American Infrastructure of Worcester, Pa., was the first firm to win a stimulus project in the state, but Mark Compton, director of government affairs at American Infrastructure, says there are “deep concerns” about the program going forward. Prior to the stimulus, the state announced the deferral of $1.1 billion in projects in MDOT’s six-year program and subsequent cuts have been made throughout the year.
In addition, the federal highway bill hasn’t been reauthorized, which Compton says makes it difficult for MDOT and its contractors to make long-term plans.
“It’s a scary proposition right now,” he says. “Companies like us have relied on both public and private work in the past, and now everyone is geared toward the public market because the little that’s there is all that’s available. People are in survival mode.”
One ray of hope in the public market in 2009 was the education sector. State funding has increased under Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and despite the current budget concerns in the state, it has remained relatively unscathed so far. Still, many counties and local jurisdictions face difficult decisions because tax revenues have taken a hit this year.
Dominick Dunnigan, director of business development at Oak Contracting, a Towson, Md.-based construction management firm, says 2009 was the firm’s busiest year for proposals in at least six years. The company hired two project managers and two assistant PMs to help with the workload.
“The competition is greater because more firms are going after education facilities, but we’re getting work and growing even when others are laying off,” he says.
Montgomery County Public Schools awarded Oak Contracting a construction management contract in February for Seven Locks Elementary School in Bethesda. The company was also selected by Anne Arundel County Public Schools to serve as construction manager on the new Germantown Elementary School in Annapolis. In the fall, it was selected by Howard County Public Schools to serve in the district’s pool of qualified construction managers. Oak’s first assignment under the contract is the expansion of Bellows Springs Elementary School in Ellicott City.
Although the company has contracts through 2012, Dunnigan concedes that the scope of work on projects is changing with the economy. In Frederick County, for example, he sees the emphasis shifting from building new facilities to renovating existing ones. Many school districts are also looking into cost-cutting measures such as using pre-engineered structures, he adds.
“When the market tanked a year ago, we knew that [the education sector] would lag behind,” Dunnigan says. “We know that next year won’t be as good as this year, but we won’t be suffering.”
Baltimore-based architecture firm Hord Coplan Macht is banking on a solid future in the higher education sector. After CSD Architects, one of city’s oldest firms, shuttered this fall, the company hired 12 staffers from CSD’s education studio. The move roughly doubled the size of Hord Coplan Macht’s education studio, and John Lange, director of marketing, says he expects the sector to represent nearly one-third of its future work.
Despite the down economy, Lange says investing in the public market is critical to expanding its opportunities in Maryland. He expects K-12 budgets to get tighter in 2010, but hopes that higher education will help fill the void.
“It was good timing for us,” he says. “We had a lot of exposure in the private developer market three years ago and started to emphasize more public work. We think this will add even more balance to our portfolio. It’s the right move to make in this market.”