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Article - March 16, 2023

Partnering for Success at Sango Ct

The award of the Sango Court project marks Nibbi’s first foray into modular construction since the 1970’s. As newcomers to modern modular construction, Nibbi approached the Sango Court project with extensive research on partnership, manufacturing, and process. Today the team’s construction process is sure-footed and honed to bring the project to completion by fall 2023.

Once constructed, Sango Court will be a transit-oriented affordable rental development. Located in Milpitas, the transit-rich site is approximately half a mile away from Milpitas BART station, and close to parks, shopping, schools, dining, and jobs. 

Working Hand in Hand with the Project Owners

Sango Court was originally intended to be built conventionally. However, Nibbi worked closely with the owner of this project, Resources for Community Development (RCD), and David Baker Architects early on in the preconstruction and design development process to evaluate a conventional versus a modular approach to building the project. Ultimately, it was determined that the application of modular construction was feasible, would benefit the project financially, and would deliver high-quality units to future residents. 

Nibbi Project Executive Tom Giarrusso offered his insight into the overall process. “The owners have been with us every step of the way. They put a lot of faith and trust in Nibbi to find a path to a successful project.” 

Tom oversees the whole project, from preconstruction through close-out. He credits Nibbi’s conservative approach, patience, and determined focus on the project with its success. “Nibbi did pre-planning right. We pre-planned extensively, and executed very well.” 

The team did a tremendous amount of research, interviewed modular building teams, made visits to other modular construction sites, and asked a ton of questions prior to the start of the project. 

The most important piece of research for this project was in finding the right modular manufacturer to support the unique needs of the project. Initially Nibbi performed research on several modular manufacturers to gain an understanding of each potential company’s bonding capacity, product type, and production capacity to take on the project. After gathering this info, Nibbi bid the work out to three companies and selected the lowest qualified proposal.

Finding the Right Modular Manufacturer

An unforeseen delay in project funding caused the project to forfeit its place in the production queue of the modular manufacturer originally selected for the project. Eventually the funds resurfaced for the continuation of Sango Court, but by missing the original production queue with the manufacturer of choice, the project was still in jeopardy. It was at this point that the high-powered project team called on their knowledge to pull a new manufacturer from the woodwork. Nibbi was determined to make this job work, and the owner relied on Nibbi to find a manufacturer that could meet the project’s schedule and budget.

Randall Thompson, the Senior Preconstruction Manager, can be credited with much of the maneuvering and quick thinking that ultimately resurrected the job. “We had to quickly go back out for proposals to shift to a manufacturer who had time for the original schedule. The design then had to be reworked to fit their manufacturing process and methods” 

The new manufacturer, Autovol, boasted a warehouse full of state-of-the-art, robotic arms, and worked with Nibbi in an expedited design coordination session to maintain the project schedule and original requirements. With the quick turn-around, Nibbi and the owner placed a lot of faith in Autovol as this was their first project out of the gate for a third party private client. 

Senior Superintendent Mike Dorsa joined the project in November 2021, about the same time that Autovol was brought onboard. “Autovol was the furthest along in automating their process. The more automated, the more precise and easy the build is. Avoiding the need to fix human error saves a ton of time.”

“Very quickly, we determined that we picked the right trade partner,” Says Tom. “The coolness factor of this manufacturer and their cutting edge robotic approach yielded results, and quality was there.” 

The Modular Process

The modular process is very much the melding of construction and manufacturing, with the component of prefabrication as the most prominent element. A lot of the project effort must be completed much earlier than a conventional build. 

Essentially, the modular units are built offsite by Autovol while the site is concurrently prepped by the construction team. So while Nibbi is constructing the building’s foundations and podium in California, Autovol is manufacturing modular units offsite in Idaho. “The benefit of this process,” says Randall, “is the high level of coordination and completion of design before work gets to the field. It allows us to identify clash detections early on in the process before they have the chance to delay construction.”

Additionally, the modular manufacturer interfaces directly with the MEP and Structural design teams to solve design challenges that would often fall on the construction team. The direct design liaison, Prefab Logic made communication between the manufacturer, the General Contractor, and design team flow easily, and facilitated the expedited design process, making work with the new manufacturer possible. “Pulling forward this design coordination that usually happens during construction means no design work can be delegated – it must be done before manufacturing.” Says Mike. 

With design pressure lifted from the construction team, Mike and the team turned their attention to the pre-planning process, a huge effort in harmonizing all necessary steps and communications between parties involved. Their use of pull-planning successfully led coordination between Autovol and the onsite project team. During this process, one of the project’s key partners was Accuset – a consultant that coordinated with Nibbi on all the logistics of setting modules. They were instrumental to the process and worked hand in hand with the team onsite during the setting operation, allowing for a very smooth building process.

“We set all modules in twelve shifts over two weeks as opposed to a five month conventional build framing cycle!” Says Mike. Ultimately, the use of modular construction reduced the overall construction schedule by 2.5 months. 

Once completed, Sango Court will house 102 units over two building structures. The 102 modular apartments will consist of 23 studios, 40 one-bedrooms, 27 2-bedrooms, and 12 3-bedrooms. Resident amenities cover a large, landscaped interior courtyard with outdoor seating, a community room with a full kitchen, on-site property management, utility rooms, and supportive services programming. The building’s concrete podium includes parking for 60 vehicles and 102 bikes.

A Modular Future

As Sango Court approaches a successful completion, Nibbi regards the modular delivery and construction approach as a viable solution; a solution yielding a reduction to the budget and schedule. Presently, Nibbi is working with several clients early in design to help them evaluate a modular approach by providing a preliminary budget and feasibility study on the best construction solution for the project. As the project progresses, Nibbi emphasizes the importance of early team engagement to evaluate and identify potential challenges, issues and risks that enable the team to develop mitigation strategies.

Ultimately, though not complete, Sango Court has been a huge success. Randall adds “Nibbi did a tremendous amount of homework and put all that into planning and collaborating with the collective project team. We are looking forward to applying our success and experience towards our next modular project.”