Modular Building is Smart, Fast and Green
Modular construction has come a long way from makeshift trailers moved from spot to spot for portable classrooms. Icon Construction is leading the industry with buildings that look and perform so well that they are now used for hotels and military operations.
When U.S. intelligence operations were under attack at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, an Oklahoma construction company was called in to provide immediate onsite medical facilities in response. The building where the shootings occurred was confiscated by the army’s investigation team and personnel had to be moved out for treatment.
That company was Icon Construction in Durant, 10 miles north of the Texas border, known for its track record with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. military for both temporary and permanent modular medical buildings and officer training centers across the country.
“They had an emergency meeting for how to house these people,” recalls Rodney Whitworth, Icon’s Director of Marketing. “Then they called us directly and we were able to provide a number of facilities for them—including a brain injury center and rehabilitation facilities,” he says.
“I can tell you, I’ve been in this business for 11 years and I have not had a more rewarding project. You’re giving back and you’re helping the military protect us on a daily basis. Not a better feeling in the world.”
Meeting building specifications for national security projects requires the knowhow to deliver on time and with absolute precision. Think sound-proofing, access measures and surveillance to spy-proof sensitive areas. Icon has also done the complete design and construction of modular Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility buildings or “SCIFs” for classified army operations in Fort Gordon, Georgia, along with Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Terre Haute, Indiana. President Trump is reported to have an SCIF in his Trump Tower home in New York City and at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, which he refers to as his Winter White House.
“There is a real need for these SCIF facilities. At Fort Gordon, for example, they’re doing a tremendous amount of intelligence building facilities there. It’s very specialized work,” Whitworth says.
It’s this high level of competency and experience that Icon brings to every project, whether it’s a temporary ER for an army hospital under renovation, a new child daycare center or a luxury hotel. The range of modular construction or “prefabricated” applications is broad, and the appeal is gaining ground in the commercial construction industry in a big way. Why? You get a better quality product in a dramatically shorter period of time, saving you money, time and energy. In short, it’s a highly sophisticated industry primed for a greener future. Modular buildings currently make up five percent of the construction market. That number is expected to double – or even triple – in the next five years.
Modular construction is a process whereby the building is constructed off-site, under climate- and quality-controlled factory conditions. It uses the same materials – steel, wood and concrete – and is designed to even more stringent codes and standards as conventionally built facilities. That’s because each module has to be fully secure with all the wiring, plumbing and fixtures in place for transporting to the site. So instead of having tradespeople on a construction site building and adjusting to make sure everything fits (or waiting for the rain to stop and hoping exposed materials are not damaged), tradespeople are on the factory floor building custom modules to exact specifications and undergoing third-party inspections. Safety, efficiency and quality control are huge benefits.
“For the most part, we are given the specifications that we need to build to,” Whitworth says. “Our engineering team is phenomenal. They can knock a drawing out in a day. We have customers who call us with an idea, but they don’t know where to start. We’ll get the basic design concept from them and we’ll create the product for them. It’s always a very positive experience.”
The really impressive thing is the entire process takes about half the time. That’s right, half. You eliminate three-quarters of field construction labor, and reduce energy and water use by half. Buildings are also occupied sooner, creating a faster return on investment.
The factory design and build is performed at the same time as the destination site and foundation work. The modules are put together at the site. Local labor and tradespeople do the foundation and on-site assembly, helping with job creation in the communities where the buildings are located.
These prefabricated structures reflect the design of the most sophisticated traditional “stick-built” facilities. In fact, depending on the building, you won’t be able to tell the difference, says Whitworth. Among its award-winning projects, Icon built an impressive 22,000-square-foot law enforcement training center in a former military base in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2016.
“It’s a two-story building that has a brick exterior, wood floors and an elevator in it,” he says. “The building itself is beautiful. If you’re standing outside, you would never ever guess it is a modular building. It was a great project for us. Law enforcement officers from all over the United States go there for annual training. The security features alone for biometric eye recognition systems and all kinds of security cameras cost over a million dollars.” Icon had to match the look of the existing military structures in close proximity and set all the modules with a crane to protect the landscaping around the site.
What really sets Icon apart from the competition is that the company is a direct manufacturer of modular buildings. Most competitors are brokers or dealers who don’t manufacture their own product. Which is how the company first started out in 1998 – as a broker.
“We figured out if we can manufacture these ourselves, we can control our own quality, our own line time and turn out a high-quality product.”
To make the transition to direct manufacturer a smooth one, Icon brought in Mike Stoica from Whitney Construction in Indiana to become the company’s plant manager. He knows the ropes better than most and spearheaded the first modular building constructed out in the company’s parking lot, overseeing the design, quality control and everything else with the employees, many of whom are still with the company.
As Stoica puts it: “When I came on board, the owners had a desire to put out a very high-quality product and not be at the mercy of other manufacturers. We opened the 55,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Durant in September 2006 and we were up and running in full production the following April.” Corporate headquarters recently moved to the same site for even better communications, and with office staff, set-up crews, superintendents, people in the field, and people in the manufacturing facility, the company now has about 70 employees.
Icon fast became a full-service turnkey operation – a design, build and direct manufacturer of modular buildings – with a reputation for quality. Customers get complete customization and the assurance of a firm delivery date and price. Icon also stands out for providing two points of contact per job, a site superintendent and a project manager. Essentially, Icon is responsible for everything from start to finish, Stoica says, “so if a customer has an issue, they don’t have to chase who did the plumbing, who did the electrical – they call Icon Construction and we take care of it.”
He’s proud of Icon’s quality and material standards which he calls a “step ahead of everything in the industry. Thicker enforced floors, better decking, better lumber and walls – 5/8” is the minimum that we use.”
More and more customers are willing to pay for that kind of quality. About 75 to 80 percent of Icon’s builds are permanent structures, more durable than traditional stick-built construction by a long shot, Stoica says. “Even the buildings, classrooms and police stations for the Bureau of Indian Affairs that we do are permanent buildings that are used for 20, 30 or 40 years – however many years they need them.” Icon is also a veteran in disaster relief medical facilities and border customs offices.
But it’s the private sector that represents a real growth opportunity for Icon, especially in assisted living facilities and hotels, again because of how well they are constructed.
“We build each room individually here at the plant, and when they put the rooms together, two adjacent rooms, for example, you have a double wall, double privacy, double soundproofing,” he explains. “So this is what sets us apart. We want to put our foot in the private sector more and more because we know what our capabilities are and what our product offers.”