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Back on the blocks: Forest City has reopened the modular Navy Yard factory

Back to work: Dominic Hackshaw, a carpentry foreman, is back at work in the Navy Yard factory after a three-month work stoppage.
Photo by Jason Speakman

The Atlantic Yards mod squad is back in action.

Fifty-five of the 157 workers who helped construct the modular tower abutting Barclays Center are back in action now that Forest City Ratner has re-opened its plant at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The factory where the building blocks are made for the city’s first modular residential tower in the mega-development formerly known as Atlantic Yards was shuttered after a contract dispute between Forest City and the Swedish construction giant Skanska. But now, Forest City holds the reins, and the workers say they’re glad to be back.

“I was heartbroken when work stopped,” said Dominic Hackshaw, a carpentry foreman who started picking up side jobs when the factory work halted. “I’m 100 percent in on this thing. If you tell people I helped put up the first modular building in the area, that means something.”

An executive with the Forest City said hiring back the same workers — the company claims to be reaching out to the remaining scores — was an important way to ensure things get moving quickly.

“When the factory closed, work was going really well,” said Bob Sanna. “The workers had all developed the skill sets they needed.”

And not having to train a new workforce would also speed things up, according to the factory’s chief.

“It’s a lot better when people know what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Roger Krulak. “All these guys had been here long enough to know, and that gives us a huge leg up.”

The tower, named B2, is located at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street. Forest City says the building will top out at 32 stories and contain 363 apartments, half of which will rent for below the market rate. Construction of the building using modular technology was seen as some what of a gamble when it broke ground in 2012. But the company insisted the technique would be fast and effective.

Last year, Skanska called those assertions into question when it sued Forest City in September for $50 million in cost overruns it attributes to design flaws. The company even claims in court documents that the completed building could leak at the joints where the modules come together.

Building blocks: Module components for a 32-story residential tower in Atlantic Yards are being manufactured in a Navy Yard factory.
Photo by Jason Speakman

Sanna said there is no problem with the Lego-like blueprints.

“We really feel that the technology works really well,” he said. “From a process point of view, we’re doing it the same way we were before. None of the design or production methods has changed.”

And he believes modular construction is at the vanguard of urban construction.

“The entire construction industry is noticing that it’s time for a change in the construction process,” Sanna said. “Prefab is going to be a big part of that.”

The sprawling Navy Yard facility resembles a factory where trailers are being made, with a que of B2 building blocks being worked on by different crews in various stages. It looks less like an assembly line than a bunch of individual construction sites. Each floor of the completed structure will be made of around 36 modules which are all made at the same time. Altogether, about 931 blocks will be needed.

The tower stands at 10 stories so far, and Forest City expects work to resume on the site in the coming weeks. But the next modules will not be hoisted into position until sometime in the late spring. Workers are toiling away at floors 11 and 12 on the factory floor right now.

Even with all the hang-ups, Hackshaw said he never considered walking away from the modular venture.

“It’s bad karma to drop a job and go in another direction,” he said. “You just don’t do it.”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Home of the mod squad: Forest City Ratner took over management at the Navy Yard factory where pieces for its B2 tower are being manufactured.
Photo by Jason Speakman

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