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  • Joe Jacquez

Tempe Construction Rises to Challenges

In October 2016, nearly an entire city block on the northwest corner of University Drive and Forest Avenue in Tempe was just a surface parking lot.

By the next month, construction had begun on a project aimed at turning the parking lot into a residential and business mixed-use development complex. A year later, and a hot summer of record-breaking high temps in between, the project is on schedule to be completed in July 2018.

Opus Development Company, LLC, the project’s developer, had submitted plans to city officials in May 2015 for what is called in at least one city document the University Square Mixed Use Development.

“Upon completion, the project will offer residents a central location that is walking distance to downtown Tempe and the ASU campus, along with upscale amenities and retail tenants that will complement the residential community,” said Opus Senior Vice President and General Manager Larry Pobuda.

The 407-unit complex at 110 East University Drive is a partnership between Opus, Tempe-based Sundt Construction, Inc. and the city of Tempe.

The site is considered block 14 of the Tempe subdivision and the 1,150,000-square-foot area is bounded by University Drive to the south, Forest Avenue to the east, Myrtle Avenue to the west and Seventh Street to the north.

The complex will consist of two towers. The first will be 20 stories, the second will top out at 12 stories with studio, one- and two-bedroom units. The first four stories of the second tower will be wrapped around by 22 walk-up city homes and flats. Finally, it will feature more than 31,000 square feet for restaurants and retail businesses along University Drive and Seventh Street.

Amenities will include a shared fifth floor deck between the two towers, a resort-style swimming pool, an area for grilling and outdoor lounge areas with cabanas and fire pits. A fitness center, dog walk and a bike workroom featuring space for 450-plus bikes and 350-plus public parking stalls are also part of the final plans.

Individual housing units will include 9-foot ceilings, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, cabinetry and private balconies.

Sundt Project Executive Garren Echols said embarking on this project was basically a no-brainer. “Investing in our communities is always a good idea,” he said.

The project is expected to generate $450 million for the city and create more than 600 jobs in Tempe, according to city economic development officials. In addition, the project is expected to generate $50 million in net new property tax revenue, of which the city share would amount to $8 million.

Echols said the project is on schedule, but that does not mean Sundt has not experienced obstacles during the process.

With students walking to school and cars passing by, between 300 to 400 workers move parts, ride up and down an elevator with their hard hats and work boots, and perform activities such as nailing in a wall and installing an electrical system — during an Arizona summer in which temperatures hovered near 120 degrees some days.

“It was hot, even hotter on the concrete formwork decks, but our teams worked diligently to mitigate its impact on our people and the project’s production,” Echols said. “We adjusted shifts, cycled crews, provided cooled break areas and actively watched each other for signs of heat-related impacts. We are proud that as a team we were able to work through this with minimal effect.”

The record heat was not the only obstacle Sundt had to deal with this summer – in fact – Echols said, finding an adequate number of people to work during the summer might have proved just as difficult.

But sticking to the guiding principles of Sundt, he said, helped mitigate this issue.

“The craft labor shortage has been a challenge and a real risk in the market to maintain the project’s trajectory,” Echols said. “We have been successful through advanced planning and getting labor commitments early. Additionally, we pride our culture of being ‘Built on Purpose,’ on continuous learning, and our employee-owned structure in attracting the very best.”

Besides labor and weather factors to consider, Echols said there is always some level of uncertainty when working on an urban site. But Echols said Sundt spent a lot of time thinking about logistics, modeling site geometry and making sure they were responsive to changing conditions. Echols said this helped keep the project’s utilities on schedule.

“Soil conditions proved to be less desirable than anticipated during drilling excavations as cobble raveled into the hole creating larger caissons than needed,” Echols said. “This, in turn, increasing the quantity of soil needed to be loaded and hauled from the site.

“We, in turn, came up with several mitigating strategies to hold the project schedule, including resequencing the project’s south podium.”

Echols said technology played a big role.

“The project’s primary systems were designed virtually (computer modeled), constructed in a warehouse and have been shipped to the building for ‘assembly’,” he said.

The project is scheduled to finish in July 2018. Through it all, Echols said he knows keeping the project on schedule requires a team effort.

The current project is one of a long line of projects done by Sundt in the Downtown Tempe area. “The relationship that has been built between Sundt, Opus, the city of Tempe and our trade partners is one of a kind,” Echols said.

As far as what people have asked the most as they pass by the construction site?

“What are you building?” Echols said.

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