The SolarCity facility is massive—a 1.2-million-sq-ft building on an 88-acre site—and the timeline calls for it to be built in 18 months.
When the plan for the larger building was unveiled, everyone had to scramble. EYP Architecture & Engineering worked on the original design for six months. When SolarCity came in, the firm had to create new designs for over 1 million sq ft in less than a week, Ken Drake, senior project executive at EYP, says.
LPCiminelli broke ground at the site on a bend in the Buffalo River in September 2014. To keep pace with the aggressive schedule, the Buffalo-based contractor acted preemptively by preparing the site.
LPCiminelli’s first concern was finding the best orientation for the building while navigating the debris left behind by the demolition of the steel factory.
The foundation contractor’s father had old drawings of the plans for the steel factory, which turned out to be an invaluable. LPCiminelli used the drawings to pre-dig the site. “We wanted to get an early start so that when the gun went off, we’d be ready,” Frank L. Ciminelli II, the senior executive vice president of LPCiminelli, says.
LPCiminelli then began punching holes in the site every 20 ft that provided a home for the 6,000 or so 14-in.-dia steel pipe pilings the contractor sank to depths up to 70-ft deep to secure the slab in the sandy soil near the riverbed.
The pilings also provided flexibility needed because the design for the manufacturing equipment was being done concurrently with the construction work. “We could quickly change how the pilings were used to adapt to the shifting equipment design,” Tom Birdsey, president and CEO of EYP Architecture & Engineering, says.
As the pilings were sunk, crews began pouring concrete. Under the factory’s office area, the slab is 8 in. thick; in the production areas, a foot thick, and it’s 19 in. thick in the utility area that will house the plant’s heavy equipment, including an electrical substation, a boiler plant, a gas distribution center, and a water treatment plant.
Crews began putting up the plant’s 14 million lbs of structural steel in mid-February. Roofers and plumbers started working at the site in the spring, and the project topped out in July. The plan is to finish the factory shell by October so SolarCity can start bringing in equipment, and full production can begin in the first quarter of 2017.
At its peak, the SolarCity worksite is expected to employ 1,460 workers and provide another 1,440 local jobs. “It has been a real game changer for Buffalo,” Frank Ciminelli says.