Unparalleled Commitment

S&R Enterprises

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S&R Enterprises, LLC, is an international steel erection sub-contracting company specializing in innovative and complex structural steel projects for both industrial and commercial sites. Among the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based company’s market sectors are hospitals, stadiums, resorts and, most recently, the Vehicle Assembly Building Modification at the Kennedy Space Centre.
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In 2003, Stephen Burkholder left the Texas-based steel erector company where he had worked for over a decade and ventured out on his own. In its first few years of business, S&R averaged only a few million dollars per year in revenue. Today, the company is performing twenty to thirty million per year in volume, according to Mark Yerke, executive vice president and business partner who joined in 2007.

However, the goal was never to be the biggest; “instead, we want to be one of the best at doing very complex and demanding projects, and the erector that customers go to when they have projects that require a lot of planning and critical thinking,” says Yerke. These critical thinking abilities were paramount on its recent project for NASA.

People are drawn to the company for its outstanding safety record, another area in which Yerke says the company strives to be the best. “Safety is the number one priority for us. We really have a safety culture and not just a safety program. Our employees are our #1 customers, and we want to make sure they go home every day the same way they came to the job site. We want to make sure their lives are improved by working for us – that they are not fearful of injuries, and no one is working in an unsafe manner or with additional risks that could be reduced or eliminated though planning and commitment.”

To that end, the company has a detailed safety management system including a well-developed Corporate Safety Manual. S&R also puts extensive efforts into creating useful and detailed Site Specific Safety Plans and focuses on training employees and providing them with the right tools and equipment to perform their duties with the highest levels of Safety and Quality possible. Overseeing the system are several full-time safety managers whose sole responsibility is to manage corporate and project-specific safety.

“We find that construction workers are pretty much willing to do anything their job requires, but there are times when they may not realize they’re doing something unsafe. We strive to avoid situations where they’re not prepared and work in a manner that puts them in a vulnerable position,” Yerke says. “Safety is part of our daily planning done every morning and sometimes multiple times a day. We want them to be aware of the hazards involved in the tasks they are performing that work day and understand how to mitigate those hazards.

“We recognize that the steel industry is a high-risk/ high-reward business; not too many people do work as dangerous as ironworkers do. You need to have a high level of commitment from ownership and all levels of management to support that system, and that is one of the things we pride ourselves on.”

Josh Collins, the Senior Project Manager on the NASA project, reports a fantastic safety record on an extremely complex project with a large potential for injury due to the dangerous nature of this particular structure and scope of work. The project took three years, and over 440,000 man-hours, including thousands of tons of steel, and at times, one hundred employees working at multiple levels inside a very small footprint in the over 500 foot tall structure. In all that time, S&R has zero recordable injuries or lost-time accidents.

The massive project required collaboration between S&R Enterprises, Construction Manager Hensel Phelps, fabricator Steel LLC, engineering firm, Computerized Structural Design and NASA to refurbish High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The building will allow the space launch system (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft programs to achieve Mars landing for the first time ever in the history of space exploration.

According to Collins, the work involved “rehabilitating one bay of the VAB where they used to assemble the space shuttle rocket boosters to modify it for the new space launch system as well as reinforcing the existing structure to support the new steel. We put in ten levels of work platforms that cantilever out approximately seventy feet and which, when extended, swaddle the rocket body and provide a working platform for NASA personnel when assembling new rocket sections.”

Twenty extendable platforms were installed at ten elevations that allow full access around the circumference of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft to prepare them for deep space missions. Each half platform is made in sections and measures thirty-five feet by seventy-two feet and weighs over 315,000 pounds. Sections were hoisted into place via the VAB’s overhead crane systems and then supported by massive spreader bars and rigging with a combined weight of over 20,000 pounds. There are also hundreds of feet of catwalks, mechanical platforms, access ways, elevator landing platforms and many other structural items in each tower of High Bay 3.

“The special part about these work platforms is that they were installed on rails that run continually vertically for 377 feet, with the design intent that, as NASA wants to change their rocket designs, they can raise and lower the platforms up to ten feet above their current elevation positions. So it truly becomes an ‘IKEA’ system, where then can move things around and switch out components, instead of doing a full renovation to the structure,” Collins said. “So, it’s a 538-foot-tall building, with a work footprint of two hundred feet by two hundred feet, with all the work being done vertically. One of the main challenges was the sequencing of labor and operations so we didn’t have personnel working underneath each other but could still proceed vertically to meet our project schedule.”

Not only has S&R Enterprises been gaining significant contracts – in the case of NASA, a once-in-a-lifetime contract – it has received awards and accolades including the Steel Erectors Association of America (SEAA) Project of the Year Award for 2008, 2012, and 2016 for the previously noted VAB project.

One of the secrets to S&R Enterprises’ success is its committed and highly professional staff, many of whom have field experience in steel construction. Yerke, for example, began as an ironworker, before earning a degree in structural engineering and construction management.

“I met Steve at my school job fair,” he said, “and he hired me as an intern, and then he hired me full-time as an entry level project engineer when I graduated in 2007. Throughout his course of employment with S&R, he moved through several positions as Construction Manager, Vice President of Construction, to eventually Executive Vice President and Partner. I’ve spent ten years putting a lot of blood and sweat into the company, so I understand and appreciate it. It’s very close to my heart, along with the people who work here and the projects we do. You won’t find a more committed group of people than the ones at this company, and that’s one of the reasons I plan to grow old here.”

Like Yerke, Collins also got his start as a boilermaker, working his way through college where he first met Yerke. “Then I took a break to work in the trades,” he said, “and ran into Mark again in 2011 when the company was looking for a project manager for a resort in the Bahamas.”

While not as elaborate as the NASA project, it did have its difficulties and was what Collins calls “a fantastically interesting project containing fifty-seven discreet structures – some low-level that were relatively easy to build. But then there were some extremely complicated, high-rise structures at the top of the hotel – 350 feet high – with the entire structure running on a radial curve designed to meet hurricane winds. And then there was the logistics of moving equipment, personnel, and material into a foreign country, getting work permits and finding lodging for everyone.”

Now, as the NASA project wraps up, work has already begun on a new project in Charlevoix, Michigan. This work is “essentially building a new cement plant around an existing one, so we’re tracking down parts and pieces from all over the world, assembling ductwork and all kinds of specialized parts that might not mean anything to your readers,” he says. “But it’s still quite an undertaking and quite an interesting project, with seventy people working on it.”

The company has an extensive list of projects it has completed throughout the country including industrial projects in upstate New York and Rhode Island for defense contractors and several cement plants.

This past March, the company completed work on the Orlando City Stadium, a state-of-the-art 25,500-seat soccer venue, which features cantilevered canopies on four sides and North America’s only safe-standing supporters section. In October of this year, many eyes will be on this big project as it hosts the National Women’s Soccer League Championship and begins its run as the Orlando City Lions home field.

“But again, we’re not concerned with being the biggest,” Yerke reiterates. “We’re concerned about being the best. I think I can speak for everyone in this company when I say the most important attribute of this company is our commitment. You can find erectors that might have more equipment or more people or have done a few more stadiums or industrial plants than we have, because we’ve only been in business for fourteen years, and they’ve been in it for fifty. But you won’t find a more committed group, I can tell you that for sure!”

“It’s all about commitment. When we sign on to do a job, we give our word to our customers, our suppliers, our employees, and we give that word with the utmost commitment. Customers can be assured that we’re going to do whatever it takes to get them the finished product they asked for, regardless of whether we’re hit with weather conditions or the economy or design or fabrication issues, we’re going to overcome it. From the guys in the company office to the guys in the field, our number one requirement to work at S&R is to have the commitment to do the right thing and to do it well and be excited about doing it.”

Due Diligence

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October 21, 2019, 4:52 AM EDT