Alchemy by Alta — Build Group Inc.
San Francisco is a city known and beloved for sprawling parks such as Golden Gate and the elevated Buena Vista, in the hills overlooking the City by the Bay. In keeping with this tradition and the desire for public spaces, developers are creating communities centered on open space such as the Alta Laguna project in the historic Hayes Valley neighborhood.
Hayes Valley is a fashionable home to some of San Francisco’s most iconic architecture with Victorian, Queen Anne and Edwardian townhomes, mixed with high-end boutiques, shops and restaurants. The 4.35-acre Alchemy by Alta site has brought almost a full city block of land to life as a vibrant mixed-use community, including the new 28,000-square-foot Waller Park and community garden with a series of stepped terraces for public gatherings.
Owned by Wood Partners, the approximately $119 million Alchemy by Alta development has been headed up by Build Group Inc. as general contractor. Build Group is one of the largest multifamily contractors in the Bay Area and is teaming up with BAR Architects for this project.
Build Group began extensive excavation and shoring starting in June 2013 and now three years later, the 330-unit development is in the final stages. “Alta Laguna spans almost a full city block,” says Jamileh Cannon, senior project manager for Build Group. “The project consists of seven buildings, totaling 504,881 square feet with 330 apartment units, a standalone amenity center, a community arts tenant and a public parkway. The project has one to two levels of subterranean parking under a mix of metal stud and wood framed four-to-six-story buildings, an architectural concrete amenity building and an adaptive reuse of a two-story historic school building.”
Integrating old and new
The project includes both new construction and historic renovation. “23 of the units are located in a refurbished historical building,” notes Cannon, who has been with Build Group for four years, jumping on board Alta Laguna after completion of the excavation.
BAR Architects was tasked with the challenge of designing the buildings, open spaces and details of Alchemy by Alta to resonate and respond to the historic neighborhood. Alchemy by Alta includes the adaptive reuse and expansion of two existing historic Spanish Colonial Revival buildings into a 12,000-square-foot community facility and 23 residential units.
The historical renovation scope includes refurbished ironwork and a refurbished 100-year-old clay tile roof. “The entire building was updated to be within earthquake and fire life safety compliance,” details Cannon. “We reworked the interior to become 23 modern apartments and added two new elevators.” The six new residential buildings have been carefully sited and designed to provide a new urban edge to surrounding streets and reflect existing neighborhood buildings.
One of the most notable factors of this project is Waller Park and the Community Garden space. “The park incorporates a large public thoroughfare with benches, tables and landscaped concrete seating elements,” details Cannon.
“The park and amenity areas are separated by keyed entries to keep the public out of private spaces,” continues Cannon. “The 5,000-square-foot standalone amenity building has a gym, a custom kitchen and a large ‘living-room’ type gathering space. It also has a rooftop deck with an outdoor kitchen, barbecue and fire pit. It is built of architectural concrete and a storefront glass system; it’s really the jewel box of the project.”
Design changes and challenges
Cannon says that from the beginning the team has been addressing challenges. “Initially poor soils and issues with the city and adjacent property caused project challenges,” she explains. “There’s an adjacent dental clinic close to the site and we had to coordinate with them, especially when the parking access was being demoed. In order to mitigate impacts, we re-sequenced and expedited portions of the work.”
Build Group was able to control some scheduling challenges by self-performing all of the structural concrete — a $14 million contract — as well as contracting with subcontractors for a full mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) design build scope. “We ran into some issues with code changes, especially pertaining to low-voltage emergency systems, but have been able to mitigate the delays that could have been caused by them since we control the subs and their designs,” says Cannon.
Because the job was bid and bought at the end of the recession, many of the subs Build Group worked with were over extended in terms of ongoing work. “It’s been hard to keep guys on-site for a project that has some delays and that they threw a low number at in order to get the work when the market wasn’t so hot,” explains Cannon.
To try to prevent this, Build Group assesses subs in detail. “We fully scope each sub before selecting,” says Cannon. “We’re looking for a certain level of quality and this is the only way to ensure it will happen.”
Alchemy by Alta has achieved LEED-ND (Neighborhood Development) Gold Certification for the first phase of the project and will begin the process on the second phase as soon as the building has finished commissioning. The project is also completing a California-specific Green Point Rated checklist.
Soon Build Group will be able to add Alchemy by Alta on to its list of successful mixed-use developments in the Bay Area. “Since I joined the company we have grown exponentially and have diversified into many other markets,” says Cannon.
Since forming in 2007, Build Group has been consistently named one of the Bay Area’s healthiest employers, fastest-growing private companies, ENR top contractors and a best place to work among other accolades. “We’ve recently expanded our business to Southern California,” adds Cannon.
Nestled in the heart of San Francisco, Alta Laguna will offer a sizable community that fits seamlessly into the historic landscape and fits Bay Area residents’ desire to enjoy the city’s beauty through open-air space.
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