Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Inexpensive but not cheap looking

Northwood Place affordable-housing complex starts to take form

Express Staff Writer

Ben Petzinger, project manager of the Northwood Place affordable-housing complex, stands on the third floor of a three-bedroom unit under construction. The three-bedroom units are being built townhouse style with three floors and a garage. Photo by David N. Seelig

Entering a building under construction just north of the Wood River Community YMCA in Ketchum, Ben Petzinger, area manager of Okland Construction, heads for the stairs to the third floor. Panels of compressed wood flakes surround Petzinger at every turn, making up the stairs, walls and floors of every level. They provide the canvas for carpeting, drywall and other finishing materials to come. At the top of the stairs, Petzinger approaches a panoramic, 3-by-7-foot opening in the wood chips where a window will eventually be nestled into place.

"People pay out the nose for views like this," says Petzinger while looking at Bald Mountain to the southwest.

However, this three-bedroom, three-floor apartment is part of an affordable-housing complex being built on Saddle Road. The complex will consist of five buildings—each three stories—providing 32 apartments for rent. Six of the units will be three bedrooms, 14 will be two bedrooms and 12 will be one bedroom. Monthly rates would be about $400, $800 and $1,070, but that varies depending on a renter's income.

Northwood Place is the brainchild of Ketchum's Community Development Corp., which hired Okland as the project's general contractor and Petzinger as project manager. The CDC is an entity born of the city, but is not part of the city. It's a private nonprofit organization whose main goal is to create economic sustainability in Ketchum. Many of the CDC's efforts have focused on retaining the working class through affordable housing, with Northwood Place being the first real triumph.

The city-owned land is being leased to the CDC for $890,000 for 65 years. Northwood's total costs are estimated at $9.4 million, of which $6 million is for the construction itself. The CDC received $8.8 million in federal tax credits toward the project in January 2009.

CDC board President Neil Bradshaw said "a lot" of people have already been inquiring about how to get on the list for a Northwood apartment, even though construction still has seven months to go. Bradshaw said there's no list as of yet, but when the selection process does start, potential renters will endure a "rigorous" process of the CDC's weighing their income and community membership. Bradshaw said exact criteria for selection have yet to be determined, as has pricing.

But demand is already high.

North-side units will provide their occupants clear views of the Boulder Mountains. And being affordable doesn't automatically mean the 33,400 square feet of interior space will be cheap looking or minimalist. Three-bedroom units will include garages. And all apartments will be supplied with washers and dryers as well as refrigerators, dishwashers and ranges. Each unit will have a patio.

Petzinger says the complex will also use geothermal technology for snowmelt on the walkways and driveways, meaning snow plowing won't be needed. And the geothermal system will also heat the common room in one of the buildings. Solar cells will be installed on each building's roof. And landscaping will be a mix of native vegetation and "hardscape," keeping irrigation to a minimum.

But these eco-friendly details of geothermal, solar and native landscaping won't come until near the end of the project at Thanksgiving. Construction started just shy of the onset of winter in mid-November and, so far, everything is on schedule.

With little snow, this winter has been kind to the crew.

"If you get a bunch of snow, you're screwed," Petzinger says. " If you get a bunch of frost, you're screwed. We got a lot of frost."

Even then, frost hasn't been much of a problem. Petzinger says the crew was able to pour all five foundations and get all utilities in place before the frost hit. After that, not much digging has been needed, and foundations have been covered with giant frost tarps. On top of those are heavy-duty snow tarps.

"If it snows, we can lift the corners of the tarp with a crane and move the snow," Petzinger says.

Crews have had to contend with much more than simply cold weather. Northwood's tight job site of 0.84 acre has forced Petzinger to rely on an "assembly line" approach to construction. Buildings are all at different stages, with the furthest-along having been framed and covered with chipboard walls. Some just have foundations in place.

At any given time, Okland has about a dozen subcontractors on site adding to the skeletons of buildings, installing electrical wires, framing a building, pouring concrete or placing fire sprinklers.

"It's an orchestrated event of having subcontractors moving at all times," Petzinger says, "and keeping materials coming in."

He said 85 percent of the project's subs are from Blaine County.

"Go in the parking lot and look at the license plates," he says. "You'll see a lot of 5Bs."

However, one big piece of the project isn't local: the pre-made structural-insulated panels for the buildings. Petzinger says the panels are made out of state but put together by local contractors.

The panels are transported here on flatbed trailers, each panel given a letter and number. Buildings are then pieced together according to panel numberings.

"If you've ever played with Legos, those are Legos," Petzinger says while pointing to a stack of panels in the back of the lot.

He says the buildings are essentially done before they ever come to Ketchum, but are "taken apart and put back together here."

Bradshaw said an advantage to assembly-line construction is that two buildings should be finished and open for rent by September.

Trevon Milliard:

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