Record rainfall this summer in Wilmington is not just dampening spirits and dousing beach vacations.
The weather is also affecting commercial and residential development.
“It more or less cost us the whole month of July on anything where the site or the construction has not gotten to the point where you’re inside of a building working,” said Ken Dull, president and owner of Wilmington- based general contracting firm McKinley Building Corp.
Luckily, he said, a majority of the projects his company is working on currently is at that point. Two example are office buildings at Mayfaire.
“We’re moving on with everything inside,” Dull said of The Offices at Mayfaire V and VI.
The 30,000-square-foot The Offices at Mayfaire V building will be completely occupied by one of the area’s largest health care providers, Wilmington Health. The 40,000-square-foot structure housing The Offices at Mayfaire VI will be fully occupied by and serve as additional space for nCino, a rapidly growing banking software firm that spun off from Live Oak in 2012. Both buildings, located in an office park behind Mayfaire Community Center off Military Cutoff Road, are complete.
Builders said the record rainfall, which reached 60 inches since January of this year as of Aug. 6, is requiring them to get creative. And it’s a conversation workers and company leaders have been having every day this summer, said Bryan Thomas, COO of Monteith Construction.
The total for the year as of Aug. 6 is nearly twice the normal amount, according to National Weather Service records. The records show that May set an all-time area high for the month, with 14.36 inches. A little over 8 inches of rain fell in June, and about 17 inches fell in July, according to NWS totals. Some of the issues Monteith Construction, whose projects include New Hanover County’s 96,000-square-foot Public Health and Social Services building at 1650 Greenfield St., include installing utilities and getting proper bearing capacities when a site has saturated soil, Thomas said. Getting heavy equipment on a site is a major challenge, he said.
“We’re having to tow trucks in and out,” Thomas said. “The rain saturates everything, and it’s just a mud pit.”
Stormwater management and erosion control, which are required for development projects, become even more critical.
“We have a pretty extensive erosion control process that we put in during construction,” Thomas said. “We have to ensure that none of that washes off our site onto somebody else’s site, and the state of North Carolina regulates that and they do regular inspections.”
Builders like Monteith use silt fences and temporary diversion basins that collect water on their sites.
Those measures “filter sand and silt and dirt and debris out before the water leaves our site so we don’t have washouts across roadways and things like that. We spend a good amount of time early on in the projects with design and with our civil engineers coming up with appropriate erosion control measures and each site is different,” Thomas said.
Such hurdles come with the job.
“It’s part of our work. This is what we do, and it makes things challenging, and then we just have to kind of overcome it,” Thomas said. “We do a lot of specialty building, schools and hospitals, things like that and with a lot of our projects kids [students] are coming; it doesn’t matter if we have a lot of rain. It’s just another level of scheduling and resequencing to try to get the work complete.
Thomas added, “That’s what these guys pay us to do is figure out the problems, and get the buildings built. Fortunately, more than half of our projects are either renovations or we were able to get the roof structures on early.”
Paving is particularly a challenge for construction crews, Dull said, because they need about two days straight with no rain to try to complete that task.
A high-profile project in downtown Wilmington has been feeling the effects of the precipitation levels. Crews have been working to put the pilings and foundation in for River Place, a mixed-use project under development by East West Partners and the city of Wilmington as part of a public-private partnership. The development will include 92 luxury condominiums, 79 apartments and 32,000-square-feet of retail space in a 13-story structure at 200 North Water St. It will also include 403 parking spaces and is expected to be complete by 2020.
“The unprecedented amount of rain has forced us to come up with creative solutions to mitigate its impact,” said Lucien Ellison, project manager for River Place and local partner in East West Partners. “We have pumps on the site to move water and dewater the pockets of ponding and are keeping our crews as efficient as possible.”
The impacts have even been felt on jobs that aren’t ground-up construction.
The rain has posed a “tremendous challenge” when it comes to work on rehabilitating the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant, said Peter O’Brien, owner of Cape Fear Maintenance Inc.
“We’re going into two solid weeks of delay just on that project alone,” O’Brien said on July 31. “It needs to be sandblasted and painted before any other work can be put back on it.”
Homebuilders are also lamenting the soggy situation.
“Until the roof is on and windows are in, it’s really difficult to get any momentum on a project,” said Dave Spetrino, president of the Wilmington- Cape Fear Home Builders Association and founder of PBC Design + Build. “Foundation, framing, exterior siding – impossible. Most sites drain well (thanks to sand) but some areas it’s a constant headache with dewatering, stormwater management etc.”
He said if a house is “dried-in,” meaning it has a roof and windows, “it’s a pain, but at least we’re getting work done – that is until we get to final grading and landscaping.”
Builders and others in the Wilmington area are concerned about the saturated soil and rising groundwater table for another reason: the region’s history with flooding from storms.
“I just knock on wood and hope if we get some sort of tropical storm between now and October … I don’t even want to think about how bad it could be,” Dull said.