Green Joins Gray In Housing For Elderly

Total precast construction for the five-story, 101-unit Kent Avenue Apartment complex in Pennsville, N.J., proved a satisfying solution for all parties

Total precast construction for the five-story, 101-unit Kent Avenue Apartment complex in Pennsville, N.J., proved a satisfying solution for all parties with a stake in the project. An extensive and in-depth Smart Growth Plan prepared by Salem County, N.J., emphasizing the value of safe and affordable housing for the area’s economic and civic vitality prompted a joint effort by developer Ron Rukenstein of Titusville, N.J., and general contractor John Bibeau, president of Tri-County Real Estate Maintenance Co., Carneys Point, N.J., to take over construction of the complex.

Originally developed in 2005 by Omega II Corp. to provide Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) credits for Pennsville Township, thereby meeting a COAH unit obligation, the Kent Avenue Apartments project posed a challenge for Rukenstein and Bibeau primarily in how to build ÎgreenÌ, yet keep it affordable. In view of their aims, a fortuitous event was Omega II Corp.’s enlistment of Nitterhouse Concrete Products, Chambersburg, Pa., in June of 2005 (prior to Tri-County’s takeover) to produce and erect the project’s precast components. Accordingly, Nitterhouse completed drafting and engineering, as well as 49 percent of precast fabrication before notification was received to halt production due to a delay in funding.

The housing complex for low-income seniors and people with disabilities follows a growing nationwide trend to parlay sustainable ÎgreenÌ building design and funding enhanced by federal low-income housing tax credits. (New Jersey is one of the states offering extra points on applications to win federal tax credit allotments to low-income-housing developers that incorporate green elements.) Aiming to meet design criteria for the complex by incorporating the greatest number of environmentally friendly products, i.e., those maximizing efficient use of resources to minimize environmental impact of building materials fabrication/procurement and project life-cycle demands, the new developers determined that a totally precast structure best affords a holistic approach to sustainable construction. Moreover, affordability is ensured by total precast construction when energy efficiencies are achieved by coordinating all building elements at the initial design stage.

After Nitterhouse received a call from Ron Rukenstein in January 2006 notifying the producer that Tri-County Real Estate would be taking over the project, partner John Bibeau scheduled a visit to the plant. What he observed among the components fabricated to date and learned from specialists at the facility convinced Bibeau to reinstate the original contract in July 2006, allowing Nitterhouse to continue precast production and erection for the Kent Avenue Apartments.

Supplied for the project were 39,237 sq. ft. of 12-in. insulated exterior wall panels, 16,693 sq. ft. of 7-in. interior wall panels, 85,652 sq. ft. of 8-in. precast hollowcore plank, and 34 precast stairs with landings. Architectural precast panels at the building’s first level on front and east elevations received a light sandblast finish. For upper levels on front and east elevations, brick-faced precast panels were produced using two shades of Summitville brick Û a light tan brick (Colony) and a warm red brick (New Bedford). Tan and red brick-faced panels were alternated bay-per-bay to create maximum visual interest. On the structure’s top level, a combination of brick-faced and sandblast panels provides a finished look. Overall, the variety of panel treatments achieves an aesthetically pleasing fa¡ade and an upscale appearance for the entire complex.

A tan architectural mix was used for exterior east-elevation wall panels; and, units for the west exterior elevation, facing a wooded area, were produced with a standard gray mix. Though a paint finish originally was specified for the gray panels, their natural surface was deemed by the owners sufficiently attractive to require no painting, saving $30,000 in initial costs and eliminating the need for future maintenance.

Erection of the precast components required only 37 days from start to finish, enabling the first tenant to move into the building within 175 days following precast placement. Even the setback of a fire that broke out during roofing installation failed to impede construction progress, as the project’s inherently fire-resistant precast suffered no damage.

Also instrumental in optimizing the new structure’s overall energy efficiency was precast’s role in supporting the building’s 61,000-lb. rooftop solar system. One of the most massive solar panel collection systems installed to date in New Jersey Û and the largest on an affordable housing project in Salem County Û it stands to produce 2,764,375 kilowatt hours of electricity in the products’ life span. Goff Sun Power, which supplied and installed the solar units, estimates that energy generated by the 462 panels will be equivalent to 1,450 tons of CO2 emissions avoided, 19,725 trees planted, or 2,193,950 miles not driven in a car.

The project’s combined energy efficiencies enabled the owner to eliminate 101 gas meters and include heat, hot water, cable TV, and trash removal in the rental cost, thereby making the accommodations more attractive and affordable than others in the Pennsville vicinity. The average heating cost to the owner will run approximately $4,000/month, or an average cost of $40 per unit.

In addition to energy efficiencies achieved through the use of precast and solar panels, the builder’s ÎgreenÌ construction approach involved use of recycled aggregates and flooring materials; recycling of construction debris on site; application of low-VOC paints and sealants; plus, on-site storm water reclamation. Thus, the project disproves the assumption that affordable means a standard-issue structure of low-cost materials and stands to demonstrate that ÎgreenÌ building entails no extra cost in the long term. Affirms Tri-County’s Bibeau, Using precast concrete and solar roofing panels on this project has completely changed my perception about affordability. Though these types of materials are considered high-end, they equate to lower costs, as future savings and tax credits far exceed the small additional premium over using traditional materials. A small initial investment can yield big payoffs in lower energy costs, minimal or no maintenance, a better environment for residents, and a longer building life cycle.

The Kent Avenue Apartments project recently brought Nitterhouse recognition by the N.J. Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) as one of eight organizations recently honored with an Excellence in Housing Award for outstanding work in sustainable housing development. The award ceremony took place at the 2009 Governor’s Conference on Housing and Community Development at the Atlantic City Convention Center.