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Dec 1, 2018Construction

The interior of a large Alaska Structures warehouse.

Alaska Structures

By Vanessa Orr

When you’re standing in line at Costco, you may not think much about the building that you’re in—you’re probably only reflecting on what a bargain you got on your 2,400-count case of paper towels.

When warehouse space is your best construction bet

But what’s interesting about warehouses, other than how massive they can be, is how many unique ways they can be used by different industries.

According to William Hansen, director of marketing for Alaska Structures, there is no limit to a warehouse’s versatility. “Warehouses are used by oil and gas companies as pump station enclosures; by mining companies for onsite warehousing; by the auto industry as manufacturing facilities; by airports as hangars, maintenance and repair facilities, and luggage sorting and handling facilities; and by shipping companies as distribution warehouses,” he says. “Warehouses are perfect for pretty much any industry that requires a large, free-span building.”

Warehouses can be built in a number of ways using steel, pre-cast or tilt-up concrete, or with durable fabric, such as Alaska Structures’ proprietary architectural membrane that can be tensioned over high-strength galvanized steel or lightweight aluminum frames.

“Our clients’ structures can be custom-designed and engineered to meet specific building requirements,” says Hansen, adding that Alaska Structures’ warehouse buildings have been used in more than sixty-five countries around the world. “Just like in a conventional building, we can add windows, equipment or personnel doors, lighting and electrical systems, insulation, and HVAC systems.”

The interior of a large Alaska Structures warehouse.

Alaska Structures

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October 2019

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The company’s modular buildings, which are designed to be easily relocated, can be used permanently, semi-permanently, or as temporary warehouse structures for companies working in remote locations or for short periods of time. The structures can be safely anchored to nearly any level surface—including dirt, gravel, and sand—or anchored to concrete footers, slabs, precast blocks, wood pilings, or spanned across shipping containers. Once set up, the structure is virtually maintenance-free.

“Our tensioned membrane will not rot, offers a greater abrasion resistance than other PE- or PVC-based fabrics, is UV-stabilized to withstand prolonged exposure to the sun and high solar loads, is mold and mildew resistant, and exceeds the fire safety requirements outlined in the California Code of Regulations for membrane structures,” says Hansen. “For projects or locations that are near the coast and where sea spray is present, or if the structure is being used for storing corrosive materials, we offer powder coating to create a high-strength frame system that will resist corrosion.”

To Build or Not to Build

There are many advantages to building a warehouse, including the fact that it can cost less than a typical brick-and-mortar building and it takes less time to construct.

“A typical warehouse probably costs 65 to 75 percent of the cost of a regular building, and you’re saving time because there’s not as much to do to finish the interior,” says Garrett Burtner, AIA, director of Technology & Innovation and principal architect at McCool Carlson Green. “While you might spend about the same amount of time on site development, foundation work, structural erection [for a steel building], and enclosure, you’ll spend less time creating office space or other enclosed areas.”

Fabric warehouses take even less time, according to Hansen. “Our warehouse and storage facilities can be set up in a fraction of the time compared to steel buildings or conventional construction,” he says, adding that shorter construction schedules save time and allow companies to begin operating (and generating revenue) faster.

He gives the example of Alaska Structures’ double-arched gabled buildings that are commonly used for onsite warehousing and storage facilities. A 30 by 130 by 21.5-foot building can be set up in seven days; a 120 by 150 by 41.25-foot warehouse can be set up in fifteen days.

“Warehouses are perfect for pretty much any industry that requires a large, free-span building.”

—William Hansen
Director of Marketing, Alaska Structures

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An added benefit to using any type of warehouse is that it provides unfettered space. “Most warehouse buildings have a long span structure with few columns and no internal bearing walls, so you have freedom of layout,” says Burtner. “You might find other facilities in the area with similar square footage, but with a warehouse, you get more height and there are no walls to take out.”

While rehabbing an existing warehouse might take less time than building a new one, it comes with its own challenges.

“If a company is not changing uses—for example, if the building was permitted and built as a warehouse and is remaining a warehouse, it’s not super complicated,” says Burtner. “But if the building is of a certain age and the new owner decides to change the use, they are compelled to bring it up to current codes. Even if the use remains the same, many companies choose to bring buildings up to code for risk management and liability issues.”

In addition to assessing the location and condition of the building, companies also need to decide what it will cost to make it suit their particular needs. “While the building may have raised loading bays for trucks to use, this won’t work if you need to drive forklifts in and out, so you’ll need to install garage doors at ground level,” says Burtner.

“A typical warehouse probably costs 65 to 75 percent of the cost of a regular building, and you’re saving time because there’s not as much to do to finish the interior… While you might spend about the same amount of time on site development, foundation work, structural erection [for a steel building], and enclosure, you’ll spend less time creating office space or other enclosed areas.”

—Garrett Burtner, Principal Architect, McCool Carlson Green

McCool Carlson Green is currently in the process of helping two clients determine if existing warehouse space is right for them: Burtner is working with the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) to find warmer vehicle storage space and with the Alaska Railroad to look at the old Odom Corporation warehouse on West 1st Avenue in Anchorage. The Odom Corporation recently invested in the construction of a new $40 million, 200,000-square-foot warehouse near West International Airport Road, one of the largest warehouses in the state.

“When Odom built their new facility, it left their old building empty, and we’re looking at whether it can be reused as a warehouse for the railroad or converted to something else,” says Burtner, who is in the process of conducting a facility assessment and code study on the building.

Creating a Customer Space

While most often used for manufacturing, fabrication, and storage facilities, companies such as Costco, Walmart, Fred Meyer, and more use warehouses as retail facilities.

“For the most part, our buildings—which usually run about 150,000 square feet—are used for retail,” says Costco Vice President of Real Estate Jack Frank. “Whether we build from the ground up or use an existing structure depends on the situation.

Warehouses have many uses, including serving as maintenance facilities and workforce housing.

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“In the case of our Juneau and Anchorage stores, we basically built from scratch,” he continues. “In Fairbanks, we adapted an old Sam’s Club building because it was in the right location and in relatively good condition. It was a question of economics and location and, ultimately, it made sense.”

When determining whether to rehab a space or to invest in a new building, Costco takes a number of factors into consideration. “It usually takes about six months to construct a new building; far less if we’re just doing interior tenant improvements,” says Frank. “And if the building already exists, it doesn’t require a land use review or special permitting like what is required when you build on a greenfield site; that pretty much paves the way.”

In the case of the Fairbanks renovation, for example, it took approximately two months to conduct site work and two months for the build-out, with the whole process taking roughly 120 days from start to finish. The Fairbanks Costco is the company’s fourth location in Alaska; it also has one store in Juneau and two in Anchorage. While the company works with the same architectural firm throughout North America, it typically hires local or regional engineering firms on Alaska projects.

Unlike typical warehouses that are designed mainly for storage or distribution, Costco is unique in that almost all of its square footage is used for selling space. “We have no real back-of-house area; our warehouse is filled with high steel where the product is placed so that it is ready to be moved into a selling position,” says Frank, adding that Costco does have a network of cross-dock freight distribution buildings placed strategically throughout North America to efficiently move product from place to place.

No matter what industry a company is in, the idea of constructing or converting warehouse space—whether for customer use, high-volume sales, or simply as a storage solution—may make sense for the bottom line.

Alaska Business Magazine October 2019

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