Case Studies

Summit Engineering Corporation

Reaching New Heights in Full Service Engineering

After working for a top 500 engineering firm fresh out of college, Tom Gallagher knew he wanted to run his own company someday. Now, as president and CEO of Summit Engineering Corporation (Summit), Gallagher is fulfilling his vision. “After college, I worked for three years at a top 500 engineering firm from Sacramento, then one year for a different firm in Nevada,” Gallagher recounts. “I didn’t find a place where I fit in completely, so I decided to start my own company.”

A civil engineer and land surveyor by trade, Gallagher established Summit in September 1978 in Reno, Nev. Originally, Summit was limited to civil design and land surveying, but it wasn’t long before the company added geotechnical engineering, materials testing and inspection in 1985. “By 1986, we expanded further to include water rights surveying, a service that our development and mining clients require,” adds Gallagher. “In 1989, Summit was ranked No. 380 in the top 500 in the only year we applied. I checked that goal off the list early on.”

As environmental services emerged as a prominent market during the late 1980s, Summit continued to grow to meet client’s needs. “Our certified environmental managers were among the first to be registered in Nevada,” reveals Gallagher. “Those elements of the business flourished and in 1991, we added an in-house photogrammetry department.  In the early 2000s, we added Geographic Information System [GIS] capabilities and can now boast a broad spectrum of geospatial services. This completed a strategic alliance of engineering and surveying disciplines that continues to provide our clients with a true one-stop shop experience.”

Going with the Flow

Now that Summit offers a full scope of civil design, surveying, geotechnical engineering, photogrammetry, GIS, environmental and water rights services, Gallagher says one of the company’s strong suits is its ability to jump between areas of specialty. “Our strength is in our diversity,” he insists. “We can do everything from a simple parking lot design to a high-rise steel building inspection in-house, rather than hiring a bunch of sub consultants.”

Six to seven years ago, when the residential market was still going strong, Gallagher says Summit could easily have 10,000 residential units in the works at any given time. “When the housing market crashed we had to completely retool the company,” he explains. “It was time to move into more public works and mining. Fortunately, our employees have the ability to mold themselves into any situation, to learn new things. This has always been a hallmark of Summit.”

Like most companies, Summit was forced to scale back during the recession. “We had 150 employees and had to scale back to 40, but we’re back up to 55 employees and we’re in a growth cycle,” shares Gallagher. “We’re good at refocusing our energy. We can do a subdivision one day and underground testing and inspection in a mine the next day. We pursue housing projects, but our diversity has made us stronger.”

Engineering the West

Summit remains locally owned and operated with locations in Reno and Elko, Nev., as well as its newest branch in Yerington, Nev., which focuses on large copper mine operations. “Most of our work is within the state, but we have worked from Hawaii to New Jersey and beyond,” details Gallagher. “We have even done preliminary plans to rebuild a railroad running to a deep water port in Nicaragua. If there’s a client that needs us to go the distance, we will.”

Summit applies scientific and technical knowledge to the design, analysis, construction and maintenance to a range of built environments. For more than three decades, the company’s teams of engineering professionals have worked to engineer the West, from buildings and businesses to bridges, roads, canals, dams and mines.

“We’ve left our mark on Nevada and continue to do so,” shares Gallagher. “Thousands of homes, schools, roads, shopping centers, fire stations; we’ve touched nearly everything in a lot of communities.”

Gallagher is proud to note that many of Summit’s employees are Nevada natives and have been for several generations. “The average Summit employee has approximately 12 years of company experience,” he details.

One project of note was the reconstruction of 3.8 miles of Idaho Street and 12th Street from 5th Street to the Lamoille Highway in Elko, Nev., where Summit provided the civil design, surveying, geotechnical, construction management and quality assurance services for. “The $11 million project consisted of the reconstruction of the roadway, retrofitting pedestrian facilities, improving and upgrading drainage facilities, construction of new utilities, through downtown Elko,” details Gallagher.

The major construction concern throughout the project was maintaining access to various retail, commercial and industrial businesses alongside the project’s expanse, as well as traffic flow on the lifeblood of the city. “This was quite the challenge,” Gallagher notes. “We were uncovering debris from the 1800s.  There were layers upon layers of asphalt over concrete and vice versa. We had to remove and replace everything, but we stayed on our game and delivered a great product.”

Summit met the challenges, as well as others, head on and the city remained fully functional; from the Fourth of July parade to the Basque Festival, the Motorcycle Jamboree and the Silver State Stampede professional rodeo and the Elko County Fair, all vital economic events for the area. “The project was a huge success by all accounts,” Gallagher says.

Exploring New Opportunities

Summit is also able to work below the ground. “Summit has been involved in mining since the beginning,” reveals Gallagher. “We were selected to work in an underground mine and we’re now more than 2,000 feet below ground.  That and other projects have given us an edge in a lot of ways, because the mining industry in this area is huge.”

The company is involved with Barrick Goldstrike’s Paste Backfill project, the first application of its kind in a U.S. underground mine operation. “The project consists of more than 3.5 miles of high pressure piping that carries a paste, or tailings-cement slurry, to the workings of Barrick’s Rodeo and North Post mines,” details Gallagher. “The pipe is suspended by thousands of engineered hangers, which we are there to inspect.  That’s just a portion of what we’re doing out there.”

Gallagher goes on to note that there were many challenges associated with the project, as it was the first underground job the team had ever performed. “The most challenging item was that our personnel had to quickly devise a system of recording and locating items of note,” he explains. “We spent a great deal of time improvising ways to accomplish our goals and we ended up generating as-builts and comments of what we encountered, which were distributed to mine and construction personnel. We weren’t necessarily supposed to attack the project this way, but it proved to be very efficient and has been an added value for the client.  It’s one of the most unique jobs we’ve ever had”.

After being in business for more than 35 years, Summit isn’t afraid of a new challenge. As a result, many employees have developed a serious can-do attitude, according to Gallagher. “Some of my people are so far outside the box they finally embraced my philosophy that there isn’t one,” he quips.

The company’s unique approach to the industry has allowed Summit to build strong and lasting relationships with clients, other contractors and business partners over the years. Gallagher is proud to note Richard Schield, professional insurance adviser to Summit for 25 years, provides risk management solutions for employee benefits, property, casualty and professional risk. Additionally, Wells Fargo Insurance Services USA Inc. helps Summit identify emerging risks and collaborates with leadership to create strategies to proactively address evolving exposures. Loyal relations ensure the company’s continued success.

“I’m looking forward to new opportunities, wherever they may be, to further Summit’s continued diversification,” details Gallagher. “The longevity and local nature of Summit sets us apart. We’re Nevada-owned, unlike other companies purchased by larger corporations who came in during the housing boom. We’ve never had a desire to go in that direction.”

After 35 years, Summit Engineering Corporation remains a leader in Nevada and beyond, reaching new heights in integrated design and engineering.

Published on: July 9, 2014

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