WHEN THE NATIONAL NONPROFIT agency HomeAid America teamed up Shea Homes and Bassenian/Lagoni Architects for a community building project, Shea's management team knew it had agreed to a race against time. But nothing quite prepared the company for the challenge of completely demolishing and rebuilding a 5,210-square-foot home—in just 96 hours.
And if orchestrating the donations of time, resources, and labor into an intricate schedule that included more than 88 trades, 1,500 workers, and about 18,000 man hours wasn't enough pressure, consider that there were television cameras recording the events every step of the way. That Shea pulled it off is a testament to the company's spirited work ethic, meticulous planning, and focus on execution that surprised even some of its own managers. Tentatively scheduled to air on the season premier of ABC-TV's “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” this month, producers are confident that this project had all the action, human interest, and suspense necessary to make great television.
Two years ago, Johnny Garay's mother was killed when a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting entered her house, leaving Garay's five half-siblings behind. Garay moved all five of them in with his young family in order to avoid being separated by Child Protective Services. With nine kids, the Garay's needed a new house, but they could only afford a fixer-upper on the verge of being red-tagged. Located in an area that was once the jewel of the city of Los Angeles, the Garay's new neighborhood—built in the early 1900s—now boasts one of the highest murder rates in the nation.
Getting Organized From the time Shea was brought on board, the team was given only seven weeks to complete the house from scratch—with no architecture plan, no permits, and no trade partner commitments. To tackle the job, Robb Pigg, vice president of operations for Shea and project manager for the Garay home, created a “construction infrastructure” and organized teams—some 88 teams in all—around what needed to be accomplished. “This was a corporate effort,” says Pigg. “We identified which divisions had stronger relationships in certain areas and asked them to go out and secure those commitments.” Teleconferences held three times a week kept all the teams apprised of the project's progress and challenges.
When the June 2 start date arrived, Pigg was confident that all elements of safety, scheduling, and construction had been addressed. “Shea was remarkable in terms of turnaround,” says the show's executive producer, Tom Forman. “They had plans fast, we went over them, we locked them, and then we were building. We say this all takes place in a week but it's really less time than that for the builder,” says Forman. “By the time we shoot our TV moments at the beginning and at the end, they actually only get five days and nine hours.”
For five solid days, the site was a flurry of round-the-clock activity. At any given time, 50 to 75 Shea associates were on hand to manage the log-in and check-out stations for trades. Purchasing professionals, field managers, and construction captains coordinated their responsibilities and a support staff was on hand to do everything from direct traffic to position materials as the old house was demolished and a brand new one took its place. Finally, on June 9, with one hour to spare, the Shea Homes team delivered a completely landscaped, fully equipped, eight-bedroom home to the Garays. The home included a dining area that seats 12, data and communication systems, a “heritage” museum, a study hall for the kids, a music room, a two-story master suite, and an interior courtyard so the kids can play safely off the street. Garay's 12-year-old autistic brother also has a room outfitted perfectly to meet his special needs.
“We wanted this to be the first step in building a better community for the Garays and their neighbors,” says Bert Selva, president and CEO of Shea Homes. Features such as granite counters, two fireplaces, two refrigerators, two dishwashers, two washers and dryers, bullet-resistant glass, and six plasma televisions were also added for a touch of luxury. The Garays were given an extensive orientation after construction.
“Shea has been really committed to carry this transition through,” says HomeAid's Barrios. “They are working closely with the family to show them how to run this big ship we have handed them.” Peter Shea Jr. is also paying the family's utilities for a year.
Garnering Support Both the network and HomeAid predict that once the show airs Shea will gain a new level of respect from viewers, especially women. “Women respect the brands of builders who get behind these types of projects,” says Barrios. “People don't think of brand loyalty much when they buy homes, but now this proves you can buy a house that has some social value attached to it.”
Aside from the philanthropic benefits, Shea has taken a lot away from the project. “We learned that speed doesn't compromise quality,” says Pigg. “In fact, it enhances it. When a project sits, it goes to seed and you really lose the attention to detail.” The pressure on each trade to complete their portion and do a quality job is amplified too. “When we plan to this degree, it really breaks down the traditional trade silos that exist on a jobsite.”
Taking risks on new processes paid off as well. “We were able to demonstrate the innovations of panelized framing and a raised foundation,” says Pigg. “These—and some other processes—should be incorporated into our business models because now we've proven that they are efficient.
“This has been an incredible experience on so many levels,” says Pigg. “There were a lot of soft and hard benefits for us. But when you step back further and summarize, all that we did demonstrates caring. We got an opportunity to live the core quality of our brand: caring for people.”
Visit www.homeaid.org/extrememakeover to see pictures, media coverage, and streaming video of the project as it unfolded.