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Transparent and informed preconstruction leads to collaborative construction management success

Posted by April Parsley on August 26th, 2016

Morgan 3Preconstruction services led by industry veterans provide enormous benefits for owners and designers by mapping out a clear vision of delivery and resolving potential challenges before they arise – saving potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in schedule and cost overruns.

Highly successful construction projects are the result of a well-balanced blend of interchangeable cost, schedule, and budget considerations. Developing the construction management skills and know-how to complement each of these components and integrate a myriad of potential issues ever present in the industry requires individuals with a passion for the work, a history of hands-on ingenuity, and a “team-driven” mindset.

F.A. Wilhelm Construction (Wilhelm) believes strongly in the “team-driven” approach providing integrated construction management from more than a dozen seasoned preconstruction providers housed in the midst of seasoned estimators, builders, and tradespersons – all well-versed in construction delivery.

Phil Kenney, Wilhelm’s president says, “Wilhelm’s integrated approach has made the company a leader in the delivery of preconstruction services.” But, according to Kenney, “His company’s success in preconstruction is also built on 93 years of construction experience.”

Integration is key to delivering value

Early inclusion of the construction management team in collaborative development sessions with owners and designers ensures the end project incorporates the goals and vision intended from the onset. This all-inclusive approach sets the tone and structure for how team members impart and share knowledge and work together in a transparent environment focused on the project’s ultimate success.

One of Wilhelm’s value-added preconstruction services is bringing additional resources in relevant “non-traditional” expertise to the table. Wilhelm includes key individuals from it’s in house trade-specific builders, to specialty subcontractors and equipment suppliers, to client advocate leaders dedicated solely to ensuring the building process itself is enjoyable.

Says Kenney, “Wilhelm’s approach to preconstruction integrates staff from other areas not typically considered part of the process. This is what sets Wilhelm’s preconstruction services apart from other companies.”

Doug Gebhardt, a dedicated client advocate and business development manager at Wilhelm, agrees. “At Wilhelm,” he said, “we take a holistic approach to the preconstruction process. At its core, the process is relationship-based – a collaborative effort.”

Traditionally, the industry standard was for business development staff to remove themselves from the process once the opportunity landed. In contrast, Wilhelm’s business development managers stay engaged with the project. Said Gebhardt, “We stay involved at a higher level and become internal client advocates focused and dedicated to the project’s success.” As projects move through preconstruction and construction, client feedback meetings held by business development gauge satisfaction and inform the process. “We continually assess project performance to ensure client expectations are being met. We listen, we ask the right questions, and we pursue solutions that are in the client’s best interests,” said Gebhardt.

Another traditional standard is operations staff engaging at the time of construction in lieu of during design development leaving wide knowledge gaps between designer, preconstruction and construction activities.

Andrew Litke, Operations manager and lead construction manager for healthcare services explains that it is critical for operations managers and project managers, and even superintendents to be involved early.  “Once construction begins, these individuals serve as conduits for transferring information between the preconstruction team and construction crews on site. We’re there to share with the construction team why decisions were made and what the client is looking to achieve. And we’re there to communicate with the clients so they are getting exactly what they want and expect,” Litke said.

Litke also stressed that preconstruction does not end when construction begins. He said members of Wilhelm’s preconstruction team can often be found on site, helping to navigate any issues that might require changes in the design or cost of the project. Kenney said that, like the business development and operations staff, the preconstruction team also stays engaged, conducting site visits and reviewing lessons learned as the project winds up.

Resources are critical

One of the biggest challenges facing many projects and construction managers today is the lack of abundance and availability of skilled labor. In looking at changes in 2016, Dodge Data & Analytics’ 2016 Construction Outlook predicted a 6% growth in construction with project values potentially reaching an estimated $712 billion. This high Bob Kaiser Quote 2growth, coupled with a steady decline in young talent entering the construction trades, are leading to global strains in staffing availability.

Employing a construction management firm with local, long-standing partnerships in the area can really benefit owners challenged with delivering projects in a labor-stretched economy. And, engaging a firm who can self-perform major portions of the work double insulates owners from the impacts associated with not having the right type of labor available.

With Wilhelm’s depth of unmatched resources, they are able to weather labor ebbs and flows using a four-tiered approach. First, as the largest employer of construction labor in Indiana, they house a deep bench of skillsets on hand at all times. Secondly, they embrace diversity – from both an internal and external perspective – drawing upon the expertise and abilities of large multicultural communities. Third, their history of ongoing, fair and collaborative work with subcontractors, vendors and suppliers ensures maximum bidding participation. And lastly, Wilhelm supports and encourages growth of talent in the industry – throughout mentorships, educational opportunities, and financial support – working hands-on to promote and encourage the next generation of builders.

In tight labor markets, clients experience a shortage of in-depth preconstruction services as well. Often firms rely on busy subcontractors and industry experts to provide feedback on scope, budget, schedule and material items – resulting in delivery delays and dated information. A resource-laden preconstruction team is not hindered by harried schedules; instead it is able to produce “as-changes-occur” pricing and scheduling impacts.

Kenney said, strictly speaking, “Wilhelm’s preconstruction team consists of about a dozen people. However, the resources beyond that include several hundred,” he said. “Where we are different is in the number of in-house experts we have able to self-perform the different services that go into a construction project – everything from excavation to commissioning.” Kenney said, “Our preconstruction team has all these resources available to them. When they have a question, they sit down with fellow employees to find the answer.”

In preconstruction, it is essential to understand how a building comes together and how all components mesh. A good preconstruction team has the ability to build the project in their minds and then develop high level estimates with what is often times very limited information. According to Gebhardt, “That’s particularly true early in the process when there may not be much done yet in the way of design.” Wilhelm’s preconstruction team helps clients develop a reasonable budget using what they know about the potential project, or project and its components. Some of that comes from historical databases,” he said, “And, some of it comes from experience.”

Complexity matters

One question owners often ask is when should preconstruction services be used? A good answer to this question is based on the project itself, the project goals, and the timeline. Construction management delivery works extremely well on complex projects with tight timelines. Essentially, the bigger and more complex the project, the bigger and better the benefits realized from preconstruction services.

Healthcare is one of the key markets benefitting from preconstruction. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare is the fastest growing industry in the country with more than a million new jobs expected by 202[1]. This growth is in turn fueling the need for new healthcare construction and renovation of existing facilities.

While this is good news for the construction industry, Gebhardt points out that healthcare projects are unlike most other types of construction projects. “Healthcare is not a commodity construction effort”, said Gebhardt.

Litke shared that healthcare projects are more complex. He explained that medical offices, hospitals, emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and nursing facilities all have unique requirements that make preconstruction critical to their successful construction or renovation.

Bob Kaiser, Executive Director of Design and Construction for IU Health Bloomington said one of the most important things in healthcare construction is an understanding of hospital regulations and requirements relative to construction. He said that when his organization was deciding on a company to build the IU Health Morgan facility in Martinsville, Indiana, “We were also focused on a background of experience in renovation and an understanding of sequencing and infection control guidelines.”

IU Health hired Wilhelm as construction manager to turn the 40-year-old Morgan County Hospital into a state-of-the-art ambulatory care facility that would meet the needs of people requiring urgent care and outpatient care.

Litke said there are a lot of small details that preconstruction must work out to ensure a successful build. He said sound deadening is a good example. “Federal requirements dictate that facilities protect private health information,” Litke said noting that “Part of this is ensuring they have a way to protect private conversations about their patients’ health.”

The mechanics of the construction are equally complex. Spaces above ceilings are a big consideration in healthcare projects.” These space must accommodate all utility lines for the floor above, as well as, the ductwork and transfer stations for the pneumatic tubes used to quickly move medicines and paperwork throughout the facility. “You also have to factor in the unique air movement requirements and number of exchanges for the different types of rooms that a healthcare facility might have which also dictates the size of your ductwork,” Litke said. He noted for example that in operating rooms, the ductwork for air supply and return is bigger than it would be for other rooms in the facility. Patient rooms and operating rooms each have their own design criteria.”

Adrianne Rhoades, preconstruction manager for the IU Health Morgan project said that one of the primary goals of preconstruction is to maximize the owner’s budget. “Here at Wilhelm,” she said, “we have a core group of people with extensive experience in healthcare.” Rhoades said that having this kind of knowledge in-house helps teams quickly align budgets to ever-evolving design changes.

Citing the IU Health Morgan project as an example, Rhoades said preconstruction for healthcare facilities is complex with “multiple factors in flux at any given time.” She said the project had to go through several design changes. “It was a very dynamic process,” said Rhoades, “To make it successful, you have to be flexible and able to move with the project.”

Kaiser said working with Wilhelm on this project was highly beneficial for IU Health in a couple of ways. First, Wilhelm worked with IU Health and its architects to balance the project budget. “We had a fixed budget for this project. The number was established well before we knew the total scope of the design. Wilhelm helped balance what we could afford based on our budget and project needs.” Wilhelm’s preconstruction services also provided sequencing to minimize disruption in the hospital and deliver the project as quickly as possible.

It’s all about relationships

Wilhelm’s relationship with IU Health dates back more than a decade with several Indiana projects including the IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, IU Health North in Carmel, and Arnett Hospital in Lafayette – the last large hospital built on a green-field site in Indiana.

Kenney said working with IU Health on the Arnett project was instrumental in the evolution of Wilhelm’s preconstruction division.

“It was this project with IU Health that really kicked off our preconstruction efforts,” Kenney said. He explained that what is now Wilhelm’s preconstruction services division was born  11 years ago when IU Health selected Wilhelm to construct the Lafayette Arnett facility. Kenney said, “Although we had provided preconstruction and construction management services for years, we never called it that. He said the Arnett project and all the good feedback from IU Health was instrumental in helping Wilhelm formalize its preconstruction processes.

Kaiser said, “Wilhelm has done an excellent job for IU Health. The depth of knowledge that Wilhelm has adds value in being able to expedite the construction process,” he said, adding that top executives at IU Health recently “shared their support of all the team has done at the IU Morgan facility.”

Kenney attributes the successful preconstruction efforts for the IU Health Morgan facility to the passion of his people. “Our preconstruction managers take a huge interest in the outcome of a project, both from an individual client perspective and for the project as a whole. It’s very personal for them because they’re so passionate about it.”

And speaking of passion

At the end of the day, the core of Wilhelm’s preconstruction services stems from a passion to serve people – by providing well-built facilities designed for living, working, learning, playing, discovering and healing. Through open collaboration and shared project goals with owners and designers, Wilhelm’s preconstruction and construction management teams deliver optimal spaces that accommodate all the ways people interact with and use facilities.

The upcoming issue of Wilhelm Works will feature the ways technology is improving the preconstruction process

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[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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To honor the sacrifice of fallen firefighters F.A. Wilhelm Construction commissions a new sculpture to be housed at the Firefighters Museum

Posted by April Parsley on August 26th, 2016

IMG_6618 - EditedWhen F.A. Wilhelm Construction completes its work on the Indianapolis Firefighters Museum at 748 Massachusetts Avenue this October, the company will leave behind a token of its appreciation – a really big token. Earlier this year as Wilhelm’s crews were busy at work on the construction site, Phil Kenney, Wilhelm’s president, began working with Indianapolis artist Ryan Feeney to commission a new life-size bronze sculpture for the museum to honor firefighters who sacrificed their lives. “The sculpture is part of our commitment to the community in which we live and work,” Kenney said. But they [fallen firefighters] are the reason for it,” he said.

Plans for where to place the new sculpture are still being finalized. But, no matter it’s final resting place, it is sure to make an impression. The six-foot tall sculpture will depict a fully-outfitted firefighter stepping out of a burning building. The lifelike detail on the piece is so intricate that when finished, it will have taken the artist more than 400 hours to create.

For Feeney, this has been a labor of love because in addition to being a successful sculptor, he’s also a firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD). Feeney said he fell in love with sculpture in college but had always wanted to be a firefighter. So, when he graduated, he decided he could have the best of both worlds and went to work for the IFD. He’s been fighting fires for 17 years. During that time, he has also sculpted several notable pieces now on display at different locations around Indianapolis, including the Fallen Sheriffs Memorial at the Marion County Jail, and the Peace Dove at the Indianapolis Library downtown – a sculpture he created from 1,200 guns confiscated by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

Now, he’s sculpting a fitting memorial for fellow Firefighters whose lives are lost as a result of their work. To create the piece, he is using the lost wax method in bronze – a complex but time-honored technique. With this method, he first sculpts the piece in clay. Then he paints the entire piece with successive layers of melted rubber to create a mold.

Once the rubber mold solidifies, he carefully cuts it open to remove the clay sculpture. Feeney explained that this part of the process is like making a negative of a picture except that the work is being done in three dimensions. “The original clay sculpture will be destroyed. But, that’s fine because you now have a mold of the piece – an exact replica in negative.”

The next step is to recreate the sculpture in wax, which is accomplished by coating the inside of the mold with melted wax to create a shell inside the rubber mold. When the wax hardens, Feeney carefully cuts away the rubber mold to reveal an almost-perfect replica of his clay sculpture. Then, he picks up his sculptor’s tools again to do more of the intricate work needed to ensure a lifelike appearance.

Once he gets the details on the wax shell just right, he covers it with plaster to make a new mold – one that will stand up to a 2200-degree slurry of molten bronze. When he pours the bronze into the plaster mold, the wax shell within it melts away allowing the bronze to fill the entire mold, which when cooled will be an exact replica of the original clay sculpture.

There is still much work to do. Because of its large size, the sculpture was cast in ten pieces, which must be put back together. Feeney will weld each piece into place and set to work – again with molten bronze – smoothing out the seams adding the finishing touches.

Feeney said this piece has been a challenge. “Firefighters are very particular about their equipment,” he said, noting that the proportions for the piece had to be exact. To create the base for the clay sculpture, Feeney used a mannequin to ensure the body would look right. “It wasn’t the pose I wanted,” he said, “you know, when you’re using a mannequin, both the legs are stiff.” Feeney said in order to get a realistic pose, he had to first cut the mannequin apart and fabricate new pieces – an arm bending at the elbow and a new left leg to get a slightly bent knee.

Once Feeney got the pose he wanted, he dressed the mannequin in a firefighter’s uniform and full gear. He said figuring out how to create the mold around all the gear was challenging because it all had to be very precise and accurate. “There are also mechanical and engineering issues to deal with,” Feeney said. For example, he had to stiffen the clothing on the mannequin to put the clay on it. But, when he started working on it, the fabric stiffener under the clay began to give way and crack under the pressure of his sculpting tools. Feeney explained, “When you’re sculpting in clay, you’re putting a lot of horse on it”. Feeney ended up having to remake the entire coat. This time, though, after he applied the fabric stiffener, he drilled holes into the coat and sprayed expandable foam inside to harden the folds of fabric so it would stand up to his sculpting.

Feeney said he is nearing completion of the sculpture and that it will be done about a month or so before the Firefighters Museum moves into its new home in October.

The face of the sculpture will be a familiar one to local firefighters. It bears a strong resemblance to John Lorenzano, an Indianapolis firefighter who, along with fellow firefighter Ellwood “Woody” Gelenius, lost their lives in the Indianapolis Athletic Club fire in 1992.

Kenney, a longtime friend of the Lorenzano family, said that while the memorial was modeled after John’s likeness, it doesn’t just represent him. “It represents all the past, present, and future firefighters who give their lives in the line of duty,” he said. Feeney feels the same way. He said, “There’s no name on the back of the coat. It says ‘IFD’. The sculpture honors firefighters everywhere – especially, those that have given their life as the ultimate sacrifice.”

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Creative collaboration saves Indianapolis International Airport time and money on canopy project

Posted by April Parsley on August 26th, 2016


Creative collaboration saves Indianapolis International Airport time and money on canopy project

The Indianapolis International Airport’s new terminal and attached parking garage were designed to blend aesthetics and functionality with the garage featuring a fabric canopy built over a center atrium to protect the interior and enhance the visitor experience. The design of the canopy; however, was no match for the forces of central Indiana’s winter weather. On two separate occasions, the massive canopy – or portions of it – collapsed under the weight of a buildup of snow and ice. Airport officials determined the safest solution was to remove and replace the canopy completely, reinforcing the replacement with additional steel trusses. This project had to be completed without significantly impacting access to all five levels of the parking garage for passengers and rental car operations– a key concern for the airport.

F.A. Wilhelm Construction was hired by the construction management firm for the structural steel work.

In order to provide reinforced support, enormous steel trusses needed to be installed in the center of the large canopy, one in between each existing truss. The installation would not be a problem – Wilhelm has the needed experience in structural steel installs to successfully complete the work. The problem would be in getting the trusses into place for the crews to install. Working from the edge of such a large canopy – about 600 feet across – promised to be a logistical nightmare.

Wilhelm’s Superintendent on the project, Eric Coppock explained that in order to get the trusses into place, they would need a 900-ton crane that could extend up to 420 feet in the air and out 320 feet to reach the center of the canopy. Coppock said setting up a crane that large takes a lot of time. “And, you can’t just fold it up and take it down when weather comes, either,” he added.

Wilhelm’s Ironworker General Superintendent, Rob Parker said that crews were already looking at a highly restricted timeframe for the project. He explained that working in a busy airport meant crews could only work for four hours at a time, between 1-4 a.m. “Working at an airport, having a crane that high can put you right in the middle of a flight path. So, we would have had to take the crane down every morning,” said Parker.

Another proposed approach was to use a helicopter to bring the trusses in – a more expensive option featuring its own set of challenges among the other aircraft of the airport.

After weighing options and considering the difficulties with each approach, Wilhelm came up with a different idea – one that had never been tried before, but just might work.

“We wanted to put the crane on the inside,” said Parker. He said at first, this seemed impossible because all the doors and other entryways into the area were too small to bring in a crane big enough for the job. “So, we came up with a plan to disassemble the crane and bring it in in pieces,” Parker said.

“Finding a crane company that would rent me a crane knowing I was going to tear it apart was a challenge,” Parker said, adding “We had to do a lot of convincing to get them on board.” Parker said All Crane got assurances from the manufacturer of the crane that using it in such an unconventional way wouldn’t void the warranty, and the company agreed to let Wilhelm disassemble its $5 million crane.

Once crews got the crane taken apart, Wilhelm worked with Egenolf Machine to get the heavy industrial fork trucks and mobile lift needed to bring the crane into the parking garage atrium located under the canopy structure.

Between equipment and other materials needed for the job, Coppock said they made more than 200 trips into the building.  “Knowing what equipment would fit through the eight-foot door took some planning,” he said. “We worked with the fabricator to have them remove certain pieces of the arched trusses so they would go through the door. Luckily, everything fit, even if only by a quarter inch,” Coppock said. And, they didn’t have to worry about wind, either he said. “Even when our boom was maxed out, we were only about 30-40 feet as opposed to several hundred feet above original structure.”

Given the site logistics, operating the crane from outside the canopy would mean every piece of steel picked up would require blocking off one or more floors of the garage to pedestrian and car traffic – a real problem for the airport.  Coppock said working from the inside of the canopy structure, impacted only two lanes of traffic on the bottom floor, and it took less than five minutes to roll each truss into place. According to Parker, it took just three days to get the crane in.

Despite any upfront concerns, Coppock and Parker said Wilhelm’s approach worked beautifully, minimizing the inconvenience to airport staff and travelers. The approach also significantly reduced the original time estimated for the project and saved the client $850,000.

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Building experiences for future talent

Posted by April Parsley on August 26th, 2016

IMG_6704As summer winds down and students prepare for classes to begin, it is time for F.A. Wilhelm Construction (Wilhelm) and other companies employing interns to say goodbye to their young protégés.

It is estimated that anywhere between one to two million interns are employed throughout the summer in any given year in the United States. With this massive boost of labor comes eager minds ready to contribute to, and to learn from companies dedicated to their success.

Wilhelm has long understood the benefits brought by new talent, and has employed interns yearly in a variety of positions from field labor, to budgeting and estimating, to accounting and marketing. According to Phil Kenney, President of Wilhelm, hiring interns is a win-win situation because future workers get the opportunity to engage in real-world hands-on learning while trying on the company as a preferred place to work. And, Wilhelm gets to be challenged and energized by new thinking and a fresh perspective on how and why we do the things we do.

The interns, Kenney, Joseph Lansdell, Poynter president, and a panel of industry leaders including Frederick (Fritz) Herget of ARSEE Engineers, Bryan Poynter of Cushman & Wakefield, Mark Jacob of Citizens Energy Group, John Thompson of Thompson Distribution, First Electric Supply Company, CMID, and BC-SESCO; and moderator Debra Kunce of CORE Planning Strategies, gathered Friday, August 5th to co-share experiences and discuss next steps.

The event kicked-off with a presentation from Lansdell highlighting how Peer Group involvement benefits both well-established employers and newly liberated students, not only from an educational and professional growth, but also from networking and relationship development. He shared his own experiences with Peer Group engagement detailing how his business continues to benefit from other member perspectives.

After Lansdell’s presentation, interns were invited to introduce themselves and share individual experiences. Each person spoke about his/her school, field of study and what was learned during their summer of discovery.

The panel discussions commenced with questions from moderator Debra Kunce about industry trends, biggest challenges, what impresses employers most when interviewing, expectations of employees, and philanthropic dedication. Panelists offered interns real-life advice for future career paths including the importance of networking, being open to new experiences, and adapting and embracing to change. Fritz Herget of ARSEE engineers stressed the importance of taking risks and not being afraid to fail. The other panelists agreed, emphasizing that success and failure are interlinked components of learning and growth.

Mark Jacob, Vice President of Capital Programs and Engineering at Citizen’s Energy Group, articulated how important it is to employers that candidates have a “civic-minded” outlook. He discussed how engaging and caring for the community and the environment is vital to the success of us all. In strong agreement, all panelists echoed Jacob’s message sharing the many ways in which each represented company has a key priority to give back and enrich others through education, opportunities, organizational partnerships, days of service and financial support.

The event wrapped up with panelists fielding questions from interns – everything from what skills sets were most valuable, to the importance of work experience, to how to stay connected to networks.

After the event, Mark Jacob noted that “It was exciting to see so much up and coming talent, with obvious passion for entering the workforce in the near future.” John Thompson also added “This is a great group of young people and I truly believe the industry and the world are in strong hands.”

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CANstruction creations commemorate commitment to combating hunger

Posted by April Parsley on August 26th, 2016

CANstructionAs part of the state-wide celebration for Indiana’s bicentennial, CANstruction 2016 paid homage to the history, art, and culture of Indiana throughout the past 200 years. One well-known Indiana icon stands out worldwide and has played a prominent role in the development of state – The Indianapolis 500. This famed race has attracted the attention of millions of fans and created Indiana’s moniker as “The Racing Capital of the World”.

Most people recognize The Indianapolis 500 and its positive social and economic impacts. What some people may not realize is that in Indiana there is a much different race underway, a race against hunger. According to Gleaners Food bank, 173,900 individuals in Marion County are food insecure.

In response to those in need, CANstruction, an international and unique charity, works with companies and community organizations to combat hunger. Founded in 1992, CANstruction has helped raise over 40 million pounds of food through building competitions featuring cans of food. During August, the 2016 Indianapolis event was hosted at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

F.A. Wilhelm Construction and Schmidt Associates entered the competition with their “Race Against Hunger” can creation. With nearly 6,000 tins, Wilhelm and Schmidt engineered a life sized Mario Cart scene incorporating aspects of the Indianapolis 500 Pagoda and “kid-favorite” driver Mario from the famous Nintendo racing circuit.

The donated can combinations comprise 3,275 meals for Gleaner Food Bank which are distributed throughout the Indianapolis Area. Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana delivers meals through a network of over 250 partner agencies locally.

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New Children’s Museum exhibit reveals a whole new universe to young imaginations

Posted by April Parsley on August 1st, 2016

On June 25, 2016, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis opened the doors to the Schaefer Planetarium and Space Object Theater – an exhibit that introduces young visitors to the wonders of space and science in a whole new way.

_MG_3386-300The project involved a full renovation to the museum’s existing 2,600 square foot planetarium, which was built nearly 30 years ago. Now, a new 360-degree projection dome and a state-of-the-art sound system create a one-of-kind immersive experience that opens developing minds to the miracle of space travel.

Visitors are also treated to exhibits of space memorabilia and space artifacts in cases throughout the planetarium. One artifact that was too big to fit in a glass case takes center stage in the Space Object Theater It’s the Liberty Bell 7 (LB7), the capsule piloted by Indiana native Lt. Colonel Virgil “Gus” Grissom 55 years ago on the second U.S. manned flight into space.

The exhibit also recreates portions of the International Space Station giving visitors a sense of what a day in the life of an astronaut is like aboard the space station. Visitors also get an opportunity to sit in a replica of the Soyuz capsule that carries astronauts to and from the station.

To help make this exhibit a reality, the museum hired F.A. Wilhelm Construction to manage its construction.

IMG_1640Wilhelm’s project manager, Todd France, said there were a number of challenges with this project. One of the biggest was designing and building the platform for the LB7. Designers and the Wilhelm crew had to make sure the floor was strong enough to hold both the 7000-pound capsule and the specially constructed hydraulic lift that raises and lowers the LB7 and allows it to be rotated in place. France said working with a NASA artifact was a new experience for us. “We’ve never installed something like this before,” he said. “Design-wise, we had to make sure the diameter of the table wasn’t too big to fit inside the space, but big enough to support the capsule.”

One of the biggest benefits of this exhibit is what it can teach kids about the history of the NASA and the importance of the program. “It gives children a chance to see what space is like,” he said, adding that what they experience at the Schaefer Planetarium and Space Object Theater could be “the thing that spurs the next astronaut from Indiana.”


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Construction on the Purdue Active Learning Center now moving inside

Posted by April Parsley on August 1st, 2016

With the exterior of the Thomas S. and Harvey D. Wilmeth Active Learning Center (WALC) now complete, F.A. Wilhelm crews turn their attention to the interior of the building. Soon they will transform the new and expansive space they’ve constructed into an active learning environment that fosters both individual and collaborative learning for Purdue students.

The use of space in the WALC represents a shift from traditional classroom learning to provide more spaces where students can interact easily, moving between the classroom and libraries where they can gather for group study. The WALC will bring these two important learning environments together under one roof.

Two thirds of the space will be active learning classrooms and the other third will combine six of the university’s science and engineering libraries, bringing them in from the edges of Purdue’s grounds to the heart of campus.


Kurt Roadruck, Wilhelm project manager, noted that one of the challenges of working in the center of a busy campus like Purdue is all the pedestrian traffic. “You have to be mindful of students and your interactions,” he said. Rustin Meister, Purdue’s project manager for the WALC, said that Wilhelm is taking all the safety precautions and has worked with Purdue to maintain student safety.

Having worked on a number of higher education projects throughout Indiana, Wilhelm knows how to manage site safety on crowded college campuses. In addition to the WALC and other projects for Purdue, Wilhelm has also successfully completed construction projects for Indiana University, University of Notre Dame, Butler University, Purdue University, DePauw University, IUPUI, Ball State University, Marian University, University of Indianapolis and Wabash College.

Roadruck said that one of the most interesting aspects about working on higher education projects is that the client commonly has people on staff with more technical knowledge about different aspects of construction. “Especially at Purdue,” he said, “you have a lot of people with engineering expertise,” adding that this is not often the case with projects in other types of settings.

Roadruck said that with Wilhelm self-performing a large portion of the work, the company has more control over not only the safety aspect of the project, but also its schedule and quality, too. He said this translates into a high quality job for the client. He added that Wilhelm’s reputation for quality work is well known. “If you ask owners and architects who they like to work with, often you hear Wilhelm. Serving as either their construction manager, or general contractor, they know we deliver.”

Meister said the project is going well. “It’s on schedule and 70 percent complete.” Roadruck expects his crews to wrap up in March of 2017.

According to Meister, students are very interested in the new ALC and have expressed a lot of curiosity about what it will provide inside. Both students and faculty have been able to watch Wilhelm’s crews build the WALC from the ground up with slide shows showing the past year’s construction activities from both the north and south sides of the building. “It’s really going to be a show piece for Purdue, one that helps us meet our goals for how we want to educate our students.”

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A Growing Construction Industry to Face Challenges in Attracting and Retaining Qualified Workers

Posted by April Parsley on August 1st, 2016

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry is projected to grow 10 percent by 2024 making it one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy. That would appear to be a great outlook for an industry that took massive hits during the 2008 recession. However, even as the industry is rebounding, many companies are feeling the pinch when it comes to finding seasoned, reliable and skilled workers to fill their growing workforce needs.

Tom Kerker, an operations manager with F.A. Wilhelm Construction, points out this may the lingering effects of the recession. “We lost a lot of craft workers and management. Many of them found other jobs or careers and just didn’t come back. Some of them took early retirement.”

Kerker’s generational observation also hints at another looming concern for the construction industry – as older workers retire, companies will struggle to recruit, quickly train, and retain the talent it needs to thrive.

The issue is not the number of workers available.  Population data would suggest that there will be plenty of workers to draw from, with 75.4 million millennials – those currently 19-35 years old – surpassing the roughly 74.9 million that make up the baby boomer generation, aged 51-69.  In the next several years, construction companies will be increasingly reliant on younger workers to fill their open positions, making the availability of workers with the necessary skills and experience the industry needs a significant concern.

In this, F.A. Wilhelm’s third article regarding diversity in the construction industry, we explore the challenges and benefits that these ongoing generational shifts will have for the construction industry and offer strategies for the transfer of critical knowledge and expertise to the younger generation of workers that will make up the majority of the industry’s workforce in the coming years. 



Companies that leverage generational diversity will be better prepared for workforce challenges

Much has been written about workplace tension resulting from generational differences. Avoiding generational conflict in the workplace is not always possible. However, companies that take advantage of their generational diversity by developing strategies for adapting to a younger workforce and transferring the knowledge and skills their more seasoned workers possess will be better positioned for the strong projected growth in the construction industry.

What often gets lost in the conversation about age-related issues in the workplace is the fact that both generations bring a lot to the table. Baby boomers have a wealth of experience in the industry to share. And, millennials bring new technologies and a strong desire to discover new efficiencies.


Embracing the challenges and benefits of millennial savvy with new technologies

Thomas Jacoby works as a virtual construction engineer for Wilhelm and has been with the company for three years. He said as a millennial, working in a multigenerational setting offers access to a wealth of institutional knowledge that his generation can benefit from. “The knowledge and resources we have at our company are unprecedented for the industry we’re in,” he said. “We have so many kinds of expertise in-house I can go to almost anybody to find an answer without having to go outside the company.”

arrow2Jacoby said one of the biggest benefits his generation brings to the industry is technological savvy, but acknowledged that his generation’s fondness for technology can also create tension.  “We’re an industry that moves slowly,” he said. “Projects take a long time, and everyone’s been doing it the same way for a long time.” He added, “There’s a lot of knowledge about how to do things more efficiently with technology. But, some people rely too much on technology to solve their problems.” Jacoby said that when working with new technologies in a multigenerational setting, “you have to have a lot of give and take.”

Jacoby said getting everyone on board with new technologies can be difficult, even if they offer a better way to achieve desired results. While his generation grew up with technology, older workers often have to adapt by getting more training in order to take advantage of newer technology, Jacoby said. He added that fortunately, regardless of their comfort level with the technology, most people are willing to work together to get the job done in the most efficient way possible.

Tom Kerker, an operations manager for Wilhelm with 30 years in the business, agrees that technology has made many aspects of construction work more efficient. Kerker said, “We used to have to draw a picture and fax it to the architect to explain a problem. Now it’s a photo on a device. And, with the software available now, you can draw on the photo and make notes and sent it to the architect from a handheld device from the field.”

Katie Ross, a millennial working for Wilhelm, said technology makes her job as a marketing coordinator much easier. “It’s very easy to reach anyone at any time,” she said. She concedes that communication technologies like email and cell phones can also lead to misunderstandings, which make human interaction all the more important. “Technology requires that you make an extra effort to interact,” she said, adding that “eye contact is something that as millennials, we have to learn to really use to engage other people in the room.”  Ross said mannerisms and self-presence are very important to demonstrate to colleagues that “you’re engaged and professional and using your resources to improve efficiency and processes.”

Ross said that when it comes to technology, “you just have to find a balance in utilizing what works from the past and adding new ways that complement and enhance the outcomes.”


Strategies for transferring the industry knowledge and expertise boomers possess

With so many baby boomers on the cusp of retirement and with so many younger workers joining the ranks of the construction industry, there is an unprecedented – but fleeting – window of opportunity for older workers to leave the industry stronger through mentoring.

Jacoby said he believes that mentoring is going to become vitally important for the future of the construction industry as a means of transferring important knowledge and skills to the younger workers coming into the industry. He said the more experienced workers have a lot of institutional knowledge and experience that the younger workers can benefit from. “If they’re not willing to pass that down, you lose that knowledge.” He said,

According to Jacoby, Wilhelm does a good job of creating a workplace that fosters mentorship. Ross said most of the mentoring at Wilhelm is informal and varies depending on the demographics of each department, with more widespread mentoring in larger departments with more people and more significant age differences. But, she said, it also happens in small departments like hers with just four people.



Jacoby said mentoring is important regardless of the kind of work people do or what department they work in, “It can be helpful to have someone you can go to directly – that first point of contact – whether that’s in the trades or in management.”

Ross agreed saying, “It’s critical for our industry to move forward to have those mentoring relationships so that we’re not reinventing the wheel and are doing things as efficiently as possible.”

Mentoring also benefits the individual and can lead to better retention of qualified workers. By fostering such relationships in the workplace younger workers are able to navigate the industry more easily in their early careers and are often more comfortable asking questions, making them far more likely to stay with the company in the longer term.

Sue Booth, a baby boomer who has worked for Wilhelm as an administrative assistance for almost 20 years, said that mentoring might look different depending on where people are in their careers. For those with more time in, it may be more like a “focused education” than what people commonly think of as mentoring.

Booth said that cross-training is just as important as mentoring, especially in the short term. With so many in management within 10-15 years of retiring, she said, “That’s going to sneak up on us really fast.” Booth said the need to train younger workers on many of the processes that older employees currently handle is becoming more and more apparent.

According to Kerker, Wilhelm does an exceptional job of mentoring employees new to the industry. “With so many retiring and leaving, each person ought to pick out a protégé and work with them as best they can.” Kerker said he was fortunate to have great mentors when he was new in the industry and that he and others of his generation need to pay that forward.


Attracting and retaining the best and brightest

In addition to transferring critical knowledge through mentoring and other types of training, companies will benefit from strategies aimed at attracting and retaining talented young workers. Strategies that 1) foster a better understanding of what younger workers can expect in a career in the construction industry and 2) address their need for greater engagement in the workplace and their communities will lead to more successful recruiting and better retention.

Tom Kerker, an operations manager with F.A. Wilhelm Construction who helps with Wilhelm’s recruiting at colleges, said it’s important to help young people to understand what to expect early in their careers. “We encourage students to take advantage of industry internships and get involved in career- related college activities. Kerker says Wilhelm looks for students with industry experience and the initiative to take on leadership roles in school and in the community. “College gives them a good base of knowledge, but there still is so much to learn,” said  Kerker.

Jacoby explained that the optimism of his generation can sometimes be mistaken as a sense of entitlement. “We are hopeful in how we look at things and what we’re looking for. Some people might think that everything was handed to us as kids. Having that reaction, we understand we have to work for it.”

Jacoby added that for many of his fellow millennials, the nature of the work matters more than recognition or climbing the corporate ladder quickly.  “At Wilhelm, even if you don’t have the big title, you’re still working on high profile and important projects you can be very proud of. And, if you do good work, you’re going to get those higher positions.”arrow

Booth agreed, saying that with regard to the perception that millennials are entitled doesn’t ring true in her experience. She noted that many of the industry’s younger workers are now coming into the profession with a college education. “Most of our millennials had to work to get through college. The ones that are successful are not successful because someone owes them something – they have learned that you have to work hard for what you want.”

Ross said her generation also wants to be valued for what they bring to the table – a willingness to be open to all opinions is important. “I enjoy the broad range of opinions and input on work proposals you can get in a more diverse workplace. It’s nice to have a well-rounded group to understand all the angles.”

The younger generation of workers also have different expectations than baby boomers have in terms of flexibility, according to Kerker. “It’s a lifestyle thing,” he said. “We know that to have and retain good help, we’re going to have to be flexible. But, you still need to keep structure in the organization.” He said some aspects of the industry, particularly onsite jobs, are not amenable to flexible scheduling. “The crews get there early in the morning. And, if you’re not out there with them, you’re not going to know what they need,” he said, adding, “You can’t support them from home.” Kerker said Wilhelm initiated flexible schedules about 3-4 years ago. He said, “It’s harder to make that work for operations but works well for some of the administrative and other more office workers.”

Kerker said Wilhelm has done other things to help appeal to a younger workforce, such as tailoring insurance benefits to better meet the needs of younger workers and offering other benefits that all workers can enjoy, such as a wellness programs. “We also remodeled our office to tailor it more to the new generation,” he said. “On the second floor, we tore the office walls down so we can all work in a common area, a team environment. And, we’ve remodeled part of the first floor to open up a social hub area.”

Ross said that engagement in community causes is also an important part of career satisfaction for her generation. “Another thing that drives me so close to Wilhelm is the way we impact the community,” Ross said, noting her company’s sponsorship of Backpack Attack, Habitat for Humanity and other local and regional charities.


Age diversity and generational shifts offers unprecedented opportunities for the industry

While generational differences in the workplace can lead to conflict, smart companies will find ways to leverage these differences to their advantage, developing strategies for:

  • Embracing new technologies and allowing younger workers to use them where possible to discover new efficiencies and improve processes
  • Transferring the wealth of knowledge and expertise baby boomers possess to younger workers that will soon comprise the majority of the industry’s workforce
  • Offering benefits and implementing workplace practices that appeal to the millennial generation

Booth said Wilhelm is one of those companies. Having recognized the importance of diversity in all its forms – gender, ethnic, and age diversity –Wilhelm has adopted a “diversity mindset” that will serve the company well as the industry continues to grow. Upper management takes its responsibilities to employees seriously. By implementing continual changes that create a corporate culture in which all employees – from older to younger, from field to management – can thrive, Wilhelm understands better than most what it means to value our greatest resource – our people.

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BackPack Attack 2016

Posted by April Parsley on August 1st, 2016


Children throughout Indianapolis are eager to head back to school but this time of year proves to be stressful for parents who cannot afford to purchase the required school supplies. A staggering majority of Central Indiana families cannot afford school supplies and teachers often purchase classroom supplies out of their pocket. Indy Backpack Attack aims to provide relief and support by distributing collected supplies to families in need. F.A. Wilhelm Construction is proud to partner with United Way and Indy Backpack Attack for the 2016 Annual Backpack Attack drive.

Stat5Employees at Wilhelm Construction brought in supplies filling donation boxes to the brim. Wilhelm employees helped to package and deliver the collected items to the Indy Backpack Attack supply warehouse. Thomas Jacoby, Virtual Construction Engineer, shared his experience “It is always rewarding to participate in the annual Backpack Attack knowing how much it helps underserved students in the area. It is great to know you are helping youth by giving them the basic supplies they need to succeed in school and in life so that they may one day be able to help the communities they grow up in.”

In addition to its involvement in backpack attack Wilhelm supports local charities such as Rebuilding Together, Habitat for Humanity, and College Mentors for Kids.




GRAPHICS SOURCE: Indy BackPack Attack  |  The Washington Post  |   NCES   |  The Journal 


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Employee Milestones

Posted by April Parsley on August 1st, 2016

Building a career with an organization is something many employees aspire to today; a place they feel they fit in, belong, and can make a difference. This August, Wilhelm is celebrating the milestones of 3 Wilhelm employees who have built careers here being with us for 10, 20, and 30 years.


Katie Snyder  – 10 years

Snyder, Katie ColorPrint“I came to Wilhelm through Jeff Casto, CSA Operations Manager at Freitag-Weinhardt. Wilhelm was looking for an accountant for the IU Health Arnett Hospital and previously worked with Jeff, so he contacted me and the rest is a beautiful history. My favorite experience has been getting to know all of the wonderful people out in the field. I have had the unique opportunity as an accountant to be out on construction sites so I have gotten to see how the field operates. What I enjoy most about working at Wilhelm is the family atmosphere that Wilhelm provides. I have enjoyed my first ten years here and look forward to many more with the Wilhelm family!”



Paul Ehrgott- 20 years

Ehrgott resume color“Something that really drew me to Wilhelm was their well respected reputation around the community. I joined Wilhelm after a fraternity brother mentioned that a position was open in the estimating department. I was given the opportunity to be interviewed by Jim McCoy and had the pleasure to work with and learn a great deal from the estimating team over the next several years.

One thing I really enjoy about working at Wilhelm is just doing my part in helping our clients meet their goals and getting to know a lot of great people along the way. I also enjoy being a part of a team and company that has such positive attitudes when it comes to getting things done. A lot has changed in the twenty years that I’ve been with Wilhelm. Technology in the estimating department relied heavily on a good mechanical pencil. I’m honored to have worked alongside of some of our professions’ finest and look forward to meeting many more in the years to come.”


Bill Hobson- 30 years

Hobson, Bill ColorWeb“Before coming to Wilhelm, I was working for another construction firm and commuted each day to West Lafayette for about 10 months. After a few car accidents [during my commute] I began looking for a job closer to home and eventually received a tip from an Indianapolis supplier that Wilhelm was looking for an estimator. Shortly after, I interviewed with Herb Ruffley and started the following week.

Some of my favorite experiences while working at Wilhelm for the past 30 years include participating in the construction of local landmarks such as the Eiteljorg Museum, Indiana Museum of Art, White River State Park canal, and Indianapolis International Airport. In the “old” days I was fortunate enough to attend some of the Associated General Contractors of America Winter Workshops in Puerto Rico and Cancun. What I enjoy most about working at Wilhelm is the comradery with the office and field personnel, and the pride and commitment to our work that has always been apparent (at least for the past 30 years).”

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