Chapel Hill, NC, May 24, 2017 --(PR.com
)-- AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown is slated to open late September. And yet, just four short months shy of welcoming its first guests, the hotel job site comprised little more than underground parking and a main level platform - nary a guestroom in sight.
Progress, however, had been steadily under way. Guestrooms were indeed being built - but simply out of sight, at a modular manufacturing facility in Liverpool PA rather than on site in bustling downtown Chapel Hill.
This OTO Development project - a 4-story, 123-room lifestyle hotel within the Marriott brand portfolio - is the hospitality industry's first modular construction project in the region and, as such, provided Chapel Hill a look at what's become a growing trend amongst hotel developers.
Building from Afar
While guestrooms didn't show up on the AC Hotel Chapel Hill job site until mid-May, they had begun taking shape elsewhere months before.
"Champion started mass production of room modules at our Liverpool facility back in late January," says Chris Waters, Director of Business Development at Champion Commercial Structures. "Everything was completed in a climate-controlled factory - away from inclement weather and other delays typically encountered on conventional jobsites."
Building within a controlled environment yields a variety of benefits - accelerated production schedule, better quality control and improved cost efficiencies - while also addressing challenges such as the ongoing shortage of skilled-labor in many markets.
OTO Development has developed more than 60 hotels over the past 13 years, but AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown is the first time the company has incorporated prefabricated guestrooms into a construction project. It's also the first Marriott-branded project on the east coast to do so - part of Marriott International's recent embrace of modular construction with a goal of signing 50 such projects in 2017.
"We'd been watching modular for several years," says Dennis Mitchell, Development Manager at OTO. "Marriott's support for modular construction was key in making the decision. Marriot ran the due diligence, and ran through a lot of the design considerations - the brand was truly a partner in this process."
Also partnering with OTO on its initial foray into modular construction were ODA, architectural design; and LeChase Construction Services, general contractor.
Ideal for Urban
Located at the corner of Rosemary and Church in downtown Chapel Hill, the AC Hotel project makes for a tight, urban job site - a challenging set of circumstances that further encouraged OTO to give the prefab process a go.
"Modular construction helps lessen impact on the surrounding neighborhood," Mitchell says. "The noise, construction debris and other disturbances typically generated on a conventional job site were relocated to the manufacturing facility."
That all took place at the Champion factory. Typically, it took two weeks for each guestroom module to make it through all stations of the production line. The process of "stacking" these prefabbed rooms began mid-May, as the modules were trucked from the manufacturing site to the job site, then craned in and stacked up over the conventionally-built main level platform.
After stacking, further details were completed on site. Wiring, pipes and ductwork for the electrical, communications, plumbing and HVAC systems were connected between guestroom and corridor, then hallways were finished. Exterior siding and trim were installed, followed by the finished roof system.
As far as the factory-built guestrooms themselves, the on-site crew merely needed to hang pictures and unbox floor lamps, mini-fridges, coffee tables, safes ... and then bring in pillows, sheets and towels.
Rooms to Grow
A leading commercial modular supplier, Champion has been serving the hospitality industry for the past five years - and finds it a perfect fit with plenty of room to grow.
"Modular hotel guestrooms are nearly an ideal product line for our build process," says Waters, explaining that two finished guestrooms and an unfinished double-loaded corridor are easily shaped within each module. "In simple terms, everything 'stays within the confine of the rectangle' and, essentially, creates a true Lego effect."
AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown's U-shape structure made this project particularly interesting for Champion.
"The design offers insight into the many possibilities of what can be done in a modular scheme," Waters says. "It proves that modular can be used in something other than large rectangular design/build scenarios. The articulation of the stair-type elevation at both ends of the structure is also noteworthy, as it displays the architectural flare that can be achieved with modular."
As AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown began the stacking process, it seemed as if the project came together right before spectators' eyes. The completed hotel will meld modern architecture with local accents, including a community mural. An AC Lounge, open to guests and locals alike, will feature tapas, light fare, specialty drinks ... and a serving of Southern Hospitality flavored with a hint of European flare.