People’s Self-Help Housing (PSHH), headquartered in San Luis Obispo, is the longest-serving nonprofit housing organization in California's Central Coast. Their mission is to build affordable homes with site-based services that offer opportunities to change lives and strengthen communities.
Ashley & Vance Engineering did the structural design for PSHH’s new corporate office on Kendall Road, helping the design team build a beautiful, functional corporate office while staying within their budget. We asked Ashley & Vance founder Truitt Vance and project engineer Jackson Kelly about working with the People’s Self-Help Housing design team. Here’s what they had to say:
What’s notable about the Kendall Office project?
Jackson: This project went through at least two separate designs before they settled on the third design we completed. The design process was well-coordinated and organized and we knew every step of the way what our milestones were. The architectural team at Murray Duncan Architects, who led the process of working with the client, did a great job getting us coordination information in a timely fashion and helped to effectively resolve any design conflicts.
The final design was a mix between a cool looking building and cost-efficient design. At the end of the day, PSHH was happy because they got a building they liked that fit their budget. At Ashley & Vance, we are especially considerate of cost-efficient design and the types of clients we work with.
Construction administration on this particular job was also particularly efficient since PSHH functioned as the contractor. The superintendent was very knowledgeable and communicated his needs effectively. I would get regular calls with questions, and we would follow up with a paper trail as needed. I did not feel overly pressured when submittals came through for review since they looked far enough ahead it wasn’t a fire drill every time. All things considered, it was a great project because of the quality of the design/construction team.
What features are worth highlighting?
Truitt: Inside this building, there’s a huge folding wall that allows a very large gathering space to be divided into smaller and more flexible gathering spaces. It’s really difficult to do because the building has huge spans that support extremely heavy doors, which are acoustically separated. That was maybe the hardest thing. Along with some complicated cantilevers…
Jackson: The exterior facade has the coolest features on the project. Besides the two-story curtain wall, the tiered site walls with the metal finishes were a tricky challenge because they're all free-standing CMU walls of varying heights.
What were the biggest engineering challenges you faced on this project?
Jackson: The coordination for the operable partition door in the large conference room space was probably the most challenging part of this design. We had very specific steel detailing/coordination to make sure we designed the support per the manufacturer’s specifications. That and the design of the free-standing CMU site walls, especially the taller sections.
Truitt: Coordinating with the client to determine a structural system that allows them to build a project within their budget and to their design is always the challenge. Even though we were extremely conscious of their budget, after we presented an initial design, they still came back and said we needed to cut out more features to fit the budget. We redesigned this building three times, which was one of the hardest things.
How can engineers support accessible and resilient neighborhoods?
Truitt: While structural and civil engineers are often at the whim of the architectural design, meaning we have to design based on the plans we are given, we can suggest materials that are longer lasting, more affordable, and potentially more responsible. On the civil side, we can suggest layouts that consider and prioritize pedestrian and bike safety, which can contribute to neighborhoods with better multi-modal design.
What upcoming projects do you have with PSHH?
Truitt: We have two other projects with People’s Self-Help Housing in San Luis Obispo right now: One is under construction on Broad Street, which Jackson Kelly is doing structural design for. It’s a mixed-use new construction property with three commercial spaces and 40 apartment units (watch the groundbreaking).
The other, Righetti Ranch on Tiburon Way, which Juan Alverez and Steven Ambers are working on, is still in the planning phase. Both are multi-family buildings with large common areas, office space for lease, and rooms for education and resocialization programs.
Overall, working with organizations like People's Self-Help Housing, who have an immeasurable impact on our community, makes me feel grateful and privileged that Ashley & Vance Engineering can be an integral part of furthering the mission of supportive housing and services that change lives and strengthen our communities.
What advice would you give to other engineers working on similar projects?
Truitt: Always make sure you have a relative understanding of the client’s budget and the building materials they hope to be using from the beginning. There are always going to be changes, but starting on the same page, especially regarding budget and desired building materials, can save a lot of time and redesign.
Jackson: Don't be afraid to reach out to the architect of record or mechanical engineer or whoever you need to talk to, to clarify any coordination items and conflicts in design. The earlier those discussions occur (especially on projects with deliverable milestones) the better off you'll be in the long run. This includes items that may not be well defined in the SD/DD phases of a project (examples: operable partition walls or elevator support structure). In my experience at least leaving placeholder information while waiting for deferred submittals can add a lot of value to a project and help reduce headaches later on.
Also, be open to suggestions from experienced contractors. There were a handful of times the superintendent and I talked through a problem and found solutions that worked for both of us.