Blockbuster Performance Brings Universal Orlando’s Fourth Hotel to Life
What kind of general contractor can be entrusted with the largest hotel project under construction in the United States from 2012 to 2014?
What type of team is capable of crafting a highly themed, trendsetting masterpiece that attracts adventure seekers and destination travelers from across the globe?
And what qualities enable that same team to delight a highly discerning client?
To achieve all this and more on the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, it took a team that ran like a well-oiled machine, humming and whirring across the project’s 1.2 million square feet like a dozer in high gear. It took a group of Relentless Allies who were committed to challenging the status quo and seeking out ways to deliver added value to every facet of the construction process. It took a company like Balfour Beatty, whose promises are as firm as the foundations we build and whose dedication to nailing the details is as inspiring as the designs we bring to life.
Where Contemporary Craftsmanship Meets Retro Revival
The fourth hotel on the Universal Orlando complex, Cabana Bay may have been built using the most avant-garde construction technologies, but the resort itself is as decidedly retro as drive-in movies or skipped needles on 45s. To achieve its midcentury Mad Men-esque motif, the hotel features clean lines with bright, period colors and dramatic architectural accents including sparkling terrazzo floors and a monumental mosaic mural. With 900 family suites, 900 guest rooms, two grand, themed pools with zero-entry sand beaches, a waterslide, lazy river and a gym themed around famed fitness guru Jack LaLanne among other niche amenities, the process of constructing Cabana Bay wasn’t quite the challenge of landing a man on the moon, but it sure did involve some giant leaps.
Most of which, if you asked our project team, occurred as a result of the project’s phased, multi-faceted schedule. Balfour Beatty approached the project as though it was essentially three distinct 12-month projects going vertical simultaneously. Because the phases overlapped, thereby impacting manpower, materials and equipment, each project maintained a distinct timetable. Yet, Phase 1 (November 2012-November 2013) could not function or open without Phase 2 (February 2013-February 2014); likewise, Phase 2 was dependent on a portion of the Phase 3 (May 2013-May 2014) structure and sanitary systems. An impact to one of the inextricably intertwined phases inherently affected the entire project progression. These constraints put all the more pressure on each phase’s critical, intermediate milestones. By aligning the strengths of staff with the unique requirements of each phase, employing a virtual plan room and lean construction practices as well as collaborating proactively with all project partners, Balfour Beatty successfully navigated these cross-phase dependencies, ultimately delivering the entire project in 18 months – a feat nothing short of astonishing given the sizeable scope.
Real-Time Attention to Detail
To deliver this ultra fast-track project more efficiently, Balfour Beatty utilized an innovative digital plan management system. Facilitating real-time updates to plans, specs, RFIs and other directives, the system provided all parties instantaneous access to the entire set of updated construction documents from any location. This cloud-based system was especially advantageous for the architect, which was based hundreds of miles away in Atlanta, Georgia. Because the Cabana Bay site was so vast, the process of traveling back and forth from the field to the trailer to review plans would have resulted in considerable delays that, before the era of digital docs, would have once been deemed unavoidable. In addition to time savings, Balfour Beatty’s decision to go digital positively affected the project’s quality control mechanisms by virtually eliminating the potential for errors due to outdated paperwork.
...Coupled with Smart Thinking
The team took advantage of the similarities between the phases by acknowledging submittals of the same materials with a digital quick review process. If any items were identical across phases, the team tracked them with a reference to the original submissions. This avoided “doubling up” on items across the phases, which reduced review time in Phase 2 and really paid dividends in Phase 3.
To get to that point, Balfour Beatty combed the specifications for any duplication, catalogued discoveries on a master log, ensured the project team approved the log during review meetings and indicated approval by placing a new cover sheet on a copy of the previous submittal. Since all three phases of the project required coordination, this system played a major role in the submittal and RFI process. For example, a majority of the paint colors and product were the same across phases. As approvals had already been received on these products during Phase 1, the team acknowledged subsequent uses in other phases with a quick “For Record - Refer to Phase # Submittal ####” notation. In some cases, this solution cut the review and submittal timeframes in half!
To streamline the scheduling process, Balfour Beatty implemented a Lean construction method known as pull planning. Surprisingly simple but exceedingly effective, pull planning is a process in which all project team members work together to break CPM schedule activities down into day-to-day sections. These sections are written on sticky notes and applied to a wall calendar system. Since the flow of construction work is fluid and ever-evolving, the sticky notes can be easily pulled and moved to adjust as necessary.
The pull planning method gave each Cabana Bay subcontractor, the owner and Balfour Beatty an in-depth understanding of how each scope of work impacted the other in the context of the overarching, three-phase schedule. Performing weekly pull planning sessions with subcontractors and owner stakeholders, the project team became much more proactive at recognizing and preventing potential schedule impacts. In Phase 3, for example, contract documents called for the redesign of post-tensioned cabling, which delayed the start of elevated concrete decks by one month. This represented a net loss of over 8% of the total critical path on a $100 million scope of work. Through a collaborated series of pull planning sessions, the project team was able to put the structure back on track, advance the start of the envelope and interiors trades, overlap the sequencing of work to create more efficient flows and capitalize on these improvements to finish on time—without loss of quality or impact to the safety of the project.
It’s been said that good things come in threes. For the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, three was, indeed, the perfect number of phases to successfully divide and conquer such a colossal project. But hitting the trifecta, so to speak, on this project began with selecting a general contractor partner that had the passion and proficiency to build a blockbuster resort that would enhance the Orlando community inasmuch as it would draw vacationers from across the miles. The resort opened to rave reviews, both for its exceptional workmanship and ability to evoke a nostalgic, bygone era of US travel—a key component of the owner’s vision. The project would go on to win prestigious industry awards from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Central Florida and Engineering News & Record (ENR). But for those who had the privilege of building the property, the greatest reward comes from the knowledge that when the stakes are high and the hurdles big, no other contractor is more trusted to deliver than Balfour Beatty.
*All project images courtesy Phil Eschbach Photography