In a crowded pavilion at Freeman Lake Park in Elizabethtown, the movers and shakers in the real estate and home building industries came together for a joint meeting.
Members of the Heart of Kentucky Association of Realtors and Lincoln Trail Homebuilders Association gathered to hear Steven Freed, senior vice president of building trades at Barton Malow, the construction team behind BlueOval SK Battery Park in Glendale.
In a first local public update, Freed shared a timeline for construction for the more than $5 billion venture of Ford Motor Co. and SK Innovations to build twin plants to produce electric vehicle batteries.
“We’re roughly 50% done moving dirt,” he said, adding foundation work for the first plant started about a month ago.
According to information Freed shared, the first cut and fill and first and second topsoil stripping phases, totaling more than 1.3 million cubic yards, are complete at the site with the second cut and fill and third topsoil stripping phases ongoing. The first caisson was installed Aug. 16 and foundations began three days later.
Almost 6,700 cubic yards of foundations have been installed to date along with 137 caissons, Freed said.
To put the massive project in perspective, Freed shared an image with the audience depicting its scale, which contains two 4-million-square-foot manufacturing facilities.
“Each plant is ¾ of a mile long and about 900-feet wide,” he said showing a scaled drawing of the plants overlaid on Elizabethtown’s downtown.
In the image, the plants covered the entirety of downtown from Mulberry Street to nearly New Glendale Road and from Warford Street to almost the U.S. 31W Bypass. On the actual site in Glendale, the facilities would take up 631 acres, leaving more than half of the 1,500-acre site undeveloped.
“They want us to (build it) in less than three years,” he said of the construction timeline.
Barton Malow is the nation’s third largest builder in the automotive industry, Freed said, adding construction remains on schedule.
Freed said residents will start seeing structural steel in the first of the two plants in November and enclosure in December. Equipment install is expected in January 2024 and completion in March 2025.
For the second plant, foundations are expected to be pourd in February with completion only two months behind the first in May 2025, Freed said.
“We anticipate 3,500 trades people and another 500 staff and management,” he said, adding it will take 15 million man hours, averaging to 5 million a year, from 3,500 workers.
Those workers who have started to come to the area are in need of housing, Freed told the crowd. Some, like himself, have purchased property, others are camping and others are renting, he said, but selection is limited.
Freed said he expects construction to peak in October 2023.
“It’s busy out there and it’s just going to get busier,” he said. “So keep building the houses.”
David Earls, an associate broker with Schuler Bauer, said his company has began to see the influx of workers needing housing.
“We’re very excited,” he said of both the Realtors and home builders. “We’ve experienced some of the employees who work for Barton Malow already purchase some homes. We know there’s going to be a big demand for the people who are working here now and in the future when the plant is actually up and running.”
While zoning changes for multi-family housing has occurred, the area still needs single-family housing, Earls said.
“There is a shortage nationwide and in our market for single-family homes,” he said. “Our builders have been restrained through COVID with inventory supply issues and worker issues. We see that balancing back out now where it’s getting better. We’re hoping the builders can accommodate the growth we’ll see coming to our area.”
Clay Smith of Smith Family Homes said he sees inventory going up the next several months to possibly 1,000 units, but believes it still will be well short of what is needed.
“You’ll see some of these temporary people having to buy homes,” he said. “There’s no rentals, no camping sites, there’s no nothing.”
Although housing is a concern, Smith said hom ebuilders in the area are willing to “keep moving up that hill.”
“What everybody is anticipating is there’s going to be a lot of opportunities,” he said. “If a recession hits — you don’t want to say you’re recession proof — but we’re going to be insulated than a lot of other areas in the country and I think people are going to take notice of that.”