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F.A. Wilhelm Construction’s Michael Greven shares much needed healthcare expertise in Kenya

Posted by April Parsley on October 3rd, 2016

boysandtankMichael Greven, Senior Project Manager for F.A. Wilhelm Construction, is no stranger to the challenges that come with healthcare construction projects – regardless of location. Working on two successful projects in Kenya where construction technology is sometimes 30-40 years behind what is available to U.S. companies today, Greven is highly adept at overcoming obstacles associated with building projects both here and abroad.

Working through AMPATH, the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare, Greven participated on two major construction projects to bring much needed healthcare services to the people of Kenya. AMPATH is a consortium of U.S. academic health centers led by Indiana University working with Moi University and the government in Kenya to improve the delivery of public healthcare.

Greven’s first construction project – the Riley Mother – Baby Hospital – is a three-story, 75,000-foot modern medical facility and neonatal intensive care unit that opened in 2009 providing care for women and babies throughout western Kenya. In 2012, he returned to spend the next three years helping build a new 110,000 square-foot oncology center in Eldoret, Kenya.

Reflecting on the differences between healthcare construction projects in Kenya and those in the U.S., Greven said that when it comes to basic construction, the techniques employed in Kenya are essentially the same as those used here. “But, the manner in which things are done is different,” he said.

Greven said although Kenya doesn’t have access to the large variety of materials available in this country, they do have the basic materials they need for construction. Most everything is built with concrete. Greven said getting modern equipment can be very difficult and in many cases, they’re working with equipment several decades old, adding that “anything that has to do with medical equipment has to be imported.”

With regard to the software technology used in the industry, Greven said they use many of the same types of programs U.S. companies do. For example, architectural companies there model themselves after the American Institute of Architects (AIA). “So, they use the same types of drawing programs we use here like AutoCAD, etc. They sometimes don’t have the latest versions,” he explained. Greven said they also have access to modeling technology but because the software is older, modeling is accomplished in a more rudimentary way.

According to Greven, there’s no shortage of construction laborers in Kenya. Laborers there earn just $3-5 a day, which is considered a good salary. Someone with skills – a plumber or electrician – can earn $8-10 per day. “But finding skilled labor is more difficult,” Greven said. “The labor pool is there, but the skills are limited. You have to widen your search when it comes to finding professionals with specialized skills.”

The team went to South Africa to find a designer with the skills necessary to design the bunkers for the facility’s radiation services. “When you’re building bunkers to hold linear accelerators for radiation oncology, there’s no margin for error.” Greven said. The purpose of the bunkers was to provide a safe way to deliver radiation therapy to cancer patients. “There’s no lead available to protect the healthcare workers from radiation. So, they built two bunkers with 10-foot thick concrete walls instead.” Greven said one will be used to provide high-dose radiation (HDR) for cervical cancer patients and the other will facilitate radiation treatment for other types of cancers.

One of the biggest challenges in construction is communication. “You have to be able to communicate with large groups of people. You have to make sure everyone is being heard and understood so that everyone gets what they think they’re getting,” Greven said.

Greven said in Kenya, language barriers can be a bigger problem with laborers than they are with those in the skilled areas of construction. Although English is considered the primary language, with 38 different ethnic groups in the country, each with their own language, communication is challenging. Greven’s ability to speak some Swahili helped, but for him, working in Kenya has reinforced the need to focus on communication because there, it is the number one issue on any project.

Modest about his role in helping to deliver quality healthcare to the people of Kenya, Greven is clearly proud of what AMPATH has accomplished there. He said the maternity hospital, now considered one of the finest in western Kenya, delivers about 15,000 babies a year. And, although the cancer care center is waiting on the Kenyan government to provide the radiation equipment it needs, the chronic disease care facility is also complete. The facility now provides chemotherapy services to more than 500 patients a month, and its breast and cervical cancer screening programs serve nearly 5,000 patients a year to promote early detection and treatment.

“I’ve always been interested in healthcare projects,” Greven said, adding that he believes good public health care services should be available everywhere. “The importance of providing good quality healthcare for people of all means is critical.”

Aside from his work at the hospital and construction site, Greven and his family spent a fair amount of time supporting, both physically and financially, two children’s homes near their town of Eldoret. The number of orphans and abandoned children in Kenya is staggering, and there is no shortage of need, so Greven pitched in to help an orphanage in Kitale, home to over 85 children. They journeyed to the facility once a month (a 2-hour drive) and brought much needed staples, helped with the gardens, purchased fruit seeds and trees, and aided in organizational issues, including fundraising. They were also able to retain a grant for a solar water pump project so that the children didn’t have to spend so much time trudging uphill to obtain water for cleaning, bathing, and cooking. The Grevens have a not for profit which continues to support sustainability projects in Kenya, EcoSource Sustainable Initiatives.



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F.A. Wilhelm Construction winning the race on fast-tracked healthcare project in Grove City, Ohio

Posted by April Parsley on October 3rd, 2016

mt-carmelHealthcare construction projects are among the most complicated undertakings in the industry, and encompass many highly specialized requirements unique to the health and wellness market segment. Mount Carmel Health System’s new inpatient hospital in Grove City, Ohio, is no exception.

F.A. Wilhelm Construction was hired to perform the concrete work for the 508,000 – square-foot expansion of the current facility, which will add another 210 rooms and a 123,000 – square-foot medical office building. The new facility is scheduled to open in 2018.

Wilhelm’s work is scheduled for completion a year earlier in October 2017, and crews are working with a fast-tracked schedule to help ensure that happens.

Jason Windholtz, Wilhelm’s project manager, said crews are wrapping up the basement now and will soon start on the decks. In total, the project will use 41,300 cubic yards of concrete, including three floors of structural concrete decks and five floors of slabs on metal decks. About 45 percent of the concrete has been poured to date.

It’s not been without its challenges, though. Windholtz said, “Fast-tracking can present a lot of additional considerations with healthcare projects, which tend to be pretty complex anyway.” He said that because this is an accelerated project, construction started while the drawings were still in the design and development stage. “It requires a lot of flexibility,” Windholtz said, noting the high number of change orders, drawings, and requests for information (RFIs) for this project. “You might expect a couple new drawing issuances for a similar project at this point,” he said, “but this one had nine to date, along with more than 200 structural RFIs, and we’re just coming out of the basement.”

Windoltz said his team has taken it all in stride, though. The key, he said, is making sure everything is in the right place at the time. He credits Wilhelm’s project engineer, Gary Keymon and Wilhelm’s two lead project layout engineers, Larry Hunter and Jason Forsythe, with keeping the project team and craft force organized during the continual evolution of the documents and associated shop drawings. “Those guys have been instrumental in keeping us on track,” he said.

Windholtz said he’s confident that with great teamwork, the project will continue to a successful, on-time completion despite any new challenges that might arise.



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Successful projects depend on tech-savvy preconstruction

Posted by April Parsley on October 3rd, 2016


Preconstruction plays a vital role in the success of any construction project, and construction management companies today have a wide range of software tools that can save their clients time and money.

Andrew Lock, Vice President of Preconstruction Services at F.A. Wilhelm Construction, said Wilhelm uses a variety of project control and building information modeling (BIM) tools and software to provide value-added preconstruction services. Lock said preconstruction involves estimating project costs and budgeting, value engineering to help clients save money, scheduling and sequencing of a project, and evaluating constructability issues. “During preconstruction, we envision all these things together to get the cost, quality, and schedule right to make the client’s project happen.” Lock said Wilhelm’s preconstruction team engages advanced technology to accomplish this.

Thomas Jacoby, Wilhelm’s Virtual Construction Engineer, said the single most useful piece of software he uses in preconstruction is Navisworks. Navisworks allows Wilhelm to integrate all the different building information models (BIM) – mechanical, electrical, HVAC and others – to provide a holistic view of the project. Jacoby said this is particularly helpful with highly complex projects such as healthcare facilities, noting that “the amount of mechanical equipment of various types that go into hospitals gets very complex very quickly.” Jacoby said the three-dimensional viewing capabilities of the software help clients, project teams and others better understand the how project components interact, so that decisions can be made and implemented more quickly. “Navisworks helps us effectively communicate with entire teams to get challenges quickly straightened out and keep owners, designers and subcontractors on the same page.”

Lock said Wilhelm’s use of Assemble takes that one step further, allowing the combined models to be viewed online so that everyone involved from project teams to clients – can readily access key information from anywhere. Lock said Assemble is particularly useful in the development of budgets. “Developing a budget for a project requires a lot of interaction with the owner and design team,” he said, adding that being able to view the project online makes it easier to communicate with the client about different components that can affect project costs.

Assemble is also useful during construction. When operation teams run into issues, preconstruction teams can easily coordinate through the program to quickly identify and discuss optimal solutions, including impacts on overall project costs.

Wilhelm’s use of technology for preconstruction is not limited to office computers and laptops, either. The company uses drones during both preconstruction and construction to inform the project. Lock said Wilhelm now has a fleet of five drones – “our own mini-air force” – to offer high-value preconstruction services. “We’re able to fly over and evaluate sites and existing conditions to get good information used to determine site costs. That sets us up nicely during construction so things go smoother with fewer surprises,” Jacoby said. Adding, “We’ll use drones to get basic imagery and three-dimensional (3D) information for the site, and to inspect buildings and other hard-to-reach considerations.”

Drones are also used during construction to verify progress and processes, and to save time and money. Lock said. “When Wilhelm is working on a mass excavation, for example, and we want to know how much earth we have left to move – we do a drone flyover. The 3D image of the site is then compared to previous images and final grades to understand exactly how much work is required.” Lock said drones work particularly well for large sites. “Using a drone on a 150-acre site,” he said, “can equate to two days of survey data collected in just two hours.”

Another important tool used by Wilhelm’s preconstruction team for estimating and project costing is Viewpoint. This tool allows teams to analyze historical cost information based on individual components and criteria, and build from there. Lock said software tools provide a great starting point, but people expertise is the critical component to develop reliable estimates for clients. “You have to be aware of the ins and outs of each marketplace.”

Once project plans and budgets are developed, teams use bid databases to find the most qualified subcontractors and vendors. He said these databases are particularly useful for projects like healthcare facilities that have unique needs require highly specialized expertise.

Doug Correll, Wilhelm’s Director of Project Controls said that his team implements technologies in their process from the very first contact with the job. The group primarily uses P6 and Sketchup to represent the construction sequences and logistics plans that best fit the project.  Often, a highly detailed plan and schedule will be developed as a part of the proposal prior to an award being announced.  Once the plans are developed and expressed through sketches and schedules, the project team (along with preconstruction) can have a product to evaluate in an effort to generate the most advantageous execution plan.

In a cautious tone, Doug continued his sentiment regarding technology indicating that “the technology is only as useful as the philosophies, training and business methodologies behind them. Even the best technology only represents what it is told to do.  The key is training people on what to look for and to make prudent decisions as projects progress.”

When asked how project controls relate to ensuring the success of the project, Doug replied, “within project controls, there is a fine line between providing good information/input and executing a plan to “ensure” the success of the project. Ultimately, the project manager is responsible for the outcome of the project. The project controls group is tasked with representing the best (unbiased) plan for how to achieve the desired outcome and to alert the team when the plan is getting off track.”

Wilhelm’s operational teams also use software tools to improve onsite project management including Procore, Viewpoint and Latista. Project Manager Jeremy Putnam uses Latista – a quality control and field management application – to keep track of all items needing to be completed on a project. Putnam said he especially appreciates the accountability it provides for a project. “As you walk the job site, you snap a picture and assign the item to the appropriate subcontractor. The subcontractor responsible for the fix receives a daily notification to remedy the item, and when it’s fixed, can mark the item done for verification.”

Perhaps one of the most important advantages that Wilhelm’s use of technology provides is the ability to communicate more effectively with the clients it serves. “It all comes down to communication,” Lock said. He explained that successful projects require being able to communicate in different ways, “There’s no one universal way to show a budget or a schedule that will suit everyone’s needs. The different types of technology we use allow us to communicate more effectively with everyone – including owners, project stakeholders, end users, subcontractors and suppliers. Lock said healthcare projects are a good example. “In healthcare,” he said, “you have a lot of different user groups, and they’re each looking for very specific information. Wilhelm’s technology gives us the ability to focus in on each stakeholder’s individual needs, as well as communicate the entire project scope.”

Whether in the office or on a project site, Wilhelm is harnessing the power of advanced technology to improve the services it provides to clients every step of the way from preconstruction through construction.

Jacoby said Wilhelm stays on the leading edge of preconstruction technology because, while technology requires an investment on Wilhelm’s part, it provides huge dividends for clients.

Clients benefit from technology because it provides transparency, and transparency builds consensus. Technology also provides real-time access to information and visual confirmation of activities and successes. The right project tools applied by the right project team provide a comprehensive project overview giving owners “peace of mind” and confidence in the building process.



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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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