HE DOESN’T WEAR a red cape and blue tights, but people still call Rakesh Patel the “Man of Steel.” It’s on his cards for his construction business, DIV005, and it was that business that led to the nickname.
Patel builds cold-formed structural steel frames using prefabricated construction techniques. He’s also a strong advocate for the pre-fab technique over another new trend, modular building.
“None of my clients ever want to do modular,” he said.
The case for pre-fab
Patel has been working in construction in various positions for more than 30 years. He’s built everything from hotels and multi-family housing to homes in Central Africa to Harry Potter’s castle at Universal Studios. He’s been working at DIV005, where he is business development manager, since 1995.
Pre-fab construction varies from modular in that it does not involve building entire rooms and parts of the structure off site but rather assembling factory made pieces at the location. Patel said that allows for more flexibility and control over the process.
For example, he said, if an owner has a $10 million project, they give $9.5 million to a modular builder and wait 18 to 19 months before seeing results. With pre-fab, they pay as they go and usually see the final product in six months.
“The difference in modular construction is that the owner’s money is held up by a company with a backlog of 18 to 20 months and they don’t see anything,” Rakesh Patel said.
Also, with pre-fab construction, adjustments can be made on site if a part doesn’t fit. If a modular unit doesn’t fit on the slab, Patel said, it has to go back to the factory.
DIV005 does business across the U.S. and builds hotels of from various brands, including Intercontinental Hotel Group, Hilton and Marriott. The buildings range in size from 40,000 to 150,000 square-feet. Beside hotels he does multi-family and assisted living structures.
He finishes about 40 percent of the building, including walls, exterior sheeting, roofing and flooring. “When I’m through with a building it is completely enclosed,” Patel said.
Again, Patel said, they typically finish faster than modular building.
“By the time they’re waiting on their modular building we’re done,” he said.
Panama City, Florida-based Sage Development Group is one of DIV005’s customers.
“They’re about to finish two of our hotels, a Hampton Inn and a Holiday Inn Express,” said the company’s Principal and founder Harry Patel. The Hampton Inn is in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Holiday Inn Express is in Niceville, Florida.
Harry Patel said his company was interested in DIV005’s choice of material as much as its methodology.
“We didn’t want to build a wood frame,” he said. “We were looking for something less flammable.”
Wood-framed structures also cost more to insure in his area, Harry Patel said.
This was Patel’s first experience with pre-fab construction and he’s satisfied with his choice.
“If you engineer and design it well it’s a good way to do it,” Patel said.
Pre-fab construction leads to a better structure that’s built more quickly, he said.
“Modular is more for downtown and multistory buildings,” Patel said. “We have seen some of the modular buildings and it didn’t turn out like people expected it.”
At the same time, the construction of his own hotels took a little longer than anticipated, Patel said, though weather may have played a role in those delays.
“It was still within the range so we’re fine with it,” he said.
Modular is still popular with some companies. In April, Marriott International announced it plans to build the tallest modular-built hotel constructed. The 360-foot-tall tower of the AC Hotel New York NoMad, scheduled to open in late 2020, will be “stacked” over 90 days using prefabricated and pre-furnished guestrooms, according to Marriott. It will even come with a modular roof and modular rooftop bar.