Spokane Journal of Business

LSB Consulting Engineers maintains steady growth

Firm expects to complete 120 projects in all this year

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Left to right, LSB Consulting Engineers’ Joe Scholze, Randall LaPlante, and Larry Harris are among the staff of 16 that work in the firm, which was established 20 years ago.

Structural and industrial engineering firm LSB Consulting Engineers PLLC maintains a relatively low profile for a company that just finished celebrating its 20th year of operations last July.

Randall LaPlante, who co-owns the company along with fellow engineers Joe Scholze and John Bauer, says that’s just how they like it.

“We’re not a branch of a larger firm, so we’re able to capture efficiency and maintain a leaner overhead, and pass along that value to our clients,” he contends.

LaPlante and his two partners founded LSB in 1997, using the first letters of each of their last names to form the first part of the firm’s name.

Since that time, the firm has grown to a total staff of 16, including eight licensed engineers, three graduate engineers, three design technicians, and two administrative staff. 

“We have advertised some open positions recently, but the available talent pool has shrunk over the years,” he says. “Every industry has its ebbs and flows, so we plan to continue to bring on new staff judiciously, in order to maintain the same level of service we’ve always been known for.”

While he declines to disclose the firm’s annual billings, LaPlante says the firm’s total annual revenue has increased steadily over the past five years. He estimates that LSB currently has the capacity to provide structural engineering support for projects with $200 million in total construction value annually. 

 “We’ve positioned ourselves for long-term, slow, and steady growth,” he says. “I’d say we’re on track to double our revenues every decade or so.”

While the number of projects LSB completes each year varies, LaPlante says this year, it’s set to finish about 120 total. 

“We generally have between 100 and 200 projects each year, with fees ranging from $500 for smaller projects on up to $600,000 for larger ones,” he says.

LSB currently occupies a 3,000-square-foot office building at 523 E. Third.

“We’ve considered adding a second office,” says LaPlante “And that may still be something we do in the future, perhaps somewhere in the Tri-Cities area.”

LaPlante says as a structural engineering firm, LSB is responsible for designing buildings and structures that are capable of bearing specific loads, as well as being safe for occupancy. 

“We have to design buildings that can stand up to things like earthquakes and snow loads, as well as safely hold occupants,” he says. “Essentially, it’s our job to make sure the building is structurally safe.” 

LaPlante says LSB’s clients include architects, manufacturers, processing plants, school districts, insurance adjusters, municipalities, federal agencies, and general contractors.

“Most of our clients are people with whom we already have long-held relationships,” he says. “Our growth is dependent on continuing those relationships.” 

LSB maintains engineering licenses in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California, and Colorado. 

LaPlante says most projects the company works on take between 18 and 24 months to complete from design to final construction, with the majority of the firm’s work falling within four main market sectors; architectural, industrial, food processing, and municipal. 

“Each sector has seen its own areas of growth,” says LaPlante. “While our architectural and industrial work has been relatively steady, the areas where we’ve seen the most growth are in the food processing and municipal sectors.”

LaPlante says LSB often takes the lead engineering role for projects within the food processing and industrial sectors, whereas for most municipal or architectural sector projects, the company serves as a sub consultant to the civil engineer or architectural firm tasked with leading the project.

LaPlante says some of LSB’s more recognizable design projects include Jefferson Elementary School, on the South Hill, which opened in 2014, and the student recreation center at Whitworth University, which opened in 2013. 

“We’re also pretty proud of our work on the city of Spokane’s CSO tanks, but those aren’t necessarily projects that many would recognize as ours,” he says.

Combined sewer overflow tanks are designed to hold excess water during storms or rapid snowmelt. The excess water is held there, and then metered back to the wastewater treatment facility after the storm passes.

The city of Spokane has been working to install several such tanks over the past several years.

LaPlante says LSB has designed multiple CSO tank projects for the city of Spokane and is working on several that won’t be finished until 2018. Those projects include a 2.1-million gallon CSO tank currently under construction at Liberty Park, in the East Central neighborhood, and another 2.4-million gallon tank that’s underway to the west of Adams Street, between Sprague and First Avenue.

“The Liberty Park tank will likely be completed sometime this coming spring,” he says. “The tank at First and Riverside is the largest in the city’s CSO system, and should reach completion late next year.”

LaPlante says LSB’s work on CSO tank projects has added to its expertise in the design of wastewater treatment and retention facilities. 

“We’ve probably completed around 14 CSO tanks since 2005,” he says. “But we’d like to keep growing that experience.” 

While the firm is experienced in various types of project-delivery methods, including conventional design-bid-build, LaPlante says demand for design-build projects has increased in recent years.

In the design-build method of construction, a builder and designer work under a single contract to provide design and construction services, as opposed to the design-bid-build method, which involves separate contracts for designers and contractors.

“These are a new kind of development that results in a more integrated project delivery, and we feel there’s a lot of potential there for growth,” he says. 

LaPlante says LSB completed work on a design-build project in the food processing sector last July, a large plant expansion for a potato processor in Boardman, Ore.

“That was a design-build project we worked on with Lydig Construction,” he says. “LSB has a strong history with several food processors in the region, and we’re looking to expand more into design-build plant expansion projects for them.”

In addition to a preference for design-build projects, another recent industry trend LaPlante says he’s noticed is a diminishing focus on LEED certifications, with most of the firm’s clients choosing to design with sustainability standards in mind, and forego the added expense and documentation requirements of a LEED certified project.  

“We have three staff who are LEED certified, but it’s been our impression that the need for those certifications is becoming less frequent,” he says.

Looking ahead, LaPlante says the firm also anticipates its work in the architectural sector to grow, as demand for innovative design increases. 

 “In the architectural sector, we generally do a lot of education projects,” he says. “But looking ahead, we’re beginning to see more opportunities for expanding our work in building medical facilities.”

Within the architectural sector, LaPlante says the firm recently worked with Coeur d’Alene-based Architects West Inc. to complete structural design for two high schools; East Valley High School, in Yakima, Wash.; and Wapato High School, in Wapato, Wash.

While the firm has completed some projects within the industrial sector, including installation of materials presses and crane bridges, upgrades to metals processing facilities, and storage and shop spaces, LaPlante says work in that area has been decreasing recently. 

“Material processing is down so we’ve done some work but not a lot,” he says. “Similarly, lumber processing is also down, but that’s kind of cyclical so it’s likely to pick back up again soon.”

Looking ahead, LaPlante says the firm has several projects currently in the works, including the early stages of design for the $55 million, 195,000-square-foot Grandview High School, in Grandview, Wash. 

He says LSB also is working with Spokane-based Leone and Keeble Inc. to finish a design-build project of the new Richland City Hall, which will likely be completed next fall. 

Also included among the firm’s upcoming projects are the design of a new storage and service facility for Spokane-based Avista Corp. and the design of the new Kennewick High School, says LaPlante.

As the firm moves into its 21st year of operations, LaPlante says, “Our goal is to maintain a high level of detail and cost efficiency, while still creating creative and innovative work.”

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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