Turf Design Build Magazine - October, 2012
Government projects fill void left by residential construction sector
The companies that make it through tough economic times are the ones that are able to identify new opportunities and capitalize on them. Established companies in the landscape design-build industry that lost opportunities in the residential construction sector have refocused their efforts on projects with shovels in the ground, such as government bid work. The key factor in obtaining government bid work is having some financial and managerial muscle.
Members of the GreenScapes crew receive the loaded trays and set them on plywood so there's no damage to the roof membrane.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GREENSCAPES LANDSCAPE CO.
Such is the case with GreenScapes Landscape Co. in Columbus, Ohio. The 34-year-old company founded by Bill Gerhardt has typically done design-build and maintenance for commercial and residential sectors. The company services central Ohio with 70 employees during the season and 35 in the off-season.
Lately, bid work has assumed a higher percentage of GreenScapes' projects. "That's the kind of work that's here because we're in the seat of the state government," Gerhardt explains, adding that about one-third of such jobs came from stimulus-funded projects.
GreenScapes won the bid to do a $1.45 million landscape and hardscape installation for the construction of the new Franklin County Courthouse in Columbus. It is a state-of-the-art Gold LEED building, so there were strict requirements to meet the standards. For instance, to meet the requirements for the fair amount of hardscaping involved in the job, GreenScapes installed Hanover Asphalt Block pavers in the plaza. The pavers are created from postindustrial recycled content. Also, all plant material had to be native.
Working in phases
For the streetscape areas, GreenScapes install-ed the irrigation system, asphalt pavers and iron tree grates, placing 110 trees into the grates. Then 200 feet of granite curbing was installed.
The project called for a LiveRoof Hybrid Roof System. The 4-inch-deep trays meet LEED standards
The next phase was the installation of 2 acres of green roof. The project called for a LiveRoof Hybrid Roof System. The 4-inch-deep trays meet LEED standards and provide several potential credits in the areas of protecting or restoring habitat and maximizing open space, stormwater design, heat island effect, water-efficient landscaping, optimizing energy performance, construction waste management, use of recycled content and regional materials, and use of rapidly renewable materials.
"The roofing contractor put their membrane down and we put down protection board, which is a drainage mat. We hired a crane service to lift the trays up to us 60 feet in the air. Our guys who were up there set the loaded trays down on a thick piece of plywood so we didn't damage the roof membrane. Another crew was snapping them together," Gerhardt explains.
The trays are pre-vegetated with a Sedum Roof Garden Mix, with up to 10 different types of sedum. "The sedums are used because they are drought-resistant," Gerhardt says. "We put drip irrigation in there to get them through the dry periods. The day you're done, it looks like a finished product. It's not like you planted something and you're waiting for it to grow."
Next on the list was soil work to create the rain gardens using a custom-blended soil that's a mixture of organic material, greensand and topsoil. It was chosen for optimal performance of the fescue-type turf. "This is a basin where the stormwater from the roof collects and slowly drains down through the soil, eventually getting into a 200,000-gallon tank that collects all of the runoff water [which is] used for irrigation," says Gerhardt.
Bid Work Requires Stability
"As a corporation, you have to have the financial stability to be able to afford to work on a project like this," says Bill Gerhardt of GreenScapes Landscape Company. He notes that a company may put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a project before the first compensation comes in.
"There are a lot of moving parts that you have to keep balancing and keep up to date on," Gerhardt says. "In our industry, everybody has been trying to move into commercial in the last three to five years." He notes that the number of bidders has increased, and it's not unusual for his company to go up against 15 bidders for a job.
It is critical to his company's success to be bonded. "We've got to be bonded up to about $3 million, which is a decent size for landscaping, and that doesn't come easily," he says. "Same thing with insurance. For most of these jobs, you have to have a $5 million umbrella or aggregate-type insurance. ... You usually can't buy it per project - you have to get it for the whole year."
Excellent record keeping allows Gerhardt to know his costs, and he knows his bottom line bid numbers. "If you make a mistake on your bid, it's a costly mistake," he says.
Once receiving a bid, the company moves into a fast-track mode. "From the time we bid it to the time we started working on it was 90 days or less," Gerhardt notes of the courthouse project. "It's an urgent schedule. You have to shuffle other work around to accommodate it. If people in the industry are thinking about bidding this kind of work, they have to be large enough to take on a big job like this. They have to have the workforce, trucks, equipment materials and financial credit."
Installing the irrigation and seeding the lawn areas with fescue was the next phase. "When you do something in a downtown area, you've got to seed it and fence it all off to keep people out," Gerhardt says. "We used orange construction fence and metal T posts every 6 feet. In the middle of our construction, they had a July 4 celebration and we had to make sure the fence was secure [enough] to keep everybody out."
Soil mix is installed in raised planters along Main Street, the front entry to the new courthouse.
After the lawns, GreenScapes moved to a pavilion to install pavers and concrete curbing, plant trees and install irrigation, soil and grasses.
Throughout the project GreenScapes provided ongoing maintenance. "As everything started growing, we had to keep maintaining," Gerhardt says.
Because the project was for a LEED building, it entailed a lot of drip irrigation. The turf-type fescues for the lawn areas were chosen because of low water requirements, and maintenance is also reduced by the use of native, low-water and drought-resistant plants.
"As an industry, we're getting better with the soil mixes for the health of the plant and the trees. You're putting in a quality tree with quality soils and drainage. You're going to have healthier trees, which will mitigate the cost and the care down the road."
Gerhardt says, "This was the first job where I've worked with asphalt pavers. They're not a whole lot different than brick pavers, but they are still different."
With new products and technologies coming out, it's an exciting time to be in the landscape contracting industry, Gerhardt says. "If we can figure out how to do something, we can get a jump on it, like with green roofs," he says. "We do more green roofs in Columbus than anyone, and we were doing some of the first green roofs in the area."
Working for the government
Government bid work is different from other types of work in several ways. GreenScapes worked with a general contractor to provide the build services on a design that was created by a landscape architect who had to approve all of the work. "There is so much work you have to do even before you show up on the job," Gerhardt says. "It's a whole different set of rules."
In government bid work, the landscape company has to get preapproval on the materials. "Literally everything gets approved, from the mulch to the pavers to the edging to the tree sources," says Gerhardt.
A company has to have a solid management team to work on government bid work, Gerhardt notes. The management team spends a lot of time on-site, attending meetings, negotiating work times and attending safety trainings.
Training is also a critical component. All GreenScapes employees have to be OSHA 10-hour approved, which means they have to take a 10-hour course on OSHA rules and regulations. GreenScapes' supervisors are trained in OSHA 30, a more comprehensive course.
While most of it doesn't apply specifically to the landscaping industry, one significant rule that applied on this job is fall protection. "We have to use the lanyards when we're up on the roof, detaching them and moving on to the next section of cable," Gerhardt says. "Whenever our employees worked on the roof, they were tethered off."
Safety is a priority. "We have to get into weekly safety toolbox talks on the job, which we do in-house anyway," says Gerhardt. Each Thursday morning, the crew breaks into two groups for toolbox talks - one in Spanish for H-2B workers, and one in English. Topics range from back protection to sun protection.
Working a job in a downtown urban area entails not only ensuring his employees' safety, but that of the public as well. When working with the crane, GreenScapes had to have someone at street level to make sure people didn't go through the barrier.
Then there is all the paperwork. For example, if you need to close a street, you need a permit and a police officer to direct traffic. Having an employee in the office to coordinate and submit all the paperwork is vital.
Gerhardt says he's most proud of the quality of his company's work. "We're told: 'You were really ahead of schedule.' 'Your crews are the most safe crews.' 'We didn't have to write you up for violations,'" he relates.
"To me, the landscape industry is way ahead on everything. I see it from our trucks being clean and professional, our guys are in uniform. Our guys have hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs. I think landscape companies are leaders in all of the construction industry with professionalism when you look at it compared to other trades."
Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and is a frequent contributor to Moose River Media publications.