Case Studies

R.M. Thornton Inc.: Building Relationships with Some of D.C.’s Finest

  • Written by: R.M. Thornton Inc.: Building Relationships with Some of D.C.'s Finest
  • Produced by: R.M. Thornton Inc.: Building Relationships with Some of D.C.'s Finest
  • Estimated reading time: 5 mins

R.M. Thornton Inc. (RMT) has been providing “quality without compromise” since 1932, and has grown to be one of the largest commercial mechanical contractors in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, including Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia. RMT’s project experience covers the complete spectrum, ranging from replacing outdated equipment such as chillers and boilers, to installing fire protection systems, digital controls, large diameter piping, medical gas piping, geothermal heating and cooling systems, as well as sheet metal air duct systems, plumbing and 24-hour HVAC service. The company is staffed with the most LEED Accredited Professionals of any mechanical contractor in the metro area and puts an emphasis on being energy-efficient. The company also has an in-house sheet metal shop and prides itself on its ability to install and fabricate any kind of sheet metal or ductwork.

Timothy Coogan, director of marketing and business development, explains, “We like more difficult jobs and we have very highly skilled employees because we’re a union-only shop. We have a lot of work redoing older buildings and retrofits, which there are a lot of here in Washington.” RMT has demonstrated its abilities on national monuments, apartment buildings, military bases, subway stations, stores, hospitals, industrial facilities and power plants.

As a union-only shop, the firm is acutely aware of the importance of an employee’s training regarding the quality of a finished project, and the company as a whole. “We have very good union employees who they have been trained well and get paid well because of that, which they deserve,” asserts Coogan. “They are the ones who actually build our reputation. We have a wonderful reputation and it’s because of our employees.”

As a result of its sterling reputation, the firm has earned contracts at some of the D.C. area’s most prestigious landmarks. RMT installed the heating system at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the water filtration system at the Capitol Reflecting Pool, as well as the air conditioning in the Washington National Cathedral – a project that evolved with the building and took the firm over 30 years to complete.

In addition to air conditioning, heating and general ventilation systems, RMT also services and installs medical gas systems, cooling towers, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, geothermal and specialized ventilation systems for computer rooms throughout the Baltimore and D.C. region. “I think in the 1970s we did something for a client in Aruba, but generally we stay in the Washington area,” laughs Coogan.

Building for Healthcare Giants

RMT bases itself around four pillars – customer service, craftsmanship, integrity and experience – and has done so for nearly 80 years. The firm’s management only hires employees that can properly integrate into a team that promises to do the finest job at the best price, and that will take full accountability and offer an immediate solution for any issue that might arise. Having a “people-first philosophy,” as the firm states, fosters a team-centered working style, one that puts value in pre-planning, innovation, client feedback and participatory management.

Having established itself as a company with only the best employees and a focus on pre-planning and flawless execution, RMT is trusted to work on some of the largest healthcare projects in the region, a sector that has always been at the core of the company. One of the firm’s most recently completed projects was for the Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., which had been sharing a heating and cooling facility with the Washington Hospital Center nearby.

“The heating and chilling came out of the Washington Hospital Center, and four or five years ago they decided they needed to have their own system and we were actually the general contractor on the project since 99 percent of the job was mechanical,” states Coogan. “For any job that’s roughly 80-percent mechanical we feel comfortable playing the general contractor, but it’s not something we do very often.”

The firm currently has a number of projects with one of its longstanding clients, the National Institute of Health (NIH). The NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is one of the largest medical research facilities working to improve health and save lives. “We currently are working on a pretty significant project at the NIH, running steam lines and channeling. It’s not the most glamorous project we have had, but it’s important,” says Coogan.

The project is in collaboration with Gilbane Construction and includes large-diameter high-pressure steam piping and some critical shutdowns and tie-ins to the existing infrastructure. Elsewhere on the campus, RMT is also working on a retrofit project at one of the NIH’s medical labs. In addition to an upgrade to the existing HVAC systems, RMT is working on the fire protection and plumbing systems, as well as the medical gas plumbing.

Though the firm regularly provides maintenance services to facilities at the NIH, new construction projects tend to be very large scale. “It just takes a while because when you ask someone for a check for $5 million or $10 million there can be a pause,” laughs Coogan. “It’s not like buying new shoes. It normally takes at least a couple of years to budget for these kinds of expansions and upgrades.”

Playing to its Strengths

The financial strains of the past few years created a ripple effect across the entire construction industry. The question for nearly every company wasn’t whether the recession affected it, but how well did it minimize the impact. In RMT’s case, the answer was “pretty well.”

“Business has slowed a bit and with that we don’t have the resources to hire as many great guys as we would normally … but overall we’re in good shape,” explains Coogan.

The firm has achieved this by focusing on maintaining the client relationships that they have grown over the years. “Right now, it’s all about relationships. Clients are going back to companies they know and trust, and so are we. We might not try someone new right now because we have to make sure that this job goes well because there are just fewer jobs. So we get calls from clients we have had relationships with for years that come to us because they trust us,” asserts Coogan.

As a result of the company’s successful navigation of the stagnant economy, Coogan has already witnessed a change of perspective within the firm.

“When I first got here, there were a lot of gloomy faces. Now, they’re all busy,” laughs Coogan. “However, they can always get busier. It has gotten better already and I really do think things will continue to get better. I think there will be more positive news coming out soon and that will allow corporations gain some confidence, hire some more people, and then they will need buildings to put the new employees in.”

With this positive news about the economy, and the support of a strong core of team-centered employees, R.M. Thornton Inc. is positioned to continue being the mechanical contractor that architects, engineers, general contractors and facilities-managers think of first for HVAC design/build, plumbing service, ventilation, fire protection, ductwork or special retrofit projects.

Published on: March 9, 2013

Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in US Builders Review” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.


Spring 2018



  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.