Wesex Corp.

When Wesex Corp. approaches a new project, it embraces the potential hurdles for the challenges they provide. Take for example a Cleveland-area printing facility expansion project Wesex began in October 2014 with a deadline to finish in June. The 60,000-square-foot addition will double the facility’s size but required the removal of two walls on the production floor while the plant was still operating. The precast concrete Wesex needed was not available in time, so Wesex faced a decision: delay the project, or find a solution that fit the client’s timeline.

Delivering projects on time is one of Wesex’s core philosophies. So the builder, based in West Middlesex, Pa., sought creative alternatives to complete the expansion by deadline. Wesex decided to relocate the two exterior walls to their new location and build temporary walls in their place, allowing crews to install a new roof during a winter that included one of the coldest Februaries on record. Because of that shifting approach, the project remains on schedule and is a testament to Wesex’s willingness to try new ideas to deliver value to customers, according to President and CEO Greg Koledin.

Design/Build Advantage

Since its beginnings in 1950, Wesex has specialized in these types of complicated projects that require innovative thinking.  The founding philosophy was that of “master builder” capable of working with clients on each step from design to project completion. The company’s structure as a design/build firm is the realization of that vision, allowing it to quickly work through roadblocks without being bogged down by the absence of singular responsibility on design-bid-build projects. 

“We’ve always welcomed fast-track projects for our manufacturing and distribution clients,” Koledin says. Heading each facet of a project has made Wesex comfortable with fast-paced projects with aggressive budgets and complex programs. It also makes the company 100 percent responsible for project outcomes, a high level of responsibility Koledin takes pride in. “There’s only one finger to point – at us,” he says.

Wesex is a builder that builds. The company constructs a project using in-house team members, and hiring on more crews as need dictates. Subcontractors are utilized, for civil, structural, mechanical and electrical work, but Wesex acts as the general contractor itself. Instead of having to manage a number of independent pieces to a project, the structure allows clients to approach Wesex as a single point of contact with a full understanding of the project.

This enables better control over the schedule and budget, Koledin says. For example, if inclement weather or equipment delivery creates a scheduling conflict, Wesex can more easily modify the construction timeline than if a dozen subcontractors also needed to have their phases reworked. That flexibility results in saved construction time and money for the owner. “We’re able to address problems in advance and modify schedules quickly, which provides the certainty that clients deserve,” Koledin says.

Real Estate Services

Wesex’s management of a project goes beyond the design and building phases. The company won’t just build facilities for clients, but will assist in land acquisition and entitlements. Koledin clarifies Wesex does not market itself as a pure developer, but has found situations where a customer did not want to own the underlying property or did not have the staff to handle the real estate piece. Wesex’s real estate services are designed as a solution for clients in those positions by handling financing, navigating municipal approvals and even procuring economic development incentives. 

Koledin says Wesex has offered a range of real estate services since the 1960s, including sometimes taking on ownership of the property. Wesex currently owns about five facilities in the Pennsylvania region that its leases out to clients. The development and financing arm of the company is aimed at tailoring solutions to the specific needs of each customer, Koledin says. “We provide all of the tools for them to make a better business decision.”

Branching Out

Since its founding, Wesex has been known for its work on industrial projects. The company built many of the manufacturing facilities that make up the Rust Belt, including projects for U.S. Steel and Westinghouse. 

Recently, the company won awards for its work to rebuild Wendell August Forge after a March 2010 fire destroyed the metalware maker’s historic workshop, corporate offices and flagship retail store. Wendell August Forge continued production in a temporary location, but the Pennsylvania company was determined to rebuild a proper facility and enlisted Wesex’s expertise. Wesex constructed a new 60,000-square-foot corporate headquarters, retail store, manufacturing facility and distribution center, and additionally secured a $4 million grant from Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to partially fund the work.

But while industrial facilities helped build Wesex’s reputation, the company has branched out to other projects over the decades. Wesex has been involved in the construction of senior housing, warehouse distribution, churches, environmental waste management and aviation projects. One of the projects Koledin is most proud of is the War on Terror Memorial in Hermitage, Pa., which was completed in 2005. The memorial features the names of every military member killed in the War on Terror since 1975 etched into 12 steel and glass pillars encircling a fountain. 

Those kinds of civic-minded projects have continued to be a part of Wesex’s business. The company was recently selected as the design-builder for the Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center and The Indiana County STEM Academy in Indiana, Pa. Once completed, the Challenger Learning Center will allow students to participate in a NASA simulator while the academy teaches them to solve problems using skills developed from science and engineering. “We get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from building for business and industry, however, this project will provide a different kind of satisfaction due to the positive impact it will have on the community,” Koledin says.

Wesex has found success in diversifying its portfolio because of its reputation for being client success-oriented. Koledin says delivering challenging projects safely on time and budget is the key to new work.   

Impact of Technology

Improvements in technology have enabled Wesex to provide such a high level of service. In the 1980s, Wesex was at the forefront of using 3-D design programs to assist in building construction, which included shop assembly and complex excavation planning. Now, Koledin says building information modeling (BIM) is the best thing happening in the construction industry, going so far as to call it a prerequisite skill for potential team members. 

Even though Wesex is a regional firm, it uses the same technology as larger, national competitors. That shared technology is a benefit not just for Wesex, but the whole industry, Koledin says, as cross-pollination enables everyone to adapt to and learns the same tools.

Beyond aiding in design, BIM enables Wesex to integrate scheduling and budgeting into the modeling process. Designers have become cost engineers able to quickly make alterations while collaborating with clients. “It’s changed the business for everyone,” Koledin says.

Being involved in every phase of a project has made communication critical to Wesex’s operations and reputation. Here, too, technology has created benefits. Wesex utilizes a system that reports to project stakeholders each day with status data and photographic documentation. Clients can see in real time what results were delivered that day and what challenges construction crews encountered, keeping them better informed to make decisions as the project progresses.

Best Practices

Wesex founder Emil Koledin grew up during the Great Depression and, like many, learned hard lessons in conserving what he had and reusing whatever was available. It’s no surprise those lessons became ingrained in Wesex’s building methods and remain an influence in how the company approaches projects. Wesex always encourages best practices even if its clients choose not to pursue LEED certification, as it may not provide direct financial benefits. Koledin views sustainability as more than just a set of standardized green building goals, but as a way to enhance both the environment and the project’s financial stability. “Build for the client like you are building for yourself,” Koledin says of Wesex’s philosophy.

The spread of the lean movement to the construction industry has contributed to Wesex’s common-sense approach to reducing waste. Koledin believes the buy-in from construction companies on lean processes and policies, such as efficient scheduling and labor costs, will help the industry as a whole better deliver projects.

Wave of Recognition

Staying on the forefront of new design and construction methods while keeping its client focus has earned Wesex a wave of recent recognition from its peers. The Wendell August Forge rebuild was given the Design Build Institute of America’s 2014 National Award of Excellence and the Award of Merit in the commercial/office category. In 2013, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania honored Wesex with the Industrial Development Award for the Thomas & Betts Reznor project, a research and development facility for a 100-year-old heating manufacturer. 

Koledin believes such awards will help Wesex grow outside of its region. “When you get done on time, when you get done on budget and you constantly close loops, reputation carries you to an extent,” he says. 

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