Case Studies

Oakley Construction Co. Inc.

Revitalizing Chicago's Public Housing with a Familiar, Friendly Face

For nearly 30 years Oakley Construction Co. Inc. (Oakley) has delivered general contracting services in support of some of Chicago’s most outstanding institutions. The general contracting and construction management firm has emerged as a leader in the dynamic market by reshaping and revitalizing neighborhoods throughout the city.

The company began to take shape in 1984 when close friends Augustine Afriyie and Anthony Kwateng, now co-owners of Oakley, decided to launch the startup out of Afriyie’s basement in Englewood; the company’s name hails from Afriyie’s home on Oakley Street. The pair, who originally met through government construction in their native country Ghana, began to make a name for themselves in the construction industry by providing personalized service.

Putting a Face to a Name

Akua Kwateng-Bonsu, Anthony’s daughter and the contract administrator for Oakley, says the 100 percent minority-owned company offers something a little different from the next large-scale Chicago contractor. “What sets Oakley apart is the personal interface Oakley provides to every project,” Kwateng-Bonsu explains. “Oakley prides itself on seeing projects through from beginning to end. Every new project is assigned to a team and that team is responsible for ensuring timely completion of the project. Our clients find it helpful, because they are able to build relationships with Oakley’s team members.”

An additional benefit offered to Oakley’s clients is the company’s employees, as the team has a combined experience of over 90 years in the industry. A seasoned workforce means more than 95 percent of Oakley’s projects have been successfully completed without changing teams mid-construction. “Our clients appreciate the fact that they work with the same individuals throughout the entire process,” adds Kwateng-Bonsu.

In recent years, Oakley has been heavily involved in hospital and health care facilities; however, Kwateng-Bonsu says times are changing. Therefore, Oakley is onboarding a new redevelopment plan and vision for Chicago.

“Oakley now has several projects with the Chicago Housing Authority [CHA],” says Kwateng. “Some of the projects are sponsored under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 [ARRA] and a portion of the materials purchased must be made in the U.S.”

Kwateng explains that some of the CHA projects also come with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. “Part of this niche market is ensuring the construction is aligned with ADA regulations,” he continues. “We’re going in and doing a lot. We are lowering sinks, removing stairs and doing whatever it takes to make the units handicapped accessible, it’s a mix of new construction and restorations and renovations.”

A Plan for Transformation

The CHA public policy initiatives and resulting projects have helped redefine the geography of the windy city and Chicago’s physical landscape. Under the CHA redevelopment, the organization has demolished thousands of public housing units with the hope of building mixed-income communities. “We’re currently preparing to start renovation work at the Henry Horner Homes [Horner],” adds Kwateng-Bonsu.

Built in 1957, Horner spanned a 10-city-block area encompassing Hermitage, Lake, Damen and Washington streets. The development consisted of 11 buildings and 920 units. In 1961, the Henry Horner Extension was completed, adding another 736 units of typical Chicago galley-style high-rises. The final complex, the Horner Annex, was finished in 1969, consisting of 109 units located in a seven-story mid-rise building.

According to “The Horner Model” by William Wilen, at first, these apartments offered a good sense of community and a quality living environment, but the vacancy rate of Horner began to climb throughout the 1980s and 1990s. “The vacancy rate at Horner climbed steadily for almost 10 years, peaking in May 1991 at 49.3 percent,” says Wilen. “Because these buildings had been constructed on the cheap they had numerous physical problems; no actual lobbies, no communication systems between residents and guests and an open building design that allowed easy access to persons entering the building with criminal intent.”

“Trash chutes located on each floor were too narrow to handle all of the trash, causing pileups,” continues Wilen. “There was hardly any overhead lighting in each apartment and the walls of the apartments were cinder block, rather than finished plaster, giving the units a prison-like feel.”

In 1991, CHA named Horner one of the city’s most troubled developments and one of the most distressed public housing properties in the nation. An effort to revitalize the community began in the mid-1990s and is ongoing. “We are significantly involved in the renovations,” details Arun Kumar, one of Oakley’s project managers. “We’re installing a playground, parking lot, generators and working on making four apartments ADA accessible, as well as common area interior renovations.”

Once the Horner redevelopment is complete, the complex will consist of 1,325 units of low-rise and mid-rise mixed-income housing. In 2005, Horner was selected as Chicago’s best for-profit neighborhood real estate project and has since been praised as a national model for public housing transformation.

Kwateng-Bonsu says Oakley’s commitment to Chicago starts with an experienced team and stems back to Afriyie and Kwateng’s continuous dedication to improving the city. Since 1984, Oakley Construction Co. Inc. has been investing in people and community.

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Spring 2018



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