For years, modular construction has mostly eluded the senior housing industry—despite its perceived ability to deliver projects more quickly and at a lesser cost than traditional construction methods. Now, a manufacturing company with deep industry roots hopes to make modular construction in senior housing the norm.
Chicago-based Skender recently announced plans to open a new Skender Manufacturing facility that will assemble modular building parts for senior housing, multifamily, health care and other commercial buildings in the Windy City. Manufacturing will begin as soon as this November.
Modular construction, according to Vanguard Modular Building Systems, “is the process where buildings are made up of individual sections (‘modules’), constructed in an off-site controlled manufacturing facility, and assembled together at the final building site. The modules are fabricated using standard building construction materials while leveraging assembly-line production methods.”
Building senior housing communities using modular construction has been “talked about for 30 years,” but there are certain factors that have prevented it from truly gaining traction in the industry, Skender CEO Mark Skender told Senior Housing News.
“It’s the segmentation that exists in our industry—there’s usually a different designer, owner, contractor and modular builder,” he explained. These moving parts must all work together seamlessly to make the project efficient and worthwhile, he implied.
Fear of the unknown, and less-than-stellar examples of completed modular projects, also play a role in senior housing developers’ hesitation to go modular.
“There’s unfamiliarity with the new system, there’s risk aversion, the outcome isn’t usually as positive as everyone thinks it should be,” he said. “But [Skender’s approach to modular construction] will be a different approach.”
Essentially, the Skender Manufacturing facility will be three businesses—manufacturing, general contractor, design—under one roof. The idea is that this process is going to result in higher-quality projects that are built efficiently, and built faster.
“A project that may take 12 months, we’d do in eight months,” Skender explained.
In the past, Skender has worked with senior housing operators like Sunrise Senior Living and Senior Lifestyle Corp. Its inaugural project from Skender Manufacturing won’t be senior housing, however—instead, it will be a six-story, 80,000-square-foot multifamily building Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.
But Skender’s modular push into senior housing is likely to be a welcome one. After all, senior housing construction costs have been increasing for some time, and are currently being pressured by the rising cost of building materials and an ongoing labor crunch.
Some senior housing developers have recently branched out and adopted new methods of construction. The Wolff Co., for instance, is planning to exclusively build all of its future senior housing communities using an offsite fabrication method from Menlo Park, California-based Katerra.
Additionally, Dr. Bill Thomas’ Minka small homes are built using modular construction.
Written by Mary Kate Nelson