Turner Construction – Great Wolf Lodge
Turner Constructions learned from its past work with Great Wolf Lodge to improve the client’s latest resort.
By Tim O’Connor
In the tourism business, success is seasonal. It’s critical to be up and running during summer breaks and holidays when families are more likely to vacation. This is why the new Great Wolf Lodge under construction in LaGrange, Ga., about 60 miles south of Atlanta, is so keen on being open by June 2018 in time for summer visitors. Any delays could mean losing the entire prime travel season.
To meet that deadline, the resort company needed a construction manager with experience and the capability to work efficiently. Turner Construction was the clear choice because the company had the knowledge and expertise in place to accelerate work on the project.
Further, because Turner has worked with Great Wolf Lodge before, the company knew Great Wolf Lodge to be an educated client that could make decisions quickly. “Us being familiar with Great Wolf as a client and understanding their decision-making gives us the comfort to cut our schedule,” Turner Account Executive A.J. Bargoti says.
LaGrange’s Great Wolf Lodge will be 491,000 square feet in size, with 457 rooms, a 30,000-square-foot conference center and a 93,000-square-foot indoor water park. Although it will share a northwoods theme with the company’s past resorts, the LaGrange location will act as a new prototype model.
Previous Great Wolf Lodges have a stacked design where amenities are separated by level. Meeting rooms might be located on the upper floors while the arcade, bowling lanes and water park access were set below ground. The new design, however, features four connected structures – a hotel, conference center, lobby and water park – that are aligned on the same level. The change is meant to enhance convenience for guests and create better revenue generation opportunities through more visible placement of restaurants.
In March 2016, Great Wolf Lodge selected Turner to act as construction manager/general contractor for the project while the resort was still in its design phase. The early involvement allowed Turner to influence design decisions to make the project easier and more cost efficient to construct. “We started working with Great Wolf and the design team (Gensler) on the conceptual design and giving them feedback as it relates to constructability, costs, systems, analysis, value-engineering and scheduling all the way throughout the design,” Bargoti says.
As the design was still being finalized, Turner began to prepare the site for building, worked with the design team to develop early release packages and secured permits from the city of LaGrange. Completing that work ahead of the final plans enabled Turner to accelerate the project’s timeline and shorten the overall schedule. Construction began in August 2016 and will be completed in May 2018.
Turner was on pace to beat that construction deadline as of the end of May. “Despite the tremendous amount of rain we’ve had, we’ve been able to maintain and get slightly ahead of the schedule,” Bargoti says.
Weather was the biggest hurdle during the beginning months of construction. The excavation of the site meant that every time it rained the entire area turned into a mud bath, halting work and delaying progress. Bargoti says it was common to have as much as 4 inches of rainfall on the 50-acre property. It can take days for the ground to dry out from such heavy rains, so it was important for Turner to continue working even during such conditions.
To counteract the lingering impact of rain, Turner used mud slabs around the water park structure that allowed crews to form and cast the tilt panels used to envelop the water park building. Construction materials such as gravel are being used to protect excavated areas. Gravel and surge stone was also used to create temporary access roads so that equipment would not get stuck in the mud.
Those measures required strong collaboration between Turner and its subcontractors to negate rain-related delays. Turner’s first priority when construction began was to establish areas for the subcontractors, trailers and parking so that each trade could have its own operational space. “The biggest thing was collaborating with the subs and preplanning to know when to dig and when not to dig,” Bargoti says.
Subs were trusted to provide feedback on the schedule and to come up with their own plans – with Turner approval – for how to tackle various construction challenges. “The subs end up talking to each other,” Bargoti says of the group effort. “They’re coordinating. We’re just facilitating at that point.”
Turner also saved time by utilizing its own self-perform crews to pour the concrete for the hotel structure, conference center and main building. The only concrete work it did not self-perform was the frame of the water park building, which required a specialty tilt-up process. “That worked out for us very well because we had full control of that labor force,” Bargoti says.
Overcoming those weather obstacles kept the project schedule on track. Work on the resort was about 45 percent complete as of early June, according to Bargoti. The entire waterpark structure is in place and about 50 percent of the roof was installed. Turner was in the process of pouring concrete for the sixth level of the seven-floor hotel structure and 95 percent of the structural steel for the multipurpose building and conference center was done.
The next stretch of work will include completely enveloping the resort buildings to allow for the start of interior work. Turner will begin working on the roofing and building skin as subcontractors prepare for the theming component of the structure and interior sections.
Once the waterpark building is completely enclosed, Turner will hand that part of the resort off to a specialty pool contractor to install the pools and slides. Bargoti says the waterpark work should take about 10 months.
The LaGrange resort is an unusual project because it includes a public-private partnership element. The 30,000-square-foot conference center portion of the project will actually be owned by the city of LaGrange and is being financed through a taxpayer-backed bond. Once complete, the city will own and operate the conference center.
Great Wolf Lodge is the main client, but the city’s stake in the project means that it has a say in decision-making as well. Bargoti says the city has representation at all the project meetings and is kept informed of any changes. “There is a heavy coordination component with the city and they’ve been great to work with,” he adds.
But the primary stakeholder remains Great Wolf Lodge. “It was a true partnership,” Bargoti says of working with the resort company. “One of the things that helped us out is the fact we have built this type of facility before for the client.” The Great Wolf Lodge in LaGrange is the fourth resort project Turner has built for the company – the others were located in Grapevine, Texas; Garden Grove, Calif.; and Mason, Ohio.
“Having done these project with Great Wolf and all the lessons learned creates that trust between you and the client,” Bargoti explains. “You understand what their priorities are, you understand their constraints as far as the budget and schedule.”
Turner’s experience with Great Wolf Lodge not only gave the client confidence the construction firm could complete the job, but also provided a point of reference for how to improve the LaGrange resort. “We applied a lot of the lessons learned from what we did on the last project in California to aid the design team and engineers throughout the design and to maintain that project budget,” Bargoti says.
Experience benefited the project in a number of ways. Turner learned to engage low voltage, kitchen and elevator consultants and vendors early in the project to gather their input on the design. Theming coordination began earlier to ensure that all of the required infrastructure is designed and bought.
Turner also knew to complete its part of the water park early so that the pool contractor could get started on installing all the equipment. To that end, Turner purchased the water park roof as a turnkey assembly to improve coordination.
Likewise, Turner continues to learn new methods that can be applied to future Great Wolf Lodge projects, such as finalizing the furniture, fixture and equipment documents early and adjusting its waterproofing approach so that trusses do not penetrate tilt up panels to create a complete vapor barrier envelope. That knowledge is shared throughout Turner and will help the company as it pursues a similar water park project by another resort company in Texas.
Bargoti says the experience with Great Wolf Lodge continues to be beneficial for both companies. “I think it’s going to be a very attractive facility and a very successful one for them,” he adds.