Christman Co Is Coming Off Record Year

April 16, 2002
Print
Text Size:
A A
GRAND RAPIDS — The Christman Co. has left an indelible mark in the public sector by probably putting up more government and educational facilities recently than any other contractor in Michigan.

And last year the firm had its best year ever, with earnings totaling $306 million, easily topping its previous all-time mark recorded a few years ago.

The Lansing-based firm — which maintains a Grand Rapids office — will add another crown jewel to its lengthy and impressive resume soon, as the new $70 million State Hall of Justice is nearing completion.

Work on the 280,000-square-foot, six-story home of the Michigan Supreme Court should be done this fall, along with a parking ramp that will hold 1,000 cars.

Christman Vice President John Stevenson said his firm began planning that project three years ago and is nearing the end of its second year of actually building the Hall, which is just a few blocks east of the State Capitol Building.

" align=right border=0>“It will be substantially completed later this fall and I believe the occupancy is scheduled for late this year,” said Stevenson, who started the Grand Rapids office.

“It’s a fairly significant structure,” he added. “It’s all clad in limestone with a big rotunda in the middle of the facility.”

Bill Bont, director of sales and marketing for Christman locally, said the state justice center was not only a functional piece of architecture, but also a highly attractive building.

“It’s very stately. It’s not a real modern-looking building. It looks like it belongs in downtown Washington,” said Bont. “When you drive in from the left and come upon it, it is very striking.”

Before the justice project, Christman was probably best known for directing the historic renovation of the state capitol itself. Christman managed the $58 million restoration of the 120,000-square-foot building that was built in 1879 and serves as the central structure for state government.

Christman divided the project into two phases and three dozen segments.

Each phase had a separate budget and a guaranteed maximum price issued by Christman to the state. When the project was completed, the state had almost $1 million left to reallocate to other work.

But Lansing is just one city that Christman has been actively working in, as the company has done a lot of projects throughout the region in the last few years.

In fact, the firm has done so many projects that its list of recently finished ones would be a story in itself. Here are six, however, that should help mark the scope and range of the company’s work:

  • Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts. A $7.5 million renovation of the old Michigan Theater in Muskegon’s downtown. The project restored the auditorium to its original movie palace look, but also entailed background work that made the theater a center for performing arts. The project won Christman three major awards.
  • Technology Park, Engineering and Applied Science Center. A $72.5 million project for Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo that should be finished next year.
  • Harbor Lights Middle School and Great Lakes Elementary. A $49.9 million project for West Ottawa Public Schools.
  • Herrick Public Library. An $8.6 million renovation and addition project in Holland.
  • Kelly/Shorts Stadium. A $19.9 million expansion for Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant that included a new indoor practice facility.
  • Wharton Center. An $18 million project for Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Much of the work that Christman does is in the public sector, giving the firm a solid track record with governments, public school systems and state universities. And the company feels it has gotten that glowing reputation the old-fashioned way.

“We earned it, quite frankly,” Stevenson said.

“Our people take great pride in relating to the owner. We like to regard ourselves as kind of an extension of the owner’s facility department. So we try very hard to understand the nature and the business of the owner,” he added. “Then we just beat ourselves up achieving their goals.”

Bont said another reason for Christman’s public-sector success is that the firm has strong ties to area architects.

“Our whole thing is to work with an architect as a team, because any project is going to have problems. But if you can solve the problem with the architect, rather than try to place blame or point fingers, the project goes a whole lot smoother,” he said.

“Plus you’re building these relationships for future jobs. We look at our relationship with an architect as being very cooperative, rather than adversarial. It makes a huge difference. Many times architects bring us into jobs because they like to work with us,” he added.

Christman has had time to earn that reputation — 108 years’ worth. The firm was founded in 1894, but 2001 was the company’s banner, racking up the largest sales-volume year in Christman history. In 2000, Christman also did well with sales of slightly more than $224 million.

“Our biggest year in history was $262 million. So we did significantly more than last year, but also significantly better than any other year we’ve ever done in our past,” said Stevenson. “The interesting thing is we have more stuff in the pipeline right now than we probably ever had. So we expect to do ever better in 2002.”

One project that Christman has on its schedule is to plan and manage the construction of a new $175 million hospital for Saint Mary’s in Saginaw. Another one that Chrisman hopes to have lined up this year is the building of a new $50 million high school for West Ottawa Public Schools, a district that has grown tremendously in the last decade. The company is working closely with school officials on a bond proposal that will be on the ballot in June.

“We’ve got two school jobs that we’ll start this spring, one for Hastings schools and one for Reeths-Puffer schools (in Muskegon). We’re working with Grandville schools to put together their next bond issue, which hopefully will happen later this year,” said Bont.

Stevenson pointed out that Christman is doing more development work than it has done in the past. Doing that, he said, allows the firm to become more involved in a project and work even closer with the client. Plus, Stevenson explained, helping to develop a project gets Christman into new areas of construction.

“We’re starting to look at college housing projects, as one example, and hospitals, medical office buildings is another example,” he said.

“We can actually come in and develop a partnership, say in the case of a hospital, either with a hospital or the doctors, and figure out what works best as far as ownership and how we want to structure it.

“A lot of times if they don’t have the money on hand, but they have the need, we can work with them and sort of fill in the gaps so they can get the building they need.”

Some think that the Grand Rapids office of Christman is staffed by people from Lansing, the company’s home base. But that isn’t the case.

Stevenson left Erhardt Construction nine years ago to start Christman locally, and Bont said that just about every one of the office’s 30 employees are West Michigan natives.

“So we truly are a local entity,” said Bont.

Another point of pride for Stevenson and Bont is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that their firm erected near the Hall of Justice in Lansing. It’s a 10-foot-tall, semi-circular steel structure that lists Michigan soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam by their county. All 83 counties have names on the memorial.

“You have to see it to appreciate it,” said Stevenson. “It’s a humbling experience.”

Recent Articles by David Czurak

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus