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Mark Skender On His Firm's New Modular Construction Facility: 'This Is The Right Time And Place'

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Skender CEO Mark Skender
Skender CEO Mark Skender

Skender took another step forward in its new mission of integrating manufacturing, design and construction. The firm announced it signed a lease in South Lawndale on the Southwest Side, where it will operate an advanced manufacturing facility for modular construction.

Skender has its first project planned involving the new plant: a six-story, 110-unit apartment building in the West Loop.

Skender CEO Mark Skender said the decision to lease the facility at 3348 South Pulaski was primarily a matter of speed to market. The building is new and the space has never been used. The facility's location near Interstate 55 allows Skender direct access to the downtown center and suburbs for hauling the completed units to construction sites.

"It was a good location for us, without having to invest the time and capital building a new brick-and-mortar facility," he said.

Skender said the firm is putting together a strategy for recruiting and developing the plant's workforce from the surrounding community. Skender will leverage programs like the City Colleges of Chicago's advanced manufacturing program to promote workforce development in underserved neighborhoods and work with aldermen and community groups in planning its strategy.

Skender is in the process of hiring for 100 positions at the facility, and production will launch as early as November. Skender said the facility will be a union shop.

A rendering of a modular construction project envisioned by Skender.
An earlier rendering of a modular construction project envisioned by Skender.

Skender would not offer details on the West Loop apartment project, citing non-disclosure agreements. While it is only one project, he is confident there is enough interest in modular construction to create deal flow. Skender is in early discussions with developers for modular multifamily and healthcare projects.

The 105K SF plant would build modular units, complete with lighting and electrical built-in, which would be put in place via crane and secured by crews on-site. At Bisnow's CRE and Urbantech event earlier this month, Skender Chief Design Officer Tim Swanson said advanced manufacturing is impacting every corner of the physical world. He believes modular construction will rapidly accelerate, because the perks modular buildings can offer — reducing emissions, more energy efficiency and reduced design and construction costs — are no longer what-ifs.

Skender said the time is right.

"There is a convergence happening between manufacturing, development and construction, and this is the right time and place to do this," he said.