You don’t have to be a contractor to realize there’s more to commercial construction than groundbreakings and grand openings. But not all commercial property owners see it that way. Armed with architectural plans, many believe they can fill a construction manager’s shoes and bid out to multiple general contractors, saving time and money in the process. Mark Stevens knows otherwise.

Stevens, the founder and president of Stevens Construction, Inc. in Fort Myers, has watched many contractor-wannabes derail commercial projects with cost overruns and poor management. He says they don’t understand that the success of any commercial project begins preconstruction, long before the plans are drawn or the first spade of soil is scooped. This approach to construction management has served his company and clients well.

Since its establishment in 2004, Stevens Construction has won numerous industry accolades for its commercial projects located from Naples to Venice and beyond. Most recently, it won five Summit Awards from the Lee Building Industry Association’s Commercial Contractors Council, including top Design/Build honors for its company headquarters and several more for Best Healthcare Building in various price categories.

More important, the company has won the respect and admiration of its commercial clients, as well as other contractors and developers. For instance, although The Jack Parker Corporation usually builds its own projects, earlier this year it hired Stevens Construction to build Parker Commons. Located off Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers, the recently completed 88,500sf condominium office park features 10 buildings encircling a bell tower and water fountain.

“Stevens Construction has an excellent reputation and is well known for providing top-quality work,” said Kerry Trowbridge, the corporation’s senior vice president. “With the (numerous other projects) we had going on at the time, we felt that we would be best served to work with an outside contractor on Parker Commons.” Stevens Construction fit the bill.

“The entire team was extremely professional throughout every step of the project,” said Kerry Trowbridge. “We are very pleased with this project,” which Stevens completed on schedule and according to budget. In other words, it was another perfect example of the contractor’s approach to commercial construction management.

“The old-fashioned approach to construction just doesn’t cut it these days,” says Stevens. “The marketplace is so busy right now that if you go out with plans in hand, and ask several contractors or subcontractors for bids, you’re probably not going to get a very good response.” In fact, you may not get a response at all.

Going it alone today can also be expensive. In the time it takes to design a project and hire qualified subcontractors to build it, escalating labor and material costs often hike the price of construction to unexpected and unaffordable heights. Also, unless the owner already owns a parcel that’s properly zoned and permitted for the intended commercial use, site selection and entitlement is certain to add to the expenses and delays.

That’s where an experienced construction manager can be an invaluable resource. “The problem is, there are a lot of people in the contracting business who really don’t even know what construction management services are, let alone how to provide them,” says Stevens. “There’s a big difference between true construction management and simply providing a couple of budgets when a project is in design.”

Services

Typically, Stevens Construction works with clients who own property, and involves them in every aspect of their project’s design and construction. “First, we identify what their budget is and what they can get for that amount, and then we follow a proven system for designing and building the project on time and on budget,” says Stevens. “Our ultimate goal is to make sure that their project gets built the way they want it, with no surprises along the way.”

The company’s preconstruction services are diverse, addressing everything from site selection and project scheduling to quality control and inspections. “Sometimes, we’ll just observe how (a client) runs their practice or business before we meet with the architect. That helps us know what products or design to recommend and allows them to make informed decisions,” he says.

In some cases, a feasibility study is in order. “It’s demoralizing when a staff looks forward to moving to a new state-of-the-art facility, only to find out later that the company can’t afford to build it,” says Stevens. He adds that while it’s difficult to predict how high prices will go, the company scrutinizes historical costs and current cost data, as well as trends in building systems.

“Along the way, we educate and advise our clients, while setting up contingencies,” he says. “That prevents any huge surprises.”

By discussing objectives and financial boundaries early on, disappointments are rare for Stevens Construction’s clients. Further, they receive cost updates throughout the design phase. That way, depending on whether they’re over or under budget, clients have the opportunity to add or subtract certain amenities or elements before construction begins.

Other Cost Considerations

While cost issues can make or break construction plans, Stevens and his staff emphasize that price isn’t everything. For example, by focusing on getting the best deal on a piece of property, a client may overlook the reasons behind its bargain price, such as a lack of infrastructure or low elevation. Without a cost analysis, a potential owner could end up paying more to develop the property than to buy it.

Stevens also notes that all too often, developers and owners dwell on the initial cost of construction without considering life-cycle costs. For instance, the company recently completed a study of floor coverings for a surgery center it is building for a physician group. The study showed that if the owners chose something other than their initial flooring selection, it would cost $25,000 more to install.

However, closer study also revealed that the pricier flooring would perform better and require far less maintenance in the long run. “In fact, when we looked at the maintenance costs and compared them to the upfront cost, we figured that in 3.3 years they will recoup their initial outlay,” Stevens says. “After that, it’s money in their pocket.”

The cost and availability of materials and labor can also influence a building’s design and overall structure, as was the case with a 10,000sf project that Stevens Construction is now building. “Early on, we discussed whether we should construct a tilt-up, standard concrete block or metal building,” he says. After analyzing the three different building systems and their life-cycle costs, the company concluded that concrete block and masonry construction was the best building method for that particular project.

Projects & Clients This year, Stevens Construction will build more than $40 million in commercial projects. Some are complicated medical facilities that involve working with architects, specialty contractors, technical equipment vendors and other professionals. In fact, they’re often the ones asking Stevens Construction to join them on jobs.

Currently, Lyn Pollock, AIA, a principal in Burt Hill/Pollock Krieg Architects, Inc., is working with the firm on the construction of the St. Mark’s Surgery Center, an outpatient surgical facility in south Fort Myers. According to Pollock, it’s an extremely complex project, due to the level of finishes and features, such as special HVAC systems and filters, electrical systems and more.

“It is a very special project because it has to be approved and licensed by the state of Florida, which Mark understands completely,” says Pollock, who has known Stevens for the past 13 years. “There are few people who have his level of expertise in that arena. He understands the concerns that the state will have, which makes our job easier.”

Pollock adds that because Stevens works with other designers and owners on other projects, his opinion is prized. “We value what he thinks about how a building should go together, as well as his ideas on certain aspects of design as it relates to construction. We have a great respect for each other and work well as a team.”

The company also has several other surgical facilities completed or underway in Southwest Florida, including the 10,531sf Center for Surgical Excellence in Venice. Besides healthcare facilities and medical office buildings, approximately half of Stevens’ work involves a wide variety of commercial structures starting in the $500,000 range.

Key projects include:

¥ Florida Hospital (Sebring):A two-story, 50,000sf hospital addition with 36 patient rooms and ground-floor shell space. Remarkably, Stevens completed the project in just eight months.

¥ South Seas Plantation (Captiva Island): Severely damaged by Hurricane Charley, the unique island property is currently being upgraded to a five-star resort. Stevens is in the process of building a 15,000sf restaurant/bar, along with two acres of site amenities that include two large pools and a spa. Completion is expected by the end of the year.

¥ Office/Industrial Building (Fort Myers): Located in Benchmark Corporate Park, the 13,128sf project includes an interior office build-out of 7,700+sf and an additional 5,372sf of future lease space. A complete list of the company’s current and completed projects can be found by visiting www.stevensconstructioninc.com.

Key Corporate Staff

Based on their extensive experience in construction, the management team at Stevens Construction works closely with commercial owners to facilitate construction, expediting what can be a lengthy and frustrating process. Each team member is highly qualified.

¥ Mark Stevens, President and Founder. A resident of Lee County since 1975, Stevens has more than 20 years of construction industry experience in the local market. He holds a B.S. in building construction from the University of Florida and is also an OSHA-certified, Florida-licensed General Contractor.

Thus far in his career, Stevens has managed more than 150 commercial building projects with a combined value of more than $300 million. Under his direction, Stevens Construction has grown to 26 employees, including three corporate directors.

¥ Terri Sobeck, Director of Administration, has 13 years of experience in the local construction industry, working in marketing, project development and project administration. She is a native of Fort Myers.

¥ Chris Campbell, Director of Project Development, is another Fort Myers native who has worked for construction and commercial contracting firms for the last 15 years. He graduated from Auburn University, where he earned degrees in construction management and architectural design.

¥ Troy Hernly, Director of Construction. Before joining Stevens Construction, Hernly worked for commercial developers throughout the Midwest. Although half of his 20-year career has been focused exclusively on commercial construction, he is also well versed in site development and infrastructure programs.

Original article published in the Sept/Oct issue of Suite Life Magazine. Written by Elizabeth W. Pearce