Contractor of the Year Turner Construction Builds New Markets
When Cincinnati’s historic Union Terminal needed a renovation that would restore the integrity of the structure and provide the classic rail hub with new mechanical systems, the Cincinnati Museum Center turned to Turner Construction.
“We did a lot of work up front and the architecture teams were phenomenal in planning, but we all knew that when you took off certain sections you would see issues and you would try to think, ‘OK, those issues are probably going to repeat themselves throughout the building,’” says David Spaulding, vice president and general manager of Turner’s Cincinnati office. “We’d have to go section by section and have the architects and engineers side by side with us and dissect the building at different times because we didn’t shut it down, operations were ongoing during construction.”
After completing the job on time despite setbacks such as finding structural beams underneath the terminal’s historic fountain damaged by water infiltration, the project won an ENR Midwest Best Projects award of merit in the renovation/restoration category. The building is no longer on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of endangered places. That’s just one example of how ENR Midwest’s Contractor of the Year finds solutions to the toughest challenges.
Turner ranked second on ENR Midwest’s 2020 Top Contractors ranking, with $2.99 billion in revenue across the 11-state region. This marks the fifth year in a row that Turner has placed first or second on the ranking. Taking on difficult projects such as the Union Terminal and the reconstruction of Chicago’s Willis Tower kept Turner at the top of the ranking for the Midwest’s renovation contractors—coming in at second in the sector with $689 million in 2019 renovations. Turner is also a leader in delivering the latest in digital infrastructure with data center projects; the firm ranked first in the telecommunications sector with $1.3 billion in 2019 revenue.
“If anything, we’ve seen an acceleration of the move towards digitalization, digital infrastructure,” says Ben Kaplan, Turner’s senior vice president for global critical care facilities. “I’m sure you have the data Microsoft is seeing and AWS is seeing and the uptick in Zoom and [Microsoft] Teams usage. We’ve all figured out how to work remotely, and it all needs to be supported by this digital infrastructure. It’s held up, it’s survived, but basically what it’s done is pulled a lot of that demand curve we’ve previously seen closer to the left, closer to us today.”
Turner has completed major data center projects in Iowa and is still working on Microsoft’s $1.1-billion Project Alluvion complex in West Des Moines. Facebook recently added a 500,000-sq-ft building to its New Albany, Ohio, data center complex that will bring it to 1.5 million total sq ft in the Columbus suburb.
“New Albany has been a great community for us, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen our partnership with the region,” Facebook said, fittingly, in a Facebook post.
Turner has developed the expertise to build the server and office complexes these clients demand and deliver them on time even with constantly evolving end-user demands, including additional buildings or project scope.
“They’re more complex, they require resources, tools and competencies that are very specific, and it’s a specialized kind of product,” Kaplan says. “I don’t think just anybody can build it. As a builder, it’s exciting, it’s challenging and I think we’ve been able to bring value to our clients in just the speed and quality we can safely deliver to our clients.”
Mark Iammarino, Turner Construction’s vice president and general manager of the Kansas City region, says the data center work has brought other business as a result.
“Our experience in building the mega data centers in Omaha and Iowa for our top tech providers allowed us to move more experienced staff into the Omaha markets,” he explains. “Having that solid base of experienced staff and Turner culture that then gets to connect with the local communities. It really helped us launch an opening of those local offices. We’ll soon be breaking ground on about a hundred-million-dollar-plus new university campus in West Des Moines.”
Iammarino says that all of the client meetings for the new medical school for Des Moines University took place virtually on Microsoft Teams or other video-conferencing applications.
For the $500-million Willis Tower reconstruction that remains underway, the challenge for Turner and its joint venture partner Clayco (ranked No. 1 with $3.25 billion in regional revenue) was keeping the building and all its operations open during construction, including replacement of some of the 1976 building systems and miles of cable and piping.
“Our client is EQ Partners, and they obviously don’t want their tenants disturbed,” says Lynda Leigh, Turner’s project manager. “So we work around their needs. The project’s phased—different parts turn over at different times—which sounds like it takes pressure off because it’s not everything at once. But there are so many phases that it’s not like running a marathon, it’s like running 15 sprints, where you’re turning over tenant spaces, you’re turning over lobby spaces and different parts and pieces of the whole package at different times.”
Gensler’s design calls for a 30,000-sq-ft roof garden on an addition on the fourth floor. All the soil had to be hoisted to the roof, and trees were being planted in the new roof garden at press time.
Turner Construction ranks second on ENR’s list of Top 400 Contractors as well, with its 1,500 annual projects and 45 offices nationwide. Turner has been a subsidiary of Hochtief AG since 1999 and has been a pioneer in everything from sustainability to minority and women-owned business enterprise participation.
“Within Turner, the infrastructure is set up to support these sorts of programs [MWBE and diversity],” says Pamyla Brown, Turner’s community and citizenship director, based in Chicago. “The infrastructure allows you to actually create meaningful opportunities for diverse businesses or individuals within the workforce. I think we are working toward fulfilling our mission, but there’s always a lot more work that can be done.”
Brown was the director for Chicago Women in the Trades for 10 years before joining Turner.
“With what’s happening in the world right now, [my role] is bridging the gap,” Brown says. “It’s making the connection between what’s happening in the community and translating that, leading those efforts in this space. You’re living in the community that you serve. You are attending worship services with the folks that you’re serving.”