Chatting About Offsite Construction With Riley Mahaffey of Lochsa Engineering

By: Krisjan Hiner

Structural engineer Riley Mahaffey is a principal at Lochsa Engineering in Boise, Idaho. Lochsa has grown a lot over the last few years and is blazing a trail in offsite construction. While offsite construction isn’t new, Lochsa is uniquely positioning itself as a leading structural engineering firm in the field due to labor shortages and their dedication to customer service.

We sat down recently to talk about offsite construction, customer service and the future of Lochsa Engineering.

Q: You have been at Lochsa a while now. What is your current role and how has it changed over time?

Riley Mahaffey: We are celebrating 15 years of business in the Boise Office this November. I am one of the principals of the company. It has changed quite a bit over the years. I am not cranking out structural calculations like I did in the past. I am heavily involved in business development as well as the day to day operations of the business. I am grateful for our support staff as they do the “heavy lifting” of performing calculations, producing construction documents, financial accounting, etc.

Q: Lochsa seems to be growing a lot lately. What new and fun projects are you working on?

Riley Mahaffey: We have been invited to be on teams on many projects across the country that are very exciting. The remodel of the historic Los Angeles Coliseum on the USC Campus, Airport Expansion Projects at LaGuardia, LAX, Phoenix and the new BSU Honors College Facility are great projects to be on the team. Hotel, Mixed-Use, Multi-family, Healthcare and Educational Projects are also keeping us busy.

Q: Who are your typical clients? 

Riley Mahaffey: Architects, owners, developers, general contractors, corporations. It is amazing how many methods of project delivery there are out there right now. Times have greatly changed/advanced from when I entered the industry. The project team set-ups seem to vary daily.

Q: You guys design projects all over the place, not just Boise, Denver, and Las Vegas. Where all are you designing projects currently?

Riley Mahaffey: We have been fortunate to have clients that keep us busy nationwide and in Canada. Currently the Southeast Area of the states is very active with many hospitality type projects. The northwest has many educational facilities being constructed. Recently we have been involved in several multi-family projects in Reno that are implementing “Offsite” construction methods.

Q: It sounds like a lot of your work comes from repeat clients. Why do your clients come back time and again?

Riley Mahaffey: We make every effort to support the design/construction team from inception to close out on projects. Customer service is the utmost priority in our office. There are always going to be issues through the building process and know that problem solving and collaboration must occur to aid in the project’s success.

Q: It sounds like it isn’t just business as usual at Lochsa. What new or inventive techniques or approaches are you applying?

Riley Mahaffey: Our latest approaches have been heavy involvement in the Offsite/Pre-fabricated/Modular concept of project delivery. There are many names to reference this idea but lately it appears the Offsite Construction is being used to cover all forms. We have several projects being constructed now using shop panelized cold formed steel load bearing panels with differing methods of floor/roof framing. Many elements (i.e. weather barrier, gypsum sheathing, etc.) can be installed in the shop in a controlled setting versus on site in adverse weather conditions, etc. Many weeks are shaved off of the construction schedule. We have also branched from this to “whole room” modular construction. This is an advanced method of construction more elements in a shop setting (i.e. Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing) into a modular element that can be shipped and placed on site. Quality control is much better in this application. The hospitality, senior/assisted living, student housing type projects work will with this methodology because of the repetitive floor plans.

Q: Why is modular becoming so popular and/or necessary?

Riley Mahaffey: There are several factors. The main one currently is the lack of available, qualified construction crews due to the amount of construction projects the industry is experiencing. By using an experience fabrication team, a lot of the building shell work can be removed from the critical path and installed prior to shipment. Smaller crews that are highly trained in module installation are then implemented on site. In areas that experience adverse weather, the quality of shop installed/protected elements is a positive advantage. Another plus is the overall schedule savings to the owner. The building is able to open quicker and start generating revenue. We have been involved in many conferences/expos in many locations in North America. The interest is growing and attendance is up at everyone we are a part of. An interesting comment was made by a presenter last week at an Offsite Expo; “The United States is currently about 30 years behind Europe and Asia in the concept of Offsite Construction”.

Q: How is designing the structure of a modular project different than one that will be built on-site?

Riley Mahaffey: The gravity and lateral load designs required for the building are the same for either condition. The design is basically the same, except more upfront collaboration can occur with the other consultants which in turn saves time on the overall construction schedule.

Q: Sounds like designing a modular project is best left to an experienced firm like Lochsa. How is Lochsa uniquely qualified for these types of projects?

Riley Mahaffey: We have been fortunate to have been invited to join several teams many years ago when this concept was gaining popularity and being investigated in the United States and Canada Markets. We have been involved in many applications in various locations. Wind and seismic designs differ as does weather and geotechnical conditions. These factors are very influential in the approach taken to successfully complete the project.

Contacting Lochsa Engineering