Neeser Construction Inc.

As Alaska’s leading design/build gen­eral contractor, Neeser Cons­truc­tion Inc. demonstrates its skill on a broad range of building types ranging from schools, office buildings and medical institutions to homes, retail outlets and correctional facilities. Its diverse project scope and rep­utation for quality workmanship have catapul­ted the Anchorage, Alaska, com­p­any’s growth and ensured its suc­cess even during difficult econo­mic times. 

“We’ve been very fortunate to pick up three of the largest projects going on in Alaska,” Pro­ject Admin­istrator Gary Donnelly says. These are the $75 million New Scientific Crime Detec­tion Laboratory in Anchorage; the $100 million Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome, Alaska; and the $222 mill­ion Goose Creek Correctional Facility in Point MacKenzie, Alaska. 

Neeser Construction’s chief project, Goose Creek Correctional Center, is a 435,000-square-foot, medium-security correctional institution about 85 miles outside of Anchorage. Working under a design/build con­tract for client Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Neeser was awarded the project through a design/build competition. It submitted a conceptual design and material pricing alongside two other contracting teams, Cornerstone/J.E. Dunn, a joint venture, and Hunt/Lydig/Kiewit Pacific Co., a joint venture.

“Interestingly, the project was to be funded by the sale of bonds, but at the same time, the stock market took a dive [in late 2008], and they were having difficulty selling the bonds,” Donnelly recalls. “[President] Jerry Neeser de­cided to go ahead on the design, feeling com­fortable the money would eventually come forth.” The risk paid off – Neeser Cons­truction was awarded the contract and began design work in January 2009. Its field crew – which peaked at 300 people – broke ground in March 2009 and expects to complete the project by August 2011, four months ahead of schedule. 

Inside Goose Creek

Overcrowding in Alaska prisons prompted the state to outsource approximately 1,000 in­mates to private sector prisons in Arizona and later Colorado. These individuals had to be flown back to Alaska on a regular basis for various court dates resulting in consistently high transportation costs. For the past 10 years, Alaska has been gathering the finances needed to build the Goose Creek Correctional Center and return the inmates back to their home state so they can be closer to their families. The Alaska Department of Corrections hopes this will enhance rehabilitation and decrease re-incarceration rates. 

Goose Creek Correctional Center is being con­structed on a 330-acre tract and will house 1,536 inmates, which will enable the new prison to provide overflow capacity to unsentenced prisoners from local pre-trial facilities. The prison is one of the largest vertical const­ruc­tion projects that’s ever taken place in Alaska, Matanuska-Susitna Borough says, and will consist of the following five buildings:

  • A 176,000-square-foot support and visitation building that features a kitchen, a dining hall, an inmate processing area, healthcare services, inside administration, vocational education, laundry facilities, a visitation area, a central heating plant and segregation units;
  • An outside administration encompassing 24,000 square feet with a cutting-edge control room;
  • A 16,500-square-foot warehouse;
  • A vehicle maintenance facility covering 24,000 square feet with enclosed parking areas and a vehicle-washing bay; and 
  • A 173,000-square-foot general population housing building with five housing units, each holding 256 inmates, and an indoor recreational facility.

As of early October, vertical construction on the outside administration, warehouse and vehicle maintenance buildings was completed. The support and visitation building was en­c­losed by early winter 2009, and interior work is almost completed. Neeser expects to have the general population housing building fully en­cl­osed by the end of December. What re­mains is the mechanical, electrical and plumbing, security electronics and fencing, parking, landscaping and general site work, as well as the cell interiors of the general housing building.

Previous Experience

According to Senior Project Manager Neil Bhargava, Goose Creek Correctional Center utilizes a structural steel system with insulated concrete tilt-up for thermal resistance in the tough Alaska winters.  “We chose the concrete tilt-up panels because we have a very experienced crew who did quite a bit of work on tilt-up panels in past projects,” Bhargava explains.

In fact, Neeser Construction found success implementing this system on the 185,000-square-foot, 400-bed Anchorage Jail completed in 2002. Although the contractor was the low bidder on the $47 million project, the bid was more than $5 million over the Munic­i­p­ality of Anchorage’s budget. Neeser negotiated with the municipality and re-engineered the structure from steel frame to tilt-up concrete panels, slashing $3 million from the original cost. This was enough to salvage the project and bring it within the client’s financial capabilities.

Neeser Construction began its experience with correctional facilities in the early to mid-1980s with the renovation of the Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility, adjacent to the Anchorage Jail. Three decades later, the company continues to self-perform at least half of the work on its correctional facility projects. For Goose Creek, Neeser is self-performing all of the site work, concrete, framing and carpentry. 

“By self-performing much of the work, we have control on the quality and the schedule,” Bhargava says.

Neeser Construction started its own civil div­ision in 2003 so that it could be more competitive on civil site work regarding project buyout, Donnelly says. 

“Because of the volume we’re do­ing here in Alaska, we are able to purchase materials and equipment at a better rate,” he states.

Unique Challenges

The toughest part about working in Alaska is having a limited time in which to build, Bhargava says. “In Alaska, our building seasons are very short compared to other areas of the country,” he notes, explaining that crews can only work outside between the months of May and October before weather conditions be­come too hazardous.  “So, our objective is to always get the buildings up and enclosed prior to winter setting in so that our guys can work inside where it’s warm.”

The unspoiled beauty of the Alaska wilderness is breathtaking but poses challenges when it comes to traveling to the Goose Creek Correc­tional Center job site. “The project is well outside of Anchorage,” Donnelly says. “You go to the little town of Wasilla – where our former governor is from – and from there, you travel on a rural road for about 30 miles. There is a lot of wildlife on that road, so the moose and vehicle accidents have actually been a common occurrence. You have to be on the lookout every day. I know there were in excess of 30 moose and car accidents last winter.”

Maintaining safety on the job site has been an easier feat. “We have a corporate safety officer on our team who continuously inspects the site and conducts weekly safety meetings,” Bhargava says. “He’s always checking the job to make sure there are no safety hazards. So far, there have been no accidents on site.”

Neeser Construction has been pleased with the subcontractors working on the project, he adds. “We are very happy,” Bhargava says.

“We don’t have any claims or any problems with the subcontractors,” he adds. “They are supporting us on the schedule and putting forth the manpower as required. We’ve received a lot of compliments from the client on the schedule, safety and cleanliness of the site, and how the quality of the product is beyond their expectations.”

Life in Alaska

Neeser Construction’s design/build experience dates back to the 1960s with its founder’s predecessor company, Bristol Concrete. Jerry Neeser originally ran a lucrative concrete business with his brothers in California, building high-rise concrete shell structures and subterranean parking garages from San Francisco to Palm Springs. Its first design/build project was for a church in Washington State. By 1973, the company employed more than 400 people.

But a challenging economy in the 1970s made it difficult to compete in a highly popul­ated area such as southern California. “The work was starting to dwindle and was getting more difficult because of the gas shortage,” Neeser recalls. It was around that time that one of his brothers traveled to Alaska and discovered the relative lack of contractors and plentiful opportunities. “My brother said, ‘I know how you like to work – Alaska’s where you belong.”

For Neeser’s first project in Alaska – a custom home in 1974 – he hired 10 people to help him do the job. Today, Neeser Construction employs more than 400 individuals and is the largest general contractor in the state. In 2010, all of Neeser’s first hires are still working for him, and more than half of the Neeser Const­ruc­tion’s work force had been with the company for at least 25 years.

“Some of us have been here since the early 1970s, which is pretty unusual in the construction business,” notes Donnelly, a company veteran of 33 years. “Our reputation attracts high-quality craftspeople. Most people sign on and seem to enjoy working here so much that they decide to stay for the long-run.”

Neeser Construction’s ability to win large-scale projects makes it attractive for employees to stay. “We have the poster projects, so that attracts the better people,” Neeser explains. 

“We’ve got a strong core of quality people,” he adds. “In a nutshell, this company is our people, and our people make this company.”

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