FARGO — For business owners who may be contemplating new construction or are interested in an office space reconfiguration in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Paula Klein is here to help.
Klein, owner of Smartt Interior Construction, is a certified DIRTT contractor who specializes in prefabricated interior construction solutions that are easily moved, reduce construction waste and typically offer a short production window.
Klein initially faced an uphill battle when she launched the business in 2011. Her first step was to educate builders, subcontractors and city inspectors about DIRTT.
The dirt on DIRTT
DIRTT walls are constructed of aluminum, medium density fiber board and/or glass.
"What we are from our scope, we're wall framing. Instead of steel studs, it's aircraft-grade aluminum frames," Klein said. "From there we have pre-done power. Instead of an electrician coming on site to put in every individual box, bending pipe and pulling wire, that can be done in the factory."
DIRTT walls can also come equipped with copper and fiber for data.
"There was a lot of education to get them to understand that it will be a different (construction) process than they're used to, but if they really examine it the efficiencies are crazy," she said. "Everything is the same as what they do conventionally, we're just doing it at the factory.
The wall panels easily pop off to allow access for electrical, plumbing and audio/visual subcontractors.
"It took a couple of really good customers to believe in us and take a chance," she said.
Klein brought Darin Pfingsten, president of Fargo's PKG Contracting, to Bell Bank to show him what was possible when he announced plans for a two-story addition to their headquarters at 4301 S. University Drive.
"I liked what I saw right away. The thing that was most appealing to me was the time in which they could get it installed and up and running," Pfingsten said.
He also saw the long-term benefits for future renovations.
"They can take down walls with a screw gun. ... There will be little disruption. Little dust," he said.
PKG Contracting is already planning to replace the conventional stud walls in its existing structure.
"My employees in the original space built in 2000, they've seen what we've done in the new part and now they feel neglected. They want to know when it's their turn," he said
Pfingsten is "110% sold on the system."
"It's a pretty amazing system and extremely innovative," he said. "And the energy Paula and her team bring to the table is second-to-none."
Smartt's new showroom at 802 1st Ave. N. features a number of DIRTT solutions.
While Klein points out DIRTT is officially a fabricator, her team can offer a number of different ideas for businesses wishing to customize their space, from timber frames to whiteboard walls to glass walls with custom graphic overlays.
Smartt's showroom follows the resimercial trend many offices are incorporating today. Resimercial — short for residential commercial — refers to a homelike atmosphere in the workplace.
"I think what's going to happen on the commercial side, I think they'll be creating more collaboration kind of comfort areas because people are still going to work at home," Klein said. "When they come into the office, they're going to want culture and collaboration."
Benefits of DIRTT include easy movability and less waste.
"When we build conventionally, it's so fixed. If changes are required, it's a mess and it's demo and it's in the landfill," Klein said.
When change is needed — which Klein said has been proven by the coronavirus pandemic — modular makes sense.
"How does your environment flex? Right now we're getting calls left and right for these kinds of things. We have the ability to do that. ... You pull the entire tile off and you're at steel-stud construction," she said.
Klein will celebrate her 10-year business anniversary with an intimate grand reopening event at her new showroom Wednesday, April 28.
Pfingsten hopes to be there.
"I'm glad we worked with Paula," he said. "I have zero regrets, and I would tell anybody that."