This past winter, the Mid-Atlantic states were blasted with snow and rain. And, as any developer knows, weather can be your worst enemy when it comes to building on time. As a result, new construction starts and openings were pushed back.
But in the student housing industry – particularly on-campus housing – delays are not an option, says Michael H. Godwin, president of Ambling Cos. Inc., a vertically integrated multifamily company based in Valdosta, Ga., for which student housing makes up more than half of its business.
"It doesn't matter how much it rains or that someone can't deliver your materials on time ? you have to finish on a certain day," he says. The students are arriving for the start of the fall semester, and they need a place to live.
For Ambling – which specializes in niche markets: student, affordable, senior, military, and resort-style single-family housing – one of its biggest challenges is on-time completions. So when bad weather delays construction, Ambling will schedule work seven days a week, sometimes with two shifts, around the clock. "We know that we can't miss that opening date, and we have to do whatever it takes to complete the project," says Godwin.
Making it Happen Its team approach to development and management helps the company maintain its record of on-time and quality deliveries, says Charles Perry, executive vice president of Ambling Construction Co., a division of Ambling. "We will win together and lose together, he says. "Even when problems arise, we will address them as a team."
For instance, if a project is cutting it too close to its deadline, the construction team will give the property management team a heads-up. This enables property management to register new students and train the staff – normally done at the facility – off-site. The construction team gets the extra time needed to finish the project, says Perry.
However, Ambling prefers to get an earlier start on projects, says R. Ryan Holmes, the company's executive vice president and secretary. "Getting started earlier is the key to getting projects done on time," explains Holmes, who also heads the student housing division of the company. "You just don't start a month late; you have to wait a year." There needs to be enough time at the end for walk-throughs and inspections. He doesn't want to be painting one day and moving students in the next.
Even if Ambling gets an early start, it doesn't mean the weather is going to cooperate. When that happens, the construction team finds different ways to increase work hours and manpower on site, says Perry. For instance, the company may execute a couple of disciplines out of normal sequence or may have some of the trades working concurrently on a number of floors. "Our flexibility is the key to help us perform on tight time frames and still deliver extremely high quality products," says Perry.