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Cynthia Reeves | SBJ

A Conversation With ... David Atkisson

Springfield Office Leader, J.E. Dunn Construction Group Inc.

Posted online

You broke ground on the 330,000-square-foot Greene County Sheriff’s Office and Jail in spring of 2020, and construction will wrap next month. What’s it like operationally to handle a project this expansive?
There were two years of planning with our team, with the county and the Sheriff’s Department and nForm Architecture and all of their design consultants before we ever started construction. J.E. Dunn and DeWitt & Associates are joint venture construction managers. This project was the first project that Greene County has done with a construction manager at risk, which is a contracting delivery method that was recently made available in the state of Missouri to public entities. (When) the construction manager is brought on early in the process, it does allow for that teamwork and collaboration and preplanning, and it allows our team to have some degree of impact and influence on the scope and the design. All of that had to be done publicly, and after we were selected, all of the specialty trades, the subcontractor scope, all of that had to be competitively, publicly bid.

The initial concept for the jail was an eight- or nine-story steel structure in downtown Springfield. Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said that approach was revamped for many reasons, including the cost and availability of steel. What were the benefits of changing to precast concrete in design?
The cost of building a jail vertically is greater than building one where you have more space to spread out. There are other operational advantages, as well, for the Sheriff’s Department that they can more efficiently and effectively and safely manage the facility in the concept that it is now. The county and the Sheriff’s Department determined that precast cells would be the best use that would best serve the jail. We also looked at the cost efficiencies of precast concrete compared to steel. There are certainly procurement or lead-time differences between the two, and then there are just different levels of maintenance and upkeep. We ran all the scenarios.

Did the timing of the project impact material availability or pricing?
When we started construction, we had long lead-time items bid, awarded and in procurement phase. So, even though right before the project started construction, we found ourselves in a new world with COVID, the precast jail cell modules, for example, were already in production off site. We were really fortunate on timing to have been able to buy the vast majority of materials for the two-year project right before all of the COVID impacts.

Associated General Contractors of America reports construction material prices from January 2021 to January 2022 increased 20%, and material prices had record increases throughout 2021. What would the $127 million complex cost if it were built today?
The cost of this project today, I believe, could easily be 20% to 30% higher.

Labor shortages and wage increases have impacted many industries, but acute shortages in construction have been ongoing for more than a decade. This project did keep on schedule, but was workforce a challenge?
Workforce certainly has been a challenge for the past two years, and we were very fortunate to have a really solid group of specialty trade partners. This was a significant portion of their annual revenue out of this one project. They gave it the attention that it demanded. There was not a single day that the project didn’t proceed because of COVID.

How did this project impact your office operations?
It’s a very significant project for J.E. Dunn and DeWitt. It’s an atypically large project for southwest Missouri. It certainly did have an impact on our local Springfield office operations, and it limited the ability we had to do other projects for a period of time. But we also, because (J.E. Dunn) has so many resources throughout the region, we brought some folks that have specific experience in building this type of facility to the table to support our local staff. Our lead superintendent is Justin Shorter, and he lives right here locally. One of the projects he did within the past few years was a very similar prison project in San Diego. Our senior project manager that he worked with on that project in San Diego was the senior project manager for Greene County. To bring together the experience and expertise that the county and the Sheriff’s Department has in knowing what they need, that’s really the whole key to success.

David Atkisson can be reached at david.atkisson@jedunn.com.

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