Post frame with panache: Working with architects

An architect isn’t generally one of those positions every post-frame builder has tucked away in their arsenal of professional consultants but there are arguments for why they should be. One contractor who uses architects on a regular basis is Bob Lotspeich of SL Construction, Archie, Mo. He says architects have saved him money and he’s been working with them since 1972, with several award-winning projects to show for the effort.

“Many builders think architects are out to do a job the most expensive way they can but what I tell them is, they can save you money,” Lotspeich says.

Post frame convenience store

Post frame can be beautiful with the help of an architect as evidenced by this conversion of a mega-stall carwash into a large convenience store. -SL Construction photo

In explanation, Lotspeich says many areas of the country are now requiring stamped, architectural plans for nearly everything short of a woodshed. While that may still be the exception not the rule, the trend is growing and some municipalities in the Kansas City area, where his business is based, have stringent requirements. Working with trusted architects helps him navigate the system.

“It also saves me money in the long run because I don’t forget things,” he adds. “As careful as you are, there’s always something you won’t see, especially when you get into the light commercial.”

Kids, Inc. daycare center

Kids, Inc. daycare center also received the Lotspeich-Delmont touch. - SL Construction photo

SL Construction works primarily in light commercial and some ag construction, working in both post-frame and steel-frame markets. As a dealer for Lester Buildings, he prefers post frame. “90 percent of our work is post frame,” he says. “If we can’t make post frame work, then I go with all steel.”

Lotspeich can’t always pick the architect, sometimes a customer makes that call. In that case, it might mean spending some time helping to educate that architect on post frame since post frame is not taught at your typical architectural school. He generously espouses the benefits of the website [for architects using Lester Buildings] because they can quickly spec a post frame on the site.

In many cases, however, Lotspeich gets to pick an architect and he has his ways of finding the good ones. “You want to find one that’s open minded,” he offers. “In other words, he doesn’t have all these paradigms that architects have that it has to be a certain way.”

Even a simple auto sales shop can benefit from an architect's touch. - SL Construction photo

He suggests looking for one located in a smaller community rather than a large metropolitan area because they are more likely to know about post frame or more open to learning about it.

Because local code officials also work with architects, he offers another suggestion to ask those officials which architects they find most helpful.

“To be a successful builder you have to network,” Lotspeich believes. “Architects are wonderful to have in your network because sometimes they’ll hear about a project before you do.”

An architect he has worked with on numerous projects is Jim Delmont owner of The Design Club, Harrisonville, Mo. Delmont spent 16 years of his career designing concrete correctional facilities, then set up shop in 2004 as an independent architect where he was soon introduced to post frame and Lotspeich.

Delmont says pre-engineered post frame lends itself well to the kind of architectural customization a customer often wants. “You can do so much with this it’s incredible,” he says. “I like staying in this medium because it is so flexible.”

He says most of his post frame projects are fairly conservative. “I like to have fun with design but I try not to get elaborate on things,” he says. “You can only go with what the rural client will allow.”

He also likes the fact that he can help achieve a look quickly and affordably. “These buildings go together so quick and they don’t cost me a fortune to do them,” he explains, going on to sing the praises of post-frame building manufacturers like Lester. “You can go out and build this stuff but the engineering and the type of details these manufacturers provide you just makes work for the architect so flexible.”

Lotspeich concurs, explaining that he’ll talk to the customer first to see what the project entails and if at all possible have the architect design it using a Lester post-frame package. He has expanded his network to the point now where more architects are discovering the ease of post frame and they are in turn offering it as an option to their customers.

“For instance, Jim will push post frame above a stick frame, above steel buildings if he thinks it will work,” Lotspeich explains. “Jim will call and ask ‘will this work’ and if it will, I’ll tell him, ‘sure, it’ll work.’ Then he goes in and takes what information I’ve given him over the years, knowing the column spacings and how we can put headers in to accommodate doors, windows in different spots and it works really good.”

He has other architects also seeking post-frame, which benefits his business down the road. “I work with a lot of cities and architects on water treatment plants. They’ll come to me and say, ‘this is what we’ve got, can we do this with a post-frame building’ and I’ll look at it and if we can I’ll say, ‘sure we can’ or if not I’ll say, ‘well if we change this a little bit, yes we can.’ I have buildings I’m bidding on in Oklahoma and Northern Missouri and all over right now. So if you can get networking with architects it’s a big, big asset to you.”

Most engineered post-frame building companies like Lester design their packages in a way that makes customization possible, but it should be noted that there are exceptions.

Delmont further cautions against using a designer who isn’t a licensed architect. “There are things like code considerations that people miss. I look at a building in multiple ways. I design in 3-D. Many people out there are still working on graph paper. They’re trying to think in 3-D while working in 2-D. [Designing] is a big puzzle and I’ve had nearly 30 years of putting that puzzle together. There are headaches I can lead contractors out of.

“A lot of times when Bob and I work together, it’s truly design-build,” Delmont continues. “We get it designed and then we build it. It’s not design-as-we-go. We’ve got 99 percent of it figured out before the job begins. I’m rarely called out to a jobsite to fix something. When I am, it’s usually an unknown issue like something underground.”

One recent job that has received the Delmont and Lotspeich touch is a 4,000 square foot daycare center that for Delmont was a flashback to his past. “Childcares are a lot like jail cells: you give them so many feet,” he says half-jokingly in reference to codes.

Other projects have included a 5,000 square foot addition to a 1921 church and the conversion of a mega-stall carwash to a large convenience store.

Underway at the time of this interview was a museum project in Pleasant Hill, Mo., to create a building that will fit into a late-1800s historic downtown district. It is built as one building but has the look of two side-by-side storefronts.

“This particular building is 50 foot wide,” Lotspeich describes. “We used a mono truss, coming off the existing museum to the left of it. We stepped up about 2 to 3 feet to make it look a little higher for the first 25 feet, then we stepped up another 2 to 3 feet for the last 30 feet. It’s a totally different storefront. One of them has the big columns out front and the show windows and the other one is where you walk in. We’re doing it in Moderra brick on the front and the side to blend right into the rest of the downtown district. For the roof we’re using SIPs with a standing seam roof. On the inside it’s all open.”

Neither Lotspeich nor Delmont go out of their way to look for awards but the awards manage to find them. Their collaboration has yielded several Lester Award of Excellence honors and honorable mention for Building of the Year by the National Frame Building Association. – By Sharon Thatcher, Rural Builder

Related information:
Online Model Guide Specification Generator – The National Frame Building Association has developed a Model Guide Specification in CSI three-part format for post-frame building systems. The association has also programmed an online application that may be used to generate a customized specification to meet the needs of any post-frame building project.




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