Essex General Construction – The Boathouse

Boathouse View 2 Rendering copyEssex General Construction's work on the Boathouse apartment complex in Portland, Ore., reflects its commitments to teamwork and LEED-quality sustainable construction. 

By Jim Harris

Essex General Construction's focus on teamwork has enabled it to be one of the most trusted contractors in its home base of Eugene, Ore., for nearly 30 years. “Throughout the years we’ve developed strong partnerships, based on open communication, a commitment to fairness and a need to see every project through,” the company says. “These relationships — with clients, designers, subcontractors and suppliers – are as strong and sturdy as the buildings we construct.”

The level of commitment the company demonstrates to its projects distinguishes Essex from many of its general contracting peers. “We have earned people’s trust in the valley and have brought that commitment to Portland,” Project Manager Perry Smick says. “Our relationships are key to our success.”

Since its founding in 1987, the company has completed a number of projects in western Oregon and southwest Washington. Its portfolio includes light industrial buildings, medical office buildings, multi-family developments, restaurant and retail sites, and student housing. Within the past three years, the company expanded its services. Essex today maintains offices in Portland as well as its historical base in Eugene.

Riverfront Property

The company in September 2014 broke ground on its biggest project yet in Portland. The $22 million Boathouse apartment complex is a two-building, 133-unit luxury housing development situated along the Willamette River in Portland's John's Landing neighborhood, located just south of the city's downtown.

The project includes two buildings: a west building with 125 units, and an eastern tower that houses eight units and an amenity area. Both are six stories tall with a ground-floor 94-space parking garage and units on the elevated first through fifth floors.

The foundation of both buildings consists of a 15-inch concrete slab with a post tension concrete slab supporting the upper floors of wood framing.

The buildings' exterior features a combination of Hardie horizontal lap siding, stucco and Corten weathering steel with a brick veneer on the lower level. The ground-level garage features the use of concrete masonry unit blocks and garage openings filled with steel mesh security grills with ornate water scenes attached to their surface. “Rather than just having a wire mesh on the front of the building, the owner and architect wanted to tie aspects of the nearby Willamette River to the structure,” Smick says.

Amenity spaces including storage areas for kayaks and bicycles, a community and fitness room, and a pet wash station. Interior finishes include luxury vinyl tile, quartz countertops and high-end cabinets. The complex is crescent-shaped, with a courtyard in the center. “All the tenants will have a view of the river from their rooms, balconies or the courtyard,” he adds. The center courtyard includes seating areas, a fire pit and barbecue area.

Eyes on the Environment

The project is designed to attain LEED Silver status though Gold certification is within reach. Environmentally minded features include the use of filtration planters surrounding the building, which remove sedimentation and pollutants from surface runoff water. The building also features thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) membrane roofing to reduce the Heat Island effect and sustainable flooring, paint and adhesives. Apartment units include Energy Star appliances and energy efficient light fixtures.

The building's sustainable features reflect Essex's overall corporate commitment to environmental responsibility. “Since our founding, we have brought environmentally sustainable practices and techniques to our projects,” the company says. “The green benefits we bring to our projects come from a deeper place than LEED and Earth Advantage standards. This is an ethic that drives our company, and represents who we are as people.”

Essex's green-minded philosophy earned it the city of Eugene's “Bold Step Toward Sustainability” award for the past two years, it adds.

Working it Out

Essex worked closely with the Boathouse's owners as well as specialty contractors to overcome logistic and other challenges related to the project. The company needed to perform environmental remediation of the soil on the site, which formerly housed an industrial facility.

The project's location at a busy intersection near a gated condominium complex made deliveries challenging, Smick notes. “To maintain everyone's safety, we had to have a good plan, communicate it to all of our subcontractors and neighbors, and adhere to it”. “We made sure we had ample manpower to handle deliveries as they came in.”

Subcontractors also played a large role in designing the project. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors all assumed responsibility for designing their own systems.

Several of the project's subcontractors traveled the 100 miles between Eugene and Portland to work on the project. “We're still relatively new to the Portland market, so we brought a handful of subs up with us,” Smick says. “It wound up working well for us.”

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