By Julie Devine

To meet the expedited construction schedule for The Shoppes at Mid Rivers in St. Peters, Missouri, General Contractor Knoebel Construction, Inc., of Chesterfield, Missouri, used a popular time management strategy – break the project into smaller, more manageable pieces. By assigning a separate team to each of seven subprojects and qualifying subcontractors based on their manpower resources and ability to meet the tight timeframe, Knoebel will complete construction of the new 300,000-square-foot shopping center in just eight months.

Crews broke ground for the $54 million project on March 15 and Developer GBT Realty Corp. of Brentwood, Tennessee, plans to open in time for this year’s holiday shopping season. Thanks in part to subcontractors’ up-front input on timing for each phase of work, the project remains on schedule despite weeks of inclement weather.

Choosing the Right Subcontractors

Designed by MJM Architects of Nashville, Tennessee, the new retail center sits on 28 acres in St. Charles County, Missouri. The main concrete and masonry building occupies 280,000 square feet and three outparcel structures total an additional 20,000 square feet. Shell construction of the concrete block and tilt-up walls progressed through weeks of rainy weather and finished in late May. Interior construction and build-out of the tenant stores continues through the fall.

To speed the work, “Even though it’s one large project with a lump-sum price submitted to the owner, we’re running each building and sub-tenant as if they’re their own separate project,” explained Matt Mabie, Knoebel’s President. “Each job is almost like a separate entity. A couple of guys quarterback the entire project from a macro perspective, but we assigned a different superintendent to each of the seven subprojects.”

With the fast construction pace, the industry’s squeeze on manpower loomed as a larger potential problem. To avoid issues, Knoebel invested extensive up-front planning. “Choosing the right subs – people we know can do the job – was a key aspect in achieving the expedited schedule,” Mabie said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t just subcontracting based on a low price; we subcontracted based on qualifications, skill level, and the opportunity for the subs to succeed and for us to succeed.”

Knoebel bid each subproject separately, then conducted multi-phased interviews. “Subcontractors were brought in for a meeting to discuss how they envisioned their year and their manpower,” Mabie explained. “Some people said, ‘I’d love all of the subprojects, but realistically we may only be able to handle three with the schedule.’ They were very up-front about what they could actually manage for success. We chose different subcontractors on each job to make sure they have the correct manpower.”

The first round of meetings included management teams from the subcontractors. “As we got further into the process of qualification, we also included the superintendents to get their input,” Mabie said. “A project manager or a salesman can give a whole different perspective than when you start bringing in a superintendent who will really manage the site. We wanted to listen to his questions and concerns.”

That strategy helped avoid problems throughout the job. In total, Knoebel hired more than 50 subcontractors so work could progress concurrently on each of the seven subprojects. To ensure no issues crop up, “Communication has been our biggest tool on this project to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Mabie said. “Communication and coordination have been key for issues like one subcontractor laying asphalt behind another sub’s lot. We hold regular subcontractor meetings where everyone is at the table to discuss their look-ahead, their difficulties, and their challenges in front of everyone to try and coordinate that.”

Rain, Rain Go Away

Despite the unusually wet spring and early summer, work remained on schedule in the tight timeframe. “The rain has not been ideal, but we just work that with overtime or increased manpower,” Mabie said.

The up-front planning and coordination with subcontractors helped mediate the weather issues. “When we met with the subs during qualifications, we presented our construction schedule and let them critique it and come back with what they proposed to do,” Mabie explained.

That input helped the project withstand the storms and their effects, he added. “Anybody at a desk in this industry can come up with a schedule and send it out, then when you get out in the field that’s not always how it works. Getting the subcontractors’ input on the schedule gave us more insight into the timeframe each scope will take to complete. With that knowledge, we were able to put a more precise schedule together so that when it rained more than we anticipated, we could more accurately and effectively remediate that.”

Responsiveness from the developer and architect also keeps work on track. “When you have a project moving this fast and design issues come up – as they always do – you need to have an expedited answer,” Mabie said. “The developer and architect have been really good to work with, making sure we get the answers we need as quickly as possible.”

All that coordination remains financially important for Knoebel. “The project comes with some very extensive liquidated damages,” Mabie said. “There’s really no option but to succeed. If the space for one retailer isn’t turned over on time, there’s $150,000 in liquidated damages; if another space doesn’t finish in time, it’s $15,000 per day. There are some very large numbers that we need to make sure we keep top of mind.”

As interior build-outs continue, Knoebel works with each retailer for input during plan review and to coordinate with any required vendors. Confirmed tenants for the new shopping center include Academy Sports + Outdoor, Burlington, Ross Dress for Less, Marshalls, Home Goods, Ulta Beauty, Five Below, and Famous Footwear. Aspen Dental will be located on one of the mall’s outparcels.