Diversification and Expansion:

Legacy of Leadership

This part of Barton Malow’s heritage story was written by Chief Community Officer Ben Maibach III in 2016. Ben III began his career at Barton Malow in 1964 and influenced the most significant growth period in Barton Malow’s 100 year history. 

By the mid-1990s, Barton Malow was expanding our traditional markets and pursuing related ventures, all the time developing advanced tools and systems to best serve our clients.

While we worked at over 200 K12 schools each summer and built major facilities for Ford and GM, we were also breaking new ground in Maryland, with the creation of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute; it linked the university’s medical facilities to the state’s medical biotechnology industry and enhanced academic research on campus. This was the forerunner of many such facilities to be built in the United States, and Barton Malow was able to take a leading role in that effort. It was also the first step in building a valued and long-standing relationship with the University of Maryland.

Successful Construction Programs

To support our building efforts, we had formally launched our Total Quality Management program in late 1994, bringing every employee into the process. Over time, we chose the principles of ISO as a quality model, for its emphasis on documented, consistent procedures used throughout the organization. While we had always had written procedural manuals, the new emphasis was on accessing and communicating knowledge system-wide with a strong focus on continuous improvement. With the hard work of our employees, and their whole-hearted adoption of the program, our entire organization, including our subsidiaries, was certified in October 1998. In fact, our Rigging Division is one of only two such outfits to be ISO certified in the United States.

To my mind, the most important aspect of ISO, as practiced here, is an active Customer Satisfaction Program. At the beginning of each project, our clients spell out project goals in great detail. Each quarter, they formally report how well we are doing in these specific areas, as well as on the project as a whole. Any areas of concern or corrective actions needed are addressed immediately and involve both the project team and the senior officers of the company. However, I am glad to say that our customers have repeatedly let us know that they are pleased with our efforts.

In 1996 and 1997, Argos, as our design subsidiary was then known, won consecutive Design-Build Institute of America awards for the American Concrete Institute in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and West Suburban Center for Primary Care, River Forest, Illinois. Looking ahead to numerous design-build projects with Argos and our construction groups, this subsidiary was renamed Barton Malow Design.

When I think about our Trade Labor and Rigging groups, I realize that, in some ways, we have really come full circle: We offer general contracting and rigging services as well as construction management and design-build. In the late 1990s, skilled construction trades were in short supply pretty much across the country. While we historically advocated outside trades on our construction management work, to keep our interests completely separate, it was to the owners’ advantage at times to have trade labor immediately available to keep a schedule moving. Tradework is bid competitively, in fairness to our clients. The Trade Labor Group continues to be among the very largest employers of construction labor in Michigan.

Construction in the Sports Market

Our workload was greatly diversified, and in the late 1990s, sports building gained momentum. It was common at Barton Malow to hear our stadium work likened to a four-game sweep of the World Series. At one point, we were working on 30 such contracts, including 11 very large professional and NCAA sports projects. We are proud to see many fine teams playing at stadiums we built during the time, some with joint venture partners: the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Columbus Blue Jackets, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, and the University of Virginia Cavaliers among others.

Continued Expansion

In the commercial/industrial markets, 1998 was an eventful year: Barton Malow had been part of the joint venture serving Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County airport expansion. In 1998, the program management team swung into high gear for the $600 million Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport expansion. Also, we joined forces with Ideal Steel to form Ideal Contracting, one of the few minority-owned firms with investment backing from an experienced national constructor. Our Advanced Testing Systems division, which built and maintained automotive testing facilities, was merged into our Corporate/Industrial Group.

Around this same time, we rethought the role of our Technical Services Group, which had been responsible for estimating and value engineering. With projects growing increasingly complex, we decided to create a full-fledged Project Planning Group to work together on all aspects of preconstruction. In this way, the implications of each design and building option are understood from many perspectives. Subsequently renamed the Preconstruction Group, staff are involved on virtually every complex project to ensure an uninterrupted construction process and maximum value to clients.

It was also a time of geographic expansion, as across 2,300 miles, three teams created Barton Malow’s new regional offices.

In 1998, at the request of a long-established client, Barton Malow placed staff in Arizona to oversee a specific project. This led to our opening a full-service Phoenix office in 1999, to serve additional owners. Locally, we became known for baseball construction, with the creation of the Surprise Municipal Center Spring Training Complex, and additions and renovations for Arizona State University and a minor league venue in the city of Phoenix. The office continued to grow and diversify and soon completed major work for other clients, including Delta, the YMCA, and Maricopa County.

We had worked in Ohio successfully for two decades and already had a very experienced public education team. Considering these strengths and the state of Ohio’s multibillion-dollar education mandate, we continued developing professional relationships and opened an office in Columbus. In 1999, we won our first school program, Lima, under the new initiative. Within a few years, we had won contracts to work in ten districts, often in joint venture with local firms. We formally report to the state, while our people attend to the unique needs of each district. Also, building upon our long-standing relationship with the University of Virginia, we established an office in Charlottesville. We were at work in local school districts, at Virginia Tech and a resort hotel, among other assignments – and how fulfilling, in a region valuing tradition, to consult on the restoration of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home.

Barton Malow’s Southfield Headquarters Project in progress - 2000

A New Home: Barton Malow’s Southfield Headquarters

In September 2000, we broke ground on our new headquarters in Southfield, Michigan, and in November 2001, we moved in. History will record the events of September 11, 2001, and subsequent months as a strenuous period for the United States, to say the least. But I believe that year will be equally remembered for the way Americans fought back – planning, rebuilding and taking courageous steps to ensure national safety and prosperity. In such a climate, the roles of designer and constructor became paramount, both symbolically and in practice. As we built for the future, we held the past clearly in mind, to affirm our most cherished values and relationships.

Building our new headquarters was an emotional venture, embodying our belief that the long-term outlook was positive for our company, our industry, and our nation. The distance was 19 miles and 78 years between our first headquarters and the new building, designed and constructed by our own people. Together, employee teams created a one-of-a-kind home, rising four stories over serene wetlands, with a dramatic glass curtainwall sloping inward. Ringed by glass panels on all levels, the atrium heightens the sensation of light and openness.

But the building isn’t all gentle curves and soft vistas. The everyday materials of our job are transformed into works of art, as infrastructure is open, providing angles and detail. This arrangement demonstrates our pride in craftsmanship and teamwork and symbolizes our open relationships with clients. Barton Malow employees designed and built the headquarters, which won a national Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) award.

New Capabilities + Focus

Advanced technology continues to strengthen collaboration within the building, with regional offices and with clients. A videoconferencing system transmits and receives presentations; project files are stored and retrieved online; our communications system integrates voicemail, e-mail, and fax. We produce videos in-house. Environmental considerations were a big part of design, construction, and building operations.

Around this time, too, we increased our focus on life sciences construction. Planning and implementation are often challenging on such projects: Not only do the facilities themselves require a high degree of sophistication, the logistics are generally demanding. As a rule, it is the older, well-established – and therefore, often very built-up – campus that undertakes such an effort.

Wilsdorf Hall at the University of Virginia is one of only five centers established by the National Science Foundation to advance the science of nanotechnology (research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or macro-molecular levels). At the University of Maryland College Park, the Bioscience Research Building strengthens campus programs in the biological sciences and encourages cross-disciplinary studies in the life sciences.

The University of Michigan Palmer Drive Development also promotes cross-disciplinary research. Its principal component, the Life Sciences Institute (with research laboratories, offices, and support space for teams of world-class scientists), is physically, electronically, and intellectually linked with other buildings and with the medical campus several blocks away.

University of Michigan Palmer Drive Development project in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Other building teams were involved in equally challenging work. The demand for stadiums continued unabated; in 2003, Barton Malow and its joint venture partners completed Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears. Built in 1924, it was the oldest NFL stadium still in use.

The Soldier Field challenges were many. The 20-month building schedule worked out to approximately $1 million of work in place every day. Some portions of the project required activity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And the well-recognized colonnades were kept, with the new seating bowl and field tucked in. That meant there were no square corners! The profile is 20% narrower than football fields built from scratch these days, yet capacity was not scaled back: 63,500 seats (including 8,600 club seats), 133 luxury suites, club area of 100,000 square feet. 

Soldier Field won 15 industry honors, including a Build America Award from the national Association of General Contractors.

It was among the first Barton Malow programs to use BIM (Building Information Modeling) technology. This digital modeling of construction projects simplifies logistics, improves communication among team members, and conserves time and budget.

Among the major healthcare projects during this decade is the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. It includes a complete continuum of cardiac care, from outpatient services through intensive care. The site was challenging – closely bounded by existing facilities with a single driveway serving this and other construction sites.

Our education group was also busy: By the early to mid-2000s, our school builders were at work on 400 individual campuses each summer! They were supported by our Technology Group, educational technology experts, who provide an array of services from needs analysis through system design, installation, and warranty follow-up. Their goal is “future-proofing” the system, so districts and universities can upgrade rather than replace components – an economical solution to rapid changes.

Across all disciplines, for as long as we have been in business, Barton Malow has treated the earth gently, but from the late 1990s forward, we paid special attention to green building. Looking for strong conservation strategies, we joined the US Green Building Council and encouraged employees to become LEED Accredited Professionals.

LEED – which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – offers a wealth of information for accomplishing such goals. Now, every office has a large share of LEED Accredited Professionals to guide projects. LEED-certified projects reflect well on owner, architect, and builder, and make good business sense. Formalized procedures offer greater assurance that natural resources are conserved during construction and in the completed building.

Doing the Right Thing

Barton Malow’s historically strong safety program was strengthened in 2002, with the requirement that all operations personnel complete the 14-module Safe2Work program. The goal was to create a culture of safety, where employees had a shared base of knowledge and shared concern for keeping job sites free of illness and injury. By December 2002, all operations staff, including officers, had completed eight modules, and in 2004, 590 members of our staff had completed the entire program – more than any other firm in the United States. Both the national Associated General Contractors and the Michigan Safety Conference honored us for our safety record and concern with worker well-being.

We are also active in organizations that help us create a diverse workforce within Barton Malow as well as demographically diverse project teams – for instance, the Michigan Minority Business Development Council (MMBDC), Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the African American Association of Business & Contractors (A3BC). Working with these organizations as well as clients and unions, we try to strengthen construction-related businesses owned by women and minorities. These programs are part of our standard operating process.

From 1994 to 2004, Barton Malow won 23 awards for these efforts; five times we were honored as a model workplace, for our business practices and emphasis on staff development. But the awards are not really the point: Our goal is to build a strong, dynamic workforce that understands and meets responsibilities to clients and communities, and in so doing builds a strong foundation for our future.