When it comes to building projects, clients expect a higher level of specific expertise than ever from their architects, engineers and construction managers. Firms that provide these services have adapted over the years, deepening their areas of specialization by industry as well as by service area.
BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers began to specialize in K-12 and other education projects in the late 1980s, and over the last two decades, the Patchogue-based firm has designed educational facilities totaling about $3 billion in construction costs. The firm’s current projects include district-wide capital improvements for the Comsewogue Union Free School District in Port Jefferson Station, a new school building for the Hempstead Union Free School District and an extension to an existing building at Long Island University in Brookville to accommodate a new business incubator.
“There are so many nuances to education spaces, like any other category of design,” said Roger Smith, founding principal of BBS. “It takes specialized expertise to design appropriate spaces for education programs that are constantly changing. Someone who doesn’t have that expertise would be behind the 8-ball and a little lost.”
Part of the expertise involves dealing with the New York State Education Department in Albany and preparing needs analyses to prepare presentations for local voters.
The firm opened a seven-person office in Albany in March, in part “because it gives us an access point close to the Education Department,” Smith said.
EW Howell Construction Group, a construction management and general contracting firm based in Plainview, has specialties in the areas of retail and hospitality, arts and culture, K-12 and higher education, and healthcare.
“It’s fair to say clients expect high levels of specialization,” said Director of Business Development John Finamore. “Clients are more sophisticated, and they expect personnel with skills and experience in that sector to be matched to their projects. Regulatory and safety requirements, as well as building information modeling systems, are specific to sector, so specialization leads to many efficiencies.”
While there are pros to specializing in a particular industry, there are also cons. “The con of specialization in any field and in construction in particular is you get very channeled, and it’s important to concurrently be cognizant of the trends in the industry,” Finamore said. “For instance, if you were just building Blockbuster (video stores) and not in tune with future trends, you wouldn’t be in business anymore.”
With its big focus on K-12 education, BBS must contend with the challenges of a short building season.
“Our K-12 clients want everything to happen during the two-and-a-half-month time span in the summer when school is out,” Smith said. “If there is a lot of work, there may be a shortage of contractors and skilled professionals.”
Another potential drawback is that “when you’re specialized, people might think your capabilities are only there,” he said. However, BBS’s expertise in K-12 education helped it make the necessary connections to make inroads to other public projects. “It helped us get into other municipal work,” Smith said.
The company has designed various types of public facilities over the years, including libraries, historic preservation projects, recreation facilities and playgrounds. Current projects include additions and alterations to the Port Jefferson Free Library and several historic preservation projects for Suffolk County.
H2M architects + engineers, an 85-year-old Melville-based multidisciplinary firm, has evolved since its early days, when it focused on civil engineering and water resource engineering to support Long Island’s development into the nation’s first suburb.
As demand for different services have become more complex – especially over the last 20 years – “we felt it was important to develop services in-house so we could solve all of our clients’ problems with internal expertise,” said CEO Rich Humann, a professional engineer. The company now provides a full suite of services within its original categories as well as many additional ones, including architecture, environmental engineering and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering. “We don’t have to go outside – we have everything in-house to meet the increasingly complex needs of clients. We have evolved into a one-stop shop for professional engineering and architectural services.”
With its comprehensive services, the firm can continue to meet clients’ needs as they evolve.
“A perfect example of this within K-12 education is the recent focus on security,” Humann said. “We have people internally who have done a lot of research and talked to school districts about the alternatives available to them, such as lobbies with bulletproof entrances, new alarm systems or CCTV systems, to be responsive to some of the tragedies that have occurred in other places in the country. We didn’t wait for another company who specializes in these types of systems to come along. We invested in our own people and committed them to research what can be done to fortify school buildings.”
Over the last five years alone, the company, which now has seven offices, has grown from about 220 employees to 400 as it has “achieved deeper levels of expertise in a number of disciplines.” It has also broadened its industry specializations, which include education, assisted living, emergency services, energy and utility, and other municipal projects.
The firm’s growth and broadening of services and industries was achieved in part through acquisitions. In 2013, H2M acquired Carle Place-based David L. Mammina Architects, which brought that firm’s expertise in assisted living in-house. David Mammina, who now leads H2M’s healthcare and senior living practice, “sits on a board that assists the state in establishing design criteria for assisted living facilities, and we get to bring his expertise to our clients,” Humann said.
“Since then, we have done seven more acquisitions, and all of them have either enhanced our expertise in a given field or injected a new area of expertise,” Humann said.
BBS expands ownership
As part of a planned succession, BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers expanded its ownership – for the first time since 1985 – to include six new partners. The timing was right, according to Founding Principal Roger Smith, an American Institute of Architects member who has owned the Patchogue-based firm for 33 years and who became the sole owner about a dozen years ago.
“We have very dedicated people who have been here for 15, 20 or 25 years, and we have the opportunity to invest back in the firm with the people who have invested in the firm,” he said. “We have great work ahead of us, and we have great work behind us. This is an opportunity for people who have given so much to the firm to sink their teeth in as owners and enjoy it.”
The new partners are Frederick Seeba, a professional engineer, and five American Institute of Architects members: Lawrence Salvesen, Kevin Walsh, Kenneth Schupner, Joseph Rettig and Gary Schiede. Five of the six new partners are, like Smith, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professionals. The new partners have led design efforts for many of the firm’s projects over the years.
As Smith looks to his future, he also wanted to secure the firm’s future. “This is not a new development; it’s a thought process that has been a couple of years in the making,” he said. “I wanted to know that the health of the firm would live on well beyond me, and I thought it would be best to start the transition sooner than later, so that it would be allowed to flourish. I’m already watching these guys take over the firm in a lot of ways.” Though he has been “stepping back somewhat,” Smith said he plans to continue to be “involved for the next several years for sure.”
H2M’s integrated approach
As it has grown to be a one-shop stop for its clients’ architectural, engineering and water needs, Melville-based H2M architects + engineers went through a significant structural change, realigning its executive team earlier this year.
Dennis Kelleher, a professional engineer who was previously head of H2M’s water division, is now the principal market director. Steven Hyman, a professional engineer who previously served as director of H2M’s civil engineering division, was promoted to principal office director. Registered architect Joe Mottola was promoted from director of H2M’s architectural division to deputy chief operating officer. “We decided it was best to not approach clients through discipline eyes, but through market eyes,” CEO Rich Humann said. “For instance, we don’t want to approach our K-12 or industry clients through just architecture, but through the full suite of services that we can offer to the marketplace. It’s a paradigm shift for our company.”
Kelleher will “take a look at the entire business approach, to ensure we’re consistent in how we’re servicing our clients in all seven of our offices,” Humann said. “He is also charged with creating a new core of excellence internally to bring the best of each discipline to bear – so we can be cutting edge with technology and approaches to project execution.”
Hyman is responsible for managing the company’s regional office expansion and leading the coordinated management of the locations in New York City, upstate Westchester, Suffern and Albany; and Parsippany and Howell Township in New Jersey. As deputy COO, Mottola’s role is to work with longtime COO Gary Loesch to develop strategies for running the firm’s disciplines.
August 21, 2018