|Typically, design build contracts are awarded to large construction and engineering firms, but because of the emergency situation in Joplin after the May 22, 2011 tornado, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, at President Obama's orders to jump into action, wanted to find a small business that could begin work immediately.
FEMA put contracts in place to begin the cleanup effort and build the needed temporary housing. Another project they put a priority on was building new high school athletic fields. Working through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)-Kansas City District, they hoped to design, build and complete new soccer, softball, baseball and football fields that the students could use by October 15, 2011. Time was of the essence so they moved fast to find a reliable contractor that could quickly design and construct these fields.
Charlie Bass, co-owner of C&M Contractors, a construction contracting company from Doniphan, MO, said, “The damage to Joplin was indescribable, and losing so many people in a town that size was a tragedy. Being picked to help the rebuild was a real honor and we did everything we could to finish this job on time and within the budget.”
The Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) had provided C&M Contractors the help needed to be registered as a small business with the federal government. Because of that help USACE was able to identify that C&M had the background and experience to handle a design build project for the Joplin ballfields.
Stan Schultz, owner of Schultz and Summers Engineering of Poplar Bluff, added, “Once C&M told us the schedule for this project we quickly gave them the support and staff they needed to begin the design process. Melinda and Charlie may be new to the 8a program [federally designated minority owned business], but their 15-year track record of working in the private sector on demanding construction schedules was perfect for this project.”
A day after contact by USACE, on July 14, C&M owners Melinda Vaughn and Bass made their first visit to the site. Vaughn quickly assembled an experienced team including SSE as well as Ridge Hill Contractors of Nixa, specialists in water utilities construction. Nine days later SSE successfully completed the design which allowed C&M Contractors to successfully negotiate the USACE contract for the temporary athletic fields located adjacent to Joplin South Middle School. These included construction of sports fields that would be funded by FEMA through their critical infrastructure program as part of the disaster relief effort.
Heather Morgan a landscape architect for USACE, said, “There was a lot of pressure on this project with people saying, 'I need this now,' along with me pushing and calling Brad Allbritton on the weekend because SSE had to come out and site plan the project, grade it, do all the permitting and prepare the construction documents at the speed of light. C&M Contracting and SSE did that! We had a full site with all these existing conditions and SSE had to come up with deliverables that normally take months on end to create, to get earth moving and get everything correct as far as cost estimating. On a large site that is not easy to do, but it saves time.”
Rarely do small companies like C&M Contractors have an opportunity to do this kind of project. Commenting on this, Vaughn said, “Even though we are new to the 8a program working on design build projects is not new to us. Charlie and our project managers all understand the importance of doing quality work on projects that have demanding timelines. We also have some very capable and reliable partners in Schultz and Summers Engineering & Ridge Hill Contractors. A good team makes successfully completing a project like this easy.”
Bass added, “Having quality local subcontractors helped us complete the project on time. Bill’s Electric, [Inc. of Webb City] placed the lights for two fields and Anchor Fence [of Springfield] built the fencing around the softball and baseball fields. Their hard work was invaluable.”
On September 1 the final sod was laid down which completed the project 45 days ahead of schedule. The grading was complete, the grass was growing, the bleachers were in place, and the lights were shining the night the students took the field for the first time.
While some may say ball fields are not that important, attesting to their significance is Mike Johnson, Joplin Schools director of maintenance. “We lost several students in that storm and anything that can help bring some normalcy back into these kids lives is a wonderful thing," Johnson said. "What FEMA the USACE, C&M, SSE and all the workers have done for our school is truly a blessing.”