Breckenridge explores ‘Lego’ apartments as possible workforce housing solution
December 12, 2018
Breckenridge's newest workforce-housing project — a cluster of more than 100 apartments on the northern end of town — could be built in a controlled environment over 800 miles away.
In October, Breckenridge Town Council directed town staff to start exploring what a modular construction process could do for Breck 365, a set of planned apartment buildings on the Block 11 property, just south of another workforce-housing community, the Blue 52 Townhomes.
Going with modular construction means assembling individual apartment units off-site before the finished modules are shrink-wrapped, trucked to Breckenridge and then put together almost like Legos.
The town's apartment buildings would be made of the same materials and within the same design standards as structures built under more traditional construction methods, which comes with significant benefits, said Laurie Best, Breckenridge's senior planner.
Shifting to modular construction led the town to bring in a new design team, one that's more familiar with this kind of project, along with making some slight alterations to the building layouts, unit count, elevations and the project timeline.
At the same time, modular construction could allow the apartments to be finished significantly quicker, while keeping construction costs down and helping mitigate other uncertainties.
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"Ideally the shift to modular will result in lower construction costs and lower annual debt service, which will enable the town to target lower (annual median income) households with more affordable rental rates," Best wrote in a memo to council.
To get an idea exactly how the process works, four Breckenridge Town Council members joined a handful of town staff on a recent fieldtrip to the 150,000-square-foot Nashua Builders plant in Boise, Idaho, last week, where they saw firsthand how "the boxes" are put together step-by-step on an assembly line.
"It was pretty interesting," Best said of the modular construction company. "There's a crew that works at each station, and you know exactly what's getting built at these plants."
Concerned about meeting building codes — like energy-efficiency standards and fire separations, for example — town staff came away from the tour confident the builder could meet all of the regulations. From the electricians to plumbers, each crew is licensed and certified, said Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence, one of the elected officials to take the tour.
"This is what they do," Best said, noting that they've done projects for other communities in the High Country.
Additionally, the company says it exceeds national, international and green building standards with the commercial, prefab warehouse, lodging properties, schools, homes and apartment buildings that it makes at the Boise plant.
Best called the Idaho-based company "a top contender" for Breck 365, but she added that another modular construction plant could land the project. If the town's desired timeline holds true, Breckenridge would like to get the apartments on someone's assembly line in July and start receiving the first units in about mid-August.
Plans currently call for 11 buildings housing 102 apartments combined. The units range from studios to three bedrooms, with 69 apartments destined to be studios or one-bedroom units.
With the town deciding to go with a modular construction process, the number of apartments actually fell by 10 from previous plans. However, as town staff pointed out at Tuesday's work session for town council, the number of bedrooms across the entire Breck 365 project has actually increased by 11 bedrooms with 149 total.
The tallest buildings would be three stories high and go in the middle of the cluster of apartment buildings. The shorter two-story structures would be located toward the exterior of the 5.33-acre plot.
Overall, council was highly receptive to the new plan. Best said she hopes that people will understand the move to modular construction is designed to reduce the cost without impacting the quality of the housing.
"We can't continue to provide housing that's going to be affordable in terms of rental rates if we can't increasingly find ways to control the cost of construction," she said. "That's why we're going down the modular path."