The former food-processing plant was a complex of steel construction buildings with concrete slab floors, built over a span of decades beginning in the 1960s. Together they yielded approximately 120,000 square feet of usable space. The owner, acting as his own contractor,
Renovation of existing structures often requires problem solving on the fly, but this project entailed constant rethinking, redesigning, and redoing. When I was hired, the owner had begun demolition. He needed a set of construction documents to acquire a permit. Within weeks of taking on the job, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the pandemic and Pennsylvania officials declared a moratorium on all construction. Building activity was suspended for 90 days. In-person communication with government officials ceased. Fortunately, I had enough information to proceed with the design and unit mix and created a partial set of documents.
The owner supplied a laser scan of the building interior done by a firm out of New York. The $1,000 price tag may have been a bargain, but the low resolution was unsatisfactory. I was able to import it into my 3D design and modeling software, but unable to accurately trace the floor and structure. I had to field measure. During the lockdown, I had to make several 150-mile roundtrips from Baltimore to the jobsite. Toll booths on I-95 were closed and food and bathrooms were unavailable on the road.
To accurately measure the exterior elevations, I needed a worker to climb the roofs and drop a tape. While measuring, I found the space to add two bathrooms and a meeting room in the office. I established the distances of fire exits and met the requirements for handicap bathroom entrances and exits according to the Americans With Disabilities Act. I completed the plans and sent the drawings to the permit office for review. As a caveat, “you get what you pay for”. High resolution scans are required for accurate drawings. It was an expensive lesson.
New problems constantly appeared. Post-permit, ongoing demolition uncovered exposed steel bracing that was obstructing some proposed self-storage units. It couldn’t be removed because it was structurally integral. After many debates, the structural engineer was able to modify the braces, which allowed us to proceed installing corridors and doors. While all the buildings were contiguous, the floor slabs were at several levels and made from different materials. To bring them into conformity, we poured a 3-inch concrete overlay.
Design and redesign continued until occupancy. The owner continued to make changes. Late in the process he decided to install new exterior access to the basement. The change required a second fire exit, for which I supplied plans, but the concrete contractor installed it backwards. He tore it out and repoured it. I continued to answer all requests from the building inspector for plan changes. Fortunately, he was patient and understanding.