Tower crane at 10,000 feet? You’re going to need a helicopter

November 13th, 2015 by Ben

Putting up a tower crane can be challenging, but have you ever tried to build one at 10,000 feet on the side of a mountain? Or one that can withstand 174 mph winds and temperatures down to -13F?

That’s just what Liebherr did over the summer on Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain bordering Austria. The crane is an integral part to building the new Eibsee cable car, which by the end of 2017 will whisk visitors 14,600 feet to the summit from a station near Lake Eibsee, a vertical gain of 6,400 feet.

Tower crane pieces were flown in by Heliswiss using a Russian-made Kamov Ka-32 helicopter. The 150 EC-B 6 Litronic flattop crane is now the highest point in Germany.

Bayerische Zugspitzbahn Bergbahn AG operates the aerial tramway that was built in 1963. It has two cabins (one going up and one down) that each hold 40 passengers. The new cabin has space for 120 passengers. The new cable system will have a 2-mile span between support pillars.

Check out the video:

Construction Economic Forecast looks promising through 2016.

October 27th, 2015 by Wendy Novak

At a recent presentation to Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington economist, Anirban Basu, spoke of the outlook for construction in the Northwest and throughout the country.

Basu said that the U.S. economy is in the mid-cycle of recovery with no imminent indication of a recession. The global economy is expanding at three percent annually with the U.S. growing at 2.5 percent. We are adding jobs in the U.S. although some people have a negative perception resulting from being paid less than they were prior to the recession. With low unemployment, consumer growth, which leads economic growth, remains strong so we can expect the economy to continue to grow, albeit slowly.

Washington is fourth in employment growth in the U.S. Construction is strong here in all markets especially in multifamily residential. Commercial construction starts in the region plummeted 40 percent in August but that is more a result of work started in downtown Bellevue on the massive Lincoln Square expansion in August 2014 according to Dodge Data & Analytics, a New Jersey-based company that tracks the North American construction industry. So that drop doesn’t portend a dramatic drop in commercial construction projects – with permitting agencies seeing new applications for projects in all commercial areas on almost a daily basis.

Single family construction will likely pick up in the next few years when Gen Y members begin to have children. The in-city life style of living in small apartments will change and people will seek single family homes to raise their families.

However Basu issued some cautionary notes: one that the Fed has not raised interest rates in nine years and the current economy is based on low interest rates so a raise in the near future could be highly disruptive; and two that we need to beware of government intervention in the market economy. The latter is especially important in Washington based on our current political climate. Both should be considered as we fill out our ballots this fall.

Click here for Mr. Basu’s presentation.


“Progress” isn’t always, necessarily

October 1st, 2015 by Sean Lewis

It was great to see, earlier this year, state legislators respond appropriately to efforts by many in the construction industry to stop a proposed bill that had good intentions, I’m sure, but would be neither practical or effective.

House Bill 1754 would have mandated the listing of many building-envelope subcontractors, beyond the many already often required, at the time the lowest-responsive-bid general contractor was identified on a public-project bid.

Hardly an issue critical to world peace, but this one struck a personal chord with me.

As a past bid-runner for one of the region’s larger GCs, I’m pretty familiar with how bid days go on any mid- to large-scale project. Bidrooms are hectic and pressurized; there are myriad last-minute calls to make, bids coming in left and right; coffee consumed by the gallon. The amount of critical data that has to be accurately processed by the bidding team can be staggering. The clock literally does tick down to the last second as the guy or gal on the other end of the phone – me, for sixteen years – waits for the final numbers before completing the bid forms, sealing the envelope and slapping it on the counter — while, of course, trying to look as calm and collected as possible (sometimes I’d fake a casual yawn, even, for maximum effect, but really, I’m almost out of breath just describing it). It gets a little hairy.

Typically, submitted bids are then opened immediately by the owner. GC’s bid packages often include a base price, a number of itemized alternates and a number of lowest-subcontractors’ bids on major scopes of work. While the building-envelope scope is of course a critical component of any project, adding yet another sizable group of firms and bids to that list of immediately required data, to me, is just too much and unnecessarily compromises the team’s ability to deliver the truly critical numbers.

Doug Orth, of the State Building Code Council, put it well when testifying last May before the Senate Ways and Means Committee: “The way the bill is written, I would interpret the envelope as everything outside of the paint. That is everything from structural systems, window systems, framing systems, insulation systems, brick, masonry, glazing, roofing — everything. It’s not possible to list them all within days or a week.” Orth was joined by AGC’s Duke Schaub and Tymon Berger of Ashbaugh Beal.

The bill had already passed the House, but ultimately, it died in the Senate — which was good news for GCs and estimators, and especially for my fellow members of The Brother/Sisterhood of Construction Bid-Runners (it’s a secret society; that’s all I’m permitted to tell you).

– SL

Are prevailing wages burdening taxpayers?

September 10th, 2015 by Wendy Novak

Prevailing wage law is of monumental importance to the construction industry and to all taxpayers.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington has worked for years to educate legislators on the importance of prevailing wage law. Now there are some legislators who are concerned about how the prevailing wage is determined, how the act is being further expanded offsite and how an artificially high wage puts a burden on already strained public works’ budgets.

Even though most ABC contractors are largely private-sector contractors, every one of them and their employees are taxpayers who bear the inflated costs due to the ever-expanding scope of the prevailing wage law.

Several prevailing wage reform bills were introduced in the 2015 legislative session. Although none passed, they provided the opportunity for more education and discussion about the issue.

Organized labor put forth some bills that would have increased the cost to public agencies, and ultimately the taxpayers, by making the collectively bargained union wage the prevailing wage. Fortunately there were enough free enterprise advocates in the state Senate who questioned the wisdom of expanding the Prevailing Wage Act to stop those bills.

As ABC of Western Washington president, I lead our government affairs efforts. Representing merit shop employers’ and employees’ interests to government at all levels is our primary function, and I am happy to have that as one of my most important responsibilities.

I represent contractors on the state’s Prevailing Wage Advisory Committee and serve on the executive committee of the Washington Construction Industry Council, an organization that coordinates representation of the real estate, design and construction communities in Olympia and leverages ABC’s ability to represent our members’ interests.

On the ground in Olympia is long-time ABC lobbyist Cliff Webster of the Carney Badley Spellman law firm. Cliff has served ABC for 25 years and is widely regarded as one of the most effective lobbyists in state government. Working with Cliff is Nathan Fitzgerald, the other half of our Olympia team.

Industry involvement is key to ABC’s advocacy efforts to represent industry’s interests in Olympia and Washington, D.C. The ABC Government and Labor Affairs Council (GLA) raises money to help elect pro-business candidates. GLA also sponsors events throughout the year to get members and legislators together to improve our ability to meet with elected officials and tell them how legislation and regulation affects not only the industry’s ability to provide employment to Washington’s citizens but also how to save citizens tax money on public construction projects.

Building History

September 4th, 2015 by Sean Lewis

Each fall, the Associated General Contractors of Washington hosts an annual “Past Presidents & Old-Timers’ Dinner” night (they all seem take that name in good humor) to honor its many past presidents and honorary members. I was able to attend my first of these events last fall.

Talk about sitting in a room full of history.

I’ve been in the construction business for over twenty years and was surrounded by names – some of whom I knew and had met before, but many I’d only heard and read about. Names like Wick, Young, Paup, Deeny, Clark, Crutcher and many more. Not to mention Frodesen – that would be Mr. John Frodesen – who was in attendance that night and who’d been AGC president back in 1965. Sheeesh.

As you can imagine, there’s no shortage of amazing stories that are rehashed at an event like this – stories of how buildings and roads got built in the face of adversity; how technical impossibilities were overcome; how schedules were met (or not), how near disaster was averted (or not) and sometimes even how disaster was simply survived. Plenty of successes and yes, some failures along the way too. But so much survival and perseverance, and moving on, one step and one day at a time, like building a massive building, brick by brick. It was quite a collection of in-the-trenches experience, business acumen, good instincts, technical smarts, of course, and — maybe most of all – “people skills.” And you can only guess at the vast amount of knowledge this group has passed on to others over the years that goes into many of the very buildings we see going up around us today.

As we enter a new football season (thank God), I’m reminded of one particularly timely anecdote that came to light that night.

Back in 1976, local businessman and developer Herman Sarkowsky had his office in the AGC Building on South Lake Union. He also happened to be part owner of the Seattle Seahawks — and they needed a location from which to conduct their first-ever NFL draft. According to co-owner John Nordstrom, they ended up packing Sarkowsky’s small office full of people – GM John Thompson, along with Nordstrom family members John, Lloyd, Jim, Bruce and Elmer, plus a few more. Thompson’s son Rick was at the draft HQ table in New York, connected to Seattle by a single phone line, keeping the local boys up-to-date as the draft progressed. “There was no ESPN or internet then, of course — it was a little different in those days,” chuckled Nordstrom. Head coach Jack Patera, as Nordstrom recalled, was not present.

Their inaugural draft including names that some of you “old timers” might recall, like Steve Niehaus, Sherman Smith, Don Dufek and UW quarterback Chris Rowland – as well as some guy named Steve Raible who ended up catching his fair share of passes over his six seasons with the Seahawks. I hear he went into broadcasting…

Anyway, there you go. Just another little bit of construction-industry history that’s all around us.  Go, ‘Hawks!


MBA staff cleans up Bellevue park

August 11th, 2015 by Ben


Last Friday, staff from the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties spent a good part of the day clearing trails, spreading ground cover and performing light yard work at the Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue.

It’s not the first time the MBA has improved the park. In 2009 the builders’ association completed Wet Lab 2 at the park’s Environmental Education Center as part of its centennial year celebration. The 5-Star Built Green lab is used by the Pacific Science Center to teach kids about the environment.

Last week’s work is part of the MBA’s ongoing volunteer work to better the community.

Way to go guys!

Hey Clyde, what’s up with the ASU crane flag?

July 23rd, 2015 by Ben

ASU Flag smallerOne DJC reader became disgruntled after spotting an Arizona State University flag flying high atop a crane in South Lake Union at what appears to be a Holland Partner Group jobsite.

CEO Clyde Holland isn’t an ASU grad, as far I as know. So, what’s up with the Sun Devil flag? Did you lose a bet Clyde?

Maybe someone at Morrow, the crane operator, snuck it up there.

Don’t they know that this is purple and gold territory? Arizona isn’t even a Pacific coast state.

The reader described the flag as “utterly appalling.”

I had to talk him out of ascending the crane with his GoPro strapped on to remove the offending matter — didn’t want him to get hurt.

Millennial madness arrives in Seattle

June 25th, 2015 by Ben

Alley111Image courtesy of Blanton Turner


Catering to millennials seems to be an emerging theme for many developers in the Seattle area.
Kilroy Realty’s 333 Dexter office project in Seattle was designed for millennials, Skanska USA Commercial Development’s Alley 111 apartment in Bellevue has millennials in mind, and even Daniels Real Estate’s The Mark office/hotel tower in Seattle has elements that will attract the younger crowd.
Want to find out how these developers are designing their projects for those 20- and 30-somethings? Click here to check out the DJC’s latest special section covering urban development.

See what local firms can do with concrete

May 18th, 2015 by Ben



The DJC’s annual special section on concrete is now available. Its focus is on award-winning projects by members of the Washington Aggregates & Concrete Association.

There’s also a great article by Melanie Cochrun of GLY Construction on how her firm used 600 workers to make two record-setting concrete pours earlier this year in Bellevue.

Check it out!


Check out what’s happening in the local construction scene

April 30th, 2015 by Ben



The DJC has published its annual Construction & Equipment special section. It’s a mix of industry articles, profiles of local award-winning projects and a few interviews with the contractors who make it all happen.

Read all about it at