H.J. High Construction

In H. J. High Construction Co.’s 75 years of family management, size has not been the goal. “Our goal has never been to be the biggest or do the most volume or have our name on every marquee in the state,” President Robert High stresses. “Our philosophy is really hands-on. My father is very hands-on. We are involved from the day we are awarded a project all the way through construction at the site.

“Our philosophy is that you can’t resolve problems by sitting in your office and telling other people to take care of it,” he says. “You have to get in and roll your sleeves up and take care of the client. We have a real client-focused philosophy. Although we’re looking to grow, we don’t want to grow just for growth’s sake.”

High estimates that the Orlando, Fla.-based firm builds about five or six projects annually and always strives to remain stable during challenging economic times. “Although we’re affected, we’re able to withstand the storm and keep plugging along,” he declares. 

You have to get in and roll your sleeves up and take care of the client. We have a real client-focused philosophy. Although we’re looking to grow, we don’t want to grow just for growth’s sake.

 

In a recent joint venture with Batson-Cook Construction of West Point, Ga. – part of the Kajima Group – the team of H. J. High and Batson Cook is completing a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing and servicing facility for Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas Inc. in Pooler, Ga. It is Mitsubishi’s first facility outside of Japan to manufacture and repair its G- and J-class turbines used in power plants. High estimates the plant’s construction cost at more than $100 million, and the joint venture has been constructing the plant in phases as a design/build project.

Phased Bays

The first phase – which was started in November 2009 and completed in October 2010 – consisted of two 60,000-square-foot-high bay manufacturing areas, a 30,000-square-foot office and an equipment building housing the chillers and switchgear. The second phase was awarded in March 2010 and completed in April 2011. Phase 2 was a third 800-foot-long bay and included two miles of railroad track to the northwest property line. 

In May 2011, ground was broken on phase 3, which includes a 74,000-square-foot fourth manufacturing bay and the design of a balance bunker. The balance bunker is an extremely unique structure – in fact, there are only 12 balance bunkers in the world. The purpose of the facility is to test the turbine in a vacuum by spinning it up to operational speed while balancing it. The chamber is required to operate as a vacuum to remove any air that would create friction and heat in the testing process. The exterior walls of the facility are approximately 7-foot-thick concrete with a 400-ton door that moves on rollers and closes with hydraulic pistons.

The joint venture came about because of H. J. High’s experience in building Mitsubishi’s 120,000-square-foot turbine service center in Orlando. “We decided to team with Batson-Cook because of their experience in Georgia,” High explains. “We feel that with the relationship we have with the client, Batson Cook’s expertise in Georgia and with projects of this size, we would have a great team.

“It’s been a successful project,” he asserts. “The first two phases were completed ahead of time and on budget with no safety violations or recordable incidents. The client is very happy with the building. It’s the largest project to take place in Savannah in the past year or two. The community is really excited about Mitsubishi coming to the area. Mitsubishi expects to have 160 people working in the facility by the end of the year.”

There are some interesting features in the Phase 1 and 2 bays. The floors are reinforced concrete ranging from 10 to 14 inches thick. Within the floor areas are foundations for milling and cutting machines that defy description. A foundation for one side entry milling machine will be approximately 100 feet long by 60 feet wide. It will have approximately 30 to 40 displacement piles under it to a depth of 60 feet. That is where the first sign of resistance occurs in the existing soils.

On top of the piles is a pile cap approximately 20 to 25 feet deep with highly specialized forming requirements for anchor bolts and oil trenches. The levelness requirements for the concrete necessitated engaging a foundation designer specifically for this aspect of the design. “We had to build the foundations to a criteria not to exceed a deflection slope of 0.01mm per meter under moving loads,” High points out. “Some of the machines are limited to a maximum deflection (out of straightness end-to-end) of 0.06mm. We had special concrete mix designs created for the pours and utilized ice to keep the temperature down. We used sensors in the concrete to monitor the temperature of the concrete over a 30-day period. We knew the concrete temperatures could not rise above 120 degrees.

The phase 3 turbine assembly bay has few machine foundations. Instead, the 72,000-square-foot bay will be used for assembly. In an area of approximately 10,000 square feet, 2-inch steel plates will be installed to align and level the rotors. These plates will be set to a level tolerance of almost zero. Mitsubishi cannot afford to have misalignment in the rotor.

“To help move these class G and J turbines, which weigh almost 400 tons, the facility will be equipped with two 250-ton/100-ton overhead remote-controlled bridge cranes,” High notes. “They also have the capability of lifting in tandem for a total of 500 tons. Once assembled, these rotors will be set on a transporter and moved to the balance bunker over a special steel rail which has been milled to receive the wheels of the transporter.” 

Three Generations

“My grandfather started the company, and my father ran it for 40 years,” High remembers. His grandfather, Harlem John High, founded the company in 1936. He began his career in New York City as a brick mason, but relocated to the small town of Orlando in 1935 after visiting it several times, the company says. Harlem John High started working in Orlando as a brick mason, and in 1936 established his own masonry and concrete sales contracting business, which led to his incorporating H.J. High Construction Co. approximately 20 years later.

His son Steve took over the company in 1968 after Harlem died unexpectedly. Steve currently is chairman of the board and his son Robert is president. The family owned, privately held company primarily serves the education, religious and distribution/cold storage industries. 

“We’re proud that we’re one of the oldest contractors in Florida, and the environment now is a whole lot different – Orlando wasn’t much of a town 57 years ago, before Disney, Lockheed, Cape Canaveral and all that,” High points out. “We’re proud of the fact that we’re still here 75 years later. We’ve had a remarkable group of clients. We’re thankful for them, for all of our employees, and excited for the future.”

The company is licensed in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. “However, most of our work is in Florida,” High notes. “We’re capable of doing work anywhere – we’ve done work in Miami, Tampa and Atlanta – and we’ve worked all over, but I would say our sweet spot is a 200-mile radius around Orlando.”

The company is holding a 75th anniversary celebration in October. “We’re inviting former and current employees, clients and friends of the company for a big thank-you,” High reports. “We’re in the process of scheduling lunches with all our current clients as a thank-you and developing a video to highlight the last 75 years of the company. We revamped our website, and we’re sending out a newsletter. We’re doing our best to raise awareness.”

Subcontractor Savings

High Construction’s joint venture partner Batson-Cook Construction self-performed the concrete foundations. “Many of the subcontractors we’ve selected during the design stage were critical in making this a success,” High says. “They had skin in the game. The advantage of having our team together early on was that we were able to incorporate those ideas into the design instead of having to go back and redesign later to get the ideas in. They helped us meet the budget and schedule, so it was a true design/build in that sense.”

High Construction’s key partners include Florida Surety Bonds Inc. and Carter Electric Co. Inc.

Images

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