Merit General Contractors

Merit picMerit General Contractors oversees the construction of the second distribution center in the Olathe, Kan.-based I-35 Logistics Park. 

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media

After the successful completion of Building B in the I-35 Logistics Park in Olathe, Kan., which at the time was the largest building ever built on a speculative basis in the state of Kansas, Merit General Contractors is overseeing further development of the park. “One of the unique aspects about this project is we committed to the contract amount with only 50 percent of the documents completed,” President Don Crabtree says. “That’s not typically what we like to do, but in this case, we felt comfortable because we had completed the first building and knew we would be close.”

Project Manager Travis Follick says the company was also willing to take the risk because of its long-term relationship with Kansas City, Mo.-based commercial real estate firm Kessinger/Hunter. “We want to maintain those relationships because relationships can be hard to get but easy to lose,” Don Crabtree adds. 

I-35 Logistics Park totals 330 acres ready for 4.7 million square feet of Class A distribution space throughout six state-of-the-art bulk facilities. Merit was awarded the project in 2012 to design/build the first warehouse and distribution center, Building B, on the property. 

The 823,000-square-foot facility is LEED-certified and was completed in August 2013. During construction, Merit incorporated green practices such as reducing its waste, purchasing materials from nearby vendors and building landscapes that eliminated irrigation requirements, Crabtree says. 

Building B features an ESFR sprinkler system, 168 dock-high doors on a pass-through facility and up to 270 trailer parking spots. 1A Auto, a Massachusetts-based auto parts company was the first tenant in Building B and secured 190,000 square feet of space. S&S Activewear then leased the remaining space, bringing Building B to 100 percent capacity. 

Building C

With Building B fully leased, Kessinger/Hunter evaluated further development of the park and Merit began construction on Building C in February. The 567,115-square-foot state-of-the-art industrial warehouse is located directly to the east of Building B in the I-35 Logistics Park. Building C will be LEED-certified upon completion. 

In months, Merit has set the walls, steel columns, bar joists, is currently installing metal decking, and expects to begin construction of the roof in early August. Getting started in the winter presented a number of challenges upfront due to the cold temperatures, so site work really took off in March. “Travis has accelerated the schedule since we were really only able to work on the site in March and that was hard on the schedule,” Crabtree notes. 

“We are contracted to be completed in February, but expect to be finished in mid-December,” Follick adds. 

Merit has moved from precast to tilt-up construction, which means the walls are manufactured on-site versus in a plant. The company says one of the main reasons for moving to tilt-up construction was due to the increasing clear heights for warehouses, which are 36 and 38 feet. “By the time you get 36-foot clear height, you are extending past the length of the ability to transport with precast,” Crabtree says. “With tilt-up you don’t’ have the limitation on height and design.”

Experience Matters

To maintain its aggressive schedule, Merit continually plans at least a month in advance to ensure its subcontractors and materials are on-site when needed. “There are so many projects currently going on in town, we have seen some delays,” Follick notes. “But our Superintendent Alan Von Holten has done a great job at planning a month ahead and resolving issues before they happen.” 

Crabtree attributes Merit’s field experience and project management skills to the company staying on schedule. Labor shortages has been one of the most significant challenges Merit is facing on the project, but is dealing with it by scheduling its subcontractors well in advance.

“If all you do is react and call the day before you need someone out there, they may all be tied up on other projects,” Follick explains. “By planning out a month in advance, they already have it on their schedule. We have a good group of subs and we can’t do it without them. We all need each other to make the clients happy. Happy clients lead to more projects.”

“It helps our subs plan their labor needs and it helps us to be ready for them when we tell them we need them,” Crabtree adds. “If subs are consistently pulling up to a site and you’re not ready, they start losing confidence in that contractor.”

Moving forward, Merit says the next building in the I-35 Logistics Park will be predicated on demand for tenancy. Unlike Building B, Building C has a significant portion pre-leased by KGPCo, which will be moving into 251,873 square feet of the building. The remaining 315,242 square feet is speculative space that will be available for lease upon completion of the building. 

Whether construction on the next building starts in two months or five years from now, Merit will deliver the same high-quality performance. “This is a repeat customer and we have a special relationship with them where we build the budget for them early and will complete the project for them ahead of schedule,” Crabtree says. “That’s why we earn respect and the future work of this client.”

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