DeKalb Mechanical Inc.
DeKalb Mechanical Inc. (DeKalb) began as a branch office of Illinois-based Miller Engineering Co. (Miller) in March 1991. The first shop and office occupied a small 2,500-square-foot corner of an existing rental building, where two full time and one part time employee began.
The estimating and managing of the fledgling branch fell to Steve Doonan, one of the current estimators at Miller. “From the very beginning we wanted to make DeKalb different from all the other heating, ventilating and air conditioning companies in the area,” Doonan says. “We felt that people would respond to a higher level of expertise and professionalism than was available in the marketplace at that time.”
Since that time, the company has grown to employ as many as 90 people in the summer with the duties split between in-house fabrication, field installation, equipment service, CADD coordination, project management and manufacturing for customers across the state. The original 2,500-square-foot facility has been left behind, and DeKalb now occupies a 30,000-square-foot facility on 5 acres of land with room to expand.
As DeKalb has expanded, so has its client base, as well as the team’s areas of expertise. DeKalb is well-versed in the construction particulars of schools, churches, police and fire stations, public and private universities, hospitals and health care facilities, factories, retail buildings including strip centers and mall stores.
“We really know how to do public sector work very well,” Doonan explains. “A majority of our work is remodeling schools, which are typically done during the summer. We’ve got three months to get a whole school air conditioned before the kids arrive and we have never missed a deadline.”
Doonan’s team is also highly successful with design-build projects, which enhances the company’s’ relationships with subcontractors and other partners during the construction process. “People respect us and say that we are great to deal with so our customers keep coming back to work with us,” he continues. “Our employees are very professional and do everything they can to make sure a job goes well. They look out for all the contractors on-site; it’s a team concept.”
The crew has built a reputation for offering quality work on time and on budget. In the last year alone, the company completed a number of unique projects. “We just finished an air conditioning system for five schools in Deerfield, Ill.,” Doonan elaborates. “The job was a complete design-build project from start to finish. We had only initially received an outline scope paper that basically just said they wanted to air-condition a school.”
Doonan explains that a team was developed to complete the project, including a pipe fitting subcontractor, a mechanical engineer and a structural engineer. “We also developed partnerships with electrical, general construction and temperature control contractors,” he continues. “We put together a proposal. They accepted it. We completed the project on time. The Deerfield project was very unique. It shows what can be done when people work together as a team.”
According to Doonan, generally, an engineer has to design a system that is detailed enough for the least qualified contractor that could potentially be chosen to complete the project. “With us, they can design based on our qualifications and processes,” he explains. “The project cost is lower when all the participants know the qualifications of each other and can anticipate what each will do. It allows for a more problem-solving type process. Construction happens faster and projects can be brought to completion quicker. The owner saves a lot of money and we have a showcase project.”
The company’s portfolio is extensive, and Doonan is proud of the team’s work. “We also just finished a factory in LaSalle Peru, Ill.,” he continues. “After the project was quoted, the owner indicated it was over his budget. We found ways to value engineer the project. This means reducing cost without significantly reducing the finished product. We were able to reduce cost by 25 percent to allow the project to proceed. We brought it in under the new budget and even reduced the operation costs. That’s kind of our claim to fame.”
Doonan and his team take a different approach than most. “We take a project, that an owner cannot afford, reevaluate and present it in such a way that it saves the owner money, time and energy,” he explains. “We don’t want to be a price-based commodity if we can help it. We will redo entire systems, evaluate the challenges and come up with a concept that will work within the requirements of the project.”
Changing the Market
Additionally, DeKalb uses products that haven’t hit the market yet. “For example, we use an innovative phenolic duct system that was just invented last year,” Doonan says. “We are one of only a few manufactures in the country that make and assemble it. It is called Thermaduct and has been a great thing for owners and for us, as well. We try to be on the cutting-edge on a lot of stuff. HVAC is the only trade that can take the raw material right from the mill and turn it into a finished installed product. Others have products that go from the raw mill to processing, to the manufacturer, to a distributor and then to an installer. We can do the whole process right here.”
Despite recent economic challenges, Doonan and his team are growing steadily. “To keep up work flow, we have relationships,” Doonan explains. “If you’re out quoting work and your only claim to fame is that you are five cents cheaper than the others, the downturn will really hurt you. Everybody can be a little cheaper. If you have relationships with people who are ready to work with you, then you have the ability to maintain a steady work flow.”
As the economy recovers, Doonan says he has noticed an increase in consumer confidence. With more money loosening up in the private sector, DeKalb is braced for growth. “We are on a steady path,” he says. “We hope to continue having an impact on the industry. We are trying to bring cutting edge materials into the mainstream. It’s a lot of fun and we have a great team.” The crew continues to work hard for clients and partners as DeKalb Mechanical Inc. builds upon a reputation for quality sheet metal work in Illinois.
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