Designing for Growth

February 17, 2014

Just about the time Shive-Hattery Inc. would be celebrating 21 years in its quarters in West Des Moines, the company will pack it up this spring and move to a renovated building that  will strut the various stuffs of its expanded business.

The company’s multimillion-dollar revitalization of the former Wall Street Journal printing plant in West Des Moines is an illustration of its growth from a civil engineering firm to a combined architecture and engineering firm. Much of that growth came during the Great Recession. 
Mike Kammerer, a vice president of the Cedar Rapids-based company and manager of the West Des Moines office, said there is more at play than breathing life into a building that has spent many of its 33 years - the last seven vacant - largely hidden from view at the corner of 42nd Street and Westown Parkway.
Once complete, the building will serve as a showcase for the company’s landscape architects, interior designers, and structural and mechanical engineers, Kammerer said. As well as architects, civil and electrical engineers, land surveyors and roof consultants.

“The neat thing about it is it lets us design something that shows what we can do,” he said. 

“One of the things we like to do is revitalize old buildings. In West Des Moines, it takes a piece of property and brings it back to life.”

Right now, the building looks just as Kammerer described, pretty much a bare-bones structure with large chunks of exterior walls removed, exposing vast portions of the interior.

Even the trees and shrubs that once blocked the view of the building are gone. What will return, provided this winter of polar vortexes cuts construction workers some slack, is a parklike setting that guides the eye to large sun-shading windows and a two-story entrance where printing presses once operated.

The building will even have a new address: 4125 Westown Parkway.

Inside, the design focuses on large open spaces where the architects and engineers can collaborate on projects. Shive-Hattery has added more than 3,000 square feet to the roughly 50,000-square-foot structure. 

Once completed, the company will occupy about 32,000 square feet, and building owners are looking for tenants for the remaining space.

“It’s all designed around collaboration,” Kammerer said of the space his company will occupy.

A growing concern 

Shive-Hattery is consistently ranked among the top 500 design and engineering firms in the country. It has offices in eight cities in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.

The last time the Business Record wrote about the company, it reported a little more than $6 million in annual revenues. That was in 2007. Last year, the employee-owned company reported $50 million in revenues.

That income is based on a practice with expertise in health care, education, industrial, commercial and retail buildings, and government work that includes everything from bridges to performing arts centers.

When the West Des Moines office moved into its present location at 1601 48th St., Shive-Hattery had about 30 employees. It now has 100.

Two years ago, the need for more space was difficult to ignore. The company leased every available office that opened up in the 48th Street building, eventually occupying portions of two floors.

That separation made collaboration difficult, and if anything, Kammerer strives for a “we’re all in this together” working environment.

The company grew by nine designers over one weekend at the end of April 2012. That is when Kammerer decided to hire designers who lost their jobs after 80-year-old Durrant Group Inc. of Dubuque announced that it was going out of business. Over the course of a week, Kammerer and other Shive-Hattery managers interviewed the company’s designers.

“We made offers to all of them, and nine of the 10 came over,” Kammerer said.

On short notice, Kammerer told his office supervisor to find space for more employees.

“We slapped some paint on the walls and scrubbed the carpets … and the day before the end of the month, they came to work at Shive-Hattery,” he said.

Kammerer is especially proud of the fact that the former Durrant designers did not lose health benefits because they transitioned from one employer to another virtually overnight.

Relationships matter

Even though it was close by, the Wall Street Journal building didn’t play into Kammerer’s thinking when he launched a search for a new home.

Trying to find a building with 30,000 square feet of open space was a challenge. One criterion was that Shive-Hattery wanted to stay in West Des Moines, where many of its workers live.

The company’s employees are involved in a range of Greater Des Moines organizations. A chance encounter that Craig Erickson, who leads Shive-Hattery’s landscape architecture group, had at a West Des Moines Leadership Institute meeting put the Wall Street Journal building on Kammerer’s map.

A partnership formed between Hurd Real Estate Services Inc. and Signature Real Estate Services Inc. paid $1.5 million for the building in April 2012.

At the time, the land on the seven-acre property was valued at $1.5 million and the building at $8,000, according to Polk County land records.

Kammerer said the new owners had a “vision” for how the property could be transformed. One of those owners approached Erickson at the leadership meeting and asked him to take a look at the building.

“Brokers had taken people through the buildings, but nothing had worked,” Kammerer said. “Craig, on his own, spent a weekend, got some photographs somewhere on the Web, and just did some sketching and came up with a pretty good concept of what could be done with it.”

As a result, the building owners had a willing tenant.

All together now

Shive-Hattery has thrown all of its considerable professional talent into the project. Kammerer estimated that nearly all of the firm’s architects had a hand in various design elements. Electrical, mechanical and structural engineers went to work adding a second floor and coming up with systems that would heat, cool and illuminate the large space.

Individual work spaces will have walls a mere 42 inches high, allowing workers to lean in on another’s office space. They added large kiosks that will provide spaces where printed plans can be tacked to a wall or a laptop can be opened up for a team to huddle around.

“It was very important to us to have a wide open spaces,” Kammerer said. 

On the other hand, there will be nine conference rooms for more private meetings. That will be a big improvement from one main conference room at Shive-Hattery’s present location.

Air flow will be enhanced by large, slow-moving industrial fans. 

Large exterior windows will have roller shades that are controlled by photo sensors to filter sunlight.

If the effect of all the changes seems to speak a big “howdy” to strangers, that isn’t by happenstance.

Kammerer takes great pride in other aspects of the company’s business model. First and foremost, Shive-Hattery wants its workers to stick around in professions that are noted for long hours and pressure to deliver complicated projects on tight deadlines.

Remember, this is a company that decided over a weekend to bring on a crew of architects from a shuttered company and had an architect spend another weekend of free time drafting concepts for the Wall Street Journal renovation.

“We are very strong in a level of values. How do we work within the environment? How do we treat others? How do we treat our clients?” Kammerer said.

That has translated into a low turnover rate, he said.
The company has been out front in the design and engineering fields in its recognition that employees need to strike a balance between their personal lives and professional obligations.

“The second leg of our mission statement is professional satisfaction for employees so they can reward themselves and grow,” Kammerer said.

Ann Sobeich-Munson and Danielle Hermann, two Greater Des Moines architects who have been part of a study about the conflicts between work and family experienced primarily by women in their profession, pointed out that Kammerer and other Shive-Hattery managers were the only principals who attended a presentation of a draft of their study.

Amy Quartell, a transportation engineer who has been with the company about four months, said Shive-Hattery is a company that understands the need to balance work and private life.

“If you get it right, that’s kind of amazing,” she said.

There’s a reason Shive-Hattery pays close attention to its employees’ needs, said Ashley Gregory, a structural engineer who has been the company for nine years.

“Shive-Hattery values top talent,” she said. “Once they get you, they don’t want to let you go.”

“We’ve always been sensitive to work-life balance,” Kammerer said. “We’re a very demanding profession. Our clients want things done; we set deadlines. This isn’t a 40-hour-a-week business. On the same hand, we also know that if a person is not satisfied at home, there are going to be issues at work too.”

Kammerer said he wants to know what implications the study has for Shive-Hattery.

It always pays to be looking ahead.

More on the New West Des Moines Design Office Building

Read more at Des Moines Business Record
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