Conquering an Intractable Site and Intricate Regulations on the Residence Inn Alexandria
From cobblestone streets to colonial houses and charming boutiques, the quaint, historic district of Alexandria, Virginia—known as Old Town—beckons residents and visitors alike to explore its enchanting past and eclectic present. And for both groups, Old Town’s proximity to public rail transportation, known as the Metro, makes this walkable area all the more welcoming.
With a rich history in the Mid-Atlantic region, specifically in and around the nation’s capital, Balfour Beatty was proud to serve as the general contractor for the Residence Inn Alexandria, which is located in the Carlyle community just outside Old Town. A 15-story, 127,000-square-foot extended-stay hotel, this project has played a vital role in meeting the area’s robust lodging demand stemming both from tourists and business travelers. Situated just blocks away from the Metro, the Residence Inn Alexandria features 181 guest rooms—all with kitchens—and a 39,000-square-foot, three-level underground parking garage. With exterior elements of metal and glass, the hotel superbly echoes its urban, commercial surroundings; through the classical composition of punch windows and architectural cornices, the hotel also complements Old Town’s well-preserved historical treasures, including homes, churches and courthouses dating back to the days of our founding fathers.
A Site for Sore Eyes
The greatest construction challenge Balfour Beatty faced on this fast-track project stemmed from the physical limitations of an extremely compact and irregularly-shaped site. The hotel’s triangular, three-quarter acre site is bound by roads, a ground-level Metro track and an elevated, curved Metro track cutting across a portion of the site leading to the maintenance yard. Additional site constraints included relocation of an existing water main, steep-sloping topography, curvy street patterns, a high water table and 25-foot setback requirements for the Metrorail tracks crossing the site. Balfour Beatty is always committed to being a good neighbor to the communities in which we work and build, but as a result of these conditions, fulfilling that promise on the Residence Inn Alexandria project required an abundance of caution and care. Even pre-Industrial Revolution construction workers, who labored only with the power of horse, mule or water to construct many of Alexandria’s historic buildings, wouldn’t have envied these imposing conditions.
With a commitment to not only providing a model transit experience but also ensuring exacting public safety standards, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) naturally maintains stringent requirements for construction adjacent to operating Metro tracks. In order to keep the tracks free from trash and debris once work commenced, the project team erected a net on an entire side of the hotel above the second floor. To prevent the crane’s boom from swinging over the Metro tracks, the team sourced a shorter tower crane boom that barely extended over the building. The team subsequently procured and coordinated the use of a second mobile crane to access additional points of the project site and even performed some tasks manually that neither crane could reach.
Compounding these issues, WMATA also imposed special restrictions that 1) required drilled secant piles adjacent to the Metro tracks and 2) limited the sheeting and shoring to an overall deflection of less than one-half inch when performing more than 35 feet of deep excavation. The site required more shoring than typical, substantial cross lot bracing, as well as the installation of rackers into the excavation; consequentially, the team monitored for deflection on a weekly basis. As a further precautionary measure, the team surveyed the piers and tracks before, during and after construction. A WMATA employee also monitored construction while any work occurred within 20 feet of the Metro tracks, which encompassed the majority of vertical construction activities.
“Your staff was always…responsive to the inspectors’ input, and site safety was a high priority,” praised Al Cox of the Office of Building & Fire Code Administration, Alexandria City Hall. “I still can't believe you constructed a 15-story hotel on this tiny site next to Metro tracks and Carlyle Towers.”
Out of Earshot
Some of Balfour Beatty’s most innovative solutions addressed the issue of Metrorail noise pursuant to the hotel’s close proximity to the Metro track. This included an especially vexing sound—squealing train wheels on cars in need of service approaching the maintenance yard. In order to direct the reverberations away from the hotel and its valued guests, the project team devised a plan to add a precast sound barrier on the elevated Metro track. According to WMATA regulations, however, the Metro system is required to be powered down before any work can occur where the panels will reside on the operational elevated rail platform. Further, the system is only allowed to power down between 12:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., and as a result, all Balfour Beatty’s installation work was limited to that restricted, three-hour window over the course of several nights. Before they could begin this process, the project team was tasked with securing a plethora of permissions, including: verifying that WMATA and the city’s Tracks and Structures team had reviewed and approved the work plan; coordinating nights on which Tracks and Structures could shut down the track; and collaborating with one of the city’s track walkers to lock the track and ensure work could safely proceed.
Ultimately, WMATA did not grant the project team access to complete the precast sound barrier installation until several months after substantial completion and turnover of the hotel. Even then, WMATA only permitted the track to power down several nights per week rather than on consecutive nights, which would have been far more conducive to the flow of construction activities. Once Balfour Beatty received the green light from WMATA, the team’s senior project engineer returned to the hotel to supervise the installation. He carefully coordinated the work to ensure adherence to WMATA’s directives as well as the safety of guests staying in the hotel.
To ensure that future hotel guests, at no time during their stays, are awakened or otherwise disrupted by the rumbling of Metro cars thundering across nearby tracks, the project team utilized specialized acoustical materials for the windows and walls. Three sides of the building were constructed with 16-inch-thick CMU walls with nine-inch-thick (STC 59) acoustical glass windows, both of which possess very robust soundproofing qualities.
Stories, legends and folklore. If the walls within Old Town could talk, we would learn these things and more. Unlike many buildings that surround them, the walls of the Residence Inn Alexandria do not conceal tales of America’s beginnings. Nor do they tell of the men like Thomas Jefferson who entertained dignitaries at local taverns or of the Union troops who occupied the city as the fate of the nation hung in the balance. But make no mistake, the walls of this hotel do, indeed, tell a story. It is the account of a general contractor that served, at every turn, as a true partner to not only an owner and a tenant but also to an entire city. It is the account of a project team that surmounted the challenges of an intractable site and intricate regulations. And its central theme—an unyielding commitment to success—is one that defines the very purpose and promise of what it means to entrust your dream to team Balfour Beatty.
In recognition of Balfour Beatty’s outstanding performance, NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, honored the Residence Inn Alexandria project team with an Award of Merit.