The Construction CEO Suggests
A blog by Carl V. Carney, President & CEO of Davie Construction Co.
Helping to Build a Future in Construction
At Davie Construction Co., we have built a team of well-trained, experienced and dedicated professionals who are passionate about what they do and committed to encouraging others to enter this rewarding field. It’s no secret that there are labor shortages in the construction industry and that we are competing for the very best employees. We follow two paths to attract exceptional construction team members. First, we created a work environment in which our employees are listened to, supported, and rewarded for their outstanding efforts as part of a collaborative team in a family-focused company. Our second objective is to help provide learning opportunities to those who have the potential to begin a career in construction, or perhaps, make a career change into our field.
During the summer, we welcome high school and college students who have indicated their interest in learning more about this career path. They work on site and in the office as interns, learning a wide range of skills and gaining hands-on experience. Most of these summer interns are children, grandchildren, cousins, and nephews of our employees, who have learned about the challenges and rewards of being part of a successful construction team from their family members who work at Davie Construction Co. This internship program benefits the students as they develop skills and gain a clearer understanding of the scope of a career in construction. It helps us to build a workforce for the future, as many of these students choose to take the next step in this career. They may join our team upon graduation from high school, enroll at a university offering a construction management program, or specialize in a trade at a community college.
Our upper management is actively involved in supporting construction education programs in our community and across the state. Brad Chapman, our executive vice president of preconstruction services, and next chairman of the Davie County Chamber of Commerce, works with the Davie High School STEM program to develop curriculum and teach classes in the practical application of construction skills. I visit the high school several times a year to provide feedback on this program. I also serve on the Eastern Carolina University Construction Management Advisory Board, which is tasked with providing quality preparation for students in this program and building a strong network of industry support. Our controller, Greta Gardner is the incoming president of the Piedmont Chapter 109 of the National Association of Women in Construction, having served on the board and as vice president for the past two years. She leads this organization in its mission to support women in the industry through scholarships, education, and networking opportunities.
Many universities in our area offer construction programs or classes that provide preparation for additional training. Our management team includes graduates from several of these regional Universities and they are happy to advise prospective students based on their interests.
Eastern Carolina University – Carl Carney, President, Ryan Conrad, Project Manager, Stephen Shelton, Assistant Project Manager
North Carolina State University – Rickie Shutt, Executive Vice President of Operations, Janet Sheppard CFO
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Brad Chapman, Executive Vice President of Preconstruction Services, Rik Snipes, Safety/Quality Control Officer
Appalachian State University – Barry Newcomb, Project Manager Drew Steelman, Project Manager, Justin Foster, Project Superintendent
Clemson University – Wayman Merrill, Project Manager, Jamie Bowles, Project Superintendent
Western Carolina University – Bryan Bowles, Project Manager
Winston-Salem University – Brantley Smith, Chief Estimator
A construction career path does not have to include college. We have many team members who have come to us directly from high school. Several of our project superintendents are veterans of the US Armed Forces, which provides exceptional preparation for a career in construction. With extensive on-the-job training, hard work and a commitment to success, you can make a very good living in the construction industry without a four-year degree!
The Lessons of Building for Education – Be on Time for Class!
A review of our portfolio of educational and institutional facilities shows that Davie Construction Co. has completed many diverse projects across the region over the past two and a half decades. Every project is a story of challenges followed by successful outcomes, but this summer was unique. We were chosen to renovate the Virginia and West Residence Halls, two of the oldest buildings on the campus of Elon University in Elon, NC.
When we made the promise to the University that we would meet the accelerated mandatory completion date, we told our team that we had burned our ships on the beach and there was no turning back. We had to finish this project on a very short schedule of 75 days or else there would be nowhere for the students to live! The client assured me that he didn’t have room to board the 200 students in his house, and he didn’t expect that I did either. And while this was a daunting commitment, we made it with the full awareness that we have completed many other projects for educational institutions with very tight schedules. That’s the nature of working with schools; generally, these projects must be completed over summer breaks or lengthy vacation periods. Our track record in this area gave our clients the confidence that we would meet our commitment to finish on time.
This project involved a lot of surprises due to the age of the buildings. West Hall, the oldest on campus, was started in the 1890’s and opened in 1905. Virginia Hall, named in honor of the Congregational Christian churches in Virginia who pledged the money to build it, was completed after a fire in 1923. As with most buildings of this vintage, we needed to make some unforeseen fixes, like replacing old lumber, addressing current code issues, and other upgrades that weren’t apparent until we gutted the buildings to start the renovation.
All this added up to additional work scope with no additional time to complete. As fans we all know, when any exceptional team is under fire, the strongest pull together, focus on the goal, and commit to victory. That was the case with the Davie Construction Co. team. Our hardworking onsite crew dug in, and over the course of the project, moved from 8-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts, to 12- hour shifts, and then to multiple shifts seven days a week. Realizing how hard they were working, and wanting to show their physical and moral support for the Davie Construction Co. field guys, our management team and office staff, unbeknownst to me, rallied to help after hours and on weekends. One Sunday we had over a dozen office staff running equipment, running trim, cleaning up, grinding/polishing, and assisting where their skills best fit. I have never been so proud of the commitment and enthusiasm that everyone at Davie Construction Co. contributed to fulfilling our commitment to all those college students who are now enjoying their beautiful new dorms!
Specializing for Seniors – Making a Full Circle
I recently had the privilege of participating in the ribbon cutting for one of our projects, Batangas Gardens at Bermuda Village Skilled Rehab Center. As I was celebrating the opening of this impressive new facility, it occurred to me that this project represented a full circle for Davie Construction Co. and me as the Bermuda Village Retirement Community was our very first senior living project back when we started in 1993.
Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, rehab centers, assisted living facilities and senior living communities are construction projects that require a very specialized type of expertise that we have built upon over the past two and half decades. The Aging and Adult Services Division of the North Carolina Health and Human Services Department has unique and very stringent rules and regulations governing the construction of these facilities. There are strict specifications regarding all types of issues that are unique to these types of occupancies that you will not find in any other types of buildings. In addition to these requirements we specialize in working in and around fully functional facilities. When working around people that have health issues you must always put their needs ahead of whatever tasks you may be performing.
With each project, we commit to the Aging and Adult Services Division’s goal to promote independence and enhance the dignity of older adults, persons with disabilities, and their families. The fact that the Batangas Gardens Skilled Rehab Center was fully certified the same day it was inspected by the DHHS team of licensed architects and engineers is a testament to this commitment and our extensive experience in this highly-specialized area.
The first step to success in this type of project is to build a team of knowledgeable, dedicated, and extremely qualified professionals. On the Batangas Gardens project, our owner was Gray Angell, President of Bermuda Village Retirement Resort. Gray and his team have an exceptional track record for building and operating top-notch senior communities and healthcare facilities across the Southeast, and we have been fortunate to have completed many projects for him throughout the years.
The next step involves partnering with an architectural firm with a depth of experience in this area. We were honored to work with Thomas H. Hughes Architecture of Winston-Salem with Vice President Andrew J. Lopina, AIA, NCARB, managing the project for the firm. Our project manager Ryan Conrad and Jack Redden led the onsite team for Davie Construction Co. and contributed to the success of the same-day certification by maintaining consistent and comprehensive communications with everyone involved throughout the project.
Our mission of constructing exceptional buildings extends to our commitment to the comfort, safety, and pleasure of those who will use it. The Batangas Gardens project hits close to home. This skilled rehab center is minutes away and will be used by our friends, neighbors, and our families. As a much-needed convenience for those whose age or physical condition requires the state-of-the art skilled rehab facilities it provides, Batangas Gardens is a welcomed addition to our local community.
From the beautiful exteriors to the soothing paint colors and well-appointed, comfortable decor, every detail of Batangas Gardens was carefully designed to create an ambiance of healing, peace, and community. Linda Thorup, vice president of Hayden Design Associates, did an exceptional job creating a gorgeous interior space. Patients and their visitors can relax while they watch fish swimming in an aquarium, or just sit and listen to the soft splash of the full wall waterfall. Treatment areas include hydrotherapy tubs and fully equipped physical rehab gyms. We are proud that Davie Construction Co. was part of the team that brought this wonderful new facility to our community and am comforted by knowing that when a loved one needs these specialized services, they will be well cared for in this welcoming environment.
The Retail Responsibility – It’s a Lot More than Bricks & Mortar!
We enjoy adding multi-tenant retail properties to our portfolio of completed projects. These include shopping centers built for developers attracting tenants from among the largest national chains and properties with a combination of local, regional and national stores and restaurants. No matter what type of tenant is involved, our owners have the same strict requirements for the builder they choose. Be on schedule so that leases start at the time they were promised to the tenants. Be on budget so that the lease amounts are in line with the construction costs. Be an excellent communicator, because you are the source of crucial information impacting the owner, their tenants, and in many cases, the tenants’ national headquarters throughout every step of the project.
We often start our involvement in a multi-tenant retail project by providing accurate cost estimates based on the project size, and by recommending options in construction methods as a result of our extensive experience in these types of projects. Our insight is particularly valuable in working thru the work letters that attempt to define for owner and tenants exactly what we will deliver, and what portion of the project the tenants’ companies will complete. An invaluable resource in this planning is Rickie Shutt, our Executive Vice President of Operations, who has managed hundreds of multi-tenant retail projects across the nation for 26 years with a national retail GC previously, and for the past five years, has been our “oracle” at Davie Construction Co.
We categorize our work on multi-tenant retail projects in three distinct levels of upfit, and these may morph into a different category during the building process, depending upon many different factors. In general, the large national chains have contractors who travel to the site and finish out their space based on their strict branded specs. In that case, we may build a “cold dark shell,” a basic building with walls and roof, with or without a slab. The next level is a “vanilla box” in which we add the drywall, and perhaps HVAC. The slab is clean, and the building is ready for the tenants’ contractors to complete. On turnkey projects, we build out the space to completion, so that it is move-in ready.
All Davie Construction Co. projects require the highest level of communication and painstaking documentation. With multi-tenant retail projects, the importance of timely, consistent and comprehensive communications is amplified by the fact that many of the owners and tenant contacts are working from offices across the country and do not have the opportunity to visit the site for updates. That’s why we provide weekly status reports to our owners that include photos and other vital project intel. We also make it very clear to them that every member of their project team, including me, is always just a text or phone call away.
Building Houses for God is a Labor of Love
We have had the honor of being selected for many church projects, most of which have entailed additions to existing buildings. In these situations, our clients are the individuals in these growing congregations who have raised funds to update their houses of worship, some working hard at their goal for decades. As our friends at the Clemmons Moravian Church told us, “We built this church one Moravian pie at a time!” I am always gratified to see what a collective group of believers can achieve and am humbled by the trust they place in us to make their dreams for their new church building come true.
While most church projects involve a building committee of dedicated volunteers, we find that the best approach is to identify one individual as the project manager to interface with our team. We’ve been fortunate to work with the best over the years, most of whom had no previous construction experience but were great problem solvers and firmly committed to the process. We focus on maintaining strong communications with this person throughout every step of the project. Since most of them have full-time jobs, we are prepared to meet after hours or on weekends to accommodate their busy schedules.
A church complex is an active place with people of all ages coming and going throughout the week. Even with an understanding of the congregation’s regular schedule, we can’t anticipate when our construction plans must immediately change to accommodate unexpected events like funerals. It is critical that we work around the schedules of those using the church facilities and don’t impede any activities. As with all our jobs, we are focused on ensuring the safety and cleanliness of our worksite throughout the duration of the project.
No matter what type of project we are starting, I make the same promise to our clients. I promise them that we will make a mistake. Something will go wrong. That is just the nature of a construction project of any size. It may not even be something that we can control, like a weather emergency or outside distraction. However, I will also promise that when this happens, we will follow the Golden Rule. We will treat our clients the way we would like to be treated. We will solve the problem, fix the mistake, and take responsibility to ensure that we honor our commitments and satisfy our clients. This business (and life) philosophy has served us well throughout the past 24 years. We look forward to building many more houses for God!
Historic Rehab Projects – The Case for Collaboration
Successful historic rehab projects require the highest level of cooperation, communication, and collaboration between the builder, design team and owner. There are just too many surprises along the way, no matter how much preplanning is undertaken. Every time a wall is demoed, a floor removed, or a roof opened, there are unforeseen issues. It’s just the nature of working with older buildings. The good news is that an experienced team, working closely together at each step of the process, can anticipate challenges and solve problems. This is an area of construction where expertise and track record should always outweigh low bid in determining the right building partner.
From the very beginning of a historic rehab project, the value of an experienced construction team cannot be underestimated. Historic tax credits are often the driving force behind the funding for these projects. We work with the entire development team to help stay on track and adhere to state and or federal regulations that must be followed to receive the funding for these projects. A few cities like Winston-Salem have dedicated personnel within their Inspections Departments who focus upon historic rehab. Our good working relationships with these folks and others around the state help our owners avoid delays or unnecessary costs.
Historic rehab projects are unique in that they can require as much time to demolish and go backward as to move forward with new construction. There are always situations where decisions must be made on the spot to maintain or replace features of the building. It is critical that the construction team diagnose the potential problem in real time, reaching out to the designers, owner, and others whose expertise can help determine and evaluate the best options for moving forward. The quicker this information can be shared with the entire team the better.
Our historic rehab projects have all involved the repurposing of older buildings to create a new function for these landmarks. It is always gratifying to learn how these buildings have impacted the lives of those who inhabit them — now and in the past. When we completed the Central School Apartments in Albemarle, I had the privilege of meeting a woman whose apartment was once her son’s 5th grade classroom! In fact, a few of the residents in this building were teachers who were now living in the spaces that were once the classrooms. Old schools are often the perfect layout for repurposing as multi-family units with the central corridors and large rooms. We look forward to converting more of these historic landmarks into modern housing.
There was a personal touch to the historic rehab we completed in 2012 at the Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar in downtown Winston-Salem. Previously known as the Bahnson House, a 1920 former residence listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this building was once the home of a family member of one of our Davie Construction Co. employees. One of our vice presidents’ father-in-law remembered visiting the home for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas many years ago. He was delighted to visit the repurposed facility that is now a “progressive Southern-inspired destination for dining, hospitality and special events.” It was truly a labor of love for all of us!
Facility Maintenance Management Protects Your Investment
A Guest Blog by Ben Tuck, Vice President of Facilities Services, Davie Construction Co.
While most people understand from our name that Davie Construction Co. is a commercial builder, there is a key aspect of our business of which they are often unaware until their project is complete – Facilities Maintenance Management. In other words, “service after the sale.” Throughout the construction project, we are focused on planning and building the best facility for our clients, from the moment we develop the plans through every day of its future use.
As any homeowner knows, every house needs ongoing maintenance, and constant use causes wear and tear. This process is no different in a large commercial building. No matter what the purpose, buildings need regularly scheduled maintenance to operate at optimum efficiency. And who better to monitor the inner workings of a facility than the team that built it? That’s why Davie Construction Co. offers our Facilities Maintenance services, and so many of our clients hire us to help them manage this part of their operation. When we find potential problem issues, the solutions can save our clients hundreds of thousands of dollars. They tend to tell others about the value of their investment in our Facilities Maintenance program, which attracts clients for whom we were not the original builder.
When we develop a maintenance plan for new buildings, we focus on assuring the correct operation of HVAC systems, doors, hardware, plumbing, and electrical systems, with the goal of extending the overall life of the components for longer periods of time. We discuss warnings signs and teach the onsite facility management staff how to detect issues of overuse or neglect.
In cases where we are called in to provide maintenance for an older building, it is an opportunity for the owners to get a fresh set of professional eyes on the facility. It’s not unusual to discover that stale routines have set in, and the maintenance staff is caught in a repetitive pattern, simply checking off items on a list, and missing some warning signs until they present as major issues.
In our experience, some of the most critical areas of concern on older buildings include window caulking, building sealant, and the overall water tightness of the building. We recently spotted some wall areas around windows that were showing signs of water infiltration. The walls were starting to develop the first stages of mold. Upon identification of this issue, we sealed up the windows, preventing what would have soon resulted in thousands of dollars in water damage and mold remediation if left untreated.
Another common problem that we run into is landscaping that is raised too high for the building’s drainage holes. Over time, mulch or pine needles get added to the outside flower beds once or twice a year to spruce up the curb appeal. Every building has a line on the outside that dirt or ground cover shouldn’t rise above. Once these areas get above the flashing line of a building, it becomes vulnerable to pest problems, water infiltration, and rot. We have saved our clients lots of money in repairs by detecting this potential problem resulting from seemingly harmless landscaping improvements.
An investment in professional facility maintenance management is the best way to avoid expensive and disruptive facility repairs. Call us today to discuss how Davie Construction Co.’s Facility Maintenance Services can help keep your building running smoothly.
Vice President of Facilities Services, Davie Construction Co.
336-940-6600 ext. 1003
Tips for a Successful Spec Build Approach
As a company that has been providing construction services to a range of businesses over the past two decades, we are happy to offer our advice to those who are uncertain about the process they should take in starting their project. Many of the clients we work with are repeat customers who successfully grow into their first building and seek us out to help them plan for additional facilities. In our experience the following process tends to be the most efficient and effective, whether starting a completely new project or when considering an expansion or renovation.
1. Hire an architect
Your architect is your detail person. As with any project, it makes sense to seek out a professional who has experience with your type of building and/or business. They will be responsible for vetting the project, drawing up the plans and ensuring that the building is a good fit on your location.
2. Set up financing
This is where relationships are very important. You will want to rely upon a reliable consultant such as your banker, CPA or business attorney. This may be someone with whom you are well established, or someone who is referred to you by a trusted colleague.
3. Develop and distribute your bid
It is best to select three to four contractors to ensure adequate competition for a competitive bid. Too many bidders will drive away good contractors, fearing they may be wasting their time with low odds of winning the bid.
4. Require bonds
It is financially responsible to require a bid and payment/performance bond to make sure the invited bidders are financially competent. You may or may not choose to bond the project once you get further information on your selection.
5. Announce bid results in public
It is a good practice to open the bids aloud at a time and place when all involved are present. This gives everyone assurance that the process has been conducted fairly.
6. Analyze disparities in the bids
If you get several tight numbers and one that is more than 10% below the lowest bidder, something is probably not right. All GC’s in a geographic area pull from the same pool of subs and suppliers who do not typically have excessive mark-up on their jobs. If it looks too good to be true it probably is!
The Phases of a Successful Negotiated or Design Build Project
For the past 24 years, I have had the privilege to work with owners to design and build facilities to anticipate and meet their specific business needs. These projects have included medical facilities, business offices, retail locations, restaurants, financial institutions, churches, manufacturing plants and multifamily units. And while the uses for these buildings were all very different, in most cases, the owners had a dream for their buildings but did not know how to make it a reality. They all had full-time jobs successfully running their businesses, and needed to find someone they could trust to be accountable and manage the process from beginning to end. We provide that service either through the Design Build Process where we provide the design services or through a collaboration with the owner’s design professionals.
Once an owner reaches out to us, often as the result of a referral by a trusted colleague, our Pre-Construction Team meets with them to gain a clear understanding of their goals and objectives. The first order of business is to determine the feasibility of the project. We develop a preliminary proposal including an estimated budget. We ask a lot of questions while we are establishing the budget and review options with the owner to make sure we’re considering all variables. This step is crucial because, at the end of the day, it does no one any good to spend a lot of time and money coming up with plans and specs for a project that cannot get funded. If the owner is satisfied with our findings, they give their approval for us to move ahead to design the project based upon the proposed budget and schedule.
Once plans and specifications have been finalized we are ready to bid on the project and submit for permit. We arrive at the project cost by putting the plans and specifications on a password protected website and inviting any qualified owner subcontractors, as well as our own list of subs that we have worked with through the years. Our goal is to find the best subcontractor partners for each specific project. We always try to get at least three subs to bid each phase of the work. We establish a bid date and invite the owner in to review the bids if they choose to be a part of that process. We gather all the sub and supplier estimates, add our costs to be involved in the project and arrive at a contract amount to build the project.
If the final numbers are acceptable to the owner and their lender, we move into the contract phase of the process. We may suggest a lump sum agreement based on the preliminary proposal. Or we often structure our projects based upon a cost of the work plus a fee with a guaranteed maximum amount. We are happy to provide a full payment and performance bond for the project if the owner or their lender requires one. As we have built many financial facilities over the past two decades, we have developed strong relationships with lenders who prefer to finance the deals that we bring to them. They know we will not over-design for our clients, and we have a track record for finding cost effective building solutions that banks and credit unions find easy to finance.
Once the contracts are in place, and the financing has been secured, we establish a start date. We meet monthly with the owner until the project is complete. Some owners are more involved in the building process than others. Whatever their preference, we strive to be proactive and comprehensive in keeping our owners apprised of any changes or challenges. We are committed to clear communication between everyone involved in the job. Once all the sections of the contract have been completed, and we receive owner final sign off, we warrant that project for one year. Our goal at the end of that one year is to be not only the owner’s builder but also a trusted partner, continuing to provide facility maintenance management in the years ahead.