Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the Denver office of JE Dunn Construction thrived during the pandemic, achieving some of the strongest revenue growth in company history and the biggest single-year growth for a major Colorado contractor in 2020. 

The firm’s leaders attribute this success to the firm’s diverse portfolio, including several high-profile projects in the pipeline going into the pandemic. 
“We were blessed with a diversity of projects, and the type of work we primarily chase really helped us due to the stability of those markets,” says Dustin Liljehorn, senior vice president and  Rocky Mountain office lead. 

The Kansas City, Mo.-based contractor experienced minimal disruption to its project schedules last year and won several new and notable projects while keeping its employees working throughout the pandemic.

UCCS William J. Hybl Sports Medicine Performance Center

The 104,600-sqft UCCS William J. Hybl Sports Medicine Performance Center in Colorado Springs houses 1,400 students and faculty as well as a 44,000-sq-ft clinical center for Centura Health.
Images courtesy of JE Dunn Construction

Staying Flexible

The Denver Business Journal named JE Dunn as one of the best places to work two years in a row and ranked the contractor No. 11 in the large “all businesses” category. 

In February 2020, the company moved into a vibrant new office space on a single floor of the building they have called home for more than 20 years. “We had just gotten everyone in and settled when for the better part of the next six to 12 months, our new home was mostly empty,” Liljehorn says. 

JE Dunn’s family-friendly approach to work-life balance was already in place, adding another layer to keeping employees focused and thriving during the pandemic, says Mark Reilly, the firm’s West region president.

Colorado State University

JE Dunn is constructing three buildings for Colorado State University at Denver’s National Western Center. Known collectively as the Spur Campus, they are focused on agriculture, water and animal health.
Images courtesy of JE Dunn Construction

“The Dunn family has a longstanding culture of treating people the right way and internally that meant being flexible with employees who could work from home [during the pandemic],” Reilly says. “Our executive leadership team was talking on a daily basis, [determining how to] keep our jobs moving, do it safely and get out in front of testing and  protocols.” 

As COVID cases surged and hospitals worried about reaching capacity, JE Dunn was asked to play a role in the effort to provide emergency overflow beds in Larimer County. Less than a week after receiving the call, the contractor was on site working with the Army Corps of Engineers to convert convention space at the county fairgrounds in Loveland into a critical-care facility. Although the space was never needed, JE Dunn converted the events center into a 250-bed critical care facility in just 21 days. 

“We were blessed with a diversity of projects, and the type of work we primarily chase really helped us due to the stability of those markets.”
—Dustin Liljehorn, Senior Vice President and Rocky Mountain Office Lead, JE Dunn Construction

“We deployed a large crew to work all day pouring concrete on Easter, and no one batted an eye,” Reilly says.

Reilly and Liljehorn say there was a tremendous amount of early communication to maintain the teams’ upbeat and supportive work culture. Daily executive leadership calls were followed by virtual meetings with each leadership team, and all employees came together three to four times a week through video chats. The contractor also created a call-in line led by a group of individuals dedicated to answering employee questions and providing support.

Today, the firm’s vibrant new office is officially open, and everyone has been encouraged to return to in-person work, “but we are looking at how to offer flexibility as well,” Liljehorn notes. 

 “A family-friendly, flexible work-life balance is very important in our industry,” Reilly adds. “Moving forward, we will build in even more flexibility as it relates to spending time away from the office.”

The contractor kept all of its employees last year; there were no layoffs, Liljehorn says. In fact, the 135 office and administrative staff, along with 125 tradespeople, found ways to continue their company tradition of community involvement during the pandemic, working with Food Bank of the Rockies, the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations, as is their tradition. “It’s the thing we’re most proud of,” Liljehorn says.

Anschutz Health Sciences Building

The 394,419-sq-ft Anschutz Health Sciences Building at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colo., will house clinical, research and education labs as well as classrooms.
Images courtesy of JE Dunn Construction

High-Profile Work

JE Dunn’s work extends from southern Wyoming (Laramie and Cheyenne) south along the Front Range through Pueblo. The firm’s portfolio is primarily a mix of higher education, science and technology buildings, health care, correctional and federal work. The contractor also specializes in advanced industries and mission-critical work.

In 2020, JE Dunn completed roughly two years of construction on the new William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center on the University of Colorado Colorado Springs campus. The 104,634-sq-ft project added a clinic, gym and university lab and classroom space to the campus. 

The contractor also broke ground on three projects at the Colorado State University Spur campus in the National Western Center in Denver. Those include Vida (animal and human health), Terra (food and agriculture) and Hydro (water). All three projects, totaling nearly $148 million, are expected to wrap up in 2022 and become part of the growing CSU system.

“JE Dunn has been wonderful to work with,” says Jocelyn Hittle, Spur Campus assistant vice chancellor. “One of the things CSU is sensitive to is the neighbors who will be impacted by the construction and the new buildings. JE Dunn has been very thoughtful and respectful about our immediate neighbors and have even engaged in activities that support the greater community.” That includes helping to install a teaching garden at the nearby Bruce Randolph School, which will have an ag/tech program with a variety of classes related to food, she says. 

Historic preservation is a comfortable niche for JE Dunn. The company led construction on the $253-million Wyoming Capitol Square project, completed in May 2019. The four-year, multiphase project included restoration of the 129,539-sq-ft Capitol building and renovation and expansion of the nearby Herschler Building. The work also included a complex below-grade central utility plant relocation and replacement. 

JE Dunn is underway with construction on the $158-million historic restoration of the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs. The structure is one of the most iconic buildings in the U.S. and one of the most visited Colorado landmarks.  JE Dunn is currently removing the building’s exterior panels and stained glass and refurbishing or replacing it. 

“It’s a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on such a visible building,” Reilly says. “Thinking through and problem solving how to disassemble that facility and enclose it with a temporary structure over 150 ft tall was a fun problem to solve.”

JE Dunn also won two significant projects last year: the University of Wyoming Replacement Student Housing and the Parkview Medical Center Orthopedic Hospital projects in Pueblo.  JE Dunn recently completed a master plan for seven projects at the Parkview Medical Center. 

“They do all of our work because of their attention to detail,” says Vince Velasquez, Parkview director of facilities management. “They don’t switch people up, so you work with the same group of project managers and superintendents throughout the project, and their understanding of [health care] regulatory requirements is key.”

Larimer County Jail

A 137,719-sq-ft expansion of the Larimer County Jail will be complete in 2023.
Images courtesy of JE Dunn Construction

“I’m not surprised at all to hear about [the firm receiving the Contractor of the Year] award,” says Ken Cooper, facilities director for the Larimer County Jail Expansion, another of JE Dunn’s recent municipal projects. “They really nailed it with their whole project team from the start. They were extremely impressive with their preparation and presentation, [and] it was immediately clear that they are a collaborative team. They feel like a very small company to us, even though they are very large one [because] they work collaboratively as a group with the owner and architect.”

“I would hope [our clients] feel we provide strong, confident people on our teams,” says Reilly. “It’s really about providing an exceptional client experience, and to do that, you must be open and communicate on a regular basis. We take their input and consider their individual needs. It’s not a one size fits all.”

“We give a lot of credit [for our success] to our clients; they stayed the course with their projects, took advantage of good interest rates and kept things moving,” Liljehorn adds. 

“I was utterly amazed at how quickly we deployed, how often we talked and the difference that made,” Reilly says. “I was blown away by our employees’ response. They felt cared for and listened to and had what they needed, and that made all the difference.”