Friday, December 26, 2008

Ceiling, Plumbing, and Drywall, Oh My!

I'm pretty pleased right now. Just got back from the building and there has been good progress on the ceiling. The guys will be there tomorrow as well so, by Monday, they will likely be well over three-quarters finished. It's hard, painstaking work and it takes time and muscle, and the finished product will look very good. Once they're done, the HVAC guys will probably put up some hangers for the ducts and the electricians will hang some wire for the lighting. It looks like that bit of the project will be done soon and we'll all be very, very happy.

Work in the changing rooms is moving along very quickly. The electric work is done and the rough plumbing looks like it's done as well. I think this week they'll start putting up walls and maybe even tiling a bit in there.

Drywall is up, taped, and mudded above the courts. I was VERY pleased to see that the guys covered the court walls with some plastic to make sure that no mud or other stuff is left on the bare CMU walls. The Anderson Court people said that the walls need to be perfectly clean so that the plaster can properly bond to the block. No paint. No joint compound, no mud, no tar, no bodily fluids, no nothing. I'm really happy with the care that our general contractor, Wyldewood Construction, is taking to make sure that these courts are pristine. So thanks to James, PJ, and the rest of their crew.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Framing, HVAC, and the Overall Aesthetic

Now that the masons are finished with their interior work, PJ and his crew are able to get on with more framing. The changing rooms and shower stalls are framed out, as well as the office and the storage areas. You can really get a feel for how the place is going to look when there are actual walls. Starting next week, they'll be able to put up the Durock in the shower areas and sheetrock everywhere else, then begin tiling the bathrooms.

The biggest hold up now is the work being done up in the rafters. As you may have seen in some pictures, the building is an insulated steel building. From what I've heard, these buildings are inexpensive to build (relatively speaking, of course) and are pretty efficient in terms of their energy use. That said, these buildings are not the prettiest buildings inside or out. Thick plastic-backed insulation is squeezed under the z-girts and purlins so what you see on the inside is steel beams and white plastic insulation material.

I told you that so I could tell you this: we would like to keep the sound of the balls somewhat quiet by reducing the echo of the ball strike to a minimum. To do that, we are going to spray a sound-deadening material called K-13 on the ceiling of the building. Apparently this stuff sticks to just about anything, except of course, the plastic insulation-backing material used in steel buildings.

No problem, we'll just attach plywood to the ceiling first and spray the K-13 on to that. Great idea. Unfortunately, this process is taking a wee bit longer than we had anticipated. They were hoping to be done with hanging the plywood about two weeks ago. As it turns out, they aren't even half way through yet. That work has to be finished before they can spray the K-13 and also before the electricians hang their lights and the HVAC guys put up their duct work. Maybe by the end of this week that work will be done.

On a different note, I realize that this is going to be a squash club, a "fitness" center, if you will, but I'm really hoping that Madison Squash Works will be something more. The idea for the club has been brewing in my head for many years and is the result of visiting squash clubs and fitness centers around the US and Europe. I've taken into account things I've liked and disliked about various clubs and had the good things incorporated into our design and have avoided some of the bad elements. For example, at "Results: The Gym" in Washington D.C. one of the things I liked about it is that there is artwork everywhere: sculpture, painting, ceramics, you name it. I thought that was pretty cool. So, for our club I thought we needed to make sure that we had decent artwork on the walls because I think it's Important.

I was out at the site yesterday and noticed that the electrician had put a fire/strobe light right in the center of the wall where one might consider putting a piece of, you know, art work. Jeez Louise. I realize we have to take appropriate safety measures, but for Pete's sake do fire strobes and other ugly mechanical devices need to be placed in The Most Prominent Places?

I asked PJ if he could move this thing to a more discreet location.

You know, I'm just a jock at heart, but for crying out loud.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Squash Courts in the Raw

I've been out of town for a few days. While I was gone, the masons finished the walls. The picture is what raw courts look like. Now they have to sit for 28 days for the mortar to completely dry out, or "cure," as the masons call it.

Some framing has been done and the HVAC guys are still hanging duct-work. Also, as you can see in the picture, the guys put up some drywall and the framing above the front of the courts.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Court Walls #2

The big movement right now is still courtesy of the masons. The headwalls are done and now they've begun work on the side walls. Court 1 is 90% done, and by default half of court two is nearly finished since courts 1 and 2 share a wall. The masons plan to be finished with all the walls by the end of Tuesday.

Yesterday we pulled out the laser thingy again to check tolerances and I'm VERY happy to report that the wall we checked was within 1/16th of an inch over the entire length of the wall. You may recall that the tolerance for the walls must be 1/8th of an inch over a 10 foot area. We'll check the remaining walls as they go up.

Elsewhere in the construction, we're doing a bit of waiting on the HVAC guys to finish (start really...) hanging their duct work. They have to do their work before the framers can frame out the changing rooms, office, and restrooms. They were supposed to be done last week, but there hasn't been a lot of movement on their part. One problem might be that there is a conflict over the lounge area behind the courts. As you may recall, we've got a 14ft diameter Big Ass Fan going up there, but the HVAC guys seemed to have designed their ducts to occupy the same airspace. Phone calls were made, accusations flew, sabers were rattled. The fan isn't going to move. HVAC guys are going to have to work around it somehow.

The electricians were in all week getting their rough stuff in. The plumbers have been waiting for the restroom framing so they haven't been in. Drywall guys have done a good bit of work, but they are at the mercy of the framers and again, it all points back to the HVAC guys getting their act together.

Outside of construction news, I've been talking to local printmaker, Mark Cullen, to put together a series of work to show at the club. We have a LOT of wallspace and I was thinking that we really can't afford to buy a ton of artwork, but we COULD use the space to feature local artists where they could sell their work. That way, we get a room full of art and we can change it out for new stuff every couple of months or so. If you know any artists who might be interested in showing their work, let me know. Have them write to me at

Monday, December 1, 2008

Court Walls #1

On Monday we had a meeting with the general contractor, the head mason, the site supervisor, and the architect. Mostly we wanted to make sure the mason was aware of the wall tolerances and answer any questions about the structural plans.

The head mason has been laying brick for over 30 years and has some seriously beefy and calloused hands. Usually when I'm around these guys, I keep my soft, pink hands in my pockets for fear I would be laughed off the job site. Anyway, I think we can trust this guy to meet our tolerances.

The first thing the masons are building is the headwall for all four courts. In our case, a single wall 84ft long and 15ft high with expansion joints every 21ft. Again the tolerances are very tight: 1/8inch of plumb and straight over a 10 foot area. By the end of the day, they got about 4ft up and when I arrived, PJ, the site supervisor, used this cool laser device that measures just how close to plumb and straight the wall really is. The first 21ft section was dead-on. The second 21ft section was off by just 1/16 of an inch. That dog'll hunt.

That's the good news. The bad news is the second delivery of CMU (Concrete Masonry Unit), or cinder block, arrived and 8 pallets are going to go back to the supply company. The court spec says that the block must come from manufacturer dry and be stored dry at all times, to prevent shrinkage when drying out. Eight pallets of block were wet all the way through and one pallet even had a bird's nest or two in some of the block. That block was most definitely not stored inside.

I went over today and the offending soaked block was taken away. I had a good chat with the head mason and he totally gets how important this part of the project is to us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Framing #2

The demising wall framing went up in an instant. After days of prep work, the guys put up the demising wall framing in one day. Yesterday the sprinkler guys were there lowering the existing sprinkler heads in the locker rooms, showers and office areas. Today, they worked on more framing, and a couple of hefty dudes were there putting up drywall. The space is really starting to be defined and I'm starting to get a good idea of how much room there is outside of the courts. Looks like we'll have plenty of room for lounging around after playing and be comfortable.

James, our General Contractor, finished the entire schedule of events so now I have something else to obsess over. They'll continue framing this week and next, work on stuff in the ceiling, and then get going with more electrical and plumbing work.

Friday, November 21, 2008


The concrete is poured and now the framing begins. The first couple of days after the concrete was poured was spent lining out exactly where the walls are going to go. The guys took measurements to see how close the architectural drawings are to reality, and things were pretty close. However, they had to make a few small corrections here and there. Next thing to do is to install metal tracks that outline the walls and then insert the framing. Some of the tracks have to be attached to the ceiling as well. which requires the guys to work on a lift. All of this work is painstakingly slow for now, but once the tracks are in, the framing should go relatively quickly.

The other thing the guys did was "shoot a grid" of the slab where the courts are going to be. They used a combination of lasers and chalk lines to see just how close we are to being perfectly level. The plot points on the grid are put into some sort of computer program which then plots out exactly where the high and low spots are over the entire slab. To make a long story short, the bulk of the slab is within 1/8inch of level. A couple high spots will be leveled with some sort of concrete sander thing, and only one low spot will have to be shimmed by the flooring people. Considering that this slab alone is almost 3000 sq. ft., to be off by as little as they were is quite impressive. The General Contractor James, of Wyldewood Construction is pretty pleased with how close the concrete guys came to perfect.

So that's one big hurdle. The next one is the walls. These have to be straight and plumb within 1/8inch. That will be quite a challenge. I'm not sure when they are going to start their work, but probably in the next week or so.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Concrete #2

Today they are pouring the base for the court floors. This is the most critical part of the project so far because the tolerances are very tight: It is supposed to be level within 1/8 of an inch over a 10 foot area. The reason for this is because the floors have to be perfectly level so that the ball bounce is true.

You hear a lot about the "trueness" of a court in squash circles. Are the walls straight? Is the floor level? Does the ball bounce true? Courts that play true are more fun to play on because the ball doesn't do unexpected things. It doesn't bounce funny off the wall, or do weird things in certain spots on the floors. True courts reward good play, and penalize bad play. If you hit a perfect rail (a shot that is tight to the wall) you expect that the ball won't come off the wall. Walls that bow or have other imperfections will kick the ball out away from the wall making it easier for your opponent to hit it. Doesn't seem fair when the court turns your good shot into a mediocre one, does it?

Anyway, the flooring people are able to make the wood floor level even if the concrete is not quite level, but it will take more time as they'll have to use shims. Generally, the fewer shims, the better the floor will stand up to years of use.

Next week, they'll start framing out the locker rooms and office of the club as well as do some work up in the ceiling. The masons will have to wait a week or so to put up the walls of the courts because the concrete has to cure for a while before it can bear the weight of the walls.

Oh, one funny thing, the concrete guys are a little shocked at how over built these floors are. The pad is 5 inches thick for the court floor and 12 inches thick for the walls. There is a ton of rebar and wire mesh to help prevent cracking and the concrete itself has a fibrous mesh in it as well. One guy said that the walls on this floor are NOT going to move and that this is way more reinforcement than they do on commercial jobs. I'm not exactly sure what he meant by commercial, because, well, this is a commercial job.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Concrete #1

This week is concrete week. They've poured the first section which includes the locker rooms and showers, as well as part of the open area in the empty part of the building. Today, they continued prepping the second big section which they will pour tomorrow, then they'll do the court floors on Thursday. Friday will be some clean up work and they cut the saw marks so that the concrete cracks where we want it to, not where it wants to.

By the way, the un-paved area in the picture above has nothing to do with the squash club--it's where the restroom will be in the tenant space next to the club. It's left un-finished so that the tenant has some control over where the plumbing will go in that space.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Progress is being made. We got our state approved plumbing drawings. The city inspector blessed the work, and now the concrete guys are beginning to form out the different sections of the space. The photo above is what will become court 1. They have dug some 1 foot deep channels where the walls will go. The guys were using a bobcat and shovels and it just stunk like diesel fuel in there.

The picture below is the formed out locker room area.

On Monday they'll pour the locker room area, Tuesday the courts, Wednesday through Friday the remaining areas in few separate pourings. The following week things will really start moving.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More waiting

It seems that in construction there can be a lot of waiting. We finally got State Approved plumbing drawings and those have now been passed to the City Inspector. He's reviewing the plans and will inspect the site on Thursday. What's frustrating is that a week has gone by, nothing has happened, nothing will likely change from what the plumbers have already done, and we will have spent $3000 for the privelege of waiting.

In the mean time, we've got concrete guys who are waiting to backfill the plumbing trenches, and a bunch of carpenters and HVAC guys waiting around to get to work once the floor is in.

The HVAC guys are getting some work done. Yesterday they were cutting holes in the roof for the two units we'll be using to heat and cool the place.

Because we're building a squash club and will have a building full of sweaty, stinky people, we purposely over-designed the HVAC system to be very efficient in how we get fresh, non-stinky, air in the building, and to deal with excessive humidity. I don't know the right term, but we're getting some sort of heat-exchange on the units that dramatically reduces how hard they have to work to keep the temperature stable. When cold air comes in, it is pre-heated by the exhaust air. I hope it won't taint the "new" air with stinky-ness.

The concrete guys are going to pour the slab in two sections: the courts, and the rest. The slab for the court area will be 5 inches thick and where the actual court walls will be, the slab will be 12 inches thick with lots of steel reinforcement. In addition, that slab will be recessed three inches from the rest of the slab so that the playing surface will be flush with the finished area outside the courts. The court flooring is 3 inches of layered wood and rubber which provides a nice springy surface that's a bit easier on the legs when playing squash. The rest of the slab will be 4 inches thick. All of the concrete will sit on 2 inches of foam insulation and a vapor barrier as well.

Here's what 208 sheets of insulation looks like. Good thing we have a warehouse to store stuff.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Urinals and the State

I went over to talk to the lead plumbing engineer at Erdman, a local design/build firm. We talked for about an hour about the merits of waterless urinals and extremely low-flow urinals. In terms of using environmentally friendly building choices, you would think it would be an easy decision to just go with the a waterless. Compared to the very low flow models (1/8 gallon per flush) and a no water model you have some trade-offs. The problem with waterless urinals is that they use a plastic cartridge that you fill with a oily chemical that serves as the smell barrier. After a number of uses, the cartridges have to be thrown out and replaced. Depending on the company, those cartridges are between $5 and $30. At Erdman, they replace their cartridges once a month throughout their building. Not only does that start adding up in terms of cost, you are throwing away a lot plastic.

With the 1/8 gallon per flush model you are using water, to be sure, but very very little and you aren't using chemicals or throwing away plastic cartridges every month. One thing I should also mention, a standard-flow urinal uses 1 gallon per flush--not that most men actually flush after they use the pisser.

I have decided to use the 1/8 gallon model. The problem there is that the plumber has to install a cold water source that they hadn't planned on installing. Better now than AFTER they pour the concrete.

Speaking of plumbing and concrete, we've run into a little snag. Because we have over 12 (or 14?) plumbing fixtures, the plans for the club must be approved by the State, rather than just the city. Until the plans are approved, we can't have our plumbing inspected and subsequently we can't pour the floor. And, of course, everything on the schedule depends on the floor.

We were planning on pouring the floor on Thursday, but that might not happen. That would be unfortunate since it's suppose to be warm. The space needs to be kept warm for the pour so that the concrete cures properly. It'd be nice not to have to turn the heat on in there if we didn't have to. The only heat source now are a couple of Hot Dawg heaters as seen in upper-right cornder of the picture above.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Electricians and Plumbers

The electricians were in on Tuesday digging trenches and laying some cable. I was surprised that they were digging with a shovel and a mattock. I watched the guys work for a few minutes and it felt like I was watching a scene out of "Grapes of Wrath" where Tom Joad finally gets some work digging a ditch.

His pick arced up and drove down, and the earth cracked under it. The sweat rolled down his forehead and down the sides of his nose, and it glistened on his neck. "Damn it," he said," a pick is a nice tool (umph), if you don' fight it (umph). You an' the pick (umph) workin' together."

Anyway, the Plumbers came in on Wednesday with a mini-excavator. So much for romantic notions about the pick.

Speaking of plumbing, on the web page I noted that we'd be using waterless urinals. That has come into question as one of the local builders in town cautioned that they tend to smell like pit toilets at the state park on Memorial Day weekend. I'm not sure that's the ambiance we're after here at Madison Squash Works. On Monday I'm going to a building that has these toilets installed to give one a try. I'll be sure to have some asparagus the night before.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Construction Begins

Construction has begun for Madison Squash Works. There is no floor in the building so an excavator guy is digging down a little and leveling the existing dirt. It's really soft gravel and dirt so it's going really quickly. Where the courts are going to be located, they are digging down a little bit further so that when all is said and done, the court floor will be level with the floor in the rest of the club. As an aside, the courts will have top-grade maple floors that will be left with a good bit of texture to them. The reason for this is that when we play on them we'll have plenty of grip and also the ball won't skid on the floor. These floors will lead to a few skinned knees but that's the price you pay for good floors.

Anyway, the excavator guy will be done today and the plumber and electrician start tomorrow with some rough work before they pour concrete next week. Cool, eh?

Oh, and while we're at it, we've launched the website today. Check it out here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


So. We own a warehouse. Without going into too much detail, after several months of negotiating, a collapsed retaining wall, some mold, and a Certified Survey Map, we finally closed on our building on September 30th.

Now we have to turn it into a squash club. At least part of it. The building is 15,000 square feet and has one existing tenant, Yahara Bay Distillers. The fine folks at Yahara Bay make artisan gin, vodka, rum, apple brandy, and lemoncella. When the 90 gallon still is running, the whole area has a wonderful, heady aroma to it.

Madison Squash Works will be using about 6500 square feet of the building, or a little over half the remaining space in the building. The challenge now is to transform an empty, floorless shell of a building into the premier squash club in Wisconsin. Since it will be the only squash club in Wisconsin, being the premier club shouldn't be too hard. There are other places with courts, but this is going to be way better.

Today was the pre-construction meeting. The general contractor, James, and all the subs--plumber, mason, electrician, HVAC guy, sprinkler system guy, as well as the architect were there. We all stood around, kicked the dirt, looking at the ceilings, and talked about who was doing what and when and who needed to be out of the way before the next person starts. Turns out one of the biggest challenges is that the ceiling height is around 24 feet at one end of the building and 34 feet at the other. Seems like everyone but the plumber is going to have to be up on a lift half the time.

The plumber starts on Tuesday of next week along with an excavator. Plumber has to build some trenches and then stub out all the drains and stuff . The electrician is going to be doing some work alongside the plumber so he can share some of those same trenches.

Once those guys are done, the excavator has to lower the level of floor down a good bit before they can pour the concrete. The court area has to be on a 5-inch slab, and where the court walls are going to be, the concrete will be a full foot thick to be able to bear the weight. The things you learn when building a squash club.