Builders widen sights
Duane Boreham, senior vice president of Q&D Construction’s newly formed aviation services business unit, already has logged thousands of miles this year pursuing work at airports across the country.
And he’s just getting started, as northern Nevada construction companies that once made a good living as generalists on their own turf develop specialties in geographic markets far from home.
For Clark & Sullivan Construction, a rebound in school construction projects in the Sacramento region keeps its pipeline full while it awaits full recovery in markets closer to its headquarters in Sparks.
During the next two weeks, meanwhile, Boreham and Q&D Chief Operating Officer Lance Semenko will board flights to San Jose, San Diego and Cheyenne, Wyo. to look at airport renovation jobs.
The key for construction executives is their search for new ways to use their companies’ existing expertise.
Clark & Sullivan, for instance, is handling $23 million in school renovation and construction projects this summer in Sacramento, Petaluma and Stockton.
But Jarrett Rosenau, operations manager and senior project manager for Clark & Sullivan, notes that school construction in Reno, Sparks and Las Vegas has been an important part of the mix for Clark & Sullivan since the company was founded in 1980. It’s completed more than 150 educational projects.
“Our business was built on the backbone of school work,” he says.
Q&D Construction, meanwhile, has done quite a bit of airport work during its 50-year history, and it’s focusing more closely on the sector as activity remains relatively slow in northern Nevada.
“The biggest thing for us is trying to figure out what markets we can grow in,” Semenko says. “If we would have waited for all the work to come around Reno, we wouldn’t be open right now. It’s a tough nut to crack, and it wears you out, but there is a lot of work out there in that market.”
During the darkest days of the recession, Q&D did two big local jobs: renovating the baggage claim area and upgrading the security checkpoint area at Reno-Tahoe International Airport — work that kept employees on the company’s payroll, Semenko says. The two jobs totaled $78 million.
Q&D’s success in the field led to the creation of a dedicated aviation services unit at the start of the year. Landing work at airports outside the Truckee Meadows has grown organically through Boreham’s deepening relationship with Southwest Airlines, starting with small jobs and culminating in a $5 million terminal renovation job begun last week at Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C.
Though the job is modest by past jobs done locally, it fits right in the company’s wheelhouse. Q&D isn’t seeking half-billion-dollar new terminal builds, Boreham says; rather, it’s bidding on smaller-sized renovation and improvement work it can handle with current staff.
“We are not grandiose; we are trying to build a solid foundation and right people in place and have a solid foundation to go out and get those jobs.”
But the work isn’t always easy.
Rosenau says Clark & Sullivan’s school-renovation projects place a premium on careful scheduling as work generally needs to be started and finished during students’ summer vacations.
“It’s a very dense amount of work packed into a short time amount of time,” he says.
Among the challenges associated with airport work, Boreham adds, are adherence to strict security requirements and the need to work around the flow of passengers. Work typically is performed in the dead of night, and construction crews that start at 9 p.m. must have work areas cleaned up and public areas ready for passengers by 4 a.m. There’s zero room for fudging deadlines.
“We cannot miss that window,” Boreham says.
Q&D has a core group of superintendents and project managers that travel to manage the company’s airport jobs. Q&D hires local subcontractors to perform the work.
“We want to get the people that already know the airport and already know the security requirements and know how to get in and out of an airport,” Boreham says. “Bringing somebody up to speed can take half the duration of the job.”
Clark & Sullivan is catching an economic wave with its school projects. School enrollments in northern California increasing and school districts have enough money to support expansion and modernization projects.
Clark & Sullivan is boosting its share of the growing market, meanwhile, with its expertise in the collaborative model that’s favored by school officials.
The company has completed more than 60 education projects in California using the process known as “construction manager at risk.” The process brings builders, designers and owners to the table early in the process to identify and solve potential problems.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.