2016 Facility Of The Year: Overall & Construction Winner

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M3storage Tobalaba, Santiago, Chile

Santiago, the capital and largest city in Chile with nearly seven million residents, is surrounded by the Andes Mountains. The city is virtually landlocked, creating a finite area of developable land. Since land is scarce and expensive, this results in fierce competition among real estate developers to acquire land for development.

It’s extremely difficult to find a good location for self-storage at a price that would pencil out for the operator. Santiago-based M3storage had to get creative in order to build its second facility in an area closer to the city’s residential districts.

M3storage opened its first facility in 2012, a four-story building in the west end of Santiago near the international airport. The operator was looking to establish another facility on the east end of the city, where the population density warranted self-storage.

M3storage eventually zeroed in on a 32-acre parcel centrally located near a regional airport and a commercial center. This part of town historically has been more residential and commercial than industrial, but it had no storage operation. If M3storage could build a facility on this parcel, it would have no competition for miles.

A family that owns the 32 acres was not interested in selling the land, but M3storage discovered that the owner planned to develop a modern warehouse center to offer warehousing services as well as storage. M3storage would have to convince the family to allow the company to operate a facility out of the warehouse space.

That meant M3storage would lease space from a third party to operate the storage facility. This situation created additional constraints but allowed the facility to be built in a location where no land was available for sale.

Eventually, the parties struck a deal to rent 21,173 square feet of building space for 10 years with an option to lease an additional 10,592 square feet.

Now the biggest question was how to build the facility within a warehouse shell and still make all the numbers work. The solution was to take full advantage of the building’s 30-foot-high clearance space and build a multi-story facility inside the warehouse. The three-story facility would optimize the rentable areas to justify the rent under the lease and ultimately yield a rentable square footage representing 172 percent of the rented space.

With the landowner’s plans to develop the new industrial warehouse facility moving ahead, this gave the operator an opportunity to intervene at the front end of planning and incorporate its own specs for storage. This included reinforcing the concrete slab to handle the additional weight of the storage structure and tenant contents. M3storage also arranged to have a machine room cut into the floor to prepare for the elevator installation.

The M3storage team created an innovative solution, which was to build a self-supporting, “recyclable,” mezzanine type steel structure under the warehouse roof to host the storage units. When the lease is completed, the operator can conceivably remove the recyclable structure from the warehouse and relocate it to another site.

The judges at Mini-Storage Messenger were so impressed with this creative plan, along with the resulting 454-unit facility, that they gave M3storage Tobalaba the top award in the Facility of the Year Construction category and named the project the 2016 Overall Winner.

Striking Gold

The self-storage industry in Chile is developing rapidly. Several major facilities were built in Santiago in the early 2000s and others soon followed suit. The city has seen the emergence of more than 30 facilities over the past five years.

“It goes without saying that such a development was built on all kinds of different standards. It has been like the gold rush,” observes Dominique Teysseyre, M3storage director. “People saw an opportunity in an industry that has low entry barriers and—some believe—low requirements. We have now entered phase two of the rush, when people realize that you need to dig to get gold.”

M3’s first facility stands as a model for the developing industry and the company introduced a number of concepts that were not in use before such as fingerprint monitoring.

“This helped us to convince the landowners that we could build a top-of-the-line facility that could complement his offer well and bring customers that the larger warehouses would otherwise not attract,” Teysseyre says.

A native of Paris, France, Teysseyre was involved with aircraft leasing and financing, which took him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, eventually settling in Chile in 2010. “We wanted to invest in real estate in order to build a long-term investment portfolio,” he says. “Self-storage turned out to be the way we would enter the market because it not only provides for a stable, long-term business opportunity but also allows for the creation and the development of a brand.”

M3storage did not require consultants to develop the facilities, however, the operator studied the U.S. self-storage industry as a standard. M3storage was driven by the experience and the leadership of the industry’s established players.

Building the steel structure called for specialized expertise, and M3storage found it right in Santiago. Except for the doors and hallway systems supplied by Janus International, local companies provided the major components and services for the Tobalaba facility.

“I looked for great professionals with the ability to be creative but also have the discipline to integrate and to respect the frame set by the larger building company contracted by the landlord,” Teysseyre says. “They also work in smaller corporate structures, which provide for better entrepreneurial and innovative spirits.”

Recyclable Structure Can Be Relocated

The landowner stipulated that the internal structure could not affect the integrity of the building while the storage facility was in operation. The structure had to be independent and self-supporting so as to stand without being attached to the building. The structure also had to be strong enough to take the weight of three floors, but be light and flexible enough to be removed and relocated if necessary.

The ingenious three-story mezzanine structure comprises fully functional floors that are accessed via a staircase or elevator. It is believed to be taller than other mezzanines used in the industry. Plus, the structure needed to be recyclable, so that it could conceivably be relocated at the end of the warehouse lease.

“We are located in the building of a third party, so it was important to ensure that the structure we were building could be moved on to the next location if need be,” Teysseyre says. “In this case, 65 percent of our investment can be dismantled and reassembled in the next location.”

Architect Carlos Jorquera designed a structure with a standardized chassis that could be reused even if the next location had different dimensions. “At the end of the contract, the structure can be completely disassembled for transportation as it is almost completely bolted; only the ceiling is unusable and the slab remains in place,” Jorquera says. “In the new space you can remove or add modules, remove levels, add stairways, etc. This will depend on the area and conditions of the new project. The system allows all the changes you want.”

M3storage’s team devised a 10-by-6.5 feet (3-by-2 meters) steel chassis bolted on 4-by-4-inch steel columns that could be duplicated throughout the floor plan—including the office space. This standardized concept gained efficiency and flexibility for the project.

“In this space, we created a layout of 10 feet by 6.5 feet where we placed the columns, lifts, hallways, stairways, and different unit sizes offered by M3storage,” says Jorquera. “Finally, we added the struts that form part of the structure and distribute the earthquakes forces to the slab. Each element is strategically located to meet the seismic, safety, and evacuation requirements of Chilean norms.”

While the plan was creativefor this particular site, it presented a great unknown for building authorities in Chile. The structure would have to pass full certification analysis, including fire resistance testing. The test had to be approved by the local authority, IDIEM, an affiliate of the University of Chile that certifies construction solutions.

“The design of the structure is strongly controlled by seismic conditions,” structural engineer Claudio Hinojosa says. “In this sense, we seek a tough system to lateral loads homogeneously, maximizing the amount of struts in order to reduce its section and minimizing stresses on the slab.”

Chile maintains stringent building codes since the area resides in an active earthquake zone. “In order for it to be approved, we had to pass the test of burning the structure at IDIEM because the way we built it was new in Chile and had no definition in the building code,” Teysseyre says.

To pass the fire test, a prototype structure was set afire at the IDIEM facility. The prototype passed with flying colors and became certified, immediately creating a new building solution in Chile.

Fabrication And Construction

Following the certification, M3storage needed to find a company to mass produce 400 exact copies of the 10-by-6.5-foot chassis. To make the numbers work, the units had to be made fast and cheap. M3storage selected Almet Ltd. of Santiago to do the work.

As the chassis was being fabricated in one facility, the M3storage team worked in tandem with the owner’s contractor during the warehouse construction. Teysseyre believes the integration with the owner’s team was key to the project’s success.

Pouring the concrete slab presented a quandary within the M3storage team. It’s customary when pouring such a large area (more than 20,000 square feet) to install the slab in sections to reduce the risk of cracks. However, Hinojosa preferred to pour an uncut slab enclosed in a concrete beam. He argued that this would better protect the metal structure in the event of an earthquake.

The team ultimately decided to pour one uncut slab, however, it would be done in stages. A three-foot buffer area was left unpoured between each section. Once the sections were completely dried and properly set, then the buffers were poured.

Logistical challenges were anticipated during the slab pour as the contractor continued with exterior construction at the same time, but that ultimately turned out to be an advantage, according to Jorquera. Since it was winter in Santiago, the warehouse covering allowed control of temperature conditions of the slab while being poured in stages.

The structural pieces were delivered on site once the concrete slab allowed installation. Losing no time in the process, the steel columns were bolted onto the slab, and each chassis was attached to its adjoining neighbor. This provided a load factor on each of the three floors of 133 pounds per square foot.

The fabrication inside a confined space posed another challenge since large cranes could not be used to help in assembly. “The structural module of 10 feet by 6.5 feet associated with the dimensions of the storage unit allowed us to use structural elements of small sizes avoiding the use of cranes, so it was advantageous to work in a closed enclosure,” Hinojosa says.

Once in place, no part of the steel structure touches the warehouse building, except for the floor. The three-story structure is compliant with local building and seismic codes.

The completed facility contains 36,350 rentable square feet and has 454 units ranging from 5-by-5 to 30-by-30 feet.

Twelve Months To Complete

The engineering feats and efficient assembly had produced a storage facility that was fully functional and accessible. However, the facility still had to be inviting to the senses of potential customers.

Housed within a warehouse building, the storage area is completely opaque and does not allow transparency, so the architect focused on making the offices attractive. “We wanted them to be very transparent and open to the outside in that corner of the block,” Jorquera says. “We used glass sheet floor to ceiling in the office access and a great perforated steel door for entry to the mini-storages. Both accesses share a common covered and open space, and in that space there is that duality, very transparent to the public attention and private and safe to store your belongings.”

Visitors enter the facility using a fingerprint monitor from Safran/Morpho to gain access through the main gates, which open to an all-white finish with a clean sealed concrete floor. Motion detector lights have been installed on the Janus hallway partitions, reducing the need for soffits and other installations. The facility is monitored by a Smart Chile video CCTV system 24/7.

Once the lease was signed, it only took 12 months to have the facility ready for its first customer. Although the opening was delayed while M3storage awaited final papers from the town planning department, the operator was able to establish a waiting list for the first units. M3storage rented 12 percent of the available space in its first 30 days of operation, rising to 20 percent after seven weeks of operations.

Tobalaba draws customers within a five-mile radius from residential areas—both condos and houses—and also the abundance of office buildings in the historical center of Santiago.

“Our first clients are residential users primarily—75 percent so far—but we are hopeful that within a few months we will attract more businesses,” Teysseyre says. “Our assumption is that we should end up with 65 percent residential and 35 percent businesses.”

The facility’s business clients are from all over the map—from the largest companies in the country looking for temporary extra storage to self-employed professionals who need storage space for tools and product supplies.

Over 90 percent of Tobalaba’s advertising is done online. “We are testing other media,” Teysseyre says, “but our view is that, like most businesses, our future is online. This is why we invested in a proprietary Internet platform which allows for online booking and also acts as our management software.”

The M3storage software’s capabilities include booking, invoicing, access, and video surveillance.

“At M3storage, we pay a lot of attention to our branding,” Teysseyre says. “We are competing with the quality of our product because we really believe that long term this is what our clients want. We are building confidence.”

It’s the kind of quality that not only wins awards but also creates a successful business model for a company that has struck gold in an industry that is still maturing in Chile.

David Lucas is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a frequent contributor to all of MiniCo’s publications.

QUICK FACTS

Facility Owner: M3storage 102 SpA (An affiliate of MNM Corp)

Architect: Carlos Jorquera

Structural Engineer: Claudio Hinojosa

General Contractor: Constructora e Inversiones Errazguz Ltd.

Steel Contractor: Almet Ltd.

Doors & Hallways: Janus International

Management Software: Proprietary M3storage

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