Case Studies

Vanas Construction Company

Institutional construction in New Jersey

Since 1970, Vanas Construction Company Inc. has specialized in educational construction projects throughout New Jersey. Strong management and a strict adherence to project deadlines have allowed the company to carve out a piece of the state’s educational construction market, where it’s all about getting projects done in time for students to get back into the classroom.

Based in Bogota, New Jersey, Vanas Construction was founded 45 years ago by Robert Vanas, who passed the company on to his son Glenn in the ’90s. With a focus on renovating as well as the construction of new educational facilities, Glenn Vanas estimates that as much as 90 percent of the company’s work is education-related. “The majority of our work has been in the K-12 public school market, although we have done quite a bit over the years in the private sector as well,” says Vanas.

From elementary schools to high schools and colleges, going back to school has turned out to be a great decision for Vanas Construction.

Back to school

Working primarily in academic institutions has been a boon to the company, but it does not come without careful planning, tight scheduling and attention to detail by the entire project team. To ensure that construction does not interfere with academics, the Vanas Construction team has had to carefully schedule its work around the school year.

One ongoing example is the addition of a new wing at Lewis F. Cole Middle School in Fort Lee, New Jersey, which Vanas Construction has been working on since March 2014.  “We renovated the existing science wing last summer, built the new wing over the last year and now need to complete the balance of the renovation this summer which includes art rooms, a home economics room, classrooms and a guidance suite, ” says Vanas.

In addition to the classrooms and media center, the 20,000-square-foot addition includes a new music room, administration area, bathrooms and a nurse’s suite. Exterior work includes two new parking lots and other site upgrades. Construction is expected to be completed before students return to school for the upcoming academic year.

The work completed on Glen Rock Middle and High School in Glen Rock, New Jersey, stands as a prime example of Vanas Construction’s ability to excel within the strict confines of a public school project. Construction started in 2009 and included a 45,000-square-foot addition featuring a new two-story science wing, music wing and administrative wing. Valued at $14 million, the project included the demolition of one wing, as well as a complete renovation of the school’s auditorium.

While Vanas Construction self-performed some aspects of the job, the company relied on a trusted team of subcontractors to pull off the plumbing, electrical, HVAC and steel work as well as other aspects of the job. “We sub out a majority of the work, but we do our own carpentry, rough and finish,” says Vanas. As far as subcontractors are concerned, it is vital to the project that these contractors are prepared with the necessary manpower, material and equipment to meet the schedule.

“You always hope that the reputable subcontractors are going to have the right price at the time of bid so you can have the ‘peace of mind’ that you are working with subcontractors that are capable of doing a quality job and getting the job done on time,” he says. “Good subcontractors can be the difference on whether or not a project is delivered on time.”

The addition to Glen Rock Middle and High School included an extensive reroofing using a single-ply, mastic-applied thermoplastic membrane. Other added efficiency elements included insulated glass windows, high-efficiency appliances and a photovoltaic roof assembly to help generate electricity.

In January, Vanas Construction was awarded a contract to construct the 39,000-square-foot Academic Science Building at Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey. Slated for completion in May 2016, the project consists of a two-floor building with partial basement that will house staff offices, science classrooms and a student lounge.

Timing is everything

As a union contractor, Vanas Construction has a leg up over some competitors, especially on college and university projects. “Many college projects are subject to Project Labor Agreements,” says Vanas, which means construction firms must use union labor so they can’t be undercut by non-union shops. As a union contractor, Vanas Construction can be competitive against non-union contractors who otherwise would not be employing union labor. “We are always interested in projects that require a Project Labor Agreement because it does not change the way we do business because we are a union shop,” Vanas says.

For Vanas, timeliness is a critical performance indicator. “We are very schedule oriented. Any time you can finish a job ahead of time, it benefits the entire project team.” To that end, Vanas imposes a level of strict oversight on every project. “We review the project schedule with the supers at the end of every week and meet weekly to see where we are against the schedule,” he says. “The ultimate goal on every project is to complete it on time and within budget and to accomplish that, it requires a collaborative effort by all parties, including the owner, architect and contractor.”

While Vanas Construction is optimistic going into 2015, the team is hoping the market returns to where it was in the years prior to 2008. “We felt it in 2008 through 2012,” says Vanas. “The work just was not there like it had been in the past. Most school referendums were getting voted down so most all of the school work dried up. We became a lot more efficient and did more with less. It does seem that the market is turning around.”

Over the next one or two years, Vanas would like to see the company edge back into its pre-recession level of productivity when the business was performing  four to five school projects at any given time. With the country emerging from the recession and the economy getting back onto its feet, Vanas says this is a realistic goal as municipal construction projects become more financially feasible and Board of Education referendums now seem to be getting voter approval for expansion and capital upgrades.

As the market improves, Vanas and his colleagues continue to work hard and build lasting relationships to ensure that Vanas Construction Company Inc. remains a leader in New Jersey’s municipal construction market.

Published on: August 3, 2015

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