By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Subhead: Design-Build Residence Project on Course to Become National Model
In 2012, when the Indian Health Services announced a design-build residence project in support of its Kayenta, Arizona hospital, the challenges, and the stakes, were high.
Situated on the Navajo Nation southwest of Four Corners, the area is remote and the environment is harsh. Because of the location, materials, deliveries, work schedules and timelines must be meticulously planned to avoid cost overruns and delays.
In addition, temperatures fluctuate from very hot to very cold, and soil composition and terrain contribute to blowing sand and other processes that can quickly deteriorate buildings and support structures.
When Phoenix-based Greenberg Construction won the contract, they envisioned a way to turn those challenges into an opportunity to create a world-class facility, improve quality of life in the area and contribute to how similar projects are undertaken in the future.
Strong Appeal Essential
The two-year, $50M project called for 129 housing units in a combination of duplexes, triplexes and single-family homes for medical staff and workers at the Kayenta Health Center. Given the center’s remote location, doctors, nurses and other staff must be recruited from other areas and brought in for the duration of their service.
According to Greenberg Operations Manager Dave Blickenderfer, providing appealing, quality housing is both an essential service and significant recruiting component.
Designing and Building to Meet the Challenges
Environmental conditions in northeastern Arizona mean increased wear and tear and reduced lifespans for designs and materials. Traditionally constructed buildings often need complete rehabilitation after only 10 years.
During the planning stage, Greenberg executives and managers worked closely with Navajo leaders, community members and hospital staff to identify and address concerns about materials, goals and cultural issues in advance of construction.
Input Yields Flagship Project
The design JSRA created merged environmentally progressive elements and long-lasting materials and design features, making the end result both sustainable and durable.
Among the environmentally friendly elements are:
- Solar hydronic water and interior heating
- Graywater Landscaping Irrigation
- Enhanced insulation
The residences were constructed using an outer set of 2×6 studs and an inner set of 2×4 studs. The gap between was then encapsulated and filled with spray foam insulation to create an extremely low air exchange rate.
Don Taylor, Greenberg president, speaks excitedly of the benefits of the insulation design. The reduced interaction between inside and outside air minimizes the damaging effects of blowing sand. “They are so well-insulated it’s almost like living inside a thermos,” he said.
As a result, the units are markedly easier to cool and heat. Radiant heat from standard appliances contributes significantly to the overall heating of the homes, and supplemental heating needs are met by the solar hydronic system.
“I like to say you can practically heat the unit with a hair dryer,” Taylor said.
Most important in the structural planning, however, was making sure the buildings themselves could stand up to the environment with a minimum of ongoing maintenance or rehabilitation.
To that end, Greenberg started from the ground up. With the blowing winds and varied soil composition, it’s easy for buildings to be, quite literally, undermined by erosion. To address the issue, concrete aprons were put under the buildings, which were raised to keep blowing sand from accumulating. A two-foot wainscot was also included to protect building materials.
“Concrete and masonry make the building easier to keep up and clean,” Blickenderfer said. “You can literally just hit it with a hose.”
Buildings were finished with a three-step stucco system featuring integral color to minimize paint maintenance needs, and metal roofing was deployed since it lasts significantly longer than either shingles or tile.
Durability also factors into the units’ interior design and materials, particularly since residences will see a relatively high degree of turnover during their life cycle. For example, luxury vinyl tile was used instead of carpeted flooring, because it is longer lasting and easier to maintain.
Culture and Community Most Important
Taylor says it was important to the Greenberg team that the project not only be sturdy, long lasting and attractive, but that that it bring short and long-term benefit to the entire area’s quality of life.
Contractors building on Native lands are required by the Federal government to comply with employment standards established by the Tribal Employment and Rights Office. Greenberg worked closely with the Office of Navajo Labor Relations to lay out what percentage of workers on the project would be Native and how to determine their pay scales.
The company strongly supported the Native worker requirements.
“In the end, these people live here and will receive the benefit from making this a world-class project,” Blickenderfer said. “Eighty percent of the workforce is local. It’s meaningful for us to try to make a concerted effort to help the local community and not just come in with a bunch of people from out of town, do the work and leave.”
“Our project was in support of the new hospital, which automatically improves the quality of life and the standard of living. We designed this project as an upscale product to increase the standard of living in the area. This is, without question, the nicest housing in hundreds of miles, and we’re proud of that.”
Both men agree consideration of local culture and traditions is vital for acceptance and buy-in when building in Native areas. These considerations were so important, they even influenced the physical layout of the property.
“From an aerial view, it’s not a traditional subdivision layout,” Taylor said. “We designed it to follow the theme of the squash blossom necklace, which has cultural significance for the Navajo. We were able to incorporate cultural considerations into both the form and function of the design and layout.”
Planning for Unique Challenges Results in National Model Final Product
Blickenderfer says Federal officials have seen the value of the design-build approach for some time, but the positive reception from locals, Indian Health Services and the Navajo Housing Authority has been overwhelming.
“It’s created a lot of excitement because we’re helping to change the thinking on how these projects can be done,” Taylor said. He added this development has turned into a flagship project for IHS, to the point the service is examining ways to change its basis of design nationwide to include approaches used here. Greenberg has also had conversations with NHA board members to discuss ways to enable future design efforts to resemble this one.
Construction of Squash Blossom Ranch is expected to be complete by March 2016.