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Building it Back Better

Cline’s Landing, an eight-level condominium mid-rise in Port Aransas, Texas, is a prominent building in this coastal town’s landscape. Damage to Port Aransas from 2017’s Hurricane Harvey was substantial: 100% of businesses were affected, 85% of homes sustained damage. Initially when STG Design was approached by the Cline’s Landing condominium owners and local officials to consider rebuilding the mid-rise, the architects had significant concerns. Three weeks after the eye of the storm passed over Port Aransas, entering the town was akin to driving into a war zone. 

But a bright spot amidst the devastation was demolition actively underway to clear debris at Cline’s Landing. The HOA had hired a company to provide demolition, and had brought general contractor White Construction onboard. Jack Tisdale, principal of STG Design, felt strong ties to the community, having vacationed there for years. When the homeowners entreated STG to visit the site, it was these relationships that convinced STG to take on the project’s challenges. 

Little did Tisdale know at the time, this project would become so much more than a challenging renovation. “This is the hardest project I’ve ever worked on in my 45-year career, but it was so gratifying to give people back their homes. I feel like I’m part of this community in every way, even more so now,” said Tisdale. 

The Best Laid Plans…Help You Rebuild

To ascertain the extent of the Hurricane Harvey damage and ensure structural integrity, a forensic engineer was brought in by the insurance company. Although the visible damage was extensive, the HOA Board was shocked to learn that everything, including all systems and finishes, would need to be removed down to the concrete structure. Cline’s Landing was adequately insured, thanks to a 2014 insurance audit that resulted in a 195% coverage increase, from $16M to $47M. The post-Harvey damage estimate was near $51M which, prior to the coverage increase, would have left the HOA with a disastrous $35M shortfall. 

Armed with both the funding and the determination to rebuild, the HOA engaged STG for the 108-unit reconstruction. STG generated a code compliance path report to meet all energy and windstorm requirements for renovation, and approached the City’s building planning department for review and open discussion. 

The comprehensive report combined with an appreciation from the City for doing things “the right way” enabled STG to build trust and establish dialogue with all parties. These relationships would prove crucial over the coming months to keep the project on track. 

Originally constructed in the early 1980s, Cline’s Landing was built with hurricane protection measures and met the code requirements of that time. However, hurricane building safety and minimum code requirements changed dramatically over the next 40 years; in fact, hurricane codes changed so much that the rebuild couldn’t be accomplished to meet current prevailing code in entirety. 

The International Building Code allows for “grandfathering” of existing buildings relating to current standards and codes situationally, but STG knew they needed to improve, not just recreate. Under prevailing codes when it was built, Cline’s Landing wasn’t originally fire sprinklered. As part of the reconstruction, the STG design team, consulting with fire specialists Jensen & Hughes, determined that the structure’s floor-to-floor heights made it nearly impossible to install a sprinkler system. However, the team ascertained that exit distances were optimally located, and specified a highly rated fire alarm system in its place. “Although the City afforded flexibility in the rebuild, the engineering and design team still chose to enhance safety and resiliency by building beyond original code requirements. The City Fire Marshal, working with the team, ensured that new systems provided more than adequate fire protection for the owners and guests,” said Rick Adams, Director Development Services/Emergency Manager, City of Port Aransas. 

Also grandfathered were the six-inch openings at guard railings. Although the railings were not substantially damaged and didn’t require replacement per code, the team replaced all railings to be fully code compliant to current safety standards of four-inch maximum openings. 

Building It Back Better Coastal communities and moisture are natural enemies. Intrusion of water introduces chronic dampness, compromises systems, and erodes building integrity. The Cline’s Landing renovation provided the opportunity to address many of the issues inherent in any older coastal facility, and improve building performance: 

• Addressing Negative Pressure. Cline’s Landing features a large percentage of second-residence owners who routinely switch off A/C systems when gone for extended periods; while this saves energy, it also has the unfortunate result of producing excess moisture and negative pressure in the building. STG worked with the HOA to establish minimum thermostat requirements and educate owners on the science behind system performance. 

• Repairing Balconies. When the balcony tiles were entirely removed, it exposed extensive degradation and rusting of the rebar supporting the structures. This required significant repairs to prevent future problems 

• Improving Glazing. STG specified a hurricane-rated glazing, enhancing aesthetics and performance, and necessary to retain insurance moving forward. 

• Remedying Water Intrusion. The original wall systems had windows in front of curbs allowing water intrusion. STG’s new design raised walls on the exterior, remedying a 30-year water-intrusion issue. The new wall system comprises six-inch metal studs with insulation and moisture proofing to manage the problem. 

“Building it back better” also applied to the interiors. Kate Howell, project manager of STG’s interiors team, noted the sheer devastation of the units: missing or broken windows, standing water, debris and damage throughout. “I could tell that, before the hurricane, each unit had its own personality, as unique as the owners who’d lived there. How do we restore that? With over 100 individually owned units, how do we provide options to satisfy each owner?” 

Howell and the interiors design team began by creating three schemes to appeal to the widest range of owners. While each residence retained the same footprint, rework on individual units included creating an open plan for the kitchen and dining room, a current trend that all residents could support. Utilities were updated, but kept in the same locations to reduce costs. Moreover, residents could select from the pre-designed schemes, or take an improvement credit and arrange with their own contractor to complete their individual units. “We were delighted that the updated and refreshed end-product was well received by the homeowners. This successful outcome is due to the unified efforts of the Cline’s Landing Homeowner’s Association, the general contractor, and the design teams,” said Howell. 

Community Impact 

The renovation of Cline’s Landing helped encourage other renovations in the area, setting a standard for initiating repair work immediately, and strengthening a sense of community solidarity. The HOA, STG, White Construction, and the rest of the team acted collaboratively, committing to “getting it right” at every step of the project. “I’ve often held the Cline’s project up as the pinnacle of post-Hurricane Harvey rebuild projects. I vividly recall the first meeting I had with individuals from the Cline’s HOA and members of the design and engineering teams. I left that meeting with not only an appreciation of the understanding this group had about what lay ahead, but the commitment to excellence that was pervasive,” said Adams. 

Achieving the Balance 

A major role the architect fills is to balance the client’s budget with project requirements — what must be done, what can be done, and what should be done. While an architect and general contractor are crucial to any reconstruction effort, STG knows that a consultant team composed of firms with specific expertise is equally essential. The Cline’s Landing team also included WJE Engineers providing moisture proofing and roof system design and Encotech Engineering Consultants for structural and MEP engineering. 

The Cline’s Landing rebuild took over three years to complete, with a four-month demolition schedule. The complex and intricate project imparted many lessons learned and reinforced the architect’s commitment and obligation to the building owners as well as the community. Ed Barron of Cline’s Landing HOA Board of Directors commented, “Reconstructing a 30+ year-old building after a hurricane is a daunting task. You have to marry the insurance company, owners, architectural team, and contractor together — it can be a difficult dance at times. Stay the course when problems come up...because they will. We were very fortunate, and thankful, that STG helped guide us through an overwhelming situation. Jack and his whole team were professional in every sense of the word.” 

Lessons Learned 

  • Perform an insurance audit at regular intervals. 

  • Once a project is underway, expect the unexpected —include a contingency for both design and construction phases. 

  • Architects must find balance between current and pre-existing codes — using grandfathering when appropriate to achieve the client’s goals. 

  • Life/safety always takes priority. 

  • Complex projects require first-class team members working together. 

“What I’ve observed is the successful rebuild of an iconic, highly visible property such as Cline’s serves to both inspire and reassure developers that Port Aransas is as resilient and desirable as any Texas coastal community. Projects such as Cline’s provide concrete proof that in spite of these coastal vulnerabilities, quality projects like Cline’s are still very economically feasible.” — Rick Adams, Director Development Services/Emergency Manager, City of Port Aransas 

Jack Tisdale AIA, RID, LEED AP, helped found STG Design in 1976. Currently he oversees project delivery operations for the firm and serves as principal-in-charge on select projects. 

Kate Howell, NCIDQ, is a Designer at STG Design 

Founded in 1976, STG Design serves clients nationally and internationally with primary offices in Austin and Nashville. Constantly working to make our clients, our world, and ourselves better through design, STG Design serves clients in multi-family, commercial, science and technology, healthcare, higher education, non-profit, and hospitality sectors. STG Design’s legacy includes work for Trammell Crow, Karlin, Oracle, Apple, Dell, Box, Indeed, NI (formerly National Instruments), RetailMeNot, LCRA, Pulte, Del Webb, 3M, American Campus Communities, and the University of Texas. 

To experience the STG difference in design for yourself contact

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