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Messer thrives by building on campus

Construction industry turns to colleges, health care


In a challenging environment for commercial construction — an environment made more challenging by federal budget cuts — one company is succeeding by going back to school.

Or, to be clearer, back to higher education. Cincinnati-based construction manager and general contractor Messer is engaged in large building and renovation projects on Ohio campuses. Three of the most recent projects that have started or soon will include:

  • Leading a team of construction and design companies on a $370 million dormitory complex at The Ohio State University in Columbus.
  • Working on a $84.5 million renovation of Miami University’s East Quad array of buildings, a complex that will include six buildings, 900 residential beds and a dining facility.
  • Serving as construction manager on the $37 million Wright State University Neurosciences Engineering Collaboration building. Ground was broken on the WSU campus in April, and the building is expected to be ready by early 2015.

 

Messer is also involved in other campus projects in Ohio and beyond. For example, Messer-led work on the Hoff Academic Quad at Xavier University involved more than 122 subcontracts, 500,000 “effort-hours,” nine bid packages, 200 bid categories and nearly 200,000 square feet of new construction, the company said.

John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., said certain sectors have become reliable sources of work in a tough economy.

“For the past few years, health care and higher education have upheld the construction industry,” Morris said.

Other sectors have seen new strength in the Dayton area, too, Morris said. He cited ongoing retail growth at Austin Landing, near the new Interstate 75 interchange south of Dayton, as well as racino construction in Dayton.

But health care and education are crucial at a time when big projects can be scarce, at least compared to pre-recession years, Morris said.

“We know our industry will never get back to the point where we had years of backlog,” Morris said. Today, general contractors need solid relationships with customers and a solid reputation to thrive, he said.

Messer seems to have both, said David Creamer, Miami University vice president for finance and business services.

“We’ve worked with them before,” Creamer said. “They have a strong presence in Southwestern Ohio.”

“What’s unique is certainly we have a couple of focused markets — certainly higher education,” said Thomas Belanich Sr., Messer senior business development manager in the company’s Kettering office.

Founded in 1932, Messer employs about 750 builders and is involved in nearly $800 million of commercial construction in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Locally, the company may be best known for teaming with Dayton-based Danis in building the Schuster Center for the Performing Arts downtown. The company’s client list in the area also includes Reynolds and Reynolds, the University of Dayton, the Dayton STEM School and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where Messer is engaged in a nearly $6 million renovation and rebuilding of an optics lab.

The “Dayton (market) is holding its own,” Belanich said.

In the immediate Dayton area, the new WSU neurosciences building is likely Messer’s biggest project. Anyone walking the campus today would notice that the 90,000-square-foot building will rise between the WSU Boonshoft School of Medicine and the Russ Engineering Center.

For a building meant to bridge the disciplines of medicine and engineering, that’s appropriate.

“That wasn’t by accident,” said Robert Thompson, an architect for WSU.

The site will be home to 55 researchers and hundreds of graduate students and research assistants working to bring academic research to market. The work will unite engineers, neuroscientists and doctors, Thompson said.

“To our knowledge, this is the first building of its kind to bring these three users groups in one space,” Thompson said.

WSU worked with Messer under a new state law allowing “construction management at risk,” Thompson said. Instead of simply handing the job to the lowest bidder, the law allows public institutions to work with a construction manager from project design to post-construction work, he said. The idea is to foster creativity and teamwork.

“We’ve had our construction partners with us basically since the onset of the (neurosciences) project,” he said.

“We’re optimistic and confident about the pipeline of projects going forward,” Belanich said.



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