Putting down Roots

Written by Mark Golombek

Hunzinger Construction Company is a fourth generation, family-owned company that has continuously served the construction industry in Southeast Wisconsin since 1907. As one of Wisconsin’s premier construction management firms, the company is the only Wisconsin firm to be listed every year on ENR’s Top 400 General Contractors in the United States since the inception of the list in 1964.
John Hunzinger has been President of the company for twenty-eight years. In 2004, he arranged for a USGBC educator to work with and train Hunzinger field staff (over 40+ people) to better inform them on the need and initiatives currently in place for sustainable building. Following that training, one of the team’s Project Managers studied and became a LEED AP. After taking the test, he found that there was a need for more preparation and education for other Hunzinger employees to assist them with their LEED AP exams. This was something that at the time was not offered through other organizations. Hunzinger’s LEED AP created and conducted a weekly LEED AP curriculum based study class for Hunzinger field and office personnel. Within one year of creating this curriculum, 100 percent of Hunzinger’s professional personnel successfully passed the LEED AP exam.

By the end of 2004, due to this initial training success, Hunzinger created a new division called Sustainable Building Solutions (SBS) for the specific purpose of green education / training, professional consulting, and energy analyses. Hunzinger began offering the LEED AP preparation class to local subcontractors, architects, engineers and building owners and managers. In the 10 years since the company’s inception, Hunzinger has trained well over 1,200 people to better assist them with their LEED AP and LEED Green Associate Exams. The impact that these 1,200 LEED APs are having has been significant and has really transformed the landscape of sustainable building and the construction industry in southeast Wisconsin.

Business in Focus spoke with Hunzinger Director of Corporate Affairs Joan Zepecki and SBS Director Phil Vetterkind to find out more about this enduring company.

From inception, Hunzinger has had very little employee turnover, quite rare for a construction company. The company boasts teams of people who have worked together from project to project, offering clients a very proven and tested group of managers and craftspeople. When a new project comes along, the team is ready. “There is no wasted time in getting to know your team internally. It may sound odd, but I think that is pretty rare in the construction industry,” shares Joan. “It is not uncommon for our superintendents and project managers to have worked together for ten to thirty years.”

Hunzinger has a great deal of history and deep community roots in Milwaukee. “In a smaller city, reputation is everything,” Phil believes. “We have great quality craftsmen, highly skilled project managers, low staff turnover, and a robust community outreach program.”

In the fifties, Hunzinger built Milwaukee County Stadium, the home of the Milwaukee Braves and later the Brewers. It also built nearby Miller Park in the late nineties, the new home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Undoubtedly, Miller Park’s most unique feature is the 12,000-ton, seven-panel, fan-shaped retractable roof that opens and closes almost silently in just 10 minutes. In addition to shielding fans from rain, the closed roof allows the seating area to be heated 30 degrees warmer than the outside temperature when closed, allowing games to be played in inclement weather and in more comfortable conditions than an open air stadium. Miller Park remains one of the largest public construction projects in Wisconsin history. The Hunzinger project managers for that project are still with the company today. Hunzinger has also worked on the past and current homes of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team: the BMO Harris Bradley Center in the late 1980s and the Milwaukee Arena, built in the 1950s.

Hunzinger is well known within the community, and part of that is due to visionary John Hunzinger, as he has marshalled steady company growth along with Executive Vice Presidents Jim Hunzinger and Kevin O’Toole. Together, they have consistently delivered quality projects and built some of Wisconsin’s most notable and challenging projects. Embracing sustainability and green construction practices and priding ourselves on our superior quality craftsmanship, an exceptional safety record, and a drive to remain on the forefront of the most modern technology available in the industry are recognized hallmarks of Hunzinger Construction. Although he is not yet sixty, he has been at the helm for almost thirty years, and both Joan and Phil talk about John in glowing terms and obviously have great respect for him.

Recognizing that the industry has been evolving in the services being requested of construction providers, John decided to create new divisions including Facility Value Management, LLC, Virtual Design & Construction Coordination™, and Sustainable Building Solutions™.

“We have spun off these other professional services because people may not be looking for a general contractor or construction manager at the time. They need other related services which happen to be our core competencies. We are vertically integrated and multi-faceted due to John’s vision.”

Facility Value Management provides customized conceptual stage, preconstruction, and construction administration consulting services that go beyond traditional “Program Manager” or “Owner’s Representative” roles. The combination of the team’s qualifications, technical expertise, reputation for service and quality in the marketplace, and working knowledge of the design and construction processes all work in concert to maximize value for all project stakeholders and truly distinguish the firm. “The goal is to enhance the experience and add real value to planning, building, renovating, managing or maintaining a facility, campus, or real estate portfolio for our clients.”

The Virtual Design and Construction Coordination (VDCC) division does 3D modeling and more. Hunzinger has invested significant time and resources into the successful implementation of their own trademarked process known as V.D.C.C. The results of this collaborative effort are unmatched in the market. VDCC is more than traditional 3D modeling; they integrate their ground-breaking Archispatial Model™ using Architispacial Analysis™ which is an interactive platform utilizing architectural models for the purpose of scheduling, estimating, sequencing and project coordination. By integrating their pioneering Archispatial Model, VDCC becomes a 5-dimension analysis and collaborative platform that not only virtually constructs, coordinates and quantifies building systems and assemblies in the three traditional spatial dimensions, but also incorporates a 4th dimension of project sequencing / delivery detail (Schedule) and a 5th dimension of project budget and cash flow detail (Cost).

Back in 2004, John attended a conference and discovered that LEED was a hot topic. He brought back a representative from the US Green Building Council for training purposes so Hunzinger would be ready for the new trend in construction. Success with LEED then produced SBS.

Then the company began to educate internally. Before long, 35 Hunzinger project management staff had obtained the LEED certification and their educational sessions were ramped up to once a week, and after six months, people were from outside the company were invited to join the sessions.

“Subcontractors were invited for good reason. We decided that if we were going to do a LEED project and the subs are not familiar, we would be in trouble. We invited our mechanical subcontractors to start learning this. Spinning off of that, we took the lead and invited architects and engineers, and it just mushroomed from there.”

At the time, as renovations were taking place at the Hunzinger offices and, “recognizing that it is insufficient to advocate change and innovation for green building practices for our clients without also experiencing some of the construction industry’s most challenging endeavors for ourselves, we pursued LEED certifications for the projects.” Hunzinger was the first contractor and facility owner in the State of Wisconsin to complete respective Gold and Platinum LEED-CI Certifications. “Since completion of those projects, Hunzinger has embraced sustainable construction efforts and has been at the vanguard of transforming our industry and our built environment as an educator.” From 2005 to 2006, Phil documented as the corporate offices were remade to LEED standards.

“I told ownership that we needed a little more money, but it would make the building better, and they agreed that it was a ‘no-brainer,’” he says. “We ended up getting the Platinum designation for commercial interior projects. This facility is now our education centre. At the time, it was the fifth Platinum commercial interior project in the world. Our sustainability efforts started to snowball from there.”

Shortly thereafter, one of the area’s preeminent architectural firms was renovating their offices and looked to SBS for assistance in tracking and completing the paperwork necessary to attain LEED certification. SBS and Hunzinger successfully walked them through the process and they attained their LEED certification.

A major project that followed was to build Johnson Controls’ new corporate world headquarters in Glendale, Wisconsin with the goal of achieving LEED platinum certification for multiple buildings. All of the Hunzinger project teams were LEED APs – which was rare at the time – so they were ready for the challenge.

However, with such a large project, there were still subcontractors to get up to speed. To ask a subcontractor to bid on something new and perhaps not fully understood can inflate costs, so before the project was bid, Hunzinger instituted education sessions for the subcontractors. Hundreds were brought in and taught about LEED and its benefits. It ended up being a tremendous success. In the end, the project drew international attention as the first project in the world to achieve multi-building LEED Platinum certification.

“A natural progression of our educational efforts evolved into a roadshow where we ended up going to all the architects’ and engineers’ offices and even a lot of owners, telling them about LEED. We were also asked to present on LEED to the carpenters’ and painters’ unions, who brought us in to do field training. Our educational offerings can take them anywhere from a green awareness class, all the way up to LEED AP with courses. We can take them all the way through.”

The SBS portfolio of services includes a consulting arm. Phil will undertake LEED consulting and LEED certifications for existing buildings. SBS also works directly for building owners. Rockwell Automation, headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, would be an example of this. It is situated in an awe-inspiring building from the 1800s with a series of additions built through the 1950s and 60s. It has now grown to become a 3.1 million square foot facility, and the owners have endeavored to keep the building green and up to LEED standards.

“I ended up certifying that building LEED for existing buildings,” Phil explains. “This brings up one of my niches as no one ever thought that we could certify that building due to its size and age. The niche is that I am not afraid to take on a project that others would not.”

Phil has also worked with a handful of competing general contractors in the area, and those relationships have gone quite well. SBS does not have any conflicts with this work, something that is due, in part, to the fact that competitors do not do the same type of work as SBS when it comes to a LEED project. “They don’t necessarily want to do that and are okay with bringing me in and having me deal with the paperwork and all aspects of acquiring LEED certifications.”

The number of LEED Platinum certifications earned by SBS and Hunzinger has morphed into a bit of a conundrum. Currently, SBS has ten platinum certifications under their belt. Now that the team has set a pattern, the pressure is on to achieve nothing less than the very best.

Phil recently had a meeting with a building owner who wanted him to duplicate a LEED Platinum designation given to a project involving a multi-family dwelling completed in October of 2014 by SBS. This is almost unheard of in Wisconsin, and multi-family residential type LEED buildings are not that common throughout the country. “He wanted to know if we could get Platinum again. I chuckled and said, ‘I didn’t even know we had a choice. Of course we are doing Platinum!’ So, a lot of times it is Platinum or bust. I feel that a lot, especially when we have done it before. The standard becomes the expectation. I like the challenge, and I am up for it!”

As far as long term and short term goals, SBS has many projects underway right now and wants to keep replicating the success with LEED Platinum certified projects. SBS also wants to show other owners that it is not that difficult to achieve a Platinum level of certification, and it is not as expensive as some might believe. Simply put, it is not as scary as it seems.

“I think by meeting those short-term goals and proving that it is doable with a reasonable budget, we can increase the percentage of who is following LEED procedures and standards at the end of the day. As we move forward, more buildings should be doing this, and they shouldn’t be afraid to try this, and right now we are proving that it is possible.”



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