Work on modular buildings underway
The biggest affordable housing project in the history of Martha's Vineyard will be built using pre-fabricated modules, constructed off-Island. The Pennywise Path affordable housing project in Edgartown, off 12th Street South and including 60 units in 21 buildings, will be almost entirely constructed in an 80,000 sq. ft. controlled environment facility in Oxford, Maine.
The decision to use modular construction techniques instead of traditional on-site methods was not one that required much thinking.
"There is absolutely no difference between the two," said Beverly Gallow, referring to the quality of the finished construction. Ms. Gallow works for The Community Builders Inc. (TCB) and is the project manager for the Pennywise Path project. "Other than (the cost and the efficiency) there is no difference. There's no downside to the modular homes."
The building crew placed the first set of modules Friday. Photos by Ralph Stewart
While the finished buildings may look the same in the end, no matter the construction technique, the cost and the time each requires are certainly different. The 21 modular buildings, each containing multiple units, would certainly cost far more than the $14 million earmarked for this project if they were built from scratch locally. In addition, the construction of 21 buildings on the Island might take years to complete.
Construction by Williams Building Company, the general contractor of the project, has already begun. Williams will do the building work in a controlled-environment plant, owned by Keiser Industries, the wholesaler of the project, based in Oxford. The controlled environment makes weather a non-factor, and this way, Ms. Gallow notes, "You don't have to deal with labor shortages." The project is on a 14-month schedule, and goal is to have all of the homes on-Island by November and ready for occupancy by mid-August, 2007.
The entire process of constructing modular buildings is very systematic. "The plant is basically set up as a production line," said Williams Building Co. manager of business development, Steve Martin. "There's actually a railroad track inside the facility, which transports the modules from station to station."
Every building module spends time at each of the 14 stations along the assembly line before it is ready to be shipped, a process that takes about eight days.
The framing of the floor begins the process and takes place at the first station. The second station sees the module lifted so that the electrical wiring and rough plumbing systems may be installed through the floor. The next two stations add the exterior and interior walls. With the walls in place, the insulation and drywall are then installed at the fifth station. The drywall finishing is completed at the sixth station, followed by the installation of windows and doorways at the seventh. The module is sanded and the sheetrock is primed at the eighth station, and the interior trim is applied at the ninth. The modules' cabinets and countertops go in at the 10th station, followed by the siding and exterior trim at the 11th. Most of the plumbing and electrical systems are finished at the 12th station, and part of the flooring and interior painting follow suit at the 13th station. Finally, the touch-up work is completed at station number 14.
When all this is done, each module sits at the factory for a week before being shipped off.
The main difference between modular and traditional construction is cost. The former is cheaper.
It's an Island, after all
For this project, the modules, all 12 to 14 feet wide and 18 to 60 feet in length, will then be placed on a transporter (simply a trailer, according to Mr. Martin) by which they will be shipped to New Bedford, driven on a deck barge and towed to the Vineyard on barges by Tisbury Towing & Transportation Inc. One barge load - carrying four to seven modules - will be transported each week. The first arrived last week.
Foundations for the buildings will already be in place, and there will be a crane on site. There will also be a "set crew," which is licensed by the state and certified by Keiser, to assist in the completion of the modules. Each module will first be set on its foundation and attached, a process that takes two to three days.
What follows is an eight-week procedure to complete the work on each structure. The roofs get raised, the modules attached together, and the set crew will shingle the roofs and install and fasten all remaining doors and windows. The porches for the modules are added, the siding trim completed, and, for some of the modules, the handicap ramps, which are provided by Keiser, will also be constructed.
Once the exterior is complete, the boiler, heating system, and electric panel will be installed, and the modules will receive power. The next step will be to bring water into the buildings. Finally, interior painting must be completed, the floors finished, and any touch-up work done. During this eight-week procedure, roads, driveways and landscaping will have also been completed.
Construction on the modules has already begun, and the first module was attached to its foundation Friday.
Among the 21 buildings, there will be at least six different styles, including one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, and two- and three-bedroom townhouses, as well as some handicap-accessible buildings. Each building will contain two, three, or four units.
It is a large project by Island standards, but it is typical for TCB. "This project is pretty standard," said Ms. Gallow. "Relatively small compared to some of our bigger projects."
The Pennywise Path project began in 1998 when Edgartown voters voted to authorize the town to purchase by eminent domain 175.7 acres of woodland between the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. The town completed the eminent domain purchase in 1999 and placed 118.7 acres of the land under a conservation restriction held by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank.
The remaining 57 acres were set aside in two separate parcels, one of 30 acres on the north end and another of 27 acres in the southern corner of the preserve, for future municipal uses. Among the possible uses, the town considered a fire sub-station, a new school, and affordable housing. In 2001, Edgartown voters approved a town meeting warrant article designating the southern parcel for affordable housing.
After much planning, in January 2003 the town issued a request for proposals from developers to build 40 to 70 affordable units on 12 acres of land within the 27 acres.
The town chose TCB, the largest nonprofit housing developer in the U.S., to undertake the project. Since 1964, the company has constructed more than 17,000 units of affordable and mixed-income housing.
After several public hearings and many meetings with TCB, the town drafted a final development proposal and submitted it to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) for a special permit as a development of regional impact (DRI).
The MVC held its first public hearing on the project on May 20, 2004. On July 22 of that year, after much wrangling over issues such as traffic, density, and environmental concerns, the MVC voted unanimously to approve the Pennywise Path project, along with a hefty list of conditions.
Two months later, the town overcame several more hurdles by signing a right-of-way easement with the Vineyard Golf Club, which allowed the town to run sewer lines through the golf club property to the development, and signing a 99-year lease with TCB.
The final missing pieces were state and federal tax credits to fund the project.
In February of 2005, the Department of Housing and Community Development, which is responsible for distributing federal tax credits for affordable housing, funded only 11 of 28 projects that had applied for money. The Pennywise project was not one of them.
The project remained stalled until January, when town leaders were notified that DHCD had agreed to fund the project with this year's tax credits.