Orange County

AC Hotel stacking up fast on West Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill

The pieces are moving into place at the AC Hotel Chapel Hill on West Rosemary Street.

The project, in just over a year, will go from a hole in the ground where three smaller buildings were demolished to a four-story Marriott International hotel with 123 rooms, a 24-hour fitness center and a publicly accessible lounge. The AC Hotel is expected to open Sept. 26.

The first week of an expected two-week process to finish the top three floors wrapped up Friday. A crane began plucking 123 prefabricated modules from delivery trucks May 15 and stacking them atop a concrete first-floor platform. Hotel parking has been built underground.

The modules, each containing two guestrooms and a section of unfinished hallway, were constructed over the last four months at a Champion Commercial Structures facility in Liverpool, Pennsylvania. It is the first time that a Marriott-branded project on the East Coast used state-of-the-art modular construction.

The process reduces risk and waste, while making the process faster and more efficient, and addresses the shortage of skilled labor in many markets, said Chris Waters, business development director at Champion Commercial Structures, a division of Champion Home Builders Inc.

The finished modules are also more tightly constructed, he said, improving their energy efficiency. The AC Hotel will be LEED-certified as a “green” building.

“Everything was completed in a climate-controlled factory — away from inclement weather and other delays typically encountered on conventional jobsites,” Waters said.

The trend is growing in the hotel development industry, according to the Modular Building Institute, which reports the number of projects built using modules has increased 31 percent and 27.5 percent in each of the last two years. Marriott International is expecting 50 projects using modular construction in 2017.

“We’d been watching modular for several years,” said Dennis Mitchell, development manager for OTO Development, the hotel’s developer, owner and management company. “Marriott’s support for modular construction was key in making the decision. Marriott ran the due diligence, and ran through a lot of the design considerations — the brand was truly a partner in this process.”

Teams of workers put together floors and walls, installing insulation, fire suppression, electrical and plumbing systems, and attaching and finishing the drywall. The completed roof is attached and finished with utilities and insulation before adding windows and waterproofing materials. Other teams work inside to paint the drywall and install cabinets, trim, fixtures, flooring and tile.

Each module was built in 14 days and was nearly 80 percent complete when it reached the job site. Crews placed each one with a crane, and LeChase Construction workers connected them to each other and the foundation, leaving just the finishing touches – pictures, floor lamps and safes, pillows, sheets and towels.

OTO Development has worked for two years to get to this point, officials said.

“Modular hotel guestrooms are nearly an ideal product line for our build process,” Waters said. “In simple terms, everything ‘stays within the confine of the rectangle’ and, essentially, creates a true Lego effect.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb