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Scaling Up

June 15, 2015

by Bernie Desjardins                                                            

In the fall of 2012, Supreme Homes contracted with Marriott International to build the Fairfield Inn and Suites, a four-storey, 82-room hotel in Moncton, New Brunswick. The first storey was built on site, and another 75 rooms were added in the form of modules that had been manufactured at Supreme’s factory in Tracadie-Sheila.

With two decades of experience building modular houses, Supreme Homes had been trying to convince people for some time that it was a good idea to use factory-based prefabrication to build a hotel. However, company president Robert Savoie says that it was first necessary to “overcome the stigma of prefab” that many prospective customers held on to, even after all the advances that the manufactured building industry had made over the years. Although everybody agreed that prefabrication could significantly accelerate the speed of completion at the worksite, many people were not aware of all the advantages of building inside a factory, says Robert. And most did not recognize that thanks to numerous improvements in technology and processes, manufactured buildings had become cost competitive for large projects.

As the world’s largest hotel company, Marriott International has thousands of properties, including the tallest hotel in the world, Dubai’s 72-storey JW Marriott Marquis Hotel. The Fairfield Inn was the company’s first attempt at building a hotel from prefabricated modules in Canada, an attempt that turned out to be an outstanding success.

“We take the ‘hassles’ away from the work site,” says Robert. “A big advantage was that we did not have to deal with independent contractors who might not always show up when they are supposed to,” he says. “The actions of just one contractor can easily delay the completion of an entire floor, regardless of how effectively anybody involved with the project is operating.” With a large-scale project, the lack of control over the performance and coordination of on-site subtrades can lead to problems, both in terms of the timeframe for construction and the quality of the final product, he says. “In the factory, we have complete control over the processes.”

Marriott had detailed requirements regarding criteria and specifications. Company officials visited Supreme’s factory to inspect a mock-up of the Fairfield Inn project and also to view the manufactured modules before they were transported to the building site. When the room modules arrived on site, they were in an advanced state of completion; the carpeting and plumbing fixtures had been installed, and the interiors had been painted. Besides the installation of tiles in the bathrooms, there was little remaining work to be done, except for such things as hooking up electrical and plumbing systems.

The Fairfield Inn project took four to six months less time to complete than a comparable hotel constructed entirely on-site. The factory-built approach also reduced project costs with decreased insurance expenses, personnel requirements, material waste and waste removal charges.

Encouraged by the success of the Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites, Supreme soon got to work on another hotel project for Best Western—the 60-unit Bathurst Hotel and Suites. Shortly after that, the next large building project was a 65-room apartment complex in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. With each project, Supreme honed its processes—the bathroom tiles in the Fairfield Inn were put in after the modules had been placed, while the tiles in the Wolfville project were installed in the factory, for example. “Because of what we learned completing several large, multi-unit buildings, we are able to do even more in the plant now,” Robert says. “That is the future of construction.”

Marriott operates approximately 4000 hotels throughout the world, and the Fairfield Inn and Suites represents the new approach to construction being taken by the company—they liked what they saw in Moncton. In Europe and elsewhere, Marriott has plans to build many more hotels using modular prefabrication, and is encouraging franchisees to look to modular construction when planning new projects.