractor most likely to be on the job the first and last day.

One key task likely charged to your site contractor is storm-water management. Local building officials will want to see quality management and protection of your site while it’s unstable. This means silt fence, rip-rap, seeding and detention basins according to the approved site construction plans. Soil testing during your predevelopment phase will dictate necessary remedies for required soil density and compaction.

Your future tenants will watch the progress of your build so keep your site clean and safe at all times. Pictured: Community Self Storage in Powhatan, Va.***Don’t cut corners here. Fix wet areas now or you’ll have trouble later. Sometimes areas that hold water can be hidden by a site contractor during construction. Knowing specific site attributes like where the soil profile changes will enable you to build a sound site from the beginning.

As the site becomes balanced to the grade specified, and as pads for your new buildings are being pinned by surveyors, you’ll want to make sure all necessary conduits are in place for mechanical and electrical controls, gate and access wiring, security profile, exterior lighting, signage, timers, and irrigation. It’s much harder and more expensive to go under asphalt and concrete as an afterthought. Centralizing the controls of your site as much as possible in your office area is a good idea.

From rough-grade, keep the end picture in view. If you remove a lot of topsoil from the most visible yard areas of your site, you might have trouble getting grass to grow in a few months. If that’s the case, be sure your contractor understands your vision for curb appeal so he can make adjustments and give you the best look.

Remember that the public is watching you build. Keep your site self-contained and clean. A site sign advertising your new development is a great way to begin introducing prospective tenants to your new business.

Phase II (45-60 days): Gravel and Concrete

Building the pads and driveways of your site is the part of the job that really begins to give your project form. By now, you should have ordered your steel buildings. The true shape of the project becomes more apparent as you invest in loads and loads of gravel to firm up your site and create a sound base for concrete and/or asphalt.

Digging the footings for your building pads will generate a lot of waste; your site contractor should have a plan for removing those spoils or re-balancing them into the site. Prior to pouring any concrete, your project will likely require specific inspections of the foundation. These can often be generated by local civil engineers as third-party inspectors.

One common error in this phase of construction is in the finishing of the concrete pads. Your concrete pads should have a perimeter “water-lip” feature that’s formed with 2-by-10s or 2-by-12s. When these forms are removed, the concrete contractor must hand-trowel the water-lips while the concrete is green or you’ll end up with ugly concrete that looks like the cratered surface of the moon. If you don’t specify this before concrete is poured, you’re likely to end up with a mistake. Forming, re-enforcing, pouring, cutting, sealing and backfilling the concrete pads gives birth to what soon will become your new storage buildings.

The development journey may be long and arduous, but the end result is worth the effort. Pictured: Community Self Storage in Powhatan, Va.***Phase III (60-90 days): Building Construction

Once your building pads are finished, you may elect to finish your driveways to provide good, stable working surfaces for your erection and building crews. Wet muddy driveways make erection more difficult and will increase the time it takes to finish your site. The sooner you can stabilize your site against weather risks, the better.

Your GC should specify staging areas for delivery and storage of materials as well as areas for trash and disposal. This phase of your project will generate a lot of trash from packaging materials and waste. Be sure your GC informs all contractors that a trashy site will not be tolerated. Tenants are watching!

This is a busy time. Erection crews, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, inspectors and various other subcontractors are constantly in and out of your site. A good GC will coordinate daily tasks and required inspections according to the project timeline and schedule. This is when many small but important decisions require attention—location of thermostats, lockable electrical access covers, timers, paint colors, office cabinet colors, plantings, doorknobs, wall textures, bollard placement, office and bathroom flooring, office fixtures, etc.

On single-level construction, erection crews are usually pretty efficient. “On a typical project, our crews can normally install 4,000 to 5,000 square feet per week, barring bad weather,” says Terry Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing for steel-building manufacturer and erector BETCO Inc. As your buildings take shape, you’ll begin developing your own punch-list of items that will be required during the final push to opening your new store.

Phase IV (45-60 days): Finish

The last 10 percent takes forever. The buildings are up, the lights are on, the toilets flush. But it will seem like a million things remain: touchups, dents and dings, trash, dust, striping, signage, mulch, grass, light bulbs, replacements, computers, printers, phones, staplers, caulk, thresholds, window stickers, battery back-ups, move-in trucks, flags, file cabinets, chairs, open signs, business cards, nametags, pens, mirrors, toilet paper holders, towel dispensers, mops, decorations, DVRs, inventory, cameras, locks, fire extinguishers, a golf cart, and on and on. Oh, yeah, and now you have to clean everything so it looks nice and new!

The operation of your new business will overlap with this final phase of construction. Your managers should be training. Marketing materials and uniforms should be printing or in place. You’ll be taking reservations if you’re doing things right. Transitioning from building project to operation can be challenging, with pressure from all sides. The GC wants to get paid, the managers are on a learning curve and need workspace, vendors need orders, file systems must start, and tenants want to rent. If you’re like most, the interest charges keep ticking. And ticking.

But this is not the time for anxiety! Now’s when your team-building skills should shine. You’ve expected this and looked forward to it because you read this article. You’ll be organized, efficient and effective as CEO of a new company on the verge of leading your market.

As you check off your final punch-list item—that last little spec of dirt on the front door—you’ll be rewarded by a ringing phone, followed by the excited voice of your manager, “Terrific! I’ll be glad to show you our beautiful new site when you get here!”

Benjamin Burkhart is owner of StorageStudy.com and BKB Properties, serving self-storage owners and developers at all stages of the ownership life cycle with site-selection services, feasibility studies, acquisition due-diligence analysis and management training. To reach him, call 804.598.8742; e-mail ben@storagestudy.com ; visit www.storagestudy.com .