The Columbian

Story by Tom Hale | September 28, 2010

Ken Chura, a 30-year construction veteran and former late-model stock car driver, is accustomed to moving quickly, but even he is impressed by the rapid construction of The Columbian, a striking 48-story, 220-unit, cast-in-place concrete condominium project at 1160 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago's South Loop. "We're making great progress and will top out the structure in early October," he says.

Chura, project manager for general contractor Walsh Construction, is confident that the entire project will be completed next year — less than 24 months after construction first began on Oct. 10, 2005. First occupancy is scheduled for summer 2007, with project completion slated for fall 2007.

The Columbian, featuring the tallest "hand set" masonry building in Chicago and many full height windows, will offer the best of location, luxury living and ultimate views,according to the developer, The Columbian, LLC (The Davis Group, headed by principals Allison Davis, Jared Davis and Robert Koerner). The luxury high-rise is being built on the prominent corner of Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue — offering unobstructed views of scenic Grant Park, Lake Michigan and the city skyline.

"This is a unique project because of our premier location, which sets us apart from any other development in the city," says Rick James, a representative for The Davis Group. "Our front yard is Grant Park."

He adds, "The Davis Group has done about $640 million worth of residential development, not including The Columbian. This is the largest high-rise structure that we have done, and it is a strong, quality project."

As designed by DeStefano and Partners, Ltd., Chicago, the 541,000-gross-square-foot condominium project — comprised of a 40-story tower on an eight-story base — completes the streetwall along South Michigan Avenue at the southern edge of Grant Park. A total of 220 one-, two- and three-bedroom units will occupy 38 tower floors of the symmetrically planned masonry tower. The top two floors will house mechanical equipment. Seven levels of parking (floors 2–8) for 231 cars and common area including 6,600 square feet of ground floor retail comprise the eight-story base. Setback terraces, balconies and a roof garden on top of the eight-story base offer panoramic views of the city and lakefront. Highlighting the pinnacle, a stepped roof echoes an architectural style typical of many buildings along the streetwall.

The Columbian features three residential floor plan styles, with 166 boulevard homes, 35 tower units and 19 penthouse units. "Floors 9–32 are going to be the boulevard units, with seven homes per floor; floors 33–39 will be tower units, with five homes per floor; and floors 40–46 are penthouse homes, ranging from four units per floor to three units per floor to two units per floor as you go up the building," James comments.

Interiors will be spacious and richly detailed. "The standard finishes featured on this project are what many other condo developments list as upgrade items — granite counter tops, marble floors, stainless steel appliances, under mount sinks, and hardwood flooring," says James. "There are a lot of things that we will incorporate within this building. It will be a luxury building with very nice appointments."

Amenities include a fitness center, business center, storage lockers, and 24-hour doorman service. "On the ninth floor, we will have a community room with a full kitchen," says James. "There will be a large meeting area with double doors leading to an outside terraced landscaped area."

Fast-Paced Concrete Work

Construction is taking place at the site of the Avenues Motel, which was demolished and cleared prior to Walsh Construction initiating work in late 2005. After installing the foundation — the building is being constructed on 411 steel H-piles with concrete caps, Walsh began work on the superstructure. "The interesting part about this project is that we are performing the concrete work (for floors 10–39) on a two-day cycle," says Chura. "The typical floor plate is 10,500 square feet and we are pouring half a deck every day."

Chura, who in his spare time races go-karts and owns a late-model stock car that races at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., loves the project's fast pace. He points out that workers, including the hoist operator, are trained to meet the tight schedules posed by the two-day cycle and realize their work is essential in making the overall schedule work.

According to Chura, the decision to pour a floor every two working days was based on economics. "It was a business decision," he says. "It was an analysis that our concrete managers fine tuned so we could do the two-day cycle with minimal overtime. You could do a two-day cycle with hundreds of hours of overtime, but we are able to manage the cycle and schedule it to where we have very, very little overtime, which makes it economical. We will save six weeks off our concrete construction schedule and get done before winter. It is a savings to everybody, and that is the way we planned it."

He notes that the two-day cycle fits the design of The Columbian. "Since this is a masonry-clad building, there are not a lot of exterior shear walls or columns and we don't have to take up valuable crane time to lift the panels," he says. "So, we were able to sequence the use of the tower crane (Liebherr 550HC) and the use of the pumps, freeing up the tower crane to do work on the decking operations."

Chris P. Stefanos Associates is serving as structural engineer for The Columbian, which is being built with approximately 26,000 cubic yards of concrete. "We are placing concrete from the east side to the west," says Gary Enderle, Walsh's project manager-concrete. "The core walls are moving two floors ahead."

During a late June visit by Construction Digest, crews were pouring concrete for the 20th level. Concrete construction will continue until October; meanwhile significant interior and exterior work is being performed. "We have installed precast on the base of the building and it is taking shape, and we are proceeding with the masonry," says Chura. "The windows will be arriving in August, on schedule."

To install the masonry, the joint-venture masonry team of Ceisel Masonry Inc./Garth Masonry Corp. is using Hydro-Mobile hydraulic work platforms. "These platforms go from the ground up to the 42nd floor,"Chura says.

Running Smoothly

The Columbian represents Chura's third high-rise condo project in Chicago. "It's been a smooth project so far,"he says.

A workforce totaling approximately 140 is presently on-site, and Chura anticipates that number will peak at 180. In addition to Ceisel Masonry Inc./Garth Masonry Corp., other key subcontractors include Advance Mechanical Systems Inc., HVAC and piping; Alliance Fire Protection, sprinkler system; The Plumbing Co., plumbing; Lid Electric, electric; Builders Architectural Products Inc., windows; Kole Construction Co., framing/dry wall; Budron Excavating Co., excavation; Lombard, precast; Wheaton Associates, cabinets/carpentry; Architectural Glass Works, storefronts; International Flooring, wood, carpet, ceramic; Demos Painting & Decorating Inc., painting; ShowerWorks Inc., mirrors, shower doors, accessories; Granite Emporium, granite tops; and Stone USA, interior/exterior granite cladding.

Major material suppliers are Ozinga Bros. Inc., concrete; Toltec Steel Services Inc., rebar; and Doka, formwork system.

Construction crews are typically on the job five days a week. "We do some weekend work for precast erection or any kind of activities that need a tower crane, because that tower crane is busy every minute of the day during the week," Chura explains.

Chura says the biggest construction hurdle has been coordinating construction and material deliveries on a tight site. "This is a typical downtown site with sidewalk closures and very limited work areas," he says. "The building is at a major Chicago intersection and on a Dan Ryan Expressway alternate route. In addition, it is near a major pedestrian path to Grant Park, Soldier Field, Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum. So, we had to have many meetings with the city to develop a traffic plan for pedestrians and motorists, and that was a big challenge."

With limited working area, Walsh Construction relies heavily on an adjacent parking lot, which Walsh is renting for staging purposes.

Jobsite safety is an ongoing challenge on the project, one that Walsh Construction is meeting head-on. "Walsh, our staff and subcontractors are committed to an aggressive 'no one gets hurt' policy," states Chura. "We not only have daily and weekly safety meetings, we offer incentives for working safe including hats, tee-shirts, jackets, and catered lunches. On this project, the crews are well dressed and well fed due to their efforts."

Another challenge has been assembling a project team that meets the city of Chicago's residency and MBE/WBE employment goals. "As part of the city's guidelines, 50 percent of man-hours worked are to be performed by city residents, 25 percent of the total contract dollars must go to MBE contractors and 5 percent of the contract dollars must go to WBE contractors," James says. "It is a challenge to assemble a group of tradesmen who all live in the city of Chicago. But I think the city's employment plan is a great thing. I think part of the reason why the city of Chicago has become so beautiful is they are generating revenue and they are keeping it within."

Walsh Construction has done many projects with The Davis Group, and enjoys working with its principals and staff. "The Davis Group is a hands-on owner (Rick James is on-site almost everyday)," says Chura. "We have a team concept with the owner and architect. Documents are well defined and the architect is flexible."

Dan Walsh and Matt Walsh are owners of Walsh Construction. In addition to Chura and Enderle, key members of Walsh's project team are Gary Thalheimer, business group manager; Harry Walder, vice president-concrete operations; Mike Buono, project manager; Clint Tucker, senior project superintendent; Roy Eikland, senior superintendent-concrete; Finn Eikland, project superintendent-concrete; Dan Regan, assistant superintendent-concrete; Dan Kahl, superintendent-concrete placement/finishing; Rob Deboer, superintendent-concrete placement; Gabe O'Kane, superintendent-rebar installation; Mike Trippicchio, superintendent-layout; Carlos Norrick, safety professional; Piotr Roslan, MEP coordinator; Kevin Varrone, upgrade coordinator; Tiffany White, assistant project manager; Karen Latus, assistant project manager; Chris Maric, assistant project manager-concrete; and Lisa Wheeler, project administrative assistant.