Projects bring teams of people together. An ethanol plant project more than a decade ago led to the meeting of two people who would go on to create and lead their own team as the founding partners of MH Civil Constructors. Surveyor Juan Moreno and civil engineer Saul Hernandez launched the firm in 2010, when Moreno realized he was ready to go out on his own and started making calls. One of those calls was to Hernandez, who remembered working with Moreno and listened to his pitch. As the discussion evolved, the pair seemed to sense they might be able to forge a symbiotic relationship—Moreno wanted to focus on field operations, and Hernandez wanted to design and manage projects. Hernandez always had a plan, while Moreno usually went with his gut instincts.

They finally landed on, “What about we start something, we can go from there, see where it goes,” says Moreno, who serves as firm president, while co-founding partner Hernandez serves as general manager.

replacing nine clarifiers and repairing floors

MH Civil was tasked with replacing nine clarifiers and repairing floors at the Lubbock North Water Treatment Plant.
Photo courtesy MH Civil Constructors

To launch their business, Moreno purchased a broken skid loader, tools and some concrete forms while Hernandez put up $10,000. Now, a dozen years later, the firm has established a solid reputation in water/wastewater treatment plants, pump stations and pipeline work, completing more than $100 million of work over the years. Their future continues to look bright, with a projected backlog of $37 million. This growth, along with their performance on critical water infrastructure projects, is among the factors leading to MH Civil’s selection as ENR Texas and Louisiana’s Specialty Contractor of the Year.

Reaching this level of success wasn’t easy. When Moreno and Hernandez started their firm, no one had heard of them, and they lacked bonding capacity. Among their biggest initial hurdles was how to get anyone to trust them.

“Saul being an engineer, he’s been the lead on a lot of projects with his previous firm, so he knew the way of going to the city and start building work,” says Moreno.

Contractors on two early projects gave the pair a chance, and MH was able to deliver. The first was a subcontract to a larger concrete contractor that said it would pay MH when it got paid. “That was our handshake,” Moreno says.

Lubbock’s Backwater

Lubbock’s Backwater was constructed to maximize plant water reuse and efficiency.
Photo courtesy MH Civil Constructors

Meanwhile, another opportunity came up when MH was the low bidder for handling a roughly $680,000 contract for concrete flatwork for a wind farm manufacturing facility, but they had to interview to seal the deal.

“As soon as we walked in, the interviewers looked at Saul and said, ‘You look like you just graduated from college,’ and they looked at me and said, ‘And you’re still in high school,’ even though I’m 27 years old,” Moreno recalls. “We impressed them enough to trust us.”

With an early eye on municipal work, they began adding to their bonding capacity with every successful project completion. Today, roughly 85% of MH Civil’s work is performed for municipal or public owners.

Brian Beach, an engineer at Plummer in Lubbock, Texas, first worked with MH on a drying beds project at a wastewater treatment plant.

“They did an excellent job,” Beach says. “It was a smaller job … but since that time, we’ve continued to work with them over the years, and it’s been a great relationship.”

The first time Josh Kristinek, assistant city engineer with the city of Lubbock, worked with MH Civil, it was also for a smaller project providing water connections within the mitigation areas at Lake Allen Henry, the city’s water supply.

“We had never heard of these guys,” Kristinek says. Taking a chance on MH Civil paid off, he says. “They did phenomenal work.”

Today, MH has graduated to bigger projects, including working with Beach and Kristinek on Phase 3 of Lubbock’s North Water Treatment Plant improvements, a $16.5-million project.

“They’re inventive,” says Kristinek. He says MH’s in-house combination of engineering and field experience helps them view a project from both viewpoints.

That approach led to a unique proposed solution to one of the NWTP project’s key challenges.

“We had specified to change the slide gates on the main channel coming into the plant,” Beach says, adding that it would require a 48-hour plant shutdown to replace the gates.

Saul Hernandez

Saul Hernandez reviews anchor bolt placement prior to steel erection at the Amarillo Sod Poodle Baseball Park, the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Photo courtesy MH Civil Constructors

Kristinek says the liquidated damages on the critical shutdown limits was “$4,000 or $5,000 an hour.” Looking for a better solution than the typical approach, MH leadership huddled, ultimately deciding to get scuba certified and perform the work underwater.

Kristinek says the project team considered the idea, and after seeing the details of MH’s plan, decided to give it a try. MH’s scuba-certified crews proceeded to build out that scope working underwater, avoiding a plant shutdown and resulting in the new gates all passing the leak test.

“It’s still under their warranty period, but everything runs like a charm,” Kristinek says. He says it allowed the city and the eight other towns that depend on the water treatment plant to avoid any disruption in their water supply.

MH Civil Constructors embraced innovation on other water projects. The city of Stamford, Texas, needed to replace approximately 10 miles of a 1950s-era concrete raw water line that had deteriorated so much that “the city could hardly get any water to town,” according to Scott Hay, vice president of Enprotec/Hibbs & Todd, the consulting engineer on the project. For the solution, the city decided to implement fusion-welded PVC pipe, a new technology that eliminates joints in the pipeline. It was one of the first projects on which Enprotec/Hibbs & Todd specified the technology and MH’s first time installing it. Hay says the MH team did a great job coordinating with the manufacturer to make sure everything went smoothly.

“I have about 30 years’ experience in this industry and quite honestly that was the most successful and easiest project that I’ve ever worked with a contractor on. They were just very professional in what they did and how they went about it,” Hay says.

MH Civil staff

MH Civil staff discuss the work sequence with MH Construction team members at the Lubbock North Water Treatment Plant’s Filter Complex B.
Photo courtesy MH Civil Constructors

“They made sure that there was an acceptable solution not only for the budget, but for the owner’s long-term operations and maintenance,” he says. The engineer-field combination the company’s founders bring “seems to be the secret sauce” that makes them so successful, Hays says. “They can meld the two in a way that produces a very successful project.”

MH Civil Constructors is getting ready to start on its largest project to date, a $22.5-million sewer interceptor network feeding into the city of Stephenville, Texas’ water treatment plant. The firm expects to self-perform a majority of the project, which leads to perhaps one of their biggest challenges as a firm—finding enough of the right talent.

Moreno says the labor market is challenging and credits a core group of veteran employees as a key to the firm’s success. He says the firm’s willingness to share information about project performance builds trust amongst their employees.

“It’s very open,” Moreno says, adding that each review focuses on safety first.

“Safety’s first, and then quality and then production,” Moreno adds, saying that fits in with the company’s culture of caring for their employees and their families.

“We want to be able to provide to our employees and their families … and to have a career with us, knowing that we’re going to take care of every family,” Moreno says. “We’re here to stay.”