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Firm's co-founder discusses Carlynton's district projects

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 11:22 p.m.

Since co-founding the construction management firm of Thomas and Williamson in 1998, company president Jon Thomas has seen the role of his business grow into all phases of a given project.

From start to finish, he's there.

“It used to be a client would get an idea of what their building needs were, and then they'd call us,” Thomas said. “Now, I'm seeing a new market, where a lot of clients are calling us and saying, ‘We don't really know what we need.'”

Carlynton, which recently hired the firm to guide its facility renovations project, isn't starting from scratch as it enters the pre-design process. But when Thomas reviews the wide-ranging scope of work document that contains suggestions from past feasibility studies and school officials, he won't be shy with a red pen.

“If I came in with a list with exactly what they needed without talking to them, I'd have to change my company from construction management to a fortune teller,” he said.

“I can see some items that will probably leave the list. I've already made notes on the list where some items aren't really the best way to do it.”

Thomas and Williamson, based in Ross Township, has worked with school districts, including large ones, such as North Allegheny, and Carlynton-sized areas, such as Deer Lakes.

When it comes to comparing his firm's new project with any of the previous jobs, Thomas said the company has experience in restoring and updating older buildings — Carlynton's Crafton Elementary is more than a century old. Importantly, though, the firm grasps the largest issue facing most districts.

“They all have some similarities these days because everyone is being very careful with how anybody is spending any money at all,” Thomas said. “All my clients have those financial restraints on them now.”

Carlynton, while still minding its finances, is geared for the anticipated multi-million dollar, multi-year project after a heated debate last year on whether to remodel its two elementary schools or merge them.

What comes next is determining just what work will be done — and when.

“The first challenge I see is really just having the best communication we can have with everyone, getting everyone on the same page,” Thomas said.

“That's why I want to have this program review process, so we can go through and evaluate each line item, determine its priority, the cost of each.”

Certain issues are already a priority, with the board expressing interest to provide the elementary schools with some form of air conditioning by the time warm weather returns.

But, as Thomas has learned in his years of experience there are hidden or unexpected costs to most projects.

“You have to point out, ‘Yeah we can put the air conditioning in, but we don't have the power,'” he said. “In Crafton, for example, the electrical board isn't big enough to support it, and there's no room for another electrical room, so we'd have to build an addition.

“That's something where I could really see them relying on me, to see where those residual impacts are coming from.”

Dan Stefano is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dstefano@tribweb.com or 412-388-5816.

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