Expanding project leads to profit for remodeler

Contractor goes into high gear as remodeling plans swell

December 20, 2011

Think of the Barkley project as a remodeling crash test.

Like an air bag expanding in a car, the parameters of the New Hampshire lakefront home remodel mushroomed in size and scope. Like the car windshield, the target date for project completion did not move. And, like the lifesaving air bag, the quick work and close management of Cormack Construction Management, Madison, N.H., enabled the Barkleys to emerge from the project unscathed and completely satisfied.

When they bought the 1980s house in 2007, Ken and Lisa Barkley lived on the West Coast. They planned to use the house as a vacation getaway and a rental property, eventually retiring there. Their plans changed in 2010 when they relocated to the Boston area and expected to use the lake house much more often. That April, they enlisted designer Julie Fergus, ASID, American Home Gallery, Wolfeboro Falls, N.H., to dress up the dark, dated kitchen and refresh the baths. Original budget: $125,000. Target date for completion: Memorial Day 2011.

Getting Bigger

To accommodate the Barkleys’ wish for a sunny gathering space for family and friends, however, Fergus realized that the kitchen needed to be completely rethought.

She recommended that the first floor plan be rearranged to make room for a bigger, more open kitchen/dining/living space featuring large, lake-facing windows. She also suggested that the Barkleys fix the “glaring problem of the long, boring hallway,” or breezeway, between the house and the garage, replacing it with a distinctive entryway and, below it, a guest suite and laundry. The Barkleys loved both ideas.

In May 2010, the Barkleys contacted just one contractor — Cormack Construction Management, a local full-service design and construction company recommended by Fergus — for an estimate. By the time Cormack completed construction drawings in September 2010 incorporating the larger remodeling plan that had evolved, Cormack president Gordon Cormack estimated the time and materials job at around $397,000. Not only had the price multiplied, but the larger scope meant “we really had to get going in October to meet the

Memorial Day deadline,” says Fergus.

From the start, Fergus and Cormack “teamed together extremely well,” says Lisa Barkley. Though the official deadline was May 30, Cormack project manager John LaBreck, LEED AP, inserted a cushion to ensure on-time delivery, setting May 20 as the goal for completion.

And Bigger

On September 24, 2010, Cormack crews began tearing out the breezeway. Two weeks into the job, while excavating in this area for the addition foundation, they uncovered “boulders the size of a VW bug,” says LaBreck. Breaking up and removing them, at a cost of $1,754, was one of the few “found condition” changes in the project.

The real game changer came in November. That’s when the Barkleys decided that, as long as they were putting new windows in the gathering space, they would go ahead and replace all the windows and doors in the house with matching, energy-efficient units.

This decision was “the big turning point,” recalls LaBreck. It added $95,000 to the project and launched a cascade of changes that Cormack needed to accomplish by May 20.

“One thing led to another,” says LaBreck. Replacing all the windows precipitated the decision to replace all the window trim, inside and out. To complement the window trim, new door trim was added, along with new baseboard, Brazilian cherry stairway treads and handrails, Brazilian cherry flooring in most of the house, new interior and exterior paint, stone veneers on the fireplaces, granite hearths, wall insulation and extensive landscaping.

Along the way, the Barkleys decided to completely renovate two bathrooms, replace overhead utilities with underground service, and install hand-hewn ceiling beams and overhead speakers in the dining room. “I’ve never had a job expand like that,” says LaBreck.

Project supervisor Mike Campbell set up a command center in a spare bedroom, using a dry erase board to monitor production. As the scope expanded and the production timeline became more intense, he “packed things together as tightly as he could,” says LaBreck, bringing in multiple trades simultaneously and keeping an eagle eye on delivery lead times. He selected specialty contractors that were experienced working with Cormack; this project did not have the luxury of trial and error.

With few exceptions, the high velocity schedule worked well. One of those exceptions: The day before the code enforcement officer was scheduled to inspect the electrical rough-in, the Barkleys realized that they’d prefer the electrical panel to be moved from a bedroom to a more accessible utility area. Campbell made the change, but it affected scheduling for the next two weeks.

Race to the Finish

As the Barkleys considered changes, Fergus and Cormack presented a manageable handful of options. Most of the options could be accomplished with minimal effect on the schedule.

“We tried to pick as many things as possible in November and December,” adds Fergus. Barkley says, “John let us know when changes would make us miss our deadline.”

Fortunately, “the owners made decisions quickly,” says LaBreck. The new landscaping tacked three weeks onto the project, but most of that work came after the house itself was finished. In a few cases, such as the prospect of replacing the flawed heating system, the Barkleys drew the line.

“They made the big decision to stick with the existing furnace and boiler — otherwise we would have had to take the whole house apart — and add a new heating and air conditioning system to the addition,” says LaBreck.

Substantial completion of the remodel clocked in punctually on May 20. The Barkleys moved in by Memorial Day. By job’s end, the project cost was almost twice the estimate, due to the expanded scope.

But, says Barkley, “we really, really love the house. We love the dining room. We love the windows. The house is light year-round. We can see the lake much more. Some days I think I like the stairways the best.”

In other words, while the Barkleys may not have realized everything they wanted at the start of the project, by the end they had it all.

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