When opportunity knocks…

Not every builder wants to grow, but sometimes opportunity just breaks down the door. A client has a need, you figure out how to provide it and suddenly you discover that you possess a unique ? and marketable ? skill.

That’s how Fry Properties in Naperville, Ill., added a technology sideline, Fry Tech Solutions, to its main building and development business.

As Fry was finishing a luxury home, the time had come for its electronics subcontractor to install a home theater system with whole-house audio, security system and wiring for cable TV, phones and computers, recalls Joe LaPaglia, Fry’s executive vice president. But the subcontractor was doing only the minimum instead of completing the job by installing the actual gear.

LaPaglia said, “I finally called the sub and asked, ‘Where are the screens, the flat-panel TV and the rest of the hardware?’” But that wasn’t what the subcontractor had in mind.

“We want to wait until the owner takes occupancy so we can go one-on-one with the family,” the subcontractor told LaPaglia.

LaPaglia was not happy, because he knew that the busy owner was expecting a turnkey job — completed before occupancy — instead of having to fiddle around for four to six weeks for the job to be finished.

Fry and the sub negotiated a settlement, but it led LaPaglia to realize that electronics subcontractors did not want to work that way. Moreover, members of his own staff could buy and install the required electronic gadgets on commercial and institutional jobs, especially for their specialty — churches — and deliver a fully completed project the way a turnkey client expects.

“Now, when we hand over a project, it is ready to be used,” he said.

As an example, LaPaglia cited the Knox Presbyterian Church in Naperville. The church was dedicated in June.

“In churches, electronics are huge components,” he said. “The Knox congregation spent $375,000 on audio-visual equipment, lighting and acoustic panels in a sanctuary that seats 600.”
Doing the work in-house cost significantly less than the subcontractors’ bids, saved the congregation money, completed the project on time and contributed to Fry’s profit. Everyone came out ahead, in part because of two other kinds of management technology:

Construction management at risk

Construction management is no longer new, but some owners, especially with small projects, are unaware that CM-at-risk combines the advantages of construction management with the guaranteed price they associate with conventional design/bid.

LaPaglia has developed a PowerPoint presentation that explains how the process enables him to work with full disclosure of all costs. If the project winds up exceeding the guarantee, Fry assumes the risk. It worked especially well on the Knox project because the owner was able to see exactly how much Fry Tech Solutions was saving the church.

Constructware management software from Autodesk

It is similar to other project management programs with one big difference: The program resides on an Autodesk server, where it can be accessed remotely by field superintendents, subcontractors and anyone who needs information about project status.

All maintenance, updates and bug fixes are handled by Autodesk, which helps hold down Fry’s technical support requirements to no more than can be done by one person on his 20-member staff. The cost is $900 per user per year.

And other considerations

LaPaglia said church building is an underserved market, requiring expertise not readily found among architects and contractors. It involves analysis of the congregation’s worship style, acoustics, music preferences, location of the choir, lighting needs and even mediation services as congregation members work out compromises between conflicting goals.

For example, a church designed to show off a powerful organ will make the spoken word hard to hear. Rock music, with drums and guitars, works best in a sanctuary with a fairly dead sound characteristic. If compromises are needed, Fry Tech has the experience and expertise to guide the congregation.

The electronics in the Knox church include theatrical lighting, video system with three high-definition cameras (two remotely controlled), two large screens in front and one in back, a flat-panel display in the gathering space for messages, security cameras with a continuously looping digital video recorder, and high-tech access control.

Most churches control building access with keys, but before long it gets out of control. Hundreds of keys might be given out with little accountability. LaPaglia set up Knox with a card system that can be reprogrammed periodically.

One job Fry is not handling in-house involves the church’s organ, although it was able to offer helpful advice about options and costs. The congregation upgraded its previous, 25-rank pipe organ to a 53-rank instrument, with the additional ranks enhanced digitally.

LaPaglia said organ purists might object to a digital component on such a venerable instrument, but the sound produced by the previous organ was too small to fill the new church, and an all-pipe solution would have cost upwards of a half million dollars. Only the most acute ear is able to detect which notes are digitally enhanced, LaPaglia said. The compromise held the cost to $275,000, in addition to the $375,000 for audio-visual equipment.

Harmonious relationships

The architect, Jaeger, Nickola and Associates of Park Ridge, Ill., and the construction manager were brought on early in the design process, said Douglas E. Lasch, AIA, a principal with the firm. He called the project “very successful” and praised the harmony among architect, owner and construction manager. The church, too,  was pleased with Fry’s management and technical expertise.

“They were excellent to work with,” said James G. Jones, facilities steering committee chairperson. “They put a lot of effort into understanding the trade-offs, so we were able to make decisions with our eyes open. The whole management operation was very professional.”

For information about Fry Tech Solutions, see www.frytechsolutions.com. Its subsidiary, J.G. Rock Inc. (www.jgrock.com), provides building services for commercial construction management projects. The parent company’s Web site is www.fryproperties.com.
For information about Autodesk Constructware, see http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/index?id=6871224&

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