In past articles we have explored challenges related to summer construction as well as urban construction environments. Today, we’ll discuss those related to building commercial projects in rural areas. While rural construction comes with advantages, such as fewer neighbors, larger work zone areas and less stringent jurisdictional oversight, the nature of being further from city centers also lends itself to additional hurdles. Read on to discover more.
1. Lack of public utility connections
Rural buildings still need all the same utilities as in other locations, such as power, water and sewer. Additionally, they need internet, fire sprinklers, mechanical systems and, in the case of wineries or production facilities, process waste. However, if these properties are located outside of cities with these services, they often need to add wells for water, septic systems for waste, and detention ponds for fire water.
Rural areas, such as Dundee, a small town in Oregon’s wine country, do have the ability to connect to the power grid, but are often only served with single-phase, 240v power. For commercial needs, 3-phase, 480v power is necessary. New construction may need to bring this power from miles away to meet their needs, and this expense can fall on either the utility provider, the property owner/developer, or a combination of the two.
Fire sprinkler systems have been known to spare lives, structures and significant damage to surrounding areas in the event of a fire. If the new structure is large enough to warrant fire sprinklers, the property must have the water capacity to properly charge the fire sprinkler lines that serve the building. Because many rural properties are served by a well, other solutions for fire water must be found. The options are typically one of two:
- Installation of large holding tanks, either buried or above ground.
- Installation of large detention ponds.
With either option, diesel pumps must also be installed to convey the water from its stored location into the building when necessary. When thoughtfully designed, these elements can be placed in such a way that they become a part of the landscape. Visitors to the site may not even be aware of their intended purpose. Of equal importance to the building as water supply, a septic system may be the only option to remove waste from the site. Designed by third-party consultants, commercial facilities may need very large septic tanks and drain fields to accommodate their use. On a recent winery project, our teams installed 14 tanks and nearly 1/4 of an acre of drain fields to serve the campus needs.
Finally, many facilities have natural gas powered equipment and/or appliances. To achieve a supply of natural gas, these locations must install onsite tanks in lieu of connecting to underground supply lines. All of these utility systems require special permits, which vary depending on the jurisdiction. These permits may be handled by the specific trade contractor or through a third-party design consultant.
2. Smaller subcontractor pool
Rural construction projects require just as many trades to complete as those in any other location. However, just as more people are centered inside cities and fewer in rural areas, so are our trade partners. Depending on how busy the industry is at the time of construction, finding a large enough pool of subcontractors to bid on work in rural areas can be challenging. If a company is busy with work that is located more conveniently to their operations, they may not choose to travel out of their normal geographical area.
Reputable general contractors with an established base of reliable and loyal trade partners can bridge this gap. It’s imperative that each team member be kept informed of the schedule and updated as construction progresses so that everyone can best manage manpower and materials lead times.
3. Additional third-party consultants
While most construction projects, particularly when they’re ground-up, require some third-party consultants, the addition of wells, wet-wells, diesel pumps, septic drain fields, process waste and production piping generally require the use of third-party consultants. This increases the coordination required to ensure that documents are correct, permits are issues and sign-offs are completed during and after the work.
4. Transportation and access
Site logistics and transportation issues are challenges for every construction site, but rural sites are a little bit different. While we typically have larger sites with fewer nearby neighbors, the local roads into the building location are often narrow, windy and steep, and may not be paved. In some instances, access may only be available through shared driveways.
Similar to other new developments, we may need to add access roads, new driveways or complete public road improvements for both temporary and permanent access. The permitting required for these roads will vary by jurisdiction.
In addition to regular access, the narrow, steep or winding roads are a logistical challenge if large materials deliveries are required, such as large girders, joists and beams.
Likewise, the proximity to concrete batch plants is further than what is ideal. As concrete is truly an art and a science, this can mean that some items should be precast, or pours scheduled for very late or early hours to avoid traffic that further compounds the length of time between the plant and the jobsite.
5. Wildlife protections
Highly dependent on the exact location of rural developments, significant wildlife protections are a consideration. Any time we disturb a site, we risk disrupting local habitats. Our teams must use caution, for instance, when owls are spotted in trees or in wetland areas where turtles may be present or need habitat rehabilitation.
In addition to the possibility of direct disruption to habitat, contractors must install proper stormwater and erosion controls measures. Without such measures in place, we risk allowing runoff from the site to contaminate or muddy local streams and rivers. With proper precautions and planning, we can minimize disruptions and prevent contaminants from entering surrounding land.
6. Rural jurisdictions
Working with rural jurisdictions is incredibly rewarding. The small-town community feel and relationship building that takes place is great for the contractor, the owner, and the governing body in the area. However, with less density in the jurisdiction, a few challenges can arise:
- Lower levels of technology, with fewer options for online permitting
- Fewer staff members available for permit review and/or inspections
- Site inspectors cover larger geographic territories, which limits their ability to visit many sites in one day.
All of these challenges can be overcome with proper planning and communication with the local inspectors and permitting offices. We have found that working in rural jurisdictions is pleasant, fair, and rewarding.
Working in rural communities has been part of our fabric since our founding, and we find the projects that we engage in to be sophisticated, detailed and fun. While there are certain challenges involved in the process that differ from urban or suburban construction, the work is well worth it.
If you’re considering construction in a rural area, please contact our teams to learn more about how we can help you.