Spokane Journal of Business

Architects maintain steady flow of design projects

Firms anticipate similar work volumes next year

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Mike Stanicar, associate principal at Bernardo|Wills Architects PC, says the firm has between 250 and 260 projects in its pipeline right now, similar to last year’s workload.

Three prominent Spokane architecture concerns—Bernardo|Wills Architects PC, ALSC Architects PS, and NAC Architecture—say they’ve been enjoying a steady stream of design work this year that includes a mixture of both public and private projects.

Representatives from each say they expect the volume of projects to continue at similar levels next year, despite continued increases in the cost of construction labor and materials.

Mike Stanicar, associate principal with Bernardo|Wills Architects PC, says in terms of workload, his firm has seen an increase in projects this year, though some may not be as large in scale as they’ve been in recent years.

“A lot of the work we do is public sector and military projects, which are usually pretty substantial,” he says. “However, work in those sectors tends to ebb and flow, and when things are slower, we make up for that volume with more medium-sized projects.”

Though projects might not be as large, Stanicar says he still estimates the firm has between 250 and 260 new projects in the pipeline this year.

“That range is similar to last year’s number of new projects, although there might be some fluctuations in size and quantity,” he says, “Some of those are active projects that are still coming in from 2016 and 2017.” 

Stanicar says Bernardo|Wills currently has 34 employees in its Spokane office at 153 S. Jefferson, several of whom are new hires.

“We offer architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture, which has been a consistently busy area for us,” he says. “In fact, we recently hired several landscape architects and an intern to better support that sector.”

Stanicar says recent landscape architecture projects Bernardo|Wills has designed include landscape design for a $22 million CSO tank project located just to the north of the downtown Spokane Public Library on Spokane Falls Boulevard, and upcoming designs for a playground on the north bank of Riverfront Park.

In addition to landscape architecture, Stanicar says multifamily housing, financial, and health care also have been strong design sectors for Bernardo|Wills this year.

“Housing continues to be strong and there are indications that will continue to be a strong sector,” he says. “We also continue to see a lot of work for medical and dental facilities, as well as financial institutions.”

One recent housing project designed by Bernardo|Wills is the $20.3 million second phase to Bella Tess Apartments in Spokane Valley, which Stanicar says should be completed soon.

“We also have several smaller downtown housing projects we’re working on, as well as some upcoming projects in North Idaho and Montana,” he says.

In terms of which geographical areas have seen the most activity, Stanicar says this year has included an increasing number of design projects for the West Plains and Spokane Valley.

“The West Plains is getting a lot of attention recently with companies like Amazon moving in, and we definitely expect to see more development there,” he says. “Spokane Valley also continues to grow at a good pace.”

On the West Plains, Stanicar says Bernardo|Wills recently provided real estate support services and landscape architecture for the $181 million Amazon Fulfillment Center project, at 10010 W. Geiger Blvd. and will soon be designing plans for another large commercial project planned at the northeast corner of U.S. 2 and Deer Heights Road. Although Stanicar declined to disclose further details on that project, this past May the Journal reported the site is being considered for a new North 40 Outfitters retail center. 

While the firm’s revenues haven’t changed much over last year, Stanicar says rising costs of construction labor and materials continue to make estimating project costs difficult.

“We continue to work on a variety of project types that can range in dollar value from $500,000 to $100 million depending on the industry,” he says. “Recently the cost of labor and materials have been fluctuating so quickly, that it can make for significant differences between an original estimate and the final project costs.”

Looking ahead, Stanicar says he doesn’t anticipate a slowdown in the amount of design work for local firms anytime soon.

“We know it has to slow down some time, but for now, I think most firms are enjoying being busy,” he says. “Bernardo|Wills has many projects in the que that we haven’t started yet that will probably carry us into the first quarter of next year.”

Rustin Hall, principal and president of ALSC Architects, says his firm, too, has maintained a steady pace in design jobs this year. “The robust economy has provided some great opportunities,” he says.

Hall says that ALSC, which offers a range of architectural and interior design services, currently employs 43 people at its office at 203 N. Washington, about 10 of whom are new hires.

“We’re hiring now and continuing to grow, although talent is still hard to find and many of our new hires have come from outside the area,” he says.

Hall says he estimates ALSC’s annual revenue is up about 10 percent over last year, a fact he attributes to the passage of bond measures that fund new school projects.

“We’ve done several design projects for Mead and Central Valley,” he says. “Both of those districts just finished projects with us and will be working with us again soon.”

Hall says the higher education sector also continues to see steady activity, particularly for design of sports and recreation facilities. Some of the projects ALSC recently designed for higher education include Gonzaga University’s $24 million Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement, which was completed last spring, and the $12 million Whitworth University’s Athletic Leadership Center, for which construction is expected to begin soon.

Hall says recreation center projects also have been popular among private clients this year, a recent example being the new $17.3 million Airway Heights Recreation Center design-build project ALSC has been working on this year.

“Communities are starting to acknowledge that recreation centers are an attractive resource for newcomers, and people who are looking to become healthier and more active,” he says.

Hall says construction on the 45,000-square-foot Airway Heights Recreation Center began early this year and is expected to be completed in 2019.

Hall says the firm also has seen more design work in the private sector this year, including larger projects such as the recently completed $20 million Northern Quest Resort Casino expansion, and smaller projects such as credit union expansions.

Geographically, Hall agrees with Stanicar that the West Plains has seen the largest increase in design activity this year.

“The West Plains has seen some impressive activity taking place, largely because they have a very active and dynamic chamber of commerce that’s helping to spur development there,” he says.

Looking ahead, Hall says ALSC expects its workload for 2019 to be similar to this year’s activity, though the pipeline might eventually begin to slow.

“Most of the projects we’ve seen recently have been things that were on hold during the Great Recession, but over the long term, things will probably start to settle down again,” he says.

Like Stanicar, Hall says one of the ongoing challenges for the both the design and construction industries is the continued increase in costs of construction labor and materials.

“Labor shortages have resulted in fewer bidders on projects,” he says. 

Most projects are negotiated design-build, or general contractor/construction manager delivery methods, because they make it easier to collaborate and track costs, Hall asserts.

Keith Comes, managing principal for the Spokane office of NAC Architecture, says the company also has maintained a similar volume of work this year as last, with an estimated 92 new projects in the pipeline.

“That doesn’t include projects prior to this year that are ongoing,” he says. “Last year and the year before were both very good years for us, so to say our workload has stayed level in comparison is pretty good.”

While he concurs with Hall and Stanicar that continuing increases in cost of labor and materials can have an impact on project cost estimates, Comes says those issues haven’t unduly influenced NAC’s projects.

“In some cases, cost of construction may impact certain design decisions, usually concerning materials we choose to use, or the estimated time needed for construction completion,” he says. “But overall, it hasn’t influenced whether or not we choose to work on a project.”

When it comes to design methods, Comes, like Hall, says alternative construction delivery models like GC/CM and design build have grown popularity this year.

“Alternative construction delivery models are somewhat new compared to traditional design, bid, build methods, but they definitely seem more popular now than several years ago,” he says.

Comes says the firm’s work on a $16.5 million reimaging of the Riverfront Park Pavilion in downtown Spokane is an example of a recent NAC design-build project.

“We’re continuing work on the pavilion design as part of the final designs for Riverfront Park,” he says. “We’re expecting that project will be completed late next spring.”

Comes says NAC has about 70 employees here in its 1203 W. Riverside office, and is currently hiring interior designers, architects, and electrical engineers.

“It’s always difficult to find new talent in a smaller marketplace like Spokane,” he says. “But there are people who are interested in the lower cost of living and lifestyle our city has to offer.”

Comes says the majority of NAC’s work is in the public sector, with a particular focus on K-12 school projects.

“A lot of it is predicated on bond funding for schools, so we tend to track bonds pretty closely,” he says. “We know of several bonds that will come through either this fall or early next year, which means more upcoming projects for us.”

While the firm’s work on school projects has remained mostly level, Comes says it has probably completed more medium to small projects this year compared with previous years.

“It all depends on where bond funding is focused, and some of the recent bonds have focused more on elementary or middle school projects,” he says.

In addition to public school projects, Comes says that like ALSC, NAC has noticed increased demand for projects in the higher education sector.

“Projects like residence halls and recreation centers for students are big right now, anything that would be considered student life-related,” he says.

Comes says higher education projects NAC is working on include designs for the $20 million Spokane Community College’s Old Main Building expansion and remodel, at 1810 N. Green; upcoming designs for a recreation center project at Walla Walla Community College; and a residence hall project for Montana State University.

In addition to public schools and higher education, Comes says NAC also has seen an increase in private sector work, particularly the design of medical and recreation center facilities.

“We’ve just recently been awarded the design for a new ($15.8 million) recreation center project for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe called Marimn Health,” he says. “We’re also working on several projects for private retirement communities here.”

Looking ahead, Comes says much of NAC’s 2019 workload likely will be dependent on the success of bond measures planned for this year and next.

He says NAC recently completed designs for a classroom addition and proposed $18 million commons area project for Lewis and Clark High School, in Spokane. That project is partially funded and awaiting further bond funding for a possible spring start to construction.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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