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Life Lessons from the Farm

Students Corniqua Murphy, left, and Tiara Hawkins, right, consult with instructor Kelly Baker. Photos by Art Meripol

In Woodlawn, an underserved neighborhood in east Birmingham, a group of local teens are growing and harvesting bushels of crops, knowledge and opportunity.

The teens are all students or recent graduates from Woodlawn High School, the site of a two-acre urban farm where they and their instructors are growing banana peppers, turnips, collards, okra, sorghum and other produce, along with sunflowers and gomphrena and more than 40 apple, pear, plumb, fig and persimmon trees.

Destiny Nelson-Miles, 16, a soft-spoken 11th grader at Woodlawn, says she has already learned how to harvest, pull weeds around tender plants and build raised garden beds.

“I love how, if I plant something, I’m able to watch it grow and turn into this beautiful thing,” says Nelson-Miles. “It’s so amazing.”

Woodlawn High’s urban farm is the creation of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF). Established in 2002, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit builds teaching farms and provides food-based, hands-on, preK-12 education programs that provide academic enrichment.

One of the programs is Good School Food, which uses food to teach concepts as diverse as environmental science, biology, math and humanities. Unlike most school-based teaching farms, JVTF promotes a continuing approach to learning instead of a brief farm experience that lasts only a few days, says JVTF Executive Director Amanda Storey.

“We implement the teaching farm and the food-based education and experiential learning across a 12-year school career,” says Storey. “We’re actually more interested in how it can impact students for the long term perspective instead of just where you happen to have an interested science teacher and a great garden.”

With Good School Food, JVTF appoints full-time instructors to each partner school that, besides Woodlawn High, includes Glen Iris, Avondale and Henry J. Oliver elementary schools, C.W. Hayes K-8, W.E. Putnam Middle School and John Herbert Phillips Academy. The instructors work with teachers to develop lesson plans that incorporate the use of food, while meeting prescribed academic standards.

“My job is to collaborate with the teachers in the school building,” JVTF instructor Kelly Baker says. “So that could be a science teacher, a math teacher, English or social studies. I brainstorm with them on how we can bring their classes out to the farm.”

The day Business Alabama visited the Woodlawn farm, Baker co-taught a ninth grade biology class about macro- and micromolecules. During the session, held on the farm’s outdoor classroom that resembles a picnic shelter, Baker showed students samples of protein-rich vegetables and how the lipid-based outer layer of peppers makes water droplets slide off of their waxy surfaces.

“I believe students retain information, understand it better and are able to apply it better in life if they’ve had an actual interaction with whatever they’re learning,” she says.

JVTF instructors obtain seedlings from the 1,500-square-foot greenhouse located on Woodlawn’s farm to plant and to use at their appointed schools. Storey says the greenhouse produces and distributes more than 35,000 seedlings every year.

But besides Good School Food, JVTF offers after-school enrichment activities such as Farm Club, where students learn how to grow and harvest produce on their schools’ teaching farms. Afterward, through the JVTF Market Club, they gain experience selling their farms’ produce at the Pepper Place market in downtown Birmingham or at the student-run farm stand at Woodlawn High School that is open to customers three days a week from 3 to 5:30 p.m.

JVTF Education Programs Manager Leah Hillman says the Market Club teaches students several skills.

“One is being comfortable making change,” says Hillman, “understanding what a profit is, inventory and being able to assess what you have, what you’ve sold and how much you might need the next week. Marketing is another big one. Our students love making flyers to bring people into their market. The other skills are knowing what you’re selling, being familiar with the vegetables, knowing what they taste like when someone asks or being able to identify them on the table.”

Another program, the JVTF Culinary Club, gives youngsters the chance to taste fresh fruits and vegetables and try their hands at cooking recipes.

Student Avant Claiborne at the market stand

Growing Jobs

JVTF also has a jobs component through its competitive, paid internship program for course credit. Interns gain a deeper understanding of farming as a trade by helping to manage the farm and selling produce at the farm stand under the guidance of the JVTF farm manager at Woodlawn, Mohamed Jalloh. Woodlawn students can apply in their junior year to fill between seven to nine open slots, Storey says.

On the day BA visited, Woodlawn senior and intern Avant Claiborne, 18, had pulled weeds on the farm under an afternoon sun for two hours and said he planned to stay two more.

“The farm manager has us teaching the new people how to weed,” says Claiborne, who says he is considering owning a farm some day or getting an HVAC degree. “He works us hard and keeps us on track.”

Nelson-Miles says working on the farm has also influenced her career plans.

“My initial career interest was business management,” she says. “But when I started coming out here to the farm, I started wanting to do agriculture. So right now, I want to major in finance, but agriculture is competing.”

Former intern and 2018 Woodlawn High graduate Jerick Hamilton credits the internship program for making him career-ready.

“As an intern, I got to watch the organization develop,” says Hamilton. “I had leaders who were above me, and I got to work under them and learn how to farm. It gave me the foundation and the skills I needed to go out into the real world and see what I want to do for myself.”

Hamilton says that one of his goals is to own land and farm.

JVTF also has an apprenticeship program and recently hired Hamilton along with Telvin Caples, another former intern and 2018 Woodlawn High graduate. Apprentices are full-time JVTF employees whose duties include assisting the instructors and running the after-school programs.

Caples says the farming experience has inspired him to want to teach others how to farm and to be a role model for younger generations.

“I want to be able to give back to as many people as I can,” Caples says.

For now, however, Caples says he is thinking about attending Auburn University to major in horticulture and minor in business.

“One of the success measures that we’ve seen here is the vision of the organization,” says Jerone Wiggins, JVTF’s director of educational programs and partnerships. “We eventually want to see this organization run by the very people who come through it.”

Wiggins says one former intern and apprentice has earned a culinary arts degree and is now a full-time JVTF instructor at one of the elementary schools.

In addition, JVTF conducts assessments tied to standards-based lessons and has students in the farm and market clubs complete surveys asking what skills they feel they have gained, says Hillman. Participating students also earn merit badges whenever they demonstrate having learned new skills.

Meanwhile, Storey says plans are in the works to further develop JVTF’s three-acre downtown urban community farm, built in 2007, so more Birmingham city school children will have the chance to participate in JVTF programming. She says Good School Food and other JVTF programs are impactful for education, career development, job creation and preparing students for whatever they want to do in life.

“And it’s hard to find programs that have the ability to do that,” she says. “So, it’s instilling so much more than we can even see on the surface of how you can carry this with you for the rest of your life.”

Apprentice Telvin Caples

Harvesting Community Support

Support for JVTF’s programs comes from federal and state grants, as well as from corporate sponsors and other nonprofits. But another source of support comes from JVTF’s annual Twilight Supper, a charity event that raises monies for Good School Food. Now in its 14th year, the Twilight Supper, held every September, is a formal dinner where donors, for $1,000 a plate, can enjoy a catered meal prepared by a renowned chef at JVTF’s community farm in downtown Birmingham. Some 350 people were expected to attend this year, Storey says.

But another more grassroots fundraising effort is The Gather, where anyone can host a dinner party on their own — from a formal sit-down dinner to a potluck supper or pizza — and invite guests for a donation. To help, JVTF provides the produce and an online platform that hosts can use to collect reservations and donations.

Gail Allyn Short and Art Meripol are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.

Harvest Roots Moves Down from the Mountains

Lindsay Whiteaker and Pete Halupka, founders and owners of Harvest Roots, are hands-on local food producers, and their prime line is kombucha made from locally grown fruits and herbs. They recently moved the business from Mentone to Birmingham, which accounts for 85 percent of sales. Photos by Cary Norton

Lindsay Whiteaker and Pete Halupka have grown their locally sourced food business, Harvest Roots, as if following each lesson in a primer on homegrown.

They started in a Falkville farm incubator before moving to a 150-square-foot kitchen in Mentone. As demand for their products increased, so too did their production space. They upped the kitchen to 450 square feet, along the way turning to crowdfunding through Kickstarter and opportunities such as Neighborhood Concepts’ North Alabama Revolving Loan Fund.

Their products are equally organic, as well as effervescent.

Leader among their products is a line of kombucha — that tea concoction from ancient Mongolia now on the shelves of every grocery in America. And, like kombucha, most of their products are fermented — alive with nutrients in microbial abundance. Other fermented foods include kimchi and krauts.

The couple began as farmers but soon shifted their focus to fermentation. They’ve sourced about 75,000 pounds of local produce for vegetable ferments, and they use local fruits in their seasonal kombucha keg series.

The transition to Birmingham will take time and money. Production will occupy a 3,700-square-foot space. Coupled with an on-site taproom, Harvest Roots will occupy 5,000 square feet in the city’s East Avondale neighborhood, adjacent to the restaurant Tropicaleo.

“We were able to find partners that both see the mission and vision behind what we’re doing, but also understand the financial potential there, as well,” Whiteaker says.

Mentone served as an incubator of sorts for the young couple. They were able to grow Harvest Roots one bottle at a time, from a kitchen tucked into Little River Hardware. The community support was unmistakable. Friends would text to alert the couple of an excess of pears, prime for picking, or offer repair know-how when the business’ walk-in cooler went out.

But the location’s limitations were impossible to ignore. Until October of this year, Halupka personally distributed all of Harvest Roots’ products. He racked up miles pinging between north Alabama, middle Tennessee, eastern Tennessee and central Alabama. Demand at 50-plus retail locations often exceeded the amount he and Whiteaker were able to create.

Now that the company has inked a deal with Pinnacle Imports, its products will show up on shelves throughout Alabama.

Birmingham is a more central location from which to distribute, and already the city is the source of 85 percent of Harvest Roots’ sales. Turning over distribution will allow Halupka and Whiteaker more time to focus on production, and moving into a larger facility also will allow them to grow the business and their staff.

Whiteaker and Halupka want to be certified as a B Corporation (B for “benefit”), a company certified for meeting certain social and environmental goals. They find inspiration in businesses like Patagonia and Alabama Chanin and hope to build a workplace that supports employees personally and financially while investing in the community.

The couple has long considered Birmingham their urban home. Whiteaker attended college there, and Halupka grew up skateboarding and playing soccer in the city. They have family in the area, and they look forward to living among the community they’ve found through six years of selling at The Market at Pepper Place.

Growing Community

Halupka and Whiteaker are serious about fermentation, but they also hope to inject the fun, often silly, side of their personalities into their taproom.

“We’re bringing to our practice of fermentation a level of craft and seriousness through our sourcing and knowledge of science. But we also love to have fun, and we want our space to be a balance,” Whiteaker says.

Workshops and other events will take place in the taproom. Halupka and Whiteaker hope the business will be an extension of their home, where people can gather for both conversation and education.

The retail space will include 15 taps from which Harvest Roots will serve kombucha, kegged kombucha mocktails and seltzer. They hope to explore alcoholic kombucha in the future. Over time, the business may offer other artisan food products, such as high-quality olive oil, sea salt and home fermentation tools. Guests will be able to order from a menu of snack-sized fermented goods, such as kimchi toasts, and meal-appropriate dishes, including grain bowls.

They’re toying with the idea of an interior mural that would read “Welcome to our home.” The sentiment runs deep, Halupka says.

“We want to welcome you into our literal space. But we also want to welcome you to a state that a lot of the country feels they don’t have a reason to visit,” he says. “We want to welcome a diverse community into our space. We want the space to be about communing with food.”

Whiteaker says the taproom will allow them to dabble in projects that weren’t feasible without a retail model, such as small batch Southern pea miso. The space will allow them to sell directly to customers. When demand is appropriate, Harvest Roots may then make a product more widely available.

But the taproom won’t only be about experimenting with pet projects.

Halupka says, “The idea of the taproom that Lindz and I have is that it’s going to be, more or less, an Alabama natural history museum—”

“—with kimchi-dusted popcorn,” Whiteaker adds.

The two recognize food’s innate connection to ecology and want to ensure that their customers do, too. Soil and climate contribute to food, and tell the story of a place.

“We feel a responsibility and also a pride in communicating what this place means to us,” Halupka says.

As a result, they hope the taproom, which will open in the first half of 2020, will be a source of community and education about Alabama’s ecological riches.

Whiteaker says, “We’re inspired by a lot of people who choose to explore home and sink their roots into that and the beauty that can come from choosing to stay in a place that you’re from.”

Carla Jean Whitley and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.

New Venture Capital Fund Yields Early Returns

Raymond Harbert, a key investor in the Alabama Futures Fund, who believes that it takes a pool of committed capital for early-stage companies to create a robust Alabama economy, according to AFF advisory firm partner Matt Hottle.

Birmingham, along with the rest of Alabama, continues to make inroads in the nation’s entrepreneurship circles, particularly the high-tech sector.

The city received a major boost in September 2018 with the formation of the Alabama Futures Fund, a $25 million early-stage venture capital fund that will fund startup companies based in Alabama or companies that would consider moving to Alabama.

Backers include some of Birmingham’s biggest names — Raymond Harbert, chairman and chief executive officer of Harbert Management Corp.; Auburn and NBA basketball great Charles Barkley; Protective Life Insurance Co.; Hoar Construction; G. Ruffner Page Jr., president of McWane Inc., and businessman Benny LaRussa Jr.

“We were fortunate to have several investors commit to the vision Mr. Harbert fostered and raised a total fund of $25 million,” says Matt Hottle, a partner in AFF’s advisory firm Red Hawk Advisory.

Hottle says Harbert had been considering an Alabama-focused, early-stage venture capital fund for a number of years.

“Mr. Harbert believes that in order to create a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state of Alabama, one of the elements needed is a pool of committed capital to invest in and support early-stage companies,” Hottle says.

Several recent studies show high-tech entrepreneurship is moving from areas like Silicon Valley and the North Carolina Triangle to the middle part of the country. Given that trend, Hottle says, “A fundamental tenet of the Alabama Futures Fund is to foster the Alabama entrepreneurial community and to attract early-stage companies to relocate to Alabama by creating a resident pool of capital to invest in our previously underserved market.”

Like any investment firm, AFF’s goal “is to create positive returns for the investors,” Hottle says. “But we are also taking advantage of the opportunity to work collaboratively with other stakeholders in Alabama’s business and entrepreneurial community to promote the entire spectrum of entrepreneurship and economic development. Whether we invest in a company or not, we try to encourage their success by providing access to a network of professional service providers and community business leaders to help with an array of non-financial support — ranging from executive mentoring to assistance with finding office space. The Fund will help promote the state as a supportive and strategic place for startups who can grow and innovate as effectively here as anywhere in the country.”

Hottle says that while the Alabama Futures Fund encourages early-stage investing and the development of startup communities across the state, Birmingham was a natural fit to serve as the base of operations. He points to Harbert’s strong ties to the institutional investor base in Birmingham and the recent success of several local startup companies.

“Maybe more instructive than any assessment that we made regarding the environment for early-stage companies in Alabama is the success that the Alabama Futures Fund has had in recruiting two of our first three portfolio companies to relocate their headquarters to Birmingham,” Hottle says. “We see this as definitive validation of the strength and attractiveness of Alabama’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

In just over six months, four firms have announced an investment from AFF and a decision to relocate to Birmingham simultaneously:

• In September, TeamingPro — born in Virginia as a software-as-a-service firm helping contractors find federal opportunities and potential partners — accepted capital from AFF and announced plans to move its headquarters from Chesapeake, Virginia, to Huntsville. TeamingPro President and CEO Tim Hagerty praised the Fund leadership for “exceptional investment capabilities” and “strategic business acumen.”  Added Hagerty, “And now, with our move to Huntsville, Alabama, an important federal contracting hub, we expect TeamingPro to grow exponentially.”

• At the end of June, San Francisco startup Prepaid2Cash Holdings Inc. announced that it had received capital from AFF and was relocating. “We are excited to join the burgeoning tech community in Birmingham,” said Peter Vogt, cofounder and CEO of Prepaid2Cash. “We were blown away by the ample resources and support available to a growing business like ours. This gives us confidence in our ability to scale our company and access new customers and tap regional connections.”

• In March, Case Status, a company founded in Atlanta to help law firms strengthen relationships with their clients, accepted funding from AFF and announced a move to Birmingham. “We believe the missions of Case Status and the Alabama Futures Fund are very much aligned,” says Case Status CEO and founder Lauren Sturdivant. “From our earliest days, we have focused on building deep, trusted and expansive relationships for the benefit of law firms and their clients. AFF demonstrated their commitment to the same ideals.” Like Vogt of Prepaid2Cash, Sturdivant praised the “Birmingham tech ecosystem,” and says her firm “is excited to be part of it.”

• Last December, Joonko Inc., which helps employers find a diverse pool of job applicants, announced plans to move its headquarters from San Francisco to Birmingham, after accepting AFF funding. “Expanding our operations in the U.S. is an exciting moment, and we couldn’t find a better place than Birmingham,” says Ilit Rax, founder and CEO of Joonko. “Working alongside the Alabama Futures Fund has been incredible from day one. Their support of the business, willingness to make introductions, and belief in the team, product and mission is not something you find in every investor.”

AFF also has invested in the Alabama-born firm VirtualCare LLC and its direct primary care platform, dubbed DoctorWellington, which provides access to virtual care, telemedicine and primary care physician office visits for a monthly subscription fee, without co-pays, deductibles and other traditional insurance.

Several Southeastern communities have well-organized, early-stage investor communities, says Hottle, citing Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh and Nashville, as well as Chattanooga, Tampa and Charlotte. That investment “has helped those communities not only retain their local startup companies, but also attract startups from around the region, including some with Alabama roots.”

Birmingham’s existing entrepreneurial element, embodied in Innovation Depot, welcomes the AFF influence.

“Innovation Depot has been focused on building the tech entrepreneurial community for over a decade, and we are incredibly excited about the added momentum of focused capital sources like the Alabama Futures Fund,” says T. Devon Laney, until recently president and CEO of Innovation Depot. “Being able to attract and support high-growth tech startups is essential to the future of our community and state, and we expect to continue working with partners like the AFF to drive these results moving forward.”

Bill Gerdes is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He is based in Hoover.

Southern Power Adds 12th Wind Farm

Southern Power, the Birmingham subsidiary of the Southern Co. that deals in wholesale alternative energy across the country, announced the acquisition of its 12th wind farm, a 38-turbine, 136-megawatt farm under construction on 10 acres south of Rainier, Washington.

Southern Power did not say how much they paid for the Skookumchuck Wind Facility, which was bought from RES (Renewable Energy Systems), which began construction of the facility in early September.

Southern Power and its subsidiaries own 50 facilities operating or under development in 13 states, with more than 11,310 MW of generating capacity in Alabama, California, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington.

As a wholesale business, Southern Power buys or builds power plants that are covered by long-term contracts. The Skookumchuck plant is covered by a 20-year power purchase agreement with Puget Sound Energy, which will sell the electricity to customers in its Green Direct program — customers that are mostly comprised of Washington state agencies that the governor of has required to buy renewable energy.

According to the most recent annual report, Southern Power netted $246 million in income in 2018, on revenues of $2.205 billion, of which $2.192 billion was from wholesale sales of energy.

Taking Candles to the Next Level: Paddywax Arrives at Summit

Even candles will be a Do-It-Yourself arrangement with the coming arrival of Paddywax Candle Bar at the Summit in Birmingham this holiday season.

Described as an experiential retail shop that allows guests to design and hand-pour their own custom-made candle, Paddywax comes to Alabama from Nashville. The chain has six locations open, with four more set to open by the end of the year, including the Birmingham store.

During each one-hour candle pouring session, visitors choose a custom vessel from a selection ranging in style from traditional colored glass to modern iridescent ceramics and concrete pots. They then choose from an extensive fragrance library and craft their own candle by placing the wicks, mixing the fragrance and pouring the wax.

With over 40 fragrances and 65 vessels, there are more than 2,000 combinations to be made in store. To add to the experience, there’s an actual bar at Paddywax Candle Bar with beer and wine available for purchase during the workshops, so you can sip while you pour.

The business can be used for group celebrations and corporate outings. Each interactive candle workshop costs $40 and includes one candle, which is available for pick-up three hours after the appointment or can be shipped. While walk-in appointments can be made, customers are encouraged to make reservations online for the workshops, which are offered three to five times per day.

The shop will be located in Suite 105 on 216 Summit Blvd.

Utilities Look to Private Broadband Networks In Upgrading the Grid

Southern Linc President and CEO Tami Barron addresses the first summit of the Utility Broadband Alliance.

As America’s electric utility industry evolves from centralized generation and distribution to a distributed model, data connectivity becomes key to make the coordinated, interactive approach possible. But today’s limited-application wireless networks are too inefficient and capacity-constrained to support tomorrow’s modernized grid.

Utility networks require greater security, reliability and guaranteed speed than wireless broadband commercial services can currently provide. Utilities of tomorrow will need private networks that are purpose-built to reduce potential cyber attacks, while providing the speed and reliability needed to keep devices connected.

A summit of utility leaders addressed the importance of developing private LTE broadband infrastructure in early October in Birmingham.

Southern Linc hosted the Utility Broadband Alliance’s first summit at Alabama Power’s facility, where utility executives, industry technology leaders and representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Edison Electric Institute and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association explored challenges facing electric utilities and examined private broadband networks as a critical element of the transforming grid.

The Utility Broadband Alliance (UBBA) is a collaboration of utilities and ecosystem partners dedicated to championing the advancement and development of private broadband networks for America’s critical infrastructure industries.

The two-day event held discussions on cyber security, broadband spectrum options and vendor technologies and how these items would impact utility communication networks today and in the future. The summit also included tours of Southern Linc’s private utility LTE deployment.

Southern Linc President and CEO Tami Barron served as keynote speaker for the event and highlighted the importance of UBBA’s private broadband mission while sharing lessons learned. “Grid modernization and communication networks are in lockstep; one cannot happen without the other. Private wireless broadband is a key component of this strategy, providing the security and resiliency our networks need. We believe in sharing best practices across all service territories in order to facilitate the development of this critical piece of infrastructure,” Barron said.

UBBA Director of Member Engagement and Operations Bobbi Harris said, “It was an incredible opportunity to have utility executives, government thought leaders and industry technology experts together at UBBA’s first member event discussing the role private broadband networks can play in helping to secure and strengthen our nation’s electric grid. UBBA was created solely for this purpose, to drive scale and innovation for the utility industry, and we are just getting started.”

Birmingham 38th out of 100 for Affordable Housing

If you’ve been wondering where to put down roots, from a purely analytical standpoint, the Magic City can boast at least one powerful statistic to sway your thinking.

According to the October installment of the RealtyHop Housing Affordability Index, Birmingham ranks No. 38 of 100 cities in terms of the affordability of home ownership.

October’s home price for Birmingham was pegged at $225,000 while the share of income for homeownership was listed at 35.84 percent. The full report can be viewed here.

The nation’s top three cities for least affordable housing were, unsurprisingly, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. Cities with the most affordable housing were Detroit, Wichita, Kansas and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Given standard mortgage and local tax rates, the average family in L.A. would need to allocate 91.4 percent of their total annual income in order to own a home. In Detroit, meanwhile, with median home prices at $49,900, coupled with household income of $27,838, families on average only need to spend 13 percent of total annual income to own.

New Community Launched at Birmingham’s Wildwood

A rendering of the Wildwood multi-family community being developed by Dobbins Group LLC.

A new community development on Lakeshore Parkway near I-65 could help fill a void in housing in the greater Birmingham area.

Birmingham-based Dobbins Group LLC, a multi-family real estate investment firm formed in 2010, plans to develop a $45.6 million, 280-unit community on 17 acres. Slated to be complete by mid-2021, Capstone Building Corp., also of Birmingham, will serve as the contractor, while Williams Blackstock Architects designed the project. LBYD will serve as civil engineer and Dix Hite and Partners as the landscape architects.

“We see this as an opportunity to fill a void in the market between urban deals and older, very-suburban communities,” says Thornton Ratliff, vice president of development for Dobbins Group. “We’re only eight minutes from UAB and Birmingham’s Central Business District, and five minutes from Samford and midtown offices, allowing for a diverse resident pool.”

With 17 acres, the property will offer more amenities, from a larger saltwater pool and 3,000-square-foot pet park to a fitness center building and a yoga and spin building and multiple grilling locations.

The apartment community will be available in 1-, 2- or 3-bedroom options that are expected to range from $1,250 to $2,000 per month. Units will feature 9-foot ceilings, granite countertops, soaking bathtubs, walk-in closets and premium appliances.

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Children’s Health Recapitalized

Hoar Construction, of Birmingham, completed a $61 million expansion of the Studer Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida several months ago. Upgrades included adding a single-story vertical expansion to the existing hospital, a new four-story tower and a basement. The 150,000-square-foot expansion features a pediatric emergency room, neonatal intensive care unit, a pediatric imaging department, playrooms and a new family-friendly dining venue, says Senior Project Manager David Roberts.

The medical center, which is the only children’s hospital in Northwest Florida, stayed open throughout the 25-month construction project. “We did considerable planning around infection control, cleanliness, noise, and mechanical/electrical/plumbing interruptions,” Roberts says. “We were in constant contact with the owner when working on building systems, as that affects patients, families and staff. Our project team and the hospital partnered well together throughout the construction process.”

Even though the project faced numerous challenges, it was completed two months earlier than expected. “Over the course of the project, we lost 137 days of production due to weather and received 170 inches (more than 14 feet) of rain,” Roberts says. “This rain was a challenge because we had to excavate nearly 25 feet of existing soils out of the entire building footprint, including areas below the existing building to install the foundation system.”

HKS Inc., the architect and interior designer, created an under-the-sea theme for the new facility. “The design is unique and fitting for both its patients and location,” Roberts says. “CT scanning rooms feature ocean imagery and sea animals, snack bar guests are greeted by a giant sea turtle, and murals and artwork feature sea creatures and seascapes throughout the hospital.”

Big Builds by Alabama Builders: Wellbeing for 10,000

Birmingham-based Doster Construction Co. finished the South Hillsborough VA Primary Care Clinic in Riverview, Florida, this past spring. The new, 65,000-square-foot facility was created to provide up to 10,000 veterans in Riverview and other area communities with medical services that previously required a drive to Tampa, says Doster Senior Project Manager Mitchell Jones.

Services provided by the clinic include primary care, home-based primary care, mental health, audiology, radiology, specialty care, physical therapy, pharmacy services and lab work.

“The community was tremendously interested in this project, and we were surprised to see the turnout at town hall meetings held in association with it,” he says. “It was rewarding for us to interact with the people who would be using the clinic, as you don’t get that opportunity on most projects.”

Designed by NIKA Architects, the facility includes a striking glass exterior. The clinic was designed to comply with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, which always serves as an additional challenge for builders. Application for LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council is in process.

Other construction challenges included meeting Florida’s strict hurricane code and wetland protection regulations. “The whole front of the building, which is quite attractive, is hurricane-resistant glass, which takes 20 weeks to manufacture,” Jones says. Plus the water table at the site was high. Water was found only 12 inches below the surface. “We had to do a lot of pumping to dewater the site,” he says.

Even with the challenges, Doster was able to complete the project four weeks ahead of schedule. “We were glad to be able to deliver it early because that meant thousands of veterans would be able to more easily access health care sooner,” Jones says.

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