Hunt Construction, an AECOM Company – Fairmont Austin

HuntHunt Construction’s experience and relationships made it the ideal firm to build Austin’s first Fairmont hotel.

By Tim O’Connor

Austinites may take pride in keeping the Texas capital weird, but there’s no reason they can’t do so while enjoying a little luxury. “With the growth of Austin and all of the hospitality construction going on I think it’s a huge boost for the city of Austin to have a brand like Fairmont added to their community,” says Eric Schreiner, senior vice president of construction for Hunt Construction, an AECOM Company - the firm managing the building of the hotel.

Its location next to the Austin Convention Center enables the project to take advantage of the city’s growing convention business, which includes South by Southwest (SXSW) and other major events. “The area around the convention center is one of the few areas left in Austin to be developed,” Schreiner says. “This is a catalyst for other things that are going to happen in that area.”Hunt info box

Among those other developments in the surrounding area is the revitalization of Waller Creek, a stream that branches off from the Colorado River and runs through the heart of Austin and past the Fairmont Hotel site. The Waller Creek Conservancy, the non-profit organization behind the revitalization effort, plans to make landscaping and riverwalk improvements in the area around the future hotel.

The Fairmont itself is drawing inspiration from the creek and the adjacent Palm Park. Schreiner says park elements, such as large faux trees, fountains and sculptures, will be part of the hotel’s design. Those features will primarily be found in the building’s podium on the lobby and amenity levels.

Building Luxury

It may be the first Fairmont Hotel in Austin, but Hunt is no stranger to this kind of project. The company has built luxury hotels in San Diego for the Fairmont’s developer, Manchester Financial Group, and has completed several other hotels in Austin. “The relationship that we established from those other projects [with Manchester Financial] was instrumental for us being selected to build this one for them in Austin,” Schreiner says.

The Fairmont is designed to be more luxurious than those past projects, with 1,066 rooms spread between 37 stories. The 420-foot glass-encased building will also include 106,500 square feet of meeting space, 43,000 square feet of outdoor space and four levels of underground parking. In all, the Fairmont has a $370 million budget, of which $240 million is for construction.

The project is being built using the construction manager at-risk method. As part of that process, the hotel’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems will be developed by the project’s subcontractors via a design/build approach. Schreiner says design/build creates a significant advantage because the subcontractors doing the actual work control the systems intricate to their trades, allowing for faster design and quicker procurement.

Giving that responsibility to the subcontractor does, however, require a great deal of trust, oversight, management and coordination. “We don’t just turn them loose and cross our fingers,” Schreiner says. “We manage every facet of the process to ensure that what is being designed is something that meets the owner’s needs and still fits within the budget. ”

Using the design/build approach is one way Hunt shows its subcontractors they are partners on the Fairmont. “We all have to be part of the same team for the same purpose,” Schreiner says. “We’re demanding but we’re fair. Most of our subcontractors appreciate that because they know that equates to maximum efficiency – the project is going to be  be completed as soon as possible and hopefully make the kind of money they expect to make on the project.”

Work on the hotel began in January 2015 and is scheduled for completion in summer 2017. At the end of August, crews had begun pouring the concrete on the 32nd floor and were setting the last sequence of steel in the podium area.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had is the record rainfalls that Austin has had the last two springs,” Schreiner says. In 2015, the wet weather delayed some of the excavation work and this year rain set back concrete pours and trade work. Hunt worked around those challenges by resequencing some aspects such as the drill pier foundations, which were moved up in the schedule until the rain-affected work could continue.

Improving Coordination

A strength of Hunt is its ability to learn from the challenges of one job and apply those lessons to the next. “We always make sure as we go into the next project we reflect on our lessons learned from similar type projects in similar markets to ensure we use that experience as an advantage moving forward,” Schreiner says.

For the Fairmont Austin project, the construction team gained experience on implementing changes in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing design/build contracts with the architectural, structural and interior design firms involved in the project. The process requires defined collaboration with each of those entities to not only produce construction documents but to generate any desired changes so they can be applied in a timely manner.

Although Hunt has already developed a good process for facilitating that collaboration, Schreiner says the Fairmont project is teaching the company how to handle the integration of each of those disciplines in a more efficient way. Previously, every change was reviewed separately by each stakeholder one-by-one and down the line. It was a time-consuming process, so Hunt developed a way to overlap those reviews using a combination of computer software, coordination among team players in each discipline and by using a series of meetings to open dialog.

It all adds up to a better finished project. “We want to make sure when we’re done with this project – just like every project – it is a centerpiece of work we can be proud of, that the owner is extremely satisfied, and that it is of the highest quality,” Schreiner says.

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