Of the smaller general contractors based in the Dayton area, perhaps no company has had more success in landing work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base than Butt Construction Co.
Those who watch the company say that makes sense. The 85-year-old company has been working at and for the base for 67 years, said Bill Butt Jr., the firm’s president and co-owner.
But with federal budget sequestration slowing or cancelling construction projects on military bases, Butt, like other companies, will have to find more projects elsewhere.
“As any company like ours, when their primary client has been the government, they are looking at all other possible clients,” Butt said.
Butt has long appeared to excel at landing the projects that often go to bigger contractors, such as Danis or Miller-Valentine, said John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade organization.
“Butt Construction is a strong company, a good organization and one that knows how to navigate safely the complexity of federal contracts, perhaps better than anyone else,” Morris said.
The Beavercreek-based firm seems to do that by partnering often with larger firms, firms that offer complementary experience and resources. But it has been known to partner with smaller firms, as well.
Partnerships with Walsh Group firms Archer Western and Walsh Construction, of Atlanta and Chicago, and Dayton’s own Lewaro Construction Inc. have led to several big projects behind the fence at Wright-Patterson.
The Human Performance Wing, a $221 million project, represented Wright-Patterson’s largest construction project since World War II and was a centerpiece of the $332 million in construction work directed to the base as a result of the 2005 BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process. Butt partnered with Archer Western on that project.
In March 2011, the 680,000-square-foot wing complex was completed early, an achievement that Thomas Wells, then the director of the 711th Human Performance Wing, called “nearly a miracle.”
Six months later, the Walsh Group/Butt joint venture landed a contract to perform $98 million in renovations at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center. The joint venture was selected from a group of five bidders.
And in May this year, Butt’s partnership with Lewaro helped it became one of five companies named to a five-year umbrella construction and services contract overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
That award included a $950,000 work order for Butt/Lewaro to replace the fire alarm systems at the base.
In the partnership with Lewaro, Butt acts as the “mentor” while Lewaro acts as the “protege,” Butt said.
More recently, Archer Western/Butt were named as one of five firms competing to build a $46 million aircraft and space gallery addition at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Final bids from those firms are due next month.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will select the winning museum bid later this year to build the privately funded 224,000-square-foot structure.
It’s not just historic or large projects that Butt has been able to secure. The company was also selected late last month to perform a heating plant conversion at the base, a $12.5 million job.
The Department of Defense and the government in general can have high expectations of bidders for its construction projects, Butt noted. The government can expect bidders to be of a certain size, have a certain bonding reach and have certain experience before even entertaining bids from them, he said.
With those expectations in mind, that’s why it makes sense to find partners with the right experience and resources, Butt said.
“The government doesn’t want somebody who hasn’t had that experience,” he said. “They won’t even let you bid the job.”
But a 67-year history of work at the base is no guarantee of future success, Butt added. The government evaluates a contractor’s performance at the end of each job. Assessments are not based on “subjective” reasons, he said. They’re based on performance.
“It doesn’t matter that we have worked with them forever,” the president said. “It’s the actual objective results we’ve accomplished.”
Butt declined to offer recent revenue figures, but he said construction work resulting from the 2005 BRAC was unusually plentiful. Since then, there has been a decline in jobs, although the company still employs about 50 people.
“BRAC created for us and the government unusual and unprecedented levels of work,” he said. “We’re probably now falling back to a normal situation.”
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