Stacks

I’ve been keeping an eye on the site where the county’s Navigation Center is now under construction since well before they scooped their first shovelful of dirt. And as the end of the year approached, I found myself willing to bet that the contractor wouldn’t make the county’s goal of having the place completed by December 31. While I’m still not entirely sure that they’ll make that date, I’m less certain about that: after what I witnessed this week, I should be hedging my bets (assuming that I had actually placed any, which of course I haven’t). If they do miss it, it likely won’t be by much, given how quickly things are now progressing.

You probably know that the bulk of the Navigation Center is being constructed from pre-fabricated modules that are being constructed in an off-site factory. An early plan that I managed to snag a copy of shows the Navigation Center consisting of 82 modules for a total of 250 beds (most of the modules have three bedrooms, each with a single bed, but there are also rooms for couples and a handful with en-suite bathrooms, for residents with special needs). It also shows thirteen additional modules containing restrooms (toilets, sinks, and showers), and another 18 serving as offices, meeting rooms, laundry facilities, and storage. In total, that’s 113 separate modules, plus two conventionally built buildings: one acting as the site-wide dining hall, and the other acting as a community building/support center. However, although the actual construction activity seems to line up pretty well with the plan I have, I should note that the web page for the project lists it as only having space for 240 residents (and not the 250 my plans show), so the plans I have don’t appear to be completely accurate. However, they seem close enough for my purposes.

Because the modules are being constructed off-site, they need to be transported to the site and stacked up to form buildings that are one, two, or even three modules high. To get 113 modules to the site, I had pictured a parade of flatbed trucks, each carrying a module, making their way to the site. Since I have yet to spot any of the modules actually being transported, they may indeed have come in on flatbed trucks, perhaps during off hours. However, they may actually have come in by train (the tracks that run down Chestnut Street and out to the port would be quite convenient) — or, given the site’s proximity to the Port of Redwood City, they could have come by ship. Whichever way they got here, on Tuesday I spent a lot of time prowling around the various project sites on the east side of Highway 101, where I discovered that some large number of modules — as best as I can tell, at least 59 of them — have arrived. Not directly on site, though; it turns out that they are being staged nearby, on the parcel where Lyngso Garden Materials used to operate (just off Seaport Boulevard, very close to the freeway), before Lyngso relocated to San Carlos:

This site is the future home of the large Harbor View office project, which was recently given the green light by the City Council but is not quite ready to break ground. I couldn’t get a good angle on the site showing all of the modules, but trust me — there are (or were) a lot of them there on Tuesday. Today, however, there were quite a bit fewer: between Wednesday and today (Friday), 27 of the modules have been transported to the Navigation Center site and placed into final position:

Assuming that the plans I have are basically still correct, the 27 modules you can see in the above photograph are the ones I’ve indicated with an orange rectangle in the following [click the image to get a version you can zoom in on]:

For reference, Maple Street, which is not shown here, runs up the right side of the plan and then makes a sharp left to run across the top. The street that you do see, running at a bit of an angle across the bottom, is the extended Blomquist Street. Where the words “Site Plan – Tier 1” appear is where the Redwood City Police Station is located.

While returning to base after completing our regular Meals on Wheels route this morning, I glanced over while driving southbound on Highway 101 and saw a module being lifted into place by the yellow crane visible in the earlier photograph. As quickly as I was able (about 90 minutes later) I headed to the site and set up camp in order to watch the activity. Unfortunately, by the time I got there (around 12:30 p.m.) the stacking was done for the day; all of the work I observed seemed to be focused on sealing the joints between the two modules that make up each floor of a given stack:

Soon, the walkways and stairways (and elevators) that will provide access to the entry doors of each of the bedrooms will be put in place. These walkways will span the gap between each stack (again, refer to the first photograph of the stacked units to see where those will go) and will also connect a number of stacks into a single building.

Beyond the total number of bedrooms, another thing that makes me question the accuracy of the site plan I have is the fact that, according to that plan, the modules in these particular stacks should each contain three bedrooms. However, a close examination of the above image reveals that each of these modules only appears to have two bedrooms, one on each end, with something in the middle that may be a shower, restroom, or utility closet. Those two side-by-side doors in the center appear to be louvered, and can’t be for a third bedroom, since that center bedroom wouldn’t have any windows (in these stacks, two modules sit back-to-back; thus, the only windows are on the faces or the ends). Perhaps, though, these are units for those with special needs, or perhaps these are the units for couples (modules for single residents are supposed to have three bedrooms per module, whereas modules for couples are supposed to have two larger bedrooms per module). Whatever they are, the plans I have show these as being three-bedroom modules, which these definitely aren’t.

I’m not sure exactly where the next units will be placed, but all of the concrete pads on which the modules will sit appear to be ready to receive them:

Finally, here is a view of the five stacks that are there today, taken from Maple Street near Blomquist Street:

The above photo gives a good view of the backside of one of the modules; because they are designed to be placed back-to-back (as they are in four of the five stacks) the backsides are solid — but colored (black and white) to give them some visual interest. The end stacks of this “building” consist of just three modules, stacked one atop the other. At least according to the plans I have, there should be another three-module stack on the other end; perhaps that stack will be added on Monday.

Getting back to Blomquist Street, it, too, is coming right along:

As you can probably see, the left-hand curb has been poured, and the forms for the right-hand curb are now in place. By Monday — if not by the end of today (Friday), that right-hand curb will surely have been poured. After that, it might be time for asphalt.

I spent an unusually long (for me) time on site watching all of the activity. Because I knew that I was going to have to do so if I hoped to see anything truly exciting, I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time: I brought a camp chair and found a good spot where I could view things without being in the way. For fun, I took a picture of my “campsite”:

Assuming that the weather cooperates, I’ll be back here again next week, hoping against hope to see some modules actually being placed. The spot I found is on a small dirt rise just past the BIAC building. It gave me a good view not only of the main construction entrance to the Navigation Center site, but also of the work going on at the next-door 1548 Maple Street project site, where 131 townhouses are soon to be built. So far I don’t believe any of the foundations have been poured; work still seems to be concentrated on the utilities and roadways that run to and through the townhouse complex:

Although the buildings are not yet being constructed, there is a great deal of activity on the site, with many workers and a great many trucks and heavy equipment of all types.

Incidentally, the above photo shows where a portion of Maple Street used to run (that section has been abandoned, and is now part of the 1548 Maple Street project site). Until recently I could tell where it used to run by the line of telephone poles that ran alongside the street. Except for the one pole you see in the above photograph, though, and one other that is all the way down at the far end of where Maple Street used to run, the rest are gone: the wires that used to run along those poles have been undergrounded. I’m guessing that even the one you can see in the above photograph will eventually be eliminated; it may be still in place just so that the contractors can have easy access to temporary power.

Those are the highlights of the projects east of the freeway for this week. But my excursions this week were by no means limited to this site; I had a number of projects to catch up on, projects that had me going all over town. For instance, the ELCO Yards project, at least when I was there, was, thanks to the lovely rain we’ve received lately, starting to look a bit like a giant swimming pool:

The above is the site of the underground parking garage on Parcel B, as viewed from El Camino Real (the building that will sit atop this garage should have a large “family entertainment” space — a roller rink, bowling alley, or some such — and a childcare center on the ground floor, and offices on the upper three floors). After taken the above picture, I then wandered down to Main Street and peered into the even bigger underground garage being built on Parcel E, which lies between Main Street and the Caltrain tracks:

This site will have two office buildings atop its garage, plus the indoor/outdoor restaurant space that will be constructed to look like the old metal shed that once stood on the site. For now, though, notice the large crane, which is standing outside the pit but whose boom was resting on the bottom. Also notice the two smaller cranes, down in the pit. Clearly they are ready to start building something here.

From the above spot I looked across the street and noticed something strange: light was beaming out of a couple of holes along the base of the warehouse building across the street, holes that I believe were outlets for gutters that drained water from the building’s flat roof, and thus shouldn’t be projecting light. It took me a moment to realize that if light was coming out of those holes, then light — sunlight — had to be illuminating the inside of the building. And indeed, although the building looks fine from the Maple Street side, wander up Elm and you get quite a different picture:

As you can see, the one building still standing on the ELCO Yards site is not long for this world. I just happened to be there late in the afternoon, with the sun positioned just right so that its light could find the interior of the building and come directly out through those drain holes. Oh, and for those of you familiar with the area, I took the above picture at the corner of Elm and Lathrop Streets, and shouldn’t have been able to see that warehouse building. But sometime in the last couple of weeks the old Main & Elm Restaurant building was torn down and its remnants taken away. So pour one out for Main & Elm — but if everything works out, the folks who ran Main & Elm will run the new restaurant that will be constructed on Parcel E, so don’t be too sad…

Elsewhere in Redwood City, I checked in on the seven-unit townhouse project being built at 31 Center St., just across El Camino Real from the Target shopping center (and a few buildings back). Work is moving quickly on this site:

As you can see, the underground utilities are in place, and the forms appear nearly ready for concrete. While I was there, the rebar that will help strengthen the footings for the seven townhouse units was being installed; I expect to see concrete here as early as next week, after which the buildings themselves should rapidly start taking shape.

Finally, although the final green light has not yet been received in order for construction to start on the eight-unit townhouse project slated for 955 Woodside Rd. (that green light will very likely be given on January 9, when the City Council takes up the matter as a routine “consent calendar” item), that hasn’t stopped the contractor from getting the site ready. Half of the site already had been pretty much empty — it used to be a “Honey Bear” Christmas tree lot during the holiday season, and seemingly was used to store some contractor vehicles during the rest of the year — while the second half of the site had been home to the Alta Wood Animal Hospital. No longer, though:

As you can see, the site is clean and flat, with all evidence — except for one small shed adorned with the Honey Bear logo — of its former uses gone. I get the feeling that the contractor is just itching to get started, and wouldn’t be surprised to see activity on this site on January 10, the day after they should receive the final go-ahead.

There’s a lot of construction activity going on right now in Redwood City, but there could be more: I keep checking on the Mi Rancho Supermarket at 150 Charter St. (next to Target), which will soon be replaced by a 72-unit condominium building. The project was approved in May of 2021 by the Redwood City Planning Commission, but they have yet to receive their building permits. Until they do, they can’t do much with the site, and so the market remains in operation. But I’ll keep checking, and when the project gets underway, I’ll write more about it. (Curious? Check out my post The Best Laid Plans, when I last wrote about not only the Charter Street project, but also the “Record Man” project — aka “Redwood City Discovery” — which the Redwood City Planning Commission just voted to recommend to the City Council for approval).