The rebuilding of Sure Save USA Storage in downtown New Orleans is one of the most important projects undertaken by SBS Construction & Development in its 10-year history, say company officials. The facility was 62 percent complete when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city in 2005, completely submerging it beneath 5 feet of water. SBS could locate the site only through satellite photography.
Within days of the storm, the company deployed resources to begin reconstruction. “It was important not only to bring the project back on schedule, but to provide much needed storage space for those in the area,” says David L. Morgan, SBS executive vice president.
Facility Stats: Sure Save USA Storage
The 117,000-square-foot facility includes five buildings, one of which is three stories, on a triangle-shaped lot. The buildings are constructed of metal with a metal roof and an exterior insulation and finish system. At the time of Katrina, the first-floor framing and second-floor deck on the three-story building was finished and the single-story structures were approximately 80 percent complete. Afterward, the project lay beneath 5 feet of water.
As soon as it was allowed, SBS executives visited the site. “We knew there were major safety and health issues to address before we could even allow people in to assess the damage,” says Stephen Schiffman, president. The company required all employees entering the area be vaccinated against diseases.
Schiffman describes his return to the city after the hurricane as similar to stepping into the Twilight Zone. “There were no people, birds, animals, no stoplights or lights at night. It was totally dark and very eerie. Cars had floated together in piles in the streets and were bulldozed onto the medians. Everything was gray from the filthy water.”
The property survey showed that wind and water had demolished the second-floor work and heavily damaged all four single-story structures. The lot was covered in mud and debris and metal framing lay twisted everywhere. There were cars and boats piled up along the fence line.
Reconstruction began as soon as SBS received clearance from the city and the insurance company had funded the work. But the company faced logistical challenges rarely encountered on a building project. The city’s infrastructure was severely damaged or in some areas nonexistent making it difficult to access the site. Trash disposal and other services that would normally be easily available no longer existed. Materials couldn’t be obtained.
“There was no electricity or water. You had to go five miles to find drinking water,” says Ted Culbreth, vice president of sales and marketing. SBS used generators to supply its own power and imported water in tankers to power-wash the site. It also brought in equipment and supplies from other areas.
Workers were also extremely scarce; more than 80 percent of New Orleans’ residents were evacuated and many didn’t return for several months. SBS initially brought crews in from other states. Loyal local subcontractors provided workers as soon as any were available. “We feel we gave hope to the local guy who knew when he got up in the morning, he had a job to go to and he would get paid,” Culbreth says.
Once the silt and mud had been washed from the site, the damaged steel and doors were stockpiled for removal. In a reversal of normal trade, scrap metal companies weren’t buying material but were paid to haul it away. But Morgan praises the integrity of their subcontractors and suppliers. “No one we dealt with took advantage of the situation by increasing prices other than when material costs had skyrocketed,” he says.
Within two months following the hurricane, the project was back on schedule. The facility was completed nine months later although municipal permits were slow. “We had to wait for inspectors since the city was overwhelmed with the community’s needs,” Schiffman says.
The Outside Advantage
SBS is based in San Antonio and escaped the hurricane’s physical impact. “Being outside the area of devastation meant we could be very effective in not only reconstructing the Secure Save site, but helping many others in New Orleans,” says Morgan. SBS was able to continuously communicate with municipalities, subs and suppliers. It could also pay workers and buy supplies when many people in New Orleans didn’t have the means for day-to-day necessities.
Prior to Katrina hitting landfall, SBS had prepared for the damage as much as possible, documenting every aspect of the project. “We took pictures of the jobsite immediately before the hurricane, and then three or four weeks later recorded the difference,” Morgan says. This became the key to expediting the insurance claim. “We were one of the first claims to be filed because we had the resources outside New Orleans to begin reconstruction far in advance of other projects.”
SBS also assisted other New Orleans clients and residents with damage repair. And Schiffman and Morgan, who have been constructing in the city for 30 years, have family in the area who received help rebuilding their lives.
30 Years of Experience
Schiffman and Morgan have more than 30 years experience in contracting and development. They founded SBS in 1995 to offer general contracting, project management and land development in the southeastern United States. SBS provides turnkey construction and design-build services, site selection, engineering, land-use design and construction management services. The company has a diverse portfolio of large- and small-scale projects that range from commercial to retail. A few years ago, SBS began successfully building storage facilities, resulting in the company making storage construction and development its primary focus.
For more information, call 830.981.5929; visit www.sbsworld.net.