Commercial Construction in Omaha, NE – 2019
Omaha’s Rising Population Creates Opportunities for Commercial Construction
In 2018, The Omaha World Herald reported that the population of Omaha is projected to reach one million people by about 2023, citing demographer David Drozd of the University of Omaha. With the steady growth of Omaha’s population has come an increased need for commercial development. We spoke to local professionals who have an ear to the ground of developing technologies within commercial construction to find out what the future holds for the business world of Omaha.
There are two related fields which affect the local architecture and cityscape of Omaha: commercial construction of new buildings, and restoration or renovation of older buildings. Because of the growing market for new residents, property management company Perry Reid Properties established Perry Reid Construction (PRC) in 2017, with a vision to create a contracting company that valued its employees, subcontractors, architects, and all owners. After over one year in operation, PRC provides a glimpse into the speed of Omaha’s growth. PRC is responsible for six multi-family construction projects across Nebraska and Iowa in the last year. They broke ground on the Mansions at Tregaron back in January of 2018. PRC has already completed construction of the clubhouse and five of Tregaron’s 13 buildings.
“PRC is equipped to take on commercial and residential projects in the Omaha area. We have expertise in the areas of multi-family dwellings, hospitality buildings, and medical facilities,” says Alex Perry, director of operations for Perry Reid Construction.
Perry says that the most important thing for a construction project to be completed efficiently is a dedicated staff. “It’s the people…There are times where, when we are building a big project, it’s all hands on deck. We want to treat our people well, make sure they are truly invested in the company’s work, both monetarily and personally,” explains Perry. A firm’s relationship with its sub-contractors is vital because it can affect how efficiently a project can be set into motion.
“Every general contractor is going to have subs that they would prefer to use if they can, because they love working with them, but you have to price competitively. On the other hand, because of our relationship with those subs, during the bidding process, we can encourage our subs to get this on the books so we can start as soon as possible.” Perry explains that the benefit of a general contractor is their ability to handle a variety of different issues for a client. “Let’s say you want to build a gas station. You might know an architect, but do they know anything about real estate development? I think we help fill in the gaps. Our experience on the property management side and on the development side really comes into play. A lot of this you might not even pay us for, we just like to do it. A general contractor provides a good combination, for any client who doesn’t do this every day,” advises Perry.
Notable contributions have been made to Nebraska’s development by Cheever Construction, an employee-owned construction firm. They completed the renovation of the Willard Community Center in 2018, expanding on the 100-year-old facility and installing a new roof, windows, HVAC system, handicap accessible restrooms, and elevator. They also completed a design-bid-build for a 16,000 square-foot addition to the UNL College of Law in 2017. As the president of Cheever Construction, Justin Kurtzer takes pride in their tight-knit employee-owner model.
“Because employees own 100% of the company, all of us have a stake in the outcome professionally, as well as financially,” Kurtzer informs.
According to Kurtzer, there are three traditional delivery methods that business owners can choose from when contracting a construction firm.
- Construction Management (CM) – Owner hires architect/engineer responsible for design and a contractor responsible for establishing a program and schedule, organizing sub-contractors, and preparing a benchmark budget. An advantage of this method is the scope of the project can be clearly laid during the design process.
- Design Build – Owner hires a single contractor, responsible for both the design and construction aspects. An advantage of this method is a single firm is responsible for completion of the project.
- Design Bid Build – Unlike Design Build, owner hires an architect to design the project in its entirety. Competitors then bid for the contract to complete the building. An advantage of this method is the bidding process establishes the project cost.
One aspect of construction which dramatically affects the look of a city is the distinction between new construction and restoration. As a project manager and estimator for McGill Restoration, Jennifer Baldwin has performed extensive research on restoration for older Omaha buildings. “When it comes to construction, generally when new construction is up, restoration or investment in aging infrastructure is down. However, with the influx of young persons into the metro areas, we are seeing a steady increase in both new construction and restoration projects. The new construction is happening in the suburbs while the restoration is happening in the city centers. The trend of restoring older buildings or converting older spaces into modern designs is contributing to this trend. An excellent example of this is the Blackstone Hotel in midtown Omaha. This turn of the century building is being restored to its former glory,” she points out.
Baldwin explains that restoration requires an in-depth understanding of a building’s history and details. “When it comes to restoration, research is key. Researching the building, the materials, and the best techniques, is essential to providing a beautifully restored building/project. When it comes to the planning and execution of a project, we want to offer our expertise. Most companies know the finer points of new construction, but McGill Restoration understands the intricacies of restoration,” she says.
Because restoration involves different requirements than new construction, asking questions about the building is vital. “I would say the best advice I have received is ‘ask a lot of questions and never make assumptions.’ In restoration, you can never ask enough questions. The more questions you ask the more you learn the history of a structure, be it a parking garage, a DOT bridge, or a building on the national historic registry. Every structure has a history and that history is important to its restoration. When was it built? What is it going to be used for in the future? These questions will provide answers to the type of material that must be used in its restoration.”
Baldwin explains that McGill Restoration specializes in these four market segments:
- Department of Transportation (DOT).
- Parking Garages and Stadiums.
- Masonry Restoration.
“Each of these areas are important to the aging infrastructure of our communities and nation, these are always our main focus of work and will continue to be long into the future,” emphasizes Baldwin.
Her most important advice for any construction project to be a success is to build a competent team. “Construction is a team sport. Everyone from the Architect and Design team, all the way down to the project manager and craftsmen are vital to the success of a project,” says Baldwin.
For both new buildings being constructed and older buildings being renovated, building control is a vital consideration for any modern space, allowing control over a variety of important systems such as HVAC, security, and lighting. These are often referred to as “smart systems” or “smart home” technology as some allow buildings to sense when they need to be activated to save on energy. “In our 20 years of operation, Engineered Controls has provided innovative and cost effective control solutions to over 3,500 satisfied customers,” explains Pat Killeen, the president and CEO of Engineered Controls. Some examples of Nebraska projects completed by Engineered Controls includes the Ameritas Insurance Building, Southeast Community College, The University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and the Lincoln Surgical Hospital.
There are five key products offered by Engineered Controls:
- Building automation to make buildings smarter, reduce energy costs, and provide comfort.
- Lighting controls to sense wasteful electricity usage in unused rooms and use daylight harvesting to reduce excessive lighting.
- A range of security products meant to serve a variety of individual security needs, including intrusion detection and surveillance.
- Gas detection and ventilation to prevent sickness and death caused by vehicle exhaust in parking structures.
- Parking management solutions, to streamline parking gates for any major private or public entity which provides parking.
Energy savings is a consistent emphasis of Engineered Controls, and in addition to improving the bottom line for their clients, Killeen also believes they have promoted sustainability and reduced wasteful energy use for all their major clients. “Our vision is to transform the way buildings are designed, built, and operated,” says Killeen.
As a Honeywell-Authorized Systems Distributor, Control Depot offers building control technology to residential and commercial customers. Control Depot’s customers include sub-contractors specializing in building controls, and electrical and mechanical specialists. Because of this, vice president Jeff Killeen says Control Depot has to offer a wide-range of up-to-date products and replacement parts to professional contractors.
“Control Depot’s primary goal is to offer the necessary systems and replacement parts that will provide a safe, comfortable working environment, as well as cut wasteful energy costs. We are helping companies become more sustainable and improving their bottom line,” says Killeen.
In addition to offering the necessary products, Killeen says it is important for their staff to be knowledgeable of these technologies to best serve their clients. “We have assembled a team of knowledgeable, qualified individuals whose goal is to assist each customer with personal service rooted in their experience. Because our inventory rivals any of the largest retailers, we can offer comprehensive solutions for building controls,” adds Killeen. “In October 2018, we began offering the complete line of Contemporary Controls offerings. Thanks to this partnership, Control Depot is now able to offer additional technological solutions, which focus on providing reliable networking and communication for control systems.
While building controls can provide solutions to the electric and temperature maintenance of a building, certain aspects of the building itself are most subject to wear and tear over time. These are important considerations for both new projects and when restoring older sites. Often, construction firms arrange for sub-contractors to fulfill the variety of responsibilities for construction and restoration projects. For example, roofing, siding, outdoor woodwork and flooring are all examples of individual aspects that generally require specialists as sub-contractors. We spoke to several sub-contractors who are responsible for specific areas of construction and remodeling.
One of the most important and difficult aspects of planning new construction is the number of professionals with different areas of expertise who must collaborate. During the construction process, electricians have to work in collaboration with other teams, which requires not only experience in their field, but communication and planning with other professionals.
Because the planning process for new construction involves communication, Scott Dai, commercial estimator and project manager for Big Birge Plumbing, says the work has to begin early. “My involvement early in the construction process is to review plans and specifications and bring together all the data we need to put together the best plan, and complete the project in a timely and efficient manner. Work closely with the foreman and journeyman ensuring they are familiar with all aspects of the material take off,” Dai points out.
While working with Big Birge Plumbing, Dai helped complete Blackstone Depot and Dino’s Storage in 2018, and additional projects are already underway for 2019.
Perhaps family learning experiences are the perfect preparation for this kind of flexible communication. Dai spoke about how his own background has inspired his work. “My personal source of inspiration would have to be both of my parents. I grew up with five brothers and one sister and looking back and reflecting on how the two of them worked as a team, always with the same common goal, making sure all our needs were met,” says Dai.
One of the most important tasks for Dai is understanding plumbing code requirements. “One aspect of a construction project that may be overlooked by the general public is applicable plumbing code. There are several different plumbing codes in the surrounding metropolitan area. As a certified plumbing instructor in Nebraska and Iowa, I am always reviewing the applicable codes including the OPC (Omaha Plumbing Code), the IPC (International Plumbing Code), and UPC (Universal Plumbing Code) not to mention the different amendments that might be involved with the different areas. The Plumbing code will impact which type of materials to use, fixture requirements, etc. which could have an important effect on the bottom line.”
Dai’s most important piece of advice to those preparing to begin a commercial construction project is to do their research and get referrals. “As an owner/investor you are going to have a lot invested in your project, you are going to want to use people that will have your best interest in mind. It all starts with the Architect/Engineer, they are going to formulate your design to a plan format. Next, the general contractor/builder, he is going to bring all the subcontractors together and build your design. Trust that he will build a team of subcontractors that will feel just as responsible for your investment as you do. The old cliché ‘You get what you pay for’ is true. Do not necessarily go with the lowest number, use the best number.”
Big Birge Plumbing has multiple construction projects in the works for 2019. Three expected to be completed this year include: 32nd and Burt Street Elementary, the Fitzgerald, and an additional Dino’s Storage location.
As the owner of Langer Electric, Chris Langer has provided repair, maintenance, and installation services to commercial and residential clients, receiving an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Langer says he strives to bring “a level of comfort that feels as though you’re pretty much working with family…I really want to bring a different level of customer satisfaction to the trade which is hard to find nowadays. 2019 is going to be the year of expansion and hopefully creating an even larger customer base. We really want people to share in the experience of what we bring to the table.” Langer encourages his customers to feel free to give him a quick call or text to discuss anything related to a project. Langer says that while working on electric work for a commercial construction project, preparation and communication are key.
“I make sure everything on my end is lined up with materials, labor, and communication between trades. We don’t EVER want to be the ones holding up a project,” explains Langer. This includes establishing a relationship with inspectors for construction projects. “My main concern with any project is making sure everything is completely in line with what the inspector wants. It doesn’t help anyone to butt heads with the one who ultimately calls the shots in the end. You have to be mindful of what exactly the inspector expects because each individual is different.”
In Langer’s opinion, one of the best new technologies to save money on energy costs is in lighting. “LED technology has come a long way these last couple years. When I walk through a project nowadays and see the old incandescent bulbs it just makes me shake my head. You literally can take your energy consumption down by 80–90% with LED technology. Why waste the energy and money paying for old lights? What remains the same and what is changing as far as commercial construction goes? Customers are starting to realize when it comes to projects the cheapest isn’t necessarily the best. Quality comes with a price sometimes.”
Approaching their 60th anniversary of service in the Omaha area, Getzschman Heating has been contracted for both the sheet metal fabrication and installation of heating systems, heat pumps, and air conditioners. When conducting a replacement or installation of a furnace or air conditioner system, Getzschman Heating recommends starting with a cost estimate, which they offer for free, and obtaining a written guarantee of performance for all equipment.
“We would then offer a firm bid on the electric work using our licensed electrical contractor,” explains Gunnar Guenette, marketing manager for Getzschman Heating. “We also test during installation, and for replacements, we dispose of the junk remaining from the previous system. Respecting our customers’ property is something that we take pride in, whether it’s how our employees wear shoe coverings, or how we use tarps and floor savers to protect your floors while we work. We want our customers to be happy seeing their property left just as clean as we found it when we arrived,” says Guenette.
For customers concerned with energy efficiency, Guenette says that diagnostic technology is critical for eliminating waste. “We train our technicians to measure the performance of HVAC systems to diagnose improvements. We call it ‘G-Verify.’ Pretty much, you are testing the combustion efficiency and the air the system is using and compare it to manufacturer specifications. It doesn’t matter if it’s a brand new system. You can waste almost half your energy if you are not testing the actual performance of the HVAC.”
Guenette says that as a business with strong roots in family, Getzschmann Heating seeks to build a relationship of trust with their customers, and describe their customers as the G-Force. “We offer G-Force Exclusive offers to our customers like our maintenance program. Maintaining the system prolongs its life, and we offer discounts on any repairs. Our ‘Two-Year-Test Drive’ is a 100% satisfaction guarantee on a new system. If our customer is unhappy with their system’s performance, we will make it right,” explains Guenette.
Sub-contractors each contribute their area of expertise to an aspect of a building. Similarly, each building project contributes to the total look and character of Omaha itself. Construction firms, whether they are comprehensive or work in collaboration with architectural firms, are responsible for a range of responsibilities—planning and executing the contract work for new commercial construction.
With the label “Silicon Prairie,” more businesses will continue to pop up in Omaha, resulting in more commercial construction. It’s good to know the friendly faces and names of those behind the progressive transformation our community’s cityscape.