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March 8 FOCUS: Architecture, Engineering & Construction

BMarko’s first affordable housing complex built from prefabricated modules, shown here, will be constructed in Spartanburg. (Rendering/Provided)

Affordable housing built from new product

By Molly Hulsey

It all started with shipping containers, fresh off the cargo boat, turned into concession stands. A few years later, it was medic units built to relieve Georgia’s maxed-out hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now — following the lead of European building trends — experimental construction company BMarko has a new hyper-localized building concept on the roster: affordable housing communities formed from prefabricated “giant Lego-like blocks” built in the warehouse, according to Ben Silewicz, vice president of business growth for BMarko’s wood modular division.

Structures made from the products cost an average of a $100 per square foot to build.

“If you were standing by one of these units, it would look like a completed apartment,” he said. “All the flooring is in, the kitchen cabinets are in, the sinks are in, all the bathroom fixtures are in, the light switches, the lights in the ceiling: everything is installed on the inside of the building.” 

The Georgia-based company has left its name on modular structures from New York to New Mexico for Google and GE, Georgia-Pacific and Georgia Tech, but the company chose the Greenville-Spartanburg area as the first launching pad for its residential wood modular portfolio.

Or as Tyler Wise, BMarko’s marketing manager says, Greenville chose them first. The pull of Greenville developer Robert Smalls and Greenville Area Development Corp. served as a major impetus for the project, as well as the area’s vibrant residential market, affordable housing shortage and available workforce.

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“We’ve been visiting, trying to get into the wood modular space for a while,” Wise said. “We began a relationship with this developer two or three years ago really, and we’ve just been working our way into this space. He had this site in Greenville, and it worked out for both parties, so here we are.”

The company has already launched site development for a 190-apartment wooden complex constructed at 561 Wofford St. in Spartanburg from prefabricated jigs crafted in BMarko’s Georgia facility. The 325 roughly 1,000-square-foot modules used for the project will be assembled and finished at a “pop-up” warehouse on 3309 Laurens Road in Greenville before on-site installation. 

BMarko will mud, paint and insulate all modules at the warehouse, located near the ongoing project.

“Once you get it out on site, all you have to do is do the exterior siding, and connect the plumbing and electrical, and then they’re ready to occupy,” Silewicz said. The product can be delivered as far as 500 to 1,000 miles, but the closer the plant, the cheaper it is to deliver. 
Better production lead time from indoor construction also shrinks the price tag for developers.

“We don’t have rain days or anything like that, so we’re able to build seven days a week if we wanted to,” he said. “And the other advantage is, while we’re building inside the factory, the site is getting the foundation right, so that the minute that the foundation is ready, if everyone’s in sync, we can start delivering modules. ... You’re saving months and months on a project.”

The company’s warehouse team has hit the ground running and is now seeking experienced and novice construction teams to fill an expected 80 positions, according to a news release, especially carpenters, drywall hangers, electricians, plumbers, flooring and cabinet installers, painters, caulkers and other laborers in preparation for the project’s slated October completion.

Reach Molly Hulsey at 864-720-1222 or @mollyhulsey_gsa on Twitter.

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