The El Paso, Texas, site was located at the crest of a natural drainage arroyo in a flood zone with steep banks that rose over 35 feet above useable land. El Paso continued to grow around the 14-acre property as it remained undeveloped for nearly 35 years.
Predictably, that’s the type of terrain usually available for self-storage development, but it took three decades for the city and owners to get together on a building agreement.
Over the years, several proposals were made to the owners, Cooper Companies, Inc., of Scottsdale, Ariz., including assisted living and apartment development and even a driving range. But ever since acquiring the property in 1982, the owners had their sights set on one option. “All along we knew it would be an outstanding location for a self-storage property,” says owner Reg Cooper.
However, every time Cooper Companies approached the city about developing self-storage, city officials were lukewarm to the idea. Then the current city leadership began efforts to preserve open spaces and arroyos and came to the owners to purchase the land.
The city intended to bring the 14 acres into a program to preserve and protect open spaces and environmentally sensitive lands. Cooper Companies engineered the site and identified 2.2 acres that were developable for a self-storage facility that would rest 11 feet higher than the flood plain.
Cooper Companies and the city reached an agreement; 12.4 acres were sold to the city in a public open space acquisition and drainage right of way deal, and the site was green-lighted to build self-storage.
Despite the challenging topography and a lengthy approval process, Armour Self-Storage III rose out of the arroyo with a 92,500-square-foot facility that houses 672 units. The unique multistory facility, with a single story at street level and three underground floors, takes Mini-Storage Messenger’s Facility of the Year Award in the construction category.
Armour Self-Storage III is strategically positioned in the North American Borderplex, an area comprising El Paso; Las Cruces, N.M.; and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The Borderplex is home to 2.5 million residents and has more than 300 manufacturers operating in the area.
The Armour site was originally in a flood zone, but the owners worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to replat the site.
From the street, Armour Storage III appears to be a single-story facility, but it’s evident three more levels lie below grade when viewed from the sides of the arroyo.
“I remember walking up to that site in the beginning when the owner was talking about building this project and I thought, man this is going to be a challenge,” recalls Charles Plunkett, CEO of San Antonio-based Capco General Contracting. “We were building this project literally down into a giant hole. It was steep enough that I was concerned about getting a dozer down in there to even start work.”
The lot presented a major challenge since there was a 45-foot elevation change within the two-acre site. The extreme topography coupled with illegal dumping on the site had prevented performing any geotechnical soils analysis prior to the structural design. Normally the geotechnical investigation takes place before the design to test the strength, stability, and possibility of soil shrinkage or swelling of the ground.
“Right at the very edge, it started sloping down so fast that you couldn’t get a drilling rig down there to bore holes and bring up soil samples because the angle of the slope was so severe,” Plunkett says.
Capco decided to build a temporary road from the street level down to the bottom. This allowed excavation equipment, trucks, and eventually the drilling rig to perform the soil borings for the investigation report.
After reviewing the geotechnical report, only a few modifications were needed to the structural design. Civil and structural engineers designed a 33-foot-high retaining wall on the east side while the other three sides have an 11-foot retaining wall that met the requirements for fire and building codes.
The purpose of the retaining walls is to hold back soil in a vertical or near vertical plane and prevent downslope movement. Due to the dramatic elevation change, the entire lowest level is essentially buried underground. The basement level was waterproofed; soil was positioned around this level, and then a solid layer of rock surface, known as rip rap, was placed over the dirt to prevent erosion. In all, 37,500 tons of material were used to build the temporary road and stabilize the site.
Adding to the challenge of the precipitous site was a municipal restriction mandated on the area of construction. “It was a very confined site that was carved out for construction and we were not allowed to go out beyond that area and disturb the soil and vegetation,” Plunkett says.
To counter the steep terrain, the project was constructed in a series of vertical lifts. After the lowest level foundation concrete was poured, the first level of retaining walls was framed and poured. Following this, the interior steel framing was installed, including the metal decking, and then the second-floor concrete was poured.
A French drain was installed around the perimeter of the foundation to capture any water that is siphoned into the area outside the wall. Then, the wall is waterproofed part way up and backfilled with eight-inch-thick soil. This process was repeated for each level up to the top floor.
About half of Armour’s structure is poured in place concrete, and the liberal use of galvanized materials throughout the building includes the structural steel in the office and retail spaces. When combined with 4,000 psi concrete and the 20-gauge steel deck, this is among the strongest storage buildings in the country, according to Capco.
Since the project was constructed in an arroyo and three stories below grade, coordinating delivery and loading of materials became a precise process. Capco built a temporary hoist way in an elevator shaft to load small materials to the lower floors. Larger materials such as fire sprinkler piping and electrical and plumbing pipes had to be pre-loaded on each floor as each level was constructed.
Additionally, the Janus hallway and coiling door systems had to be hand carried down three levels using the stairs. That was no small feat as individual doors can weigh hundreds of pounds and there are over 600 units.
“There were literally thousands of pieces that had to be taken down to install,” Plunkett says. “We built a temporary platform in the elevator shaft so the crane could pick up bundles of material and drop it down through the elevator shaft. A lot of material had to be carried down the hill by hand and then lifted up via the hoist to be installed.”
To monitor progress on the project and resolve immediate issues, live stream camera systems were used to provide real-time video. At any time, the project team could review the activity on the project and have a conference call to review a condition or discuss any concerns.
Live stream video allowed the project manager and owner to have online access anytime from a remote location. This led to a visual understanding of problems so they could be resolved quickly.
Emphasizing Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency and security were top priorities for the owners, even though the design and permitting predated the current energy code, which is more stringent than the one in effect at that time.
“Making an investment in energy efficiency always pays off for us,” Cooper says. “We are a buy or build and hold owner; we rarely sell our properties. We love to super insulate our properties and it always pays dividends.”
In addition to the full basement below ground, all wall cavities above ground were filled with insulating spray foam. The ceiling level of the fourth floor was insulated much more than usual with R-30 fiberglass batt material. A polar white colored roof was installed to provide reflectivity and maximize efficiency.
In addition, one-inch-thick rigid foam was added to the stucco substrate along with R-5 insulation factor to the walls, which was in addition to all of the other wall insulation.
Rounding out the energy efficiency package is the use of fully programmable Mitsubishi VRF air conditioning/heating units. These units allow a single condensing unit to feed and manage multiple cassettes, finely tuning AC requirements by area.
“We elected to use variable refrigeration technology, which takes one large HVAC compressor, and it will service multiple air handlers and they actually talk to one another,” Cooper notes. “It’s a technology that’s rarely used in self-storage. It is eye-opening how low our utility bills are.”
Security was another concern, specifically around the exterior stairs. Capco worked with the architect and owner to develop a stair enclosure that would limit unauthorized access and still allow emergency egress. The solution was a well-lit heavy steel framed perforated metal enclosure. The finished assembly was attractive, while blocking sun and wind without turning into an oven in the El Paso sun.
The facility uses access control systems to restrict entry to the building to tenants only. The layout of the building requires only one keypad at the street-level elevator lobby and at the storefront doors. The owners also added a bollard style keypad kiosk at the sliding door entrance to prevent unauthorized access into the building.
Cameras are located around the building’s exterior and throughout the interior spaces. The equipment for the closed-circuit television (CCTV) system was installed by Advanced Security Contractors (ASC). ASC installed 16 1080p resolution vandal resistant domes manufactured by Clinton Electronics. The cameras are high definition and provide crisp images. An IC Realtime PTZ camera was installed in the parking lot and a vandal resistant indoor/outdoor dome mounted on the base of the parking lot marquee monitors the front entrance.
An Airphone intercom consists of five door stations: one at the front entrance and one at each of the four elevator lobbies. The intercoms communicate with the master station located in the manager’s office.
Access control for Armour Storage is managed by PTI Storlogix software by PTI Security Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz. The software and keypads were provided and installed by CCS Connections. PTI provides video surveillance and keypad access into the building and elevators.
The 750-square-foot sales office is spacious and full of glass walls, making it seem even larger. There is ample space for customers as well as staging retail items on displays. Two kiosk-style sales counters handle leasing activities and sales transactions.
A 2,213-square-foot retail space is accessible at street level on either side of the sales office. The Wolf Point Retail Office Space is designated for businesses that will complement self-storage customers, such as an overnight shipping company.
The project is located in the Chihuahuan Desert and has a xeriscape landscape plan encompassing more than 19,000 square feet surrounding the building. The landscaping incorporates a host of native heat and drought resistant species found throughout the region.
A Rainbird ESP-SMTe Smart Modular Control System measures rainfall in real time and calculates adjustments to the watering schedule to prevent under-watering and over-watering. The Rainbird irrigates only when the landscape requires it and the system saves the user an estimated 30 percent or more in water.
Doors, Hallways, And Roof Systems
The project is furnished with roll-up doors, hallway system, and burglar bars from Janus International Group of Temple, Ga. The glossy white finish of the Janus products has a highly reflective surface and contributes to the brightness of the hallways and storage areas. The project has mitered corners throughout, and the corners are capped with full length runs of aluminum diamond plate to provide protection from bumps and scratches.
Each hallway above grade terminates with a floor to ceiling window that lets natural light pour in. The hallway lighting is all LED ceiling mounted fixtures and motion activated. The LED unit lighting is activated by switch timers.
Lighting fixtures are plentiful throughout the project, with extra fixtures installed in the below-grade areas. The added LED lighting provides increased brightness to these areas, which masks the fact that the units are underground.
The concrete hallways are ground and polished with special pads that are impregnated with diamonds. Diamond polished concrete floors are durable, low maintenance, and attractive.
The internal steel systems supplier and installer, Capco Steel, provided the metal building systems for the facility. The steel framing members are galvanized, which is unusual for self-storage and normally reserved for projects in coastal areas where salt in the air can be corrosive. Additionally, the insulation products are thicker than normal to provide added R-factor and to require less air conditioning.
A typical roof in this kind of facility would be 24-gauge thickness, which is ample to achieve a UL 90 wind uplift rating. However, the owner preferred to have the roof constructed of 22-gauge thickness, which is significantly thicker and heavier.
Management And Marketing
Armour is operated under the ManagementPlus program of Extra Space Storage, which manages over 500 properties in 39 states. With over 40 years of experience, Utah-based Extra Space is the third largest provider of third-party management in storage.
Extra Space also handles the marketing activities for the project, employing digital marketing strategies such as social media to highlight the attributes of the property, according to Dylan Taylor, senior manager of Extra Space’s third-party business development.
Armour is one of a few Class-A multistory facilities in the area, which include several newer developments. “To bring a facility like this to El Paso, where we have a multistory product that is enclosed, secure, and very well built, definitely sets it apart from what we have in the marketplace and what we see being built in the marketplace,” Taylor says.
The award-winning building grabs attention on the north and south walls with a color blocked artistic design incorporating the project’s color scheme. This unique artwork was inspired by Piet Mondrian, who developed his “neo-plasticism” art in the early 20th century.
“My father, John Cooper, in his travels in Europe, noticed Mondrian’s work and was inspired by it,” Cooper recounts. “The Mondrian-inspired design is becoming more prevalent in contemporary architecture in Europe and the United States. We consider it to be eye-catching.”
Cooper Companies, Inc., is a multi-generational, private real estate company with holdings in Arizona, Texas, and Wisconsin. The company owns and operates a portfolio of commercial and self-storage facilities. Cooper has substantial experience in the development and operation of self-storage since 1978.
Cooper Companies operates over 500,000 square feet of commercial and self-storage buildings. Now the operation can add a Facility of the Year to its growing portfolio.
Facility Owner and Developer: Cooper Companies, Inc.
General Contractor: Capco General Contracting
Architect: Wright & Dalbin Architects
Management Company: Extra Space Storage
Security System: PTI Security Systems
Doors/Hallways: Janus International Group
Steel Systems & Roofing: Capco Steel, Inc.
David Lucas is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a regular contributor to MiniCo’s publications.