Case Studies

GCI General Contractors

Celebrating 20 Years of Sustainable Building in San Francisco

GCI General Contractors (GCI) grew in just 20 years from a mid-sized general contracting operation into one of the San Francisco Bay area’s leaders in sustainable building and commercial interior construction. The GCI team believes that every project should not only meet GCI’s exceedingly high-quality standards, but also that projects should fulfill both the client’s real estate and business objectives. As a result, GCI has become well-known for its open, honest communication policy where concerns are respectfully voiced to ensure projects are designed and completed with the client’s best interests in mind.

“We honestly believe that it’s possible to achieve sustainability goals without necessarily spending any more money and we prove it every day,” asserts James Jenkins, president of GCI. The founders of GCI left successful careers at other companies, using their experience to build a more intimate general contracting operation.

San Francisco-based GCI retains a close-knit work environment, though it is balanced by a diverse array of construction services that are more often associated with much larger operations. The key for GCI is employing a staff of diversely talented professionals, each of whom delight in rising to the challenge and collaborate closely to manage projects from preconstruction through completion.

GCI’s total scope of services covers all bases – preleasing services and feasibility studies to fast-track construction. The company can work with clients in both a design-build and design-assist capacity. GCI watches closely over every project’s development, intervening with lifecycle costing and value engineering to ensure each project meets its design, budgeting and performance objectives in the long run. Projects are carefully scrutinized to weigh the cost and benefits of every decision, which played a major role in GCI’s evolution as a leader in sustainable building.

Planting the Seed

“We started recycling construction materials in 1997, not out of concern for sustainability, but to fund our project completion cook outs,” chuckles Jenkins. The small parties not only raised morale for all involved in the project’s construction, but the recycling operation underscored the financial significance of recycling construction materials. GCI continued to refine its recycling program so that when clients inquired about incorporating the system into a project, GCI was already recycling over 50 percent of its construction material waste, according to Jenkins.

Change came again in 2001 in the wake of the anthrax scare that swept the nation. “We were working on a high-rise project in San Francisco and it had to be shut down because one of the tenants found some drywall dust on a countertop,” recalls Jenkins. GCI ultimately developed a system to employ clean air machines with HEPA filters to reduce particulate matter and disruption to other tenants, which became standard in 2001. The signature Clean Construction Environment (CCE) System not only improves work site conditions, but also reduces disruption to other tenants in the building, boosting GCI’s pedigree by providing enhanced indoor air quality during the commercial interior renovation process. Best of all, GCI offers the system to clients at no extra cost.

GCI is also a proud member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) with a high-profile portfolio of LEED-certified projects under its belt. GCI holds the honor of having built over 22 percent of all LEED CI-certified projects in San Francisco, more than any other general contractor. GCI also holds the distinction of having built the largest law office in the country to achieve LEED CI Gold certification for O’Melveny & Myers in 2008. GCI also managed to achieve LEED CI Gold certification when building its own headquarters for less than the cost of a standard tenant improvement budget. “We take on a lot of the burden of managing a project’s LEED certification because we have so much experience,” says Jenkins. “It is second nature and easier for us.”

Rising to the Challenge

In many cases, GCI’s track record of successfully completed LEED projects helps to convince indecisive clients to pursue LEED certification, even when it may have not even been considered. Make no mistake, though, the LEED certification process is rigorous, and GCI works hard to enlist the help of subcontractors with prior experience in the LEED certification process. “There’s a lot of paperwork required, we want to be sure we are working with companies who have the wherewithal to help us coordinate the certification with the USGBC, especially if an issue were to pop up,” expands Jenkins.

GCI’s fearless and confident pursuit of greater sustainability benchmarks has paid off for both the company’s clients and USGBC. GCI made an enthusiastic presentation to the National Resources Defense Council weighing the cost and benefits of LEED certification in 2003, ultimately landing the contract to oversee the construction of the council’s San Francisco law offices. The original plan projected the offices would achieve the basic certification under the USGBC’s then pilot program for commercial interiors. Through careful refinement, though, GCI exceeded its original benchmarks and managed to achieve LEED CI Gold certification.

Promoting Sustainable Building Practices

To date, GCI has completed three LEED CI Platinum projects in San Francisco, more than any other contractor. Two of these projects were for ClimateWorks Foundation (ClimateWorks), a nonprofit group that aims to fight climate change and support global prosperity through public policy. GCI completed the first run of interior build-outs in early 2010, achieving LEED CI Platinum certification and 47 points, at the time the highest ever in the state. GCI ultimately returned to the space to complete a 10,000-square foot interior renovation and expansion for ClimateWorks that also achieved LEED CI Platinum by logging in 88 total points under the updated v 2009 rating system, which was the highest rating ever achieved in San Francisco and the third highest in the country under the newer rating system.

GCI did feel some of the impact of economic downturn, but signs of improvement abound in the Bay Area market. This is especially true as leading tech companies like Salesforce, YouTube and Google – all of which are GCI clients – invest heavily in sustainability. “We’re very fortunate to work in a city where sustainability is often part of our clients’ mission statements,” opines Jenkins. “San Francisco certainly appears to be on a growth trend right now and it’s my goal to make sure our company is well positioned to participate in that growth.”

The days of funding post-completion barbeques with the proceeds from recycling building material waste may be over, but it’s unlikely that GCI will ease up on the team’s efforts to lead the sustainable building movement. The company saw two more of its projects achieve LEED certification in 2012 alone, and even more LEED-striving projects are currently under construction or in the documentation process. With every certified project, GCI proves that pursuing sustainable building doesn’t have to come at the cost of a client’s foremost real estate and business objectives. And that is a feat in itself, as GCI General Contractors now averages over 85-percent waste diversion on all projects.

Published on: March 16, 2013


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