Prefabricating a Perfect Fit

by Balfour Beatty

Now more than ever, stretched labor forces and construction waste are on contractors’ and clients’ minds. On the Forsyth County Courthouse design-build project in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Balfour Beatty and joint venture partner Samet Corporation are leveraging the incredible advantages of prefabrication to build new futures for the local community.

The five-floor courthouse houses county government, administrative and legal proceedings for the region and required construction of six electrical control rooms—one room on all five floors and an additional room on the second floor.

Early in the design process, Balfour Beatty and Samet Corporation identified the opportunity to prefabricate the electrical rooms to deliver a leaner and more successful project outcome. They retained trusted industry partner Watson Electrical to deliver this complex electrical scope. Through diligent collaboration and communication from preconstruction to final completion, our teams constructed electrical rooms of the highest quality on an accelerated schedule, with less material, budgetary and environmental waste.

Prefabrication for Accelerated Scheduling

Prefabricating the rooms expedited the project’s electrification by at least a month and at a lower cost than on-site construction, both advantages that Watson and Balfour Beatty identified in early planning phases.

While Watson built the electrical rooms off-site, other scopes including concrete, wall framing and more were able to proceed without the need to coordinate with adjacent electrical work, which created greater workflow efficiencies for the collective project team.

Every hour saved on the jobsite counts. Delivery and installation of the prefabricated electrical rooms is a much more lean and efficient process than on-site construction, which could be affected by trade coordination, weather delays and more. Additionally, other critical building infrastructure such as HVAC systems depended on operational electrical rooms to proceed.

Every hour saved off the jobsite also counts. On-site electrical room construction involves the use of ladders, heavy welders and other equipment that pose inherent safety risks. Prefabrication moves these activities from a busy jobsite to a safer, controlled environment like Watson’s manufacturing facility. This also enabled Watson Electrical to plan their labor and workflow more reliably from the start and avoid re-work.

“Prefabrication ultimately saves time, materials and cost,” says Branson Kocher, assistant project manager. “We fully trust our trade partner and the precision of the original plan, so we end up with greater quality control, perfect uniformity between several well-constructed electrical rooms and greater efficiency. Once power is supplied to the building, we drop the rooms in and they’re ready to go.”

The team’s quality control also benefits Forsyth County’s long-term maintenance of the building, rendering the electrical rooms much easier to repair or modify in the future.

Cutting Costs and Waste by the Foot

Beyond its operational benefits, prefabrication can also reduce a project’s client and environmental impacts. Electrical rooms built on-site can result in significant construction waste – often as much as ten percent of raw and manufactured materials.

“In their warehouse, Watson built the rooms to the precise specifications we determined together during planning and design,” Branson says. “Rather than end up with a pile of wasted conduit, the ends of miscut studs and scrap wire, our specialized approach resulted in exactingly constructed electrical rooms that we knew would fit when they arrived on the jobsite.”

Every foot of material saved isn’t just a piece that avoids the landfill – it’s a piece that needs not be purchased. Prefabrication simultaneously benefits the project schedule, the client’s bottom line and the environment, all at the forefront of Balfour Beatty’s mission on each project.

Established Methods, New Advantages

Prefabrication is not a new practice, but fully prefabricated electrical rooms remain relatively uncommon. Forsyth County Courthouse is a shining example of leveraging established strategies in new and exciting ways to achieve multi-faceted benefits that will live on for our client and the local community for decades to come.