Management firm works to control the chaos

By GENE STOWE
South Bend Tribune Correspondent


When Jack Krouse started working in construction management, at high-rise projects in downtown Chicago, “management” amounted to a chaos of contractors vying for attention with no attention to sequence or reason.

“It was just catch-as-catch-can back in those days,” says Krouse, who joined Construction Control Inc. in 1974 and remembers when painters would approach him in the construction trailer for paint chip approval with the foundation barely dug.

“There was at that time no control over submittals, products coming and going. I think technology has evolved the company. The technology gave us the tools to manage things better.”

Construction managers now leave for the construction site with some 2,400 submittals sequentially entered into a computer for smooth operation.

At the same time, construction managers realized that they needed to be involved much earlier in the process — with architects, drawings, overall budgets, fees, soft costs and land costs — before work goes out for bid.

“If we’re going to be advocates of the owner, we have to do a lot more than just supervise the construction,” Krouse says.

Construction Control, with some 45 employees and projects scattered across Indiana and southern Michigan, has built shopping centers, office buildings, 10-story structures, manufacturing plants, correctional facilities and some 900 schools.

The firm oversaw the expansion and renovation of John Adams High School that took some 3½ years and does other work for the South Bend Community School Corp.

The construction management approach started in California in the mid-1960s, building on General Electric’s approach in Texas during World War II, to eliminate middlemen from the construction process. Construction Control started in 1969 in Fort Wayne.

The role results from increased sophistication in products and design, Krouse explains. Going back to the construction of pyramids at least, architects drew simple sketches, then went to the job site to direct the cutting and setting of stone.

The advent of electricity, temperature controls and other modern features demanded more detailed drawings. Architects were beginning to be licensed around 1920. By the 1950s, specialization had left general contractors performing some 20 percent of the work and subcontracting 80 percent to other trades.

By the 1960s, owners were questioning the percentage-markup approach for general contractors - hardly an incentive to cut costs - and turned to construction managers who worked on a fee basis.

“Construction management’s fixed fees are equal to or less than the general contractor’s markup, replace that markup, and give the owner’s much more flexibility in the bidding process. As a bonus, they get a professional to oversee the design, the bidding process, and the quality control of the project.” Krouse says.