Excellence in Construction
Recognizing Excellence
Construction projects around the state recognized for a job well done
By Rindi White

t’s a rare project in Alaska that doesn’t encounter some challenge, from unexpected geology to intense weather to remote work sites. Alaskan contractors are well-versed in dealing with the curveballs that go along with working in the Last Frontier.

The Excellence in Construction award was created in part to celebrate the hard-won achievements of the companies who put it all on the line and excel when others might crumple under pressure. The Excellence in Construction award is cause for celebration, and each year’s uniquely designed trophy is a work of art made to be proudly on display. The 2021 Excellence in Construction awards were presented January 28 at the Parker, Smith & Feek Excellence in Construction Luncheon at Part II of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska Annual Conference, held at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage.

2021 Excellence in Construction award
Photo courtesy of Cornerstone General Contractors
man winning award for STG, Inc.
STG, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Flavin Photography
Excellence in Construction Award for a Specialty Contractor: Transportation, Marine, Heavy, Earthmoving
STG, Inc. | Clark’s Point and Manokotak Village Towers
STG, Inc. Project Manager Jay Ubben says the two-part project was to build new towers to improve cellular service to Clark’s Point and Manokotak, two remote projects for two different clients. One involved driving piles and doing a full site build. The other involved installing helical piles and a full site build. But what made the projects notable was that STG, Inc. brought value to both clients by having a seat at the table early and working with the two clients to save both of them money, using the same crew to do work for both projects using equipment that was already operating in the area.

“It was the combination of the relationship, the three-way partnership of one contractor and two clients, and the ability to bring two clients together to save people money. It was also the logistics of barging and finding economies of scale that brought the clients value,” he says.

Winning the award for their innovation was a great way to cap two successful projects, he says.

“It helps boost internal morale,” Ubben says of the award. “What we did is actually valuable—it brought value to the owners and value to the communities, and it helps us recognize that we’re doing a good job.”

In the current work environment of heavy competition for good employees, Ubben says being an award-winning company is a draw.

“We can show we stand behind our work, and we do reputable work. We’re a good constructor. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to hire people, and we want to be a place where people want to be,” he says.

two men accepting award for UNIT Company
UNIT Company
Photo courtesy of Flavin Photography
Excellence in Construction Award for a Specialty Contractor: Vertical Construction
UNIT Company | CLR039a Long Range Discrimination Radar, Construction Package #1—Site Infrastructure, Mission Control Facility, and Substation
This project provided the infrastructure for the Long Range Discrimination Radar facility at Clear Space Force Station, says Unit Company Project Manager David Gage. The facility included a boiler room and a mechanical room, setting up the process for providing heat to other nearby buildings, he says.

The project was made more difficult, Gage says, because the contract included several stipulations for liquidated damages: requirements that the project meet specific delivery dates or the contractor loses out on tens of thousands of dollars. Along with a tight timeline, he says, multiple other projects were happening onsite simultaneously, so a work space might be shared with other companies working on different projects.

Gage says completing the project, and meeting the strict deadlines throughout, was challenging. But the payoff of a job well done—and the added boost of winning the Excellence award—were good rewards.

“It furthered our relationship with the US Army Corps of Engineers,” he says. “It establishes us as one of the major contractors in the state.”

woman accepting award for Davis Constructors & Engineers
Davis Constructors & Engineers
Photo courtesy of Flavin Photography
Sustainability in Construction Award
Davis Constructors and Engineers, Inc. | Davis First Floor Tenant Improvements
A make-work project undertaken during COVID-19 closures ended up being a triumph for Davis Constructors and Engineers. Davis Project Manager Gaute Johansen says a roughly 4,000-square-foot project to build leased office space on the first floor of its office building exceeded expectations.

“The project took off… right in the heat of COVID, as things were shutting down. Our thought was, we could privately fund this project and keep our workers and subcontractors busy, as well as provide Anchorage with some needed Class A office space.”

The sustainability angle came from an effort to set the building up to be self-sustaining and to reuse items where possible. The office building is heated geothermally, with about sixteen miles of piping woven into Davis’s property off Dowling Road, fed by geothermal heat pumps buried ten to fifteen feet underground. The pipes are between 45 and 60 degrees year-round and, when run through a heat exchanger, transfer warmth into the building in winter or transfer heat out of the building in summer. The project also used recycled office furniture obtained when Davis renovated about 17,000 square feet of office space in JL Towers for JL Properties. A tenant that had recently updated three floors of the building with new furniture moved out, so Davis was able to reuse the nearly new furniture.

The project had a similar design style to the rest of Davis’s office building and provided work when pandemic closures made work uncertain. The project was well-received, Johansen says; the first clients who toured the space signed a lease.

Winning the award was the icing on the proverbial cake.

“From an employee standpoint, as a project manager, this award confirms that the work we do has a benefit to Alaska,” Johansen says. “From a company standpoint, we’re always interested in projects that are going to benefit the state of Alaska and have a lasting effect. It’s rewarding to receive these awards, as it shows Davis Constructors & Engineers are constantly striving to stay at the forefront of Alaska construction.”

two men accepting award for QAP
Photo courtesy of QAP
Meeting the Challenge of a Job, Under $5 Million: Transportation, Marine, Heavy, Earthmoving
QAP | Red Dog Airport Runway Small Surface Repair
Compared to many of QAP’s road projects, this airport repair project is pretty small, QAP Project Superintendent Scott Link says. The section repaired was about 100 feet by 230 feet, requiring only about 600 tons of asphalt. The challenge, he says, was in the timeline.

“We didn’t get notice to proceed until late August. When companies were trying to get out of that region, we were trying to get in,” he says.

But get in, they did. They brought in three barges from three different ports of call: a hot plant that was barged from Naknek to the Red Dog Mine port; the paving spread from Kotzebue where QAP had another project in process; and aggregate and oil from Nome.

Amazingly, the work was completed within forty-five days of receiving the notice to proceed. And that was with significant changes to the project: a 6-inch deep repair turned into a 28-inch deep repair, Link says. A week before the actual repairs were made, a decision was made to add insulation board under the project.

“There’s just not a lot of paving north of the Arctic Circle in October,” Link says. “Constant communication between us and the owner allowed us to provide the best possible project we could in a very short period of time. I think they appreciated that—the overall communication between ourselves and them was critical to the overall success.”

Link says while QAP takes pride in a job well done, receiving recognition from colleagues is valuable.

“To get the feedback from the client and other sources like AGC, it hits home a little more,” he says.

Meeting the Challenge of a Job, Between $5 Million and $15 Million: Transportation, Marine, Heavy, Earthmoving
Western Marine Construction, Inc. | Tenakee Springs Ferry Terminal Improvements
This project was a retrofit and replacement of the existing Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal in Tenakee Springs. Western Marine Construction Project Manager Julian Koerner says the project was pretty complex, with multiple sets of phasing.

“The biggest aspect was, after the award, we went through a major value-engineering change proposal process with DOT [Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities] that reduced the project schedule and had significant cost savings to the owner,” he says.

As a result, the project was complete almost three months ahead of time, a major win for both Western Marine and the project owner.

Winning, Koerner says, just underscores the success of the project.

“It’s a benefit in both marketing and general exposure for the work we do and the quality of that work,” he says. “[The project] was a really good opportunity and we enjoyed the collaborative effort, working through the details with DOT, and the collaborative effort with all the shareholders in the process.”

men and women standing next to each other accepting award for Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.
Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.
Photo courtesy of Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.
Meeting the Challenge of a Job, Over $15 Million: Transportation, Marine, Heavy, Earthmoving
Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. | Kake Access Road
The Kake Access Road project created new access on Kupreanof Island for recreational and subsistence activities. The project scope included building 6.4 miles of road for year-round surface transportation access between the community of Kake and a new boat launch on the eastern shore of the island, providing public access to lands along the route, as well as creating an additional access point to navigable waters on Frederick Sound.

Kiewit Project Manager Clint Lane led the project. He has more than thirty years of experience building challenging projects on remote islands in Alaska, and a loyal group of craft workers enjoy working alongside him. With a small, remote project team, everyone was able to take on more responsibility than groups working on more traditional projects, says field engineer Amanda Lundgren. Lundgren says the project, a Construction Manager/General Contractor, or CM/GC model, allowed Kiewit to collaborate with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to improve design, identify and mitigate risks, and find cost-efficient ways to deliver project goals on budget and ahead of schedule.

Lundgren says by using the CM/GC model, Kiewit saved the client $27 million, allowing some of the project funding to be redirected to improve local roads and bridges not originally included in the project scope.

“In my opinion, winning the Excellence in Construction award for the Kake project is further proof that the CM/GC model works—and works well,” she says.

two men accepting award for Roger Hickel Contracting, Inc.
Roger Hickel Contracting, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Flavin Photography
Meeting the Challenge of a Job, Under $5 Million: Vertical Construction
Roger Hickel Contracting, Inc. | Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Mental Health Upgrades
The Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Mental Health Upgrade project added two infirmary rooms, a dental exam room, thirteen new holding cells, a mezzanine with offices and full glass windows for staff, a new control system and control desk with integrated cameras, an exterior courtyard, and more, for roughly $4.6 million. But Roger Hickel Contracting, Inc. President Sean Hickel says the project was a little different than most of Roger Hickel Contracting’s projects. Workers were required to pass extensive background checks; all tools and materials had to be inspected and accounted for on the way in and out of the job site; and work was only done during specific hours. Roger Hickel Contracting employees went through training with staff, he says.

The job went well despite the heightened security, and the client was pleased with the finished product. Hickel says winning the Excellence award provides an extra boost to the employees who worked on the project.

“We always tell the client, designers, and subcontractors about the award and share that recognition with them, and they always appreciate that,” he says. “It makes a lot of people around here, internally, feel good.”

Meeting the Challenge of a Job, Between $5 Million and $15 Million: Vertical Construction
UNIT COMPANY | East High School Safety Improvements – Sports Complex
A project to repair the roof structure of the East High School Sports Complex became more complex when UNIT Company employees noticed that the underground ductwork serving the gym area would seasonally fill with groundwater. UNIT Company worked with the design team and the Anchorage School District to find a solution that was healthier for building occupants. It required abandoning the underground ductwork and installing new ductwork around the existing structure, sprinkler, and electrical rough-in, says UNIT Company Project Manager Andrew Garsha. The project included plans to make seismic upgrades to structural roof panels and to remove existing ductwork, electrical, and sprinkler piping and replace it. It also included renovating locker rooms, moving plumbing piping, and installing new electrical raceways.

“Identifying this issue and working with the design team on a new solution provided a healthier environment for students, staff, and family members,” Garsha says.

Garsha says being recognized for their hard work is valuable to UNIT Company and its employees. 

“Winning provides a great sense of pride for our organization. We work hard to provide great customer service and final product that we and the owner can be proud of. We keep our awards in locations where they are visible by the employees in the office to boost morale and remind everyone of the level of quality we can provide,” he says, adding that there are external benefits as well.

“This is something that is seen by project owners and subcontractors we work with and may work with in the future. It hopefully will provide future building opportunities with previous and future building owners. Subcontractors may also take notice of this and be motivated to work with us on future projects. It’s a great way for us to market our firm as an outfit that provides high-quality work,” Garsha says.

men standing in snow accepting award for Cornerstone General Contractors, Inc.
Cornerstone General Contractors, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Cornerstone General Contractors, Inc.
Meeting the Challenge of a Job, Over $15 Million: Vertical Construction
Cornerstone General Contractors, Inc. | Gruening Middle School Earthquake Repair
The Gruening Middle School Earthquake Repair project took a building that had been red-tagged as unusable and renovated, updated, and modernized it—all within a year so students and faculty could return to the building at the beginning of the 2021/2022 school year.

“There are several things that were notable about this project,” says Cornerstone Senior Project Manager Jonathan Hornak. “The sheer size of the project was massive and the schedule we were given to do it in was the shortest of any large-scale school project we’ve seen to date.  We were given eleven months to completely demolish the majority of the building and build it back safer for the kids to get back to school.”

The project had more than 650 requests for information from the project team, mostly related to code issues that were uncovered as the team demolished walls and ceilings, Hornak says. With up to 150 people working at one time, the job site was a hive of activity—and all of it was happening during the peak of COVID-19 closures and restrictions. Hornak says due to job site safety measures, only eight cases of COVID-19 were reported on site.

Hornak says winning the Excellence in Construction award is a nice end to the Gruening Middle School repair story.

“Winning this award in the largest category will help open doors for Cornerstone to pursue larger, more complicated projects, as this award adds to our long history of successful, challenging projects,” Hornak says. “The award recognizes the challenge we undertook and will help make that clear to future project owners, as we use this award in our proposals.”

Rindi White is the editor of The Alaska Contractor magazine.