Building schools provides boost to construction firms

By November 2009, construction employment in the state was off by 5,200 jobs when compared to a year earlier. A year later, construction remained in the doldrums.

But continued school building provided a welcome boost for many contractors.

In Natrona County, Groathouse Construction completed the CY Middle School last summer, which sent payroll and consumer-spending benefits rippling through the local economy.

John Griffith, Groathouse project manager, said the CY Middle School project involved 49 subcontractors, 24 of which were from Casper and 35 from the state generally. Of the final project cost of about $29 million, $21.5 million went to Casper-based firms and just under $25 million to Wyoming-based subcontractors. In all, 86 percent of the dollars spent on the project went to Wyoming subcontractors.

Casper-based companies did the mechanical, electrical and steel work — big parts of any such project. Wyoming firms also provided the polished concrete floors, the doors, windows, ceilings, and supplied specialty items like bathroom partitions.

Griffith said there were only a couple aspects of the project, like exterior sprayed insulation, that few Wyoming firms provide. He added that schools are not nearly as specialized as, for example, hospital projects.

On a Groathouse project, Griffith said it’s typical for 75 percent to 85 percent of the project dollars to be spent on Wyoming-based subcontractors.

“We’ve got a pretty extensive database of subcontractors from Wyoming that we market to do work for us in all corners of the state,” he said.

“Everybody always wants the best price, but what we also push is the best value,” Griffith added. “It doesn’t do anybody any good to get the best price if that subcontractor can’t perform the work.”

Griffith said the CY Middle School work force peaked at about 115 workers, but over time from start to finish, about 500 people were involved in the project.

In recent years, several new Natrona County schools in addition to CY have been built — Fort Caspar Academy, Cottonwood Elementary, Summit Elementary and Poison Spider School.

The future of school construction spending is a topic before this year’s Wyoming Legislature. In his State of the State address, Gov. Matt Mead rejected $62 million for school construction, which had been in former Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s budget.

“I remain skeptical that more dollars spent on buildings translates to a better education,” Mead said. He said that while he understands that the state is required by law to pay for school construction and maintenance, he wants a plan to demonstrate that the money is being spent for the maximum benefit of Wyoming.

Mead wants the Legislature to adopt a strong preference law for Wyoming contractors and to resolve other contract problems before he will approve the additional money for school construction.

The issue of out-of-state contractors doing capital construction projects like schools in Wyoming has been a sore spot with local contractors.

Josh Carnahan, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Wyoming, said in-state preferences should not be afforded to anyone who simply establishes a local mailing address and claims to be a Wyoming business.

“I think that’s unfair to companies that employ people in the state, that are owned here in the state,” he said. “Many of my members don’t even leave the state to do work.”