the Contractor's SoapboxBy Jim Vlcek, Editor in Chief
Mario Garza, Barton Malow Company
Jim Vlcek (JV): Tell me about Barton Malow…Explain your company's niche' in your market place. Explain the scope of your market place…. Where do you do most of your concrete jobs?
Mario Garza (MG): Barton Malow Company provides a wide variety of construction services to clients including construction management, design-build services, and general contracting. These services are provided in the manufacturing, education, health care, sports, and energy markets.
Within these markets, Barton Malow is able to provide concrete self perform services to its clients. Our concrete services are primarily focused in heavy industrial structural concrete. We self perform all facets of concrete construction including formwork, reinforcing steel fabrication and installation, placement, finishing, and post-tensioning. Our concrete services are primarily performed within the Great Lakes region in what are commonly referred to as the Big Ten states. However, we do venture outside of this geographic region to support other divisions of Barton Malow Company, most notably in the energy sector. Barton Malow Company is actively pursuing renewable energy projects across the country, especially in the wind energy market.
JV: Mario, using this "Contractors Corner" soap box as your personal sounding board for all concrete contractors, design professionals and specifiers, and other concrete professionals, what are some of the important things you'd like to tell your peers based on your many years of experience.
MG: As self perform contractors, we must manage a number of risk factors on a daily basis. As we review the problems that arise on projects from a production, quality, and safety perspective, we find poor communication to be the primary cause of most of our problems. This includes communication problems from the owner to the project team, project manager to superintendent, and superintendent to the foreman. The most important thing we must do on our projects is communicate. This includes
- Job kick-off meetings with owner, project team, and subcontractors.
- Pre-placement meetings for all major placements.
- Mock-ups for all specified finishes including exposed concrete and specialty slab finishes.
In addition, we actively work with our clients to help them apply design-build concepts to all of our projects. We invite our clients to involve us early in the design and preconstruction process by allowing us to provide design reviews and value engineering. We feel that this allows us to minimize risk for both the owner and ourselves while maximizing the value and efficiency of the client's construction process. We feel that the expertise of specialty contractors should be utilized by owners whenever possible.
JV: What have been your main challenges due to your company's rapid growth over the past ten years?
MG: As any contractor knows, growth does not come without its share of headaches. I feel that we did a fairly good job of forecasting these problems and managing them. I believe the most important key to our successful growth was having a solid core of employees that truly functioned as a team. This core represented a good mix of expertise in floor construction, heavy foundation construction, and structural concrete. With this core of employees established, we were able to manage the influx of new team leaders required to manage the increase in projects. We reinforced our Safety Committee by employing a Safety Director who is dedicated specifically to Specialty Contracting. We also established a Quality Committee to help educate and train our employees and to manage the quality risks on our projects.
JV: Given all the industrial floors your company has done over the years, what are the elements most important to delivering a great job? How has that changed over the years?
MG: Again, communication. One of the most important first steps on a project is establishing the owner's true expectations. A lot of times we envision what is specified differently than what the owner is expecting. It is important to clear this up PRIOR to the start of a project.
Advancements in equipment and materials within the industry over the last 10 years have really changed the concrete industry for the better. Laser screeds have allowed us to improve our construction practices and produce a better finished product for an owner and provide greater value. Steel fibers have revolutionized floor construction. We can now complete large floor construction projects faster and better than ever before.
These advancements have made the pre-construction process all the more important for us. We need to be able to work with our owners, engineers, and suppliers to ensure that a floor design is developed that fully utilizes these advancements. When this design team concept is achieved, it truly allows the project to flow more productively.
JV: How important are the new super flat floors to your business? How have those tighter demands/specs changed in your industry over the past 10 years?
MG: The advancement in materials and equipment has greatly increased the successfulness of superflat floors. With any specialty process, the most important thing is planning. Often times we will utilize a third party design consultant to verify our mix designs and placement plans to insure that projects move smoothly. There is so much research that has been done in the industry on the construction of superflat floors, that a contractor would be foolish to not utilize a professional "second opinion" prior to construction of a specialty item like superflat floors.
JV: How important are post-tensioned concrete floors to your overall business? How did you carve out that business and set up your company to specialize in that segment of the business?
MG: We feel that a big advantage that Barton Malow has over its competitors is that we self perform the installation of reinforcing steel and post tension systems. We have personnel that are Post Tension Institute certified. This allows us to control the post tension construction process with the same personnel that are installing our reinforcing steel. Given this staffing, we are able to actively pursue post tension projects and provide our clients with a complete in-house concrete construction process. We feel that this allows us to control quality, safety, and schedule risk more efficiently.
JV: How have the auto industry cut-backs affected your overall business in the Great Lakes area? And what are you doing elsewhere to replace this sector of lost business?
MG: Without a doubt the automotive industry impacts our region more than any other market sector. Over the last ten years we made a focused effort to increase our presence within the energy and environmental markets. We have completed major projects in recent years at water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, ethanol plants, steel mills, coal-fired power plants, gas-fired power plants, and wind turbine farms. That being said, we have maintained our presence in the automotive market. In the last 4 years, we have placed over 1.5 million square feet of industrial floors for automotive manufactures with another 1 million in the forecast for the next year. The major difference is the project delivery method. We have constructed most of these projects in a design-build method with Barton Malow Company as a whole. In this delivery, we are able to increase the value to our owners through value engineering, schedule improvement, and cost management. The design-build philosophy reduces the amount of time and money wasted on design revisions, industrial process conflicts, and change orders, all of which provides greater value to the owner.
JV: What is your position on the appropriate use of fly ash in concrete mix designs?
MG: I believe the use of fly ash in concrete can be beneficial as long as the mix is properly designed and controlled. Fly ash allows us to economically provide solutions to situations that require control of heat of hydration, increased chemical resistance, and long term durability. Again, the key to proper use of fly ash mixes is communication with the ready mix supplier and insisting on careful quality control.
JV: How important are the new generation of floor hardeners/densifiers/sealers to your business? What words of wisdom can you share with other contractors about this side of the business?
MG: We consider these to be specialty items that need to be clarified with owners to verify their intended purpose. On several occasions, our suppliers have been able to make product substitution suggestions to our owners to better meet their requirements. This is especially true in the selection of shake-on hardeners. With all of the various products available, it is important that the right hardener is selected for the intended service of the floor.
About Mario Garza
Mario Garza is the preconstruction manager for Barton Malow Company.
Mario Garza Jr. has been with Barton Malow Company's Concrete Division for over 10 years. Mario began his career in the field as a layout engineer and worked his way up through the ranks to superintendent and project manager.
In his current role of Preconstruction Manager, he is responsible for the entire preconstruction and estimating effort of Barton Malow's Concrete Division.
Mario is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.S.E. in Civil and Environmental Engineering with emphasis in Construction Engineering. He is a member of the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute. Mario is an active member of the American Concrete Institute (ACI) International, holding positions within ACI Committees 306 - Cold Weather Concrete and 207 - Mass Concrete.
Additionally, Mario sits on the Board of Directors for ACI's Greater Michigan Chapter.
Mario Garza Jr.
Preconstruction Manager, Barton Malow Company
Phone: (248) 584-6307
© 2011 L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. | ConcreteNews Summer 2011.