Top of the Pyramid
Mention government work and the first word that comes to mind might be "paperwork." Certainly, the institutional memory built up over 200 years has made the procurement process lengthy, yet some roofing contractors thrive in this arena. The open marketplace with its Darwinian resolve usually rewards the fittest company, yet it is easy to hide treachery in the instruments of capitalism where one sour general contractor can take down many subcontractors. This is why it's refreshing to see an environment that rewards integrity and skill, as well as efficiency and frugality. While only the most critical defense contractors can depend on government largess, one company finds that going after government work keeps a business savvy.
When the massive Chet Holifield Federal Building in Laguna Niguel, Calif., needed its distinctive Ziggurat roofing replaced, the elaborate bid process involved three separate committees, two bidding rounds and a significant investment by potential teams to prepare designs for a project they might not win. Rather than wince at the expense, Ed McConnell, president of Western Roofing in San Francisco, a member of the TECTA America group, sees a benefit for both roofing contractors and large building owners. Although it's only the second time in 20 years that he's prepared such design/build projects on spec, that may change.
"There are very few of those. It's a process that's up and coming," says McConnell. "It's a process we prefer. It keeps a contractor on his toes to ensure performance."
Many StoriesThe Chet Holifield Federal Building, named after a Southern California Congressman who served his constituents until he was 70, is a seven-story Ziggurat shaped building that houses thousands of government employees, serves many citizens each day and even stores archival materials regarding the history of the western United States. Built in 1971, the built-up roof on the different levels needed replacement, along with plaza decking, landscaping basins and flashing around the helicopter pad. The General Services Administration - also a tenant of the building - administered the project and has a long list of regulations that are considered straightforward enough to be followed (see Roofing Contractor, May 2003, pg. 64). McConnell believes that this building was particularly sensitive for such precautions and prefers an open process that qualifies contractors and reduces favoritism.
Three panels were set up to separately evaluate the price, the bidding teams and the proposal for reroofing. The first bid was a prequalification of contractors that concentrated on the background of the contractors and designers working on the project. No prices or products were included in this round and five roofing contractors and/or design firms were selected.
Western Roofing had teamed up with CRC consulting to lead the design work; Polyglass western regional manager John BeChanbt for the self-adhered membrane; and Universal Roofing for the sprayed polyurethane foam portion of the project. There were also other contractors for waterproofing and landscaping, plus the GSA hired a roof consultant to oversee the work.
It was quite a risk - McConnell estimates that the two-month process cost $20,000 - but it paid off when the team was low bidder, which was not integral to winning the bid. Apparently the leaks had been going on for some time since there were tarps in the interior and numerous patch jobs trying to prevent damage to national archives.
"They did everything. One roof had thousands of feet where it opened up like an earthquake," says Don Branson, project supervisor with Western Roofing. He added that there were a number of changes as the job progressed. "It's a pretty involved project. That's the business. That's the way it is."
Western Roofing, founded in 1953 and currently employing 250, performs mostly commercial, government and institutional work, installing everything from BUR to EPDM to metal. Branson says that his company has been installing a lot of self-adhered membranes due to concerns over emissions, whether they come from asphalt or solvents.
"One of the biggest reasons for using it, people don't want the chemicals and the smells," says Branson. "And it's cleaner than using cold process."
"The crews love it. They're able to stay clean throughout the process," concurs BeChanbt. "They pretty much train themselves to make a clean room. It's good housekeeping."
High GrowthBeChanbt is seeing growing demand for Polyglass's self-adhered membranes because of those properties. There is a heightened concern about open flames and fumes on the job. Although many roofing contractors have an almost emotional attachment to hot applied asphalt, he believes that self-adhered modified bitumen provides a natural evolution for contractors to embrace. It combines the historic and undeniable benefits of asphalt with the real need to address current environmental, labor and building occupant issues. The latter has become a major concern with so much HVAC found on commercial roofs.
"It's always a big issue," says BeChanbt. "There were intake fans all over the (Holifield) building. There were no odors in this thing. When (the self-adhered membrane) first came out, it was primarily a residential product. We're pushing our focus to the commercial arena. It's evolved into a system."
The job started on the top roof in the late winter and was nearly complete by the end of November. The BUR was torn off and replaced with two base sheets and a Polyglass self-adhered MB membrane with a granular coating; the GSA optioned for a 20-year no-dollar-limit warranty. Some asbestos turned up in the flashing and since some ceilings were found to have asbestos coatings, fasteners were ruled out. After a few change orders, the insulation was adhered with foam and covered with SPF.
BeChanbt thinks that Western Roofing assembled an effective team that not only met the challenges of the job, but also effectively conveyed their abilities during the presentation process. Western Roofing has performed government projects around the world and is keenly aware that each one has a final report submitted that is used on future bids. While his own background with government projects was helpful with areas like contacts and procedure, BeChanbt believes that it was the presentation during the selection process that won the day.
"Western Roofing, in my opinion, did the best job by far in presenting the bid to them," he says.