Panama City Beach, Fla., is the center of the wall-construction universe. Nowhere, it seems, is property developing as quickly as in the Florida Panhandle. Taking the lead in building interior walls and exterior closure walls in record time is M&R Drywall Inc. of Pompano Beach.

“We used a million pounds of steel in a month on one job, and we’ll complete the framing, hanging and finishing of 763 units in eight months,” said M&R CEO Marc Lacerte. “Tell me, where have you heard of that kind of speed?”

M&R Drywall has been performing fast-track, non-load-bearing wall construction for years. And lately, the firm has become the rage among builders and developers. So, when Lacerte watches high-rises, such as Laketown Wharf, taking shape, he sees more than steel, drywall and sheathing going together quickly. He envisions the future of wall construction in Panama City Beach.

“The town has taken notice,” said Lacerte. “We get calls asking, ‘Can you do our fast-track project?’ And we say, ‘Will you be receptive to changes? Can we switch to tunnel-form construction and metal-framed closure walls so the job goes fast?’ And, you know, they usually let us switch. They want us on their team.”

A Company on the Go

Founded in 1992, the firm handles projects mostly in Florida and lands many high-profile, design-build, high-rise jobs. In Panama City Beach, for example, the firm recently completed Hibiscus by the Bay and has contracts for three additional properties–Emerald Beach Condominiums, The Shores of Panama and Laketown Wharf–all high-rise developments. In Miami Beach, the company has interior wall contracts for 1,800 units in three phases at ICON South Beach and another 1,400 units at the Trump Towers.

Like most of its work, the above-mentioned jobs are being fast-tracked, with the Panama City projects making use of tunnel-form concrete construction technology. Concrete poured into tunnel forms creates the walls and floors simultaneously, allowing entire high-rise structures to go up quickly.

Generally, the walls and slab are poured in daily cycles. The forms are stripped and set in the morning and reinforcing steel is installed. Concrete is poured in-situ by early afternoon. Gas heaters accelerate the curing process overnight.

Tunnel-form construction is used for 40 percent of all residential construction in Belgium and Holland. It has been used on the largest demonstration project for the Housing Forum, the Millennium Plus development in Hackney, London and is being used for the construction of a number of hotels and student residences throughout England.

According to Lacerte, the key to success in working with closure walls for tunnel-form concrete jobs is to use steel-framing systems and wall sheathing systems that can keep pace with the pours.

“When we first started in this line of work, we didn’t have many good building products to use,” said Lacerte. “We used basic brown board sheathing, but it couldn’t stay exposed to the elements for very long.

Today, M&R Drywall uses exclusively steel studs from Dietrich Metal Framing, and Fiberock Brand Aqua-Tough sheathing panels from USG for exterior walls. The steel stud systems and sheathing go hand-in-hand.


The innovative framing system eliminates box-beam headers, nesting track and studs for posts and jambs, thus reducing the installation time and crew size needed on a job site. The Dietrich HDSC header bracket, which was used over windows and sliding patio doors at the Laketown Wharf project, turned curtain-wall header installation from a two- to one-person job.

Lacerte said that Aqua-Tough panels are “indispensable.” They provide superior adhesive attachment for finish work, and the panels remain flat over the framing. Furthermore, the panels are durable, resist water and mold, and are guaranteed for 12 months of weather exposure.

“We’re so serious about these products that our mission statement even mentions them by name,” said Lacerte. “We want to provide the highest level of service and quality available.”

What does it take to pull off a fast-track, tunnel-form closure wall contract successfully? For the 763-unit Laketown Wharf site, success began with securing the right wall system specification. As soon as M&R Drywall won the contract, Lacerte spoke with the general contractor about switching the sheathing. That in turn led to a meeting with the architect, Joseph Dougherty, of Dougherty & Chavez Architects, Destin, Fla.

“The architect for Laketown is forward-thinking,” said Lacerte. “He was receptive to tunnel-form concrete construction, and he was receptive to our input as the wall contractor. Once he touched the sheathing and saw how it’s not made with gypsum, but is homogenous and lacks a paper plane for screws to break, he changed the specification.”

He said credit must also be given to Laketown Wharf’s general contractor, Walton Construction Co., Harahan, Fla. Walton put together the right team of subcontractors. Since fast-track construction involves high stakes and a high payoff, each sub trade has to be what Lacerte calls “a player”–a firm experienced at working on tight schedules.


At Laketown Wharf, for example, the concrete subcontractor (High-Rise Concrete Systems, from Grand Prairie, Texas) poured 8,000 to 12,000 square feet of walls and ceilings each day. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing trades stayed in step. M&R Drywall matched the pace by remaining two to three floors behind the concrete pours.

Another key player was Seacoast Supply, which is part of L&W Supply Corporation. The company jumped through hoops to supply the project efficiently.

“The purchase orders just kept coming and coming,” said Seacoast Manager Mike Bortnick. “We started out with 6,000 sheets of 4- by 8-foot 5/8-inch sheathing. Then, four or five months later, we got another order for 7,000 sheets. Laketown is going to call for more than 20,000 sheets of sheathing when it’s all over.”

Like pistons firing in an engine, Seacoast Supply precisely timed its deliveries so that M&R Drywall and the other subcontractors could work in unison. The job came off without a hitch, and Lacerte is proud of the work.

“It was exciting to have a challenge,” said Lacerte. “The owner challenged us to complete the job in a certain period of time, and our team was able to meet that challenge. It’s a nice feather in the cap for all of us.”

But building quickly and building well is more than just an accomplishment. It’s become the way to do business. Lacerte said the Laketown Wharf project has created a lot of positive word of mouth. One Alabama developer, for example, contacted Lacerte and asked about using tunnel-form construction with closure walls to fast-track his project in Orange Beach, Ala.

“Our whole team flew to Joseph Daugherty’s office, and we met with that prospective owner,” said Lacerte. “They wanted to get their fast-track design criteria done right.”

Of course, building quickly on coastal property invites some inevitable precautions. Sensitive to the hazards of water and weather, the owners of many coastal building projects hire consultants to keep a sharp eye on proper water management construction practices.


At Laketown Wharf, one consulting team initially balked at M&R Drywall’s proposed sheathing assembly. They were concerned about proper screw placement and other issues.

M&R Drywall Project Manager Sam Shanaburger conferred with the consultants and resolved the issues, explaining that the manufacturer’s recommendations were being exceeded. The matter was quickly cleared up-and fast-track work at Laketown Wharf was resumed.

Needless to say, Shanaburger is pleased with his firm’s success with the project, noting that they work on being well organized, being “better at getting change orders made, better at working with customers and doing things right.”