RuconRucon Inc.’s construction management approach makes it a valuable partner to contractors as well as to its school district clients.
By Jim Harris

Dennis Russo’s more than 30 years of construction industry experience have given him a strong sense of what he feels is the most effective way to lead a project.

“During the years I was building schools [for a general contractor] as a site superintendent, I watched how construction managers went about their work,” he says. “I noticed they liked to separate prime contractors from the owners and the architects and required all of the general contractors they worked with to coordinate everything through them – I saw that as a problem.”

Russo has spent much of his life working on school construction projects, extending back to the early 1980s, when he worked for a carpenter’s union after graduating college. His interest in construction started when he was a young boy, as his father was a general contractor who built houses. Russo spent much of the 1990s working as a superintendent on school projects in the Pittsburgh region for several different general contractors.

In 2006, after being laid off by one of the companies he worked for, Russo decided to apply his institutional construction experience to his own business. Although he envisioned the company, Russo Construction Services, to be a construction management and consulting firm working exclusively with school districts, it wasn’t until two years later that he secured his first opportunity of this kind. In the interim, he managed a number of homebuilding projects, he says. rucon box

Russo incorporated the company in 2014, changing its name to Rucon Inc. Unlike the companies he observed as a site superintendent, Rucon believes in taking a more collaborative approach to construction management. “I believe in calling myself an owner’s representative first and foremost – I let the architects and general contractors work together during the submittal process, and work together with them in unison,” he says.

Rucon’s role on the projects it manages includes overseeing day-to-day construction operations as well as contracts. “I basically do everything a construction management company would do other than get in the way of the submittal process,” he says, noting that he has general contractors submit for work directly to architects instead of to Rucon, which expedites the submittal process.

General contractors often seek out the company because of its approach to construction management. “I average between 50 to 70 bidders per project, while most projects typically get 20 to 30 bidders,” he says. “They want to work with me because I understand projects more than most construction managers in this area, and because they know my men are highly experienced in the field. When I put a guy on a job, they have field experience and have built projects before.”

Providing Value

Russo’s first school construction management job was to oversee the construction of Pivik Elementary School in Plum, Penn., for the Plum Borough School District. The company was involved in the project from the conceptual design phase forward, and helped hire the school’s architect. The $16 million, 75,000-square-foot school broke ground in 2010 and was completed in 2012.

Shortly after completing the school, Russo was retained by Penn Hills School District in Pittsburgh to oversee both an elementary school and high school project that were already in progress. When the company took over as owner’s representative on the $90 million, 300,000-square-foot Penn Hills High School in August 2012, the school was $5 million over budget and six months behind schedule. Rucon applied value-engineering and project organization methods to ultimately complete the school in January 2013 on time and on budget, Russo says. The company also worked on a football stadium and athletic field project on the high school campus.

The $48 million, 200,000-square-foot Penn Hills Elementary School was also six months behind schedule when Rucon began its work there in August 2012. The project was completed on time and under budget in June 2014.

The company returned to Plum Borough School District in December 2013, when it started work on the $16 million, 75,000-square-foot Holiday Park Elementary School. The project was completed last August.

Rucon recently completed work on Freeport Middle School for the Freeport Area School District in Pennsylvania. The $32 million, 135,000-square-foot building broke ground in June 2014 and opened to students in August 2015. The company also managed work on a $4 million stadium on the same campus as the middle school and an adjacent high school, Russo says.

The company’s current projects include renovating a junior high school into a middle school for Plum Borough School District. Rucon is also overseeing renovation work on schools in the Jefferson-Morgan School District in Jefferson, Penn. The company in November will begin work on two $5.5 million renovation projects in Wilkinsburg School District in Pittsburgh.

“We find ways to save people money,” Russo says of the company’s success on school projects. “We’re always open to value engineering, alternative products and other ways for the contractors and school districts to keep costs under control.”

Strong Connections

All of Rucon’s projects are made possible through its relationships with not only school districts, but also architects and engineers. The company retains the services of companies including civil engineer PA Soil and Rock; mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering firm Tower Engineering; and architectural firm VEBH. “I bring to the table 35 MEP engineers, 22 civil engineers and a stable of architects with me to projects,” Russo says.

The company keeps its own operations small to reduce its overhead. In addition to Dennis Russo, Rucon’s staff includes his sons Michael, its vice president and senior site manager; and Nicholas, a site manager. Site superintendent Kevin Benzehoefer rounds out the company. “We keep our operations as tight to the vest as possible,” Dennis Russo says. 

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