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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Contractors coordinate to rebuild Greensburg

BY BILL WILSON
The Wichita Eagle

There's a call to arms in Kansas' building industry to rebuild Greensburg.

Representatives from the state's builders, architects, engineers and government held a conference call Wednesday morning to begin sorting through resources for the tornado-ravaged community.

The idea is to get the state's best builders and designers hooked up with home and business owners, led by the Kansas Building Industry Association and the Associated General Contractors of Kansas.

Greensburg city officials began issuing building permits Wednesday, with about 60 of the city's 70 businesses already committed to rebuild.

"Good to see all the people involved," said Corey Peterson, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of Kansas.

"More of a pre-planning planning meeting... that produced more questions than answers, but we'll get together again."

Significant challenges confront any rebuilding, including projects already under way and shortages of craftsmen and subcontractors. But both groups say they're optimistic and excited about the task at hand.

"That's something that we'd be frankly kind of honored to work on," said Mark Hutton, president of Wichita's Hutton Construction.

Hutton said his peers in Kansas are e-mailing around an idea: treat the Greensburg rebuilding as a community service project.

"I don't think a lot of those people are in a good (financial) position right now," he said. "It won't be about profit for us, I can tell you that.

"Our challenge as a group is to do this in the best manner possible and deliver the best product we can. It's a civic responsibility."

It's the same story among the state's home builders, said Chris Wilson, who directs the Kansas Building Industry Association in Topeka.

"I'm really optimistic we can get this done," she said. "There are a few builders out there in the Greensburg area, but no question they're going to need help from the Hutchinson and Wichita areas."

Despite massive residential and commercial growth around Fort Riley, there are plenty of builders available for Greensburg, Wilson said.

But the Greensburg rebuild will put pressure on a construction work force already stretched by other projects and shortages of craftsmen, those builders said.

"That's really the big question," Peterson said. "We're busy, and work force is always an issue."

Hutton, though, said the Greensburg project could be a pilot for contractors looking to increase productivity -- do it quicker and better with fewer people.

"The work out there's just going to have to be done," he said. "Our industry has got to get more productive because there aren't going to be more people."

The Fort Riley work is proof, Wilson said, that residential builders can get Greensburg back on its feet.

"Sure, you've got areas like Manhattan going crazy," she said.

"But we've got people from Wichita going to Junction City to build, from Salina, from Topeka, so I have no doubt there will be people from all over the state ready to go to Greensburg."

Finding specialty contractors will be a bigger challenge, Hutton said.

"That part of the industry is already stressed -- electrical, mechanical, somewhat in the masonry trades," he said.

"The market was so tough for a while that their profits suffered, and we ran some of them off. There aren't as many good guys around in those areas."

None of the obstacles, though, will stop a first-rate rebuilding, Hutton said.

"All that at one time is going to take some coordination, some time and some patience," he said.

"I think that all of our people will go out there and do a good job and make our state proud."

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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