Frances brought little destruction to building sites
By Marilyn Bowden
Forward-looking strategies and stricter building codes defended building sites around the county from all but minimal damage during Hurricane Frances' recent siege, developers say.
The 1800 Club, a 41-story luxury condo that broke ground a month ago at 18th Street and North Bayshore Drive, came through the storm unscathed, said developer Michael Baumann, whose company, BCOM Inc., is union-owned and funded.
"Any responsible asset manager or development company should have a hurricane preparedness plan written into each contract with a general contractor," he said. "As soon as you hear that a storm is approaching it's time to institute that plan, to clean up and lock down.
"We send out our internal construction guys to take pictures, monitor the site and assure that in fact it's locked down and cleaned up."
Ron Choron, head of construction at Fortune International, said he made a decision by Tuesday to implement the company's standard hurricane preparedness plan.
"We removed materials from outside to make sure nothing would be flying around," he said, "and removed files and computers from the sales centers."
Since Andrew, Mr. Choron said, all high-rises must have laminated glass at the top and missile-resistant glass at the bottom 30 feet, where the stress factor is greater.
"This was only 110- to 120-mile-per-hour winds," he said. "All we had was landscape damage. But it could have been catastrophic."
Mark Hutchinson of Coscan Construction, project manager for the Trump project, said the storm's impact at the waterfront property was limited to some water damage from flooding at the service level.
Developer Robert Thorne said Royal Bay Group had five projects and sales centers to secure.
"When we found out on Wednesday that it was about to hit," he said, "we had a meeting of project managers and construction managers to strategize our tie-down and security."
As a result, Mr. Thorne said, damage across the board was minimal.
"A construction fence fell in Miami Beach," he said, "and we repaired it on Tuesday morning."
Protective measures will remain in effect, developers say, until Ivan has ceased to be a threat.
"Yesterday," Mr. Thorne said, "when we looked and saw a new hurricane coming, the sales centers still had to be put back up, but we put everything we could on standby."
"We are not touching anything," Mr. Choron said. "When we take it down it will be next week."
An active hurricane season is coinciding with an unprecedented building boom, but construction managers say they have followed time-tested procedures to secure building sites.
The Building Association of South Florida presciently ran a column on the subject as an insert in South Florida CEO magazine, said Executive Vice President Toni Pacelli-Hinkley.
"It was also on our Web site," she said, "and we e-mailed it to our members as soon as we knew (Hurricane) Frances was breathing down our necks."
The column, penned by Oscar Barbara of Quantum Developments, suggested that builders cancel delivery of building materials to job sites 48-60 hours before expected landfall.
"As the hurricane's direction and force intensify within 24 to 48 hours before landfall," Mr. Barbara wrote, "local building departments stop field inspections except for those related to pouring columns, tie beams, wet decks, floors and similar structural items. It is recommended that you activate your hurricane job-site plan at that time."
The association's suggestions for site protection included giving priority to cleaning up sites in heavily populated areas, where flying debris could be a hazard to neighbors; tying or banding together all loose lumber and other supplies; removing permit boards and other signage, and turning off electricity, water and gas.
"Basically there's a couple of different procedures we follow," said Jerry Guarch, president of Diversified Construction & Restoration, general contractor for several residential projects on Miami Beach. "We de-rig all scaffolding equipment that could go airborne, including cabling, ropes, clamps.
"Debris dumpsters should be emptied, and the portable toilets removed from the job site."
Any windows without shutters should be boarded up with plywood, Mr. Guarch said, and pool decks, balconies and parking garages should be cleared of debris and secured.
"We look to strap everything down one way or another and move files and computers into protected areas," said Coscan Construction's Mark Hutchinson, project manager for the Trump towers in Sunny Isles Beach.
"Large tables that are part of forms for concrete slabs are weighted down so that they don't fly or get moved by the storm, and we shut down temporary water and electric to the building once everyone leaves so that if a line snaps we are not in danger from that.
"We try to enlist the help of our trash removal contractors to bring in extra dumpsters, because there's always a lot of debris around and getting rid of it is critical.
"If we're not able to get it dumped in time, we wrap the dumpsters in the mesh used in pours so the debris won't become airborne."
It's also important, Mr. Hutchinson said, to make sure that subcontractors clear out their equipment.
At the Trump site, he said, computers and files from on-site trailers were stored on the second level of the completed parking garage at the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort.
"Usually we don't have that benefit," he said, "and have to take it to off-site storage."