Case Studies

Derr Construction Company: Building a New Generation of American Landmarks

  • Written by: Derr Construction Company: Building a New Generation of American Landmarks
  • Produced by: Derr Construction Company: Building a New Generation of American Landmarks
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Derr Construction Company (DERR) leverages over 50 years of experience to craft complex structures that become indelible landmarks. E. L. Derr Jr. established family-owned and -operated DERR in 1961, ensuring stadiums, arenas, airports, convention centers and industrial facilities alike would receive the utmost attention to detail.

“We focus on heavy steel structures, so our work can take us anywhere in the country,” explains Bob Derr, president of DERR.

DERR acts as the parent company of Texas-based Derr and Isbell Construction LLC and Colorado-based Derr and Gruenewald, both of which are construction contracting companies.

Derr and Isbell Construction LLC maintains headquarters in Euless, Texas, where a staff of about 20 construction professionals aims to provide each customer with the industry’s best combination of professional steel erection services and competitive pricing. Meanwhile, Derr and Gruenewald Construction also provides structural steel erection services throughout the western United States from its headquarters in Henderson, Colo.

The DERR team offers preconstruction services, project management, safety management and construction engineering services using in-house labor. Taking full responsibility ensures DERR maintains control of a project throughout its life cycle, which also provides the ability to safely tackle large-scale projects with innovative designs.

However, the DERR team understands that attracting large contracts for landmark structures like Houston’s Reliant Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, the Denver International Airport, Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium and Houston’s Minute Maid Park requires the support and assistance of a network of suppliers and partners. “We self-perform almost 100 percent of the work on site, but we also depend on the great relationships we have with our steel fabrication customers and partners,” reflects Bob.

Together, the DERR companies represent some of the most talented ironworker supervisors and construction professionals in the industry. The combined talent allows DERR to provide clients with a comprehensive set of services focused exclusively on steel erection and related specialties, while still concentrating on the team’s personal knack.

Investing in Best Practices

Through Bob’s tenure DERR changed and adjusted to new markets, but he and the team never lost sight of what keeps the company competitive: an unwavering commitment to the safety of each DERR employee. DERR makes the most of the company’s union ties to work with programs like IMPACT (the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust), which works to unite ironworkers and union-signatory contractors to address mutual concerns.

Through memberships with various industry organizations, DERR continually works to ensure its corporate culture fosters a safe working culture on site. The extra training also works to emphasize the company’s safety philosophy that is built upon the belief that well-trained employees are more productive, and that training leads employees to take greater pride in the quality of work.

DERR begins every project with an extensive preconstruction period to analyze, address and strategize for logistical snags. The team believes that preparation, early education and continual on-site meetings lead to a project that is delivered safely and on schedule. This holds especially true for DERR, as many of the companies’ unique projects require unique steel erection techniques.

Groundbreaking Techniques

Such was the case when DERR signed on to build the new home for Washington, D.C’s Newseum in the mid-2000s. The Newseum serves as an interactive museum of news and journalism, and is run by the Freedom Forum, a non-partisan foundation committed to free press, free speech and free spirit. General contractor Turner Construction Co. led the project, partnering with DERR, New York City-based structural engineer Leslie E. Roberston Associates and renowned architectural design studio Polshek Partnership Architects.

From a structural steel perspective, the project provided DERR with numerous challenges. The first test was that the Newseum’s glass curtain wall is capped with a 252-foot mega-truss spanning the length of the façade. Construction crews grappled with the challenges of building on a highly populated site in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on what happened to be one of the last remaining undeveloped sites in the downtown area. The site’s proximity to such high-security landmarks as the White House and the Capitol Building required the project team to seek out 21 separate approvals just to assemble a crane on site, including approval from the Secret Service.

In fact, the site was so tightly packed that it provided the DERR team no room to assemble the building’s roof truss sections. Ultimately, the team opted to assemble the trusses using mid-air splices, where neither component is directly structurally supported while crews of welders work furiously to make the necessary connections.

Award-winning Performance

Nevertheless, DERR delivered. The team has since taken home numerous awards from various industry organizations, including the 2008 Merit Award from the Structural Engineers Association of New York and the Mid-Atlantic Construction Magazine’s Best of 2008 Award in the cultural project category.

Closer to DERR’s home base, the team focused its energies subsequently on wrapping up work on the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The stadium numbers third amongst the largest in the National Football League in terms of seating capacity, boasting enough room to welcome 100,000 sports fans at maximum capacity.

DERR provided the structural steel expertise and planning necessary to allow crews to build a structure with one of the largest column-free interiors, capped by a retractable roof. The signature box-truss arches span 1,225 feet, which is the longest roof span in the world. The roof also supports the familiar video scoreboard, which is also a record-setter.

According to Bob, such landmark projects remain somewhat scarce in the wake of the economic downturn. However, the DERR team has positioned itself to take on whatever opportunities arise in the future. “Our projects speak for themselves and our plan is to just keep an eye on the economy for now,” asserts Bob. When a landmark structure does appear, the team at Derr and Isbell Construction LLC, Derr and Gruenewald and Derr Construction Company plans to leverage an extensive history of building complex structures and an unwavering commitment to safe practices to help build America’s next generation of landmarks.

Published on: March 9, 2013

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