Thinking Outside the Box

Buildings By Design

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From its base in Brush, Colorado, Buildings By Design offers a full range of construction services, including general contracting using traditional building materials, construction and project management, custom design and pre-engineered metal building systems.
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Travis LeFever, co-partner and project manager of Buildings By Design (BBD), says he would not want to see the full-service construction company pigeon-holed as a pre-engineered metal building (PEMB) systems contractor only, although it does account for approximately sixty percent of his business, with the remaining forty percent using more conventional construction materials.

Pre-engineered metal building systems have many advantages, says LeFever. The enclosure system consists of rigid frames fabricated from steel plates which are ‘cold-formed’ through a manufacturing process into columns and beams that are bolted together on the building site, before the cladding and roof are added.

It is an economically advantageous system because it allows for the creation of large column-free enclosures – up to three hundred feet in length – that are considerably less expensive to build than the alternative structural framing choices, such as mill steel or light gauge metal. These, by their nature, use more steel, the cost of which is passed on to the consumer.

A further cost saving results from the fact that it is pre-engineered, “so you don’t have to have a structural engineer or architect to do the design on the facility, and we can do all the other design work in-house, as far as making the building function as a warehouse, a fire station, a police station or a manufacturing facility,” says LeFever.

“In conventional construction, you would need an architect, who would then go to an engineer who would have to design every column, every roof truss – every aspect of the structure. But we take that same structure the client wants, say a box that measures sixty feet by one hundred feet and fifteen feet high, and the engineers put that information into a computer program, and it spits out what you need as far as column depths and heights. So, instead of an engineer having to go through and look at every piece, the program automatically spits out everything for you, and it saves a ton of time. The entire design could be done within a day, instead of a period of three weeks or even longer.”

The construction process goes more quickly too as the parts are bolted together and not welded. And because BBD has invested in specialized ground-thawing equipment, it is able to work year-round. “A lot of places shut down between November and March,” LeFever says, “but we utilize that equipment to thaw the ground so we can dig and pour concrete and once we get the foundation in we can work through the winter.”

In addition to the benefits realized during the construction phase, there are long term benefits as well. Steel is a sustainable material, it is virtually indestructible so it never wears out and since steel is non-combustible, fire insurance rates go down.

Another benefit is that steel buildings are about forty percent more energy efficient. “You can get some of the most significant R values in a metal building,” he says, referring to the fire station the company built two years ago which was the first LEED Platinum facility in Colorado Springs, something of which he and co-partner and project manager Pat Walter are justifiably proud.

BBD was started in 2002 by Pat Walter, LeFever’s uncle. “I graduated from college in 2005 and went to work for a large general contractor out of Colorado Springs for eighteen months, and then I decided I wanted to jump in on my own, so I contacted Pat and bought into the company.” His uncle and co-partner, in fact, got his start working on-site for LeFever’s father who, before retiring and selling his company in 2002, was one of the largest general contractors in Colorado.

“We went from doing very small projects in that first year, with maybe $1 million in total revenue, and this year we’re looking at between $30 and $35 million.” While most of BBD’s construction has been done in Colorado in the Denver and Colorado Springs area, it has done projects as far east as Baltimore and Boston and west as far as Spokane, Washington.

This past March, the industry magazine Metal Construction News (MCN) included BBD among the top one hundred metal building contractors in the nation in 2016, ranking it in forty-sixth place for tonnage of materials used and in sixty-fourth place for square footage. It is an industry which continues to grow, according to the magazine’s editor, Paul Deffenbaugh, showing an increase of 22.2 percent in average tonnage over 2015 and sixteen percent in square footage.

The PEMB systems used by BBD are produced by Chief Buildings in Grand Island, Nebraska, a leader in the business since 1966, producing materials that meet or exceed US building code specifications as well as the stringent Metal Builders Manufacturers Association and American Institution of Steel Construction regulations. By using recycled steel it is reducing its carbon footprint.

Although BBD has constructed only one residential building, LeFever’s own, he says he has heard that another company in Colorado is starting to use steel instead of wood to build affordable housing. “I think there’s a market and it could be the way of the future,” he says, “but first there’d have to be some research and development to figure out how to integrate it into mainstream residential construction. When architects think about metal buildings, they think of farm buildings, so it’s about educating the decision makers and the designers. It could be a solution for housing for low-income families, and it’s just to get the decision makers to think outside the box.”

BBD has already proven its ability to do just that, by designing attractive exteriors for commercial buildings, turning a ‘plain Jane’ utilitarian structure into something aesthetically pleasing by the addition of stucco or different elevations to give it architectural interest.

Reflecting on his decision to join forces with his uncle a dozen years ago, LeFever says, “It’s been great. It made me grow a lot as a person. I was only twenty-two years old then, a young man, and now I’m thirty-five. It’s taken a while to grow this into a successful company, but it’s been a good ride,” he says.

“My sales team and I were talking just yesterday about how one of the coolest things is to be in Denver or just outside of it, for example and see a building we’ve constructed and be able to tell our kids, ‘your dad built that.’ It’s something we all take a lot of pride in.”

LeFever and his wife, a teacher, are the parents of three children, including an eleven-year-old daughter. “She’s pretty talented,” he says. “I came home the other day, and she had a complete floor plan of a house drawn in chalk on our driveway. It was pretty neat. I think she likes watching me do the designs and the drawings.”

Reflecting on the future of his industry, which Metal Construction News says is challenged by lack of skilled labor, he says, “I think it’s really important for young people to work in the field when they come out of college, so they understand what they’re designing and how it’s going to be built, because too often architects and engineers come straight out of college and don’t realize that what seems to work on paper hardly ever works in the field without making adaptations,” he says.

“We take a ton of pride in our company,” LeFever concludes. “We’re the go-to contractor in Colorado. We think outside the box. We give the customer all the benefits of a metal building while transforming it so you’d never know it was a metal building, and we take on the hard projects other companies don’t want to take on or don’t know how to do.”