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A view in early October of the Lake Nona mansion under construction that is slated to become The New American Home 2017.
A view in early October of the Lake Nona mansion under construction that is slated to become The New American Home 2017. (Teresa Burney)

As Hurricane Matthew barreled toward Florida this week construction sites across the region teemed with contractors racing to complete work on nearly finished projects, button down materials and collect debris from job sites that could become projectiles in a hurricane.

One of the more intense storm preparations underway this week was at a Lake Nona mansion under construction that's slated to become The New American Home 2017, a mainstay exhibit for everything new and innovative at The International Builder's Show in January.

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"We really went into hurricane mode on Monday," said Chris Kaba, vice president of construction for Phil Kean Design Group, the designer and builder of the house, which will have about 12,000 gross square feet with 8,000 of conditioned area.

"Fortunately the home already had a roof and windows and doors," said Kaba, explaining that the interior should not be compromised -- unless of course one of its many glass walls is impacted.

"This is a glass house," said Kaba. "You really have to cross your fingers."

Dumpsters were emptied, and materials inside the house were put into construction trailers already on site, there to hold the many high-end components donated by manufacturers to be showcased in the house.

"It was a blessing in disguise," he said.

Anti-erosion materials were in place on the Lake Nona home site to help prevent erosion. The lumber inside the home that couldn't be moved was bundled and strapped down.

One thing the storm is taking from the construction team that can't be recovered easily is time. The house has to be picture perfect by late October, complete with furniture, so it can be photographed and featured in construction magazines.

"We are under an incredibly tight timeline," Kaba said.

Lake Nona gave permission to work over the weekend and later at night than is usually allowed in the community,Kaba said. "We had the full-court press going on over there. Every (sub-contractor) involved in that project was there last week doing their part."

A view of the 25-story Citi Tower apartment building under construction on its eastern side along Church Street, with its towering crane perched above.
A view of the 25-story Citi Tower apartment building under construction on its eastern side along Church Street, with its towering crane perched above. (Bob Moser)

While Phil Kean's team worked out in the eastern suburbs securing a multi-million-dollar show home, PCL Construction was safeguarding the Citi Tower, a 233-unit, 25-story luxury apartment complex under construction in Downtown Orlando.

The tower, which will include a 345-space parking garage and 9,000 square feet in retail space, had a lot of construction debris to dispose of and equipment to secure across its 25 floors.

Of critical concern is the crane on the roof used to help build the tower. It will have to weather the storm from its perch.

Site managers said Thursday the crane is sturdy enough to withstand wind gusts up to 140 miles per hour, in part by setting the arm to "weathervane" status so it can spin freely with the wind gusts. This helps avoid resistance against the wind that could lead to the crane blowing over.

It has been a while since Central Florida contractors faced the fact of a huge hurricane with nearly certain landfall, but most have plans in place for disaster or storm preparedness.

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Those plans prioritize securing all building materials and loose items on site, said John McNary, project manager for Euforria, a subsidiary of Winter Park Construction.

Everything else that can be  secured inside the building is, including drywall, metal studs, trash cans and more that can become a projectile.

McNary has worked in construction for more than 30 years. He was in the area in 2004 when the train of hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne came through Central Florida.

Jerrel Bass with Hardwick General Contracting in Maitland also said experienced contractors are familiar with what they have to do to minimize damage on construction sites. The more critical decision is to start early.

"The biggest thing is not waiting to the day (when the storm is certain)," he said Thursday. "Everything that should be done should be done by now."

Teresa Burney can be reached at 352-455-1955 or at Teresaburney4@gmail.com. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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