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Mennonite Campus Site Brings Local Contractors Together in Good Faith

Wed July 05, 2000 - Northeast Edition
Mark Hoffman

When B. R. Kreider & Sons was approached about performing the excavating work for the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) five acre (2 hectare) Orientation Campus in Akron, Lancaster County, PA, the firm did what comes naturally and called on friends and competitors for help.

Excavating work on the $4-million project is being performed by five different contractors: Allgyer Excavating Inc., of Womelsdorf, Berks County, and four Lancaster County firms: Andrews Excavating of Willow Street, Flyway Excavating of Lititz, D.H. Funk & Sons of Columbia, and B. R. Kreider & Sons of Manheim. Kreider also is coordinating the work and reporting to MCC’s general contractor Benchmark Construction, Lititz.

“In the busy construction market today, all contractors are busy. It would be difficult to find one excavator able to meet the demands of the project,” said Ken Kreider, president of the excavating firm bearing his name. “A lot of contractors wanted to help on this project because of the good work that the Mennonite Central Committee does. But, if you put it out to bid, only one gets to help. These way, everyone gets to make a contribution.”

Contribution is the key, Kreider said. All of the excavators are working together without a contract. All of the firms will bill MCC directly for their services. MCC also will deal directly with the vendors.

“I handpicked the contractors I wanted to invite to work on the job,” Kreider said. “No one knows the quality of the work better than your competitors. Having no contract is no big deal. As long as you do the job and see that it is done right, there is no need for a quote or a contract. The concept here is for everyone to work together for a charity. Everyone knows what the projected costs are, but we are optimistic that everyone will discount their work and materials. We all know that the purpose of this job is not to make a profit, but to further the cause of MCC.”

MCC, a Christian organization, has more than 1,400 workers in 56 different countries, sharing their skills in community development, peacemaking, education, health, food production and administration. In addition, MCC coordinates disaster relief efforts around the globe. The new facility under construction will serve as a training center for workers.

The campus is composed of seven buildings arranged in a cluster — one administrative building, five dormitories and an already existing building which will serve as a dining hall. Work began on the job this spring and will be completed by spring 2001.

Allgyer Excavating Inc., the first firm on site, elected to do the earthmoving.

“We did the site preparation and rough grading,” said Michael Allgyer, owner. He used a Terex TS14 scraper, a Komatsu D66 dozer , a Cat D4 dozer, a Bomag 212 smooth drum compactor and a Morbark chipper to strip the topsoil and put the site to grade. He moved close to 89,000 cubic yards (68,046 cu. m) of dirt.

“We are all working together well. It is kind of fun,” Allgyer said. “We are working side by side with people who are normally our competitors. It is a unique situation and it reflects the Mennonite philosophy that everyone can work together.”

He said the grading was a challenge because all the buildings have different elevations. Each of the buildings, in fact, has two different elevations.

“Kreider is doing a superb job of keeping us all informed. We ended up letting one of the other contractors use our dozer and roller for a couple of days on the job. We are all committed to doing what it takes to keep the project under budget, even if it means forgoing our profit,” Allgyer said.

Allgyer said he rented his equipment from All-Equipment Co., an equipment company he owns and operates. He is optimistic that the exposure on this job will generate new business for his firm.

Bob Woglemuth, project supervisor for Andrews Excavating Inc., said his company took on the task of doing the underground pipe work — 8-inch (20 cm) and 6-inch (15 cm) sewer lines, a 6-inch (15 cm) water line, and 15-inch (38 cm) and 18-inch (46 cm) storm sewer. He used a Caterpillar 953C track loader, a Liebherr 932 excavator, a John Deere 310 backhoe, and an Ingersoll-Rand loader, all owned by the company. He had five people, including himself, on site for the work.

“Things have been going very good. There has been a lot of cooperation. No one gets in anybody’s way. In some ways, it was better. Every contractor has their specific job to do and they know how to do it and when to do it. Everybody is working together and it is making everybody look good,” Woglemuth said. “It felt pretty good just doing our part of the job for a change. You didn’t have to worry about the whole thing. We just got our part done and got out.”

The firm, started in the late 1930s, has about 80 employees.

Flyway Excavating Inc., owned by Brad Chubb, president, is responsible for the foundation excavation and backfill. He is using a 1999 John Deere 410E backhoe and a 1997 Kobelco 150 excavator, both of which he owns, to do the work.

“This is a neat opportunity to do something in a different way to benefit the community. It feels a little bit different. Usually, you have the general contractor pushing you to get the work done. Now, you are pushing yourself. There is friendly banter back and forth between the work crews,” Chubb said.

He said it was an honor for his 18-man firm to be among the 15 excavators and site contractors invited to bid on the project and a privilege to be one of five to work on it.

“This is a very labor-intensive project,” Chubb explained. “It is a unique effort. Everybody flexes and bends and helps everybody out. If someone needs help on their part of the job, we will help them out. With five contractors, we can spread the load around a little bit. We could have done it by ourselves, but we would have used about 50 percent of our resources.”

D.H. Funk & Sons built the rock boulder walls and actually transported boulders from another job of Kreider’s to the site to help complete the project. Funk built three walls — 250 feet by 8 feet (76 by 2.5 m), 50 feet by 6 feet (15 by 2 m), and 70 feet by 4 feet (21 by 1.2 m). The crew used a X200 Hitachi X200 excavator, a Cat 426 backhoe and a Sterling tri-axle dump truck.

“We offered to do the stone walls — our specialty. It’s going very well, considering we have five contractors and everyone has a busy schedule,” said Dennis Funk, owner. “Getting the rocks from other jobs instead of paying quarry prices saved MCC a lot of money. That was good. You do projects like this because you want to help out.”

D.H. Funk, founded in 1976, employs more than 40 people.

Jeff Sturla, director of pre-construction services for Benchmark Construction, has been involved with the project since the very beginning. He visited Egypt and India with MCC officials to get a closer look at the work in the field that the campus is designed to prepare people for.

“Part of the preparation was not just to read up on MCC, but to live it, as well,” Sturla said. “During our visits, we got to experience, to see and to touch the spirit of MCC and to better understand the need for its programs and services. We visited people who have gone through the MCC orientation and we got a sense and a flavor of other cultures.”

He said building unique projects like this energizes everyone.

“God forbid the only thing we had to build were Wal-Marts. I love Wal-Marts. We have built four. We like building them. But, they are just big boxes. It is great to have jobs like this where we help shape the concept and are involved in the design and the construction,” Sturla said.

He said that Benchmark as well as many of the individual excavators were apprehensive about the “hand shake” concept.

“It wasn’t so much the lack of a contract, but concern about coordination. We didn’t think anyone would run away from the job, but we all wondered what it would be like having five excavators on site. How could that run smoothly? But, it has run smoothly. It has been flawless and we are under budget and on schedule,” Sturla said.

“Working without a contract is unheard of these days, but the day-to-day construction worker doesn’t think about that. What is unique is to work in close proximity and in coordination with each other — swapping machines and swapping jobs, just to get it done on time and under budget. Some trades you can do this with, but not all. Excavating lends itself well to this. It is the first job done and then they move off site.”

Rufus Zimmerman, Kreider’s on-site project supervisor, said the work has been a learning experience, in more ways than one.

“I enjoy working with our competitors. No matter how long I have been with the company, there is always a better way to do something. Jobs like this enable you to get a lot of information without poking around too much,” Zimmerman said. “One thing I’ve noticed is that people are working harder at this than if it was one of their own jobs. They are trying to make a good impression with MCC and their peers.”

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