While ENR typically delves into lessons learned in stories about projects currently under construction, for the past 27 years our Best Projects awards have also highlighted success in your completed projects where there has been exceptional teamwork, outstanding safety and community benefit. Starting on p. 39, you can read about the current crop of national-level winners.

This year, ENR celebrates 150 years of publication, but several of our regional magazines also have long histories. For example, Southwest Contractor (now ENR Southwest) has been published continuously since the 1930s.

In 1996-97, several of these regional publications, including Southwest and Mountain States, put a call out for submissions for a project-oriented contest to be judged by submitters’ industry peers. I had started working at Southwest Contractor just before the second year of the contest, and in just a few short years we were getting so many entries, the delivery of boxes filled with hundreds of physical binders would fill my entire office. Judges would meet in a conference room, flip through the entries and photos and come to a consensus during a day-long marathon.

Around 15 years ago, ENR took the contest national by moving up the regional winners to new rounds of judging. These days of course, everything is digital, but judges still meet in groups via Zoom to deliberate.

Carl Heinlein, Senior Safety Consultant for American Contractors Insurance Group and a longtime judge for the contest’s Excellence in Safety award, says he “learns something each year” reading what submitters “are doing concerning protecting their colleagues and trade partners both on and off the job.” Bart Eberwein, retired Executive Vice President of Hoffman Corp., a judge for five years, says contest entries are “a treasure trove of stories about grit, determination, creativity and especially teamwork.”

In 2012, ENR picked its first Project of the Year, back then known as Editors’ Choice. Singling out a project to grace the cover from among the winners became the one aspect of the contest that the editors—usually a very impartial group—became involved with. That first project was a sustainable data center for Facebook near Prineville, Ore. It was groundbreaking at the time for using evaporative cooling, central batteries and customized servers to reduce cooling requirements. “All of these sustainable features (and more) were shared with the industry openly,” says Eric Lamb, at the time executive vice-president with DPR Construction and currently a board member for the contractor, which built the project in partnership with Fortis Construction. In the dozen years since this knowledge was shared, “there has been a relentless focus to improve designs, reduce energy consumption and develop hardware to maximize what can be accomplished in the same building area.”

What can your project teams learn from this year’s winners to improve processes, take safety to the next level or design and build structures that better serve our communities? Read on to find out!

Scott Blair