Integrated Facility Services (IFS) — formerly Air Masters, Gateway Mechanical Fire Protection and Automation Solutions Group — delivers a single-point resource for mechanical contracting and service. The St. Louis, Missouri, based business specializes in HVAC, plumbing, building automation controls, and fire protection.
Armed with one of the largest fleets of professional technicians in the St. Louis and mid-Missouri area, IFS also provides 24/7 service to customers throughout the region.
After 50 years in business, the company recently updated its image with a new name. Over the decades the business has grown and diversified, eventually forming separate business units within one company. Air Masters Corporation specialized in HVAC and design build mechanical contracting, Automated Solutions Group handled temperature control, and Gateway Mechanical Fire Protection took care of plumbing and fire protection. As of January 2016 the name Integrated Facility Services will cover each of these separate business streams.
The company’s ownership and services will remain the same. “We are going to continue to be locally owned, we will still be a regional force, and we will continue to evolve and redirect with our customer needs going forward,” says Sales and Marketing Manager Art Bottorff. “We have been very careful throughout this rebranding process to let people know that we didn’t change ownership. We are the same folks.” The purpose of the name change is to streamline and clarify the fact that each business division operates within one company. “Having different operating names became very confusing,” Mr. Bottorff explains. “The name Integrated Facility Services tells the story of what we do a little bit more concisely than four separate identities. We think it will sharpen our focus and the way we are perceived.”
The company has recently begun expanding beyond its Missouri base, venturing into Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio, and Colorado. With the brand being introduced into new regions, the name change comes at an ideal time. “As we start to widen our circle we think that the name change, the rebranding better represents us,” Mr. Bottorff explains.
Going forward, the company’s commitment to customers will continue to be foundational. “We have always been very customer centered with strong relationships,” says General Manager Malcolm Sweet. “As customers’ needs changed, we made every effort to change with them and grow with them.” Mr. Bottorff adds, “The company has always had a focus on what our customers want.”
IFS is also committed to its employees. “We believe in our people,” Mr. Sweet remarks. “We try to hire the best people we can.” The team tends to look at an individual’s potential during the hiring process, rather than seeking an employee to fit a specific role. “We will hire a person and then develop their job description around what we see are their best capabilities, rather than just trying to shove them into a [predetermined box]. Because of that, people tend to flourish here and they are more committed because they get to do their thing.” This commitment leads to greater customer satisfaction. “Happy employees make happy customers,” Mr. Bottorff points out.
Even though IFS has over 200 employees, the team works hard to maintain a close-knit company culture. “Even though we are considered a medium to large organization, we have a family feeling that we try to keep,” says Lisa Abney, who is in charge of IFS’s Commercial Sales and Marketing.
IFS has completed a number of noteworthy projects over the years. One recent job that garnered substantial industry recognition involved an HVAC upgrade inside the legs of the Gateway Arch. The first renovation of its kind in 50 years, the project ensures the comfort and safety of tram passengers on their way to the observation deck. The team field measured 20 separate worksite locations, pre-fabricated sheet metal and steel support off-site, installed new ductwork, and replaced the original HVAC pneumatic controls with computerized controls.
Renovating the HVAC system within a 630-foot arch is no easy task. And, to add to the complication, all of the work had to be carried out while the national monument remained open to the public. “They wanted to keep the facility in operation so we had to work outside when those trams were moving,” Mr. Sweet remembers. Furthermore, because trams cannot stop midway up the arch, all equipment and materials had to be hauled up endless flights of stairs. “There were complications about how to get our materials to each level – and there were seven or eight levels on each side,” Mr. Sweet recalls. “We had to take our stuff all the way to the top and then walk down, or we had to walk from the bottom up. It is a hike either way.”
Once the team and the equipment reached the correct level, great care had to be taken to prevent falls and other accidents. “Of course we couldn’t drop anything, because by the time it gets to the bottom it would be like a missile.” The team utilized special safety protocol to prevent falls as well as safety nets and magnets to safely contain tools and hardware. “We were able to pull it off without damaging anything and without anybody getting hurt. It was a success.” In fact, the project was a top three finalist for an Associated General Contractors (AGC) award.
IFS’ largest recent job was the complete renovation of North Technical High School in Florissant, Missouri. The $9 million project upgraded and expanded the school’s entire HVAC system while keeping the original HVAC system operational. Within a four month period, the team replaced all HVAC, associated electrical and the building automation system, and designed specialized exhaust systems for each trade shop. New equipment included a specialized heat recovery system, high-efficiency hot water boiler and chiller systems, ductwork, a cooling tower, pumps, fans and ventilators.
Throughout the entire project, the team had to work around the students’ schedule so their studies were not interrupted. “We did it during the summer or, when school was in session, we worked in areas where the kids weren’t in too often,” explains Mr. Sweet. “It was a little complicated but we got it all done and they didn’t lose any school days.” Furthermore, IFS acted as the prime contractor and was in charge of hiring all of the trades, from the electrician to the drywaller.
Another noteworthy project involved HVAC renovations at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. “There were five large air handlers that had been installed with the original building,” Mr. Sweet remembers. The facility is over 50 years old, so the system needed a serious update. “They had us come in and completely revamp those air handlers. But we had to keep some level of comfort in each of those areas that they serve, so we designed some temporary systems and bought some temporary equipment that we plugged into the existing ductwork while we rebuilt these large air handlers.” This process was remarkably complicated. “We had to not just maintain comfort, but efficiency and air quality,” Mr. Bottorff explains. “They are using this as a Lambert Airport terminal and there are requirements for the right amount of fresh air, humidity control, and efficiency that need to be maintained during the process, during the temporary conditioning of the space.” As the prime contractor, IFS was responsible for coordinating all aspects of this complex job.
The future looks bright for IFS – and for the local industry as a whole. “In the last six months it has gone from a recession to an absolute boom,” Mr. Sweet shares. “From 2007 until about six months ago we were at a pretty low state; we had considerable unemployment of crafts. And now in these last six months there is 100% employment of crafts and contractors are busy.”
The team plans to take advantage of the new boom and continue to grow the company. “Our long term goals are to maintain the customer focus while increasing our range and our work, not only in the different skills that we can bring forth but also the geographic areas that we serve.” With a full range of integrated services, IFS is well prepared to keep moving forward while maintaining the qualities that have earned customer loyalty for 50 years.