World of modular preview: Offsite construction, safety, and Covid

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John Buongiorno, director of the modular division at Axis Construction, discusses how Axis has helped push modular to the next level

After graduating from college, John Buongiorno — who is now the director of the modular division at Axis Construction — worked for someone who owned a few different companies. Buongiorno was involved in importing cars, but the office trailer leasing business kept growing and he was repeatedly pulled over there. Eventually, he settled in for the ride and helped the company grow even more — from 50 or 60 rental trailers to five times that number.

Over the next few years, Buongiorno worked for a couple of other national modular companies, and frequently hired Axis Construction to build foundations and do other onsite construction work. He became friends with one of the owners and they started talking about teaming up so Axis could do its own modular builds. Eventually, Buongiorno moved to Axis and founded its modular division. “And here I am, 22 years later,” he says.

Axis is primarily a construction management and general contracting firm that focuses mainly on healthcare, although they also work in other sectors such as education, self-storage, and pharmaceuticals.

These days, the modular division accounts for an average of 20% to 25% of Axis’ annual revenue.

Current and favourite projects

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Axis is currently in the design phase of a project that’s different from their usual modular projects because it uses repurposed shipping containers. BMarko Structures in Georgia will manufacture the modules. The project is a 13,000 sq ft, two story building for the Portsmouth Naval Station in Maine that will provide offices and accommodations for sailors as they come off their ships.

One of Buongiorno’s favourite projects was an addition to the pediatric emergency department at the Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in New York. “The first shovel in the ground for that project was the first week of March, 2020,” Buongiorno says. We all know what happened next.

Despite setbacks caused by Covid-19, “We were able to get the foundation done, get the services ready, and deliver the building by the end of April. We had full approvals with the Department of Health before the Fourth of July. So, in under 11 weeks, we went from an empty parking lot to patients in the building.”

Experienced With modular

It’s valuable to learn from companies like Axis that have been using modular construction methods for a long time and have figured out how to be profitable in doing so, Buongiorno says.

In Buongiorno’s view, building bare boxes in the factory, and doing lots of work on site isn’t how to make the most of modular. By reducing onsite time, the total costs for general conditions are reduced. The modules Axis builds (usually by partnering with MODLOGIQ) come out of the factory at a very high level of completion, leaving less to do onsite.

“There are a lot of nice-looking modular buildings out there. But they’re built from raw boxes that were sent out of the factory, stacked, and then had a lot of work done onsite — such as the painting, ductwork, the primary electrical systems, the flooring, plumbing, and siding. Modular companies often deliver buildings that are 15% to 20% complete. We deliver buildings that are 85% complete.”

Buongiorno says this means that for projects like the Good Samaritan, “Instead of it taking 11 weeks like it took us, it probably would have taken someone else more like 20 or 22 weeks. Everyone wants to realize the speed of modular, but very few actually have. We speak from firsthand experience with doing so.”

World of modular presentation

At the World of Modular event in March 2020, Jim Gabriel — the general manager at MODLOGIQ — and John Buongiorno made the case that conventionally built healthcare projects can pose significant risks to patients, staff, and visitors. In contrast, offsite construction can significantly reduce the risks to patient and staff safety — as well as minimise the impact on the critical operations of an active patient care environment. This year’s session will revisit the subject in the wake of the global pandemic.

Buongiorno says that when he gives presentations, it tends to open doorways of possibilities. People approach him both to learn more and also because they’re interested in working on a project together. He also says it’s important to give presentations about modular construction to keep getting the message out there.

“I love this industry. I love what we do at Axis. The support provided by our president and CEO, Ralph Lambert, has helped push modular to the next level. But modular is still a very small fraction of the new builds that go on in the United States,” Buongiorno says.

“Too often, the perception is still that modular means trailers. We build real buildings. There are no special codes, no shortcuts. We have a different delivery method. And we can build you just about anything you want.”

This article was first published in the Modular Building Institute’s Modular Advantage magazine – January/February 2021 Edition.

 

Zena Ryder

Freelance writer

www.zenafreelancewriter.com

LinkedIn: Zena Ryder

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