The Omaha metropolitan area continues to grow and evolve and as such, the commercial landscape of our community is in a constant state of change. Just take a drive around town and you’ll see many new projects from ground zero to those that just opened their doors for business. In accommodating the influx of commercial construction projects, our local workforce is composed of highly skilled professionals who in many cases offer generations of knowledge and expertise. From start to finish, there are many different aspects that go into this type of project so it’s of the utmost importance to be in good hands when it comes to commercial construction endeavors.

Building Basics

There are basic elements of any structure that are taken into consideration when designing the plans to be used over the course of the project. Darin Cielocha of McGill Restoration offers key areas to consider with respect to commercial structures:


Commercial roofing systems in most regards have not changed in basic design concepts over the past quarter of a century, but the materials and installation methods have continued to evolve and be improved upon.  Design professionals have a great variety of different types of materials that are lighter, more durable, designed to last longer, and have a wider variety of color and textures to choose from today than they did many years ago.  At the same time, the most important criteria of a roof structure should always be kept in mind – keeping moisture out of the building’s structure and looking to divert water away from the structure as quickly and easily as possible.  These are tasks that are easier said than done!  Like any key component to a building structure the roof and foundation are probably the most critical parts of the building, but not always the simplest to design.  However, you DO NOT want to cut cost out of these two areas of the building structure in construction or future maintenance.  What it really comes down to is that there are always good, better, and best options to choose from when looking at different types of roofing systems. They vary by price tags; expect different life cycles of materials and different warranties that manufacturers can offer to owners.  In short, you get what you can afford to pay for.  Regardless of what roofing system you choose for your building, it really comes down to the small details.  This includes making sure that the roof’s termination points, overlaying seams and roof-to-wall details are flashed and sealed properly. Those areas of the roof should be checked and maintained every year to ensure that any problem is caught and corrected before a real issue can start.

Windows & Doors:

This also falls back into that good, better, and best selection criteria when designing new buildings or renovating older ones.  In my experience, it’s best to make selections of materials that best fit the functionality and design that the owner wants, and then to understand how those windows and doors are going to be integrated with the different materials they are being installed with or next to (i.e. brick, metal, wood, etc.).  All materials have different coefficients of linear expansion; in simple terms, they all heat up and cool down differently.  Speaking from our side of construction, this is very important to understand.  We need to know what types of joint sealants are going to be compatible when sealing around the perimeters of doors and windows. There are many different types of joint sealant materials (urethane, silicone, hybrid, etc.) still available to choose from today.  It’s best to understand the benefits of each of the different types of joint sealants to utilize the one that best suits the materials being used.  Also, make sure to take the expected life cycle of each into account.  Joint sealants around doors and windows need to be looked at every 3 –5 years, but they can last on the upwards of 20 years.

Overall, in terms of his experience with commercial buildings, he advises, “What I have seen is that design professionals have been asked to design for the ‘economical’ times owners find themselves in.  By this I mean that when businesses are looking to get up a building fast and occupy quickly, they look to construction methods that get the building up and opened – ready for business as soon as possible!  When this type of approach is taken, best construction practices get compromised and the life-expectancy of a structure can be shortened.  It is almost a ‘disposable’ approach to building.  This was really prevalent back in the mid-90’s when there was such a construction boom and the economic outlook was strong.  Like anything that goes up, it eventually comes down.  In the marketplace today, I believe that there were lessons learned and design professionals and contractors are looking to build structures that will be around for the next turn of the century.  As a society, we are moving towards being more sustainable in our approach to constructing buildings and more conscientious of what we are going to leave behind for the next generation to take care of.

As far as quality and durability of materials, cost of maintenance, efficiency and longevity, and what’s worth the extra money for the overall investment in the building – that’s simple, build with concrete and masonry!  If you look at the majority of buildings around the country that have shaped the skylines of many cities, the use of concrete and masonry materials are a very common building component to most building structures.  Now, I know that you cannot design roof systems out of concrete and masonry, but clay tiles are can also be used in a roofing application.  Although I am not an expert on all of the different roofing systems available today in the marketplace, I would strongly suggest looking for the best system that would complement a masonry and/or concrete structure.  I might be a little biased when it comes to suggesting concrete and masonry materials for a building, having spent almost the last twenty five years selling and fixing these types of materials and structures, but I can assure you they are well worth it in the long run.”

Incorporating Technology

Technology is moving forward in leaps and bounds, giving us more power at our fingertips than ever before. While its applications in the commercial world are constantly evolving to be more elegant and expansive, technology in this area has also moved in a more user-friendly direction and become more widely accessible. This includes technology that helps us communicate and display information, promotes efficiency and facilitates our day-to-day work, and assists us in controlling our building’s environment and safeguarding our operations. In this day and age it’s certainly not surprising that there’s a wealth of technology designed specifically for commercial use, and even more specifically for the different needs of each business.

Echo Systems is the region’s leading provider of professional electronic systems and integrated building solutions, including access control, audio systems, digital signage, lighting controls, intercom and mass notification systems, acoustical room treatments, motorized window coverings, security and surveillance, and more. Through its carefully planned and designed professional systems, Echo Systems can incorporate the ultimate technology lifestyle into your new commercial space. “Our team of commercial audio-video experts can help on any size project, where accountability and forward thinking is called for,” emphasizes Doug Dushan of Echo Systems.  “Ease of operation is our specialty, and an area of focus for us in 2015 will be modernizing board rooms with advanced video tiling and conferencing solutions.  We’re also at the forefront of the trend toward incorporation of ‘green’ technology, including lighting control, motorized shades and daylight harvesting. Our goal is to lend our expertise to our clients so that they aren’t just thinking about their immediate technology needs, but rather evaluating their needs to accommodate for business growth spanning from the completion of their project all the way out to cover the next decade or two.

I encourage anyone who is interested in optimizing their technology to take a look for themselves.  With the recent completion of our state-of the-art showroom at 4315 S. 120th Street we intend to demonstrate to the Metro business community that we are a leading candidate to be considered for their commercial technology needs.  The ‘Experience Center,’ as we have come to call it, is unlike anything that’s ever been constructed before. We extend a warm invitation to the business community to come and see what we’ve built ourselves, and to find out more about how we can help you with your commercial construction endeavor.”

Planning to include technology that will control your building’s systems during the construction phase can greatly enhance your general operations in many ways. Pat Killeen of Engineered Controls offers his expertise on current technology available as well as key areas where building control technology can be extremely beneficial:

“As a building control technology contractor, our goal at Engineered Controls is to provide customers with targeted products and services to create efficient, safe and comfortable building environments. Most of our day-to-day business includes servicing and installing Honeywell building automation systems, or simply referred to as BAS systems. The BAS is a computerized, intelligent network of electronic devices, designed to monitor and control the mechanical sub-systems (i.e. fan systems, chilled water system, hot water system, steam system, pumping systems, etc.) and the electrical sub-systems (lighting systems, electrical, water and gas metering, security systems, access systems, video systems, etc.) in a building. The BAS core functionality is to: 1) Keep the building climate (temperature, pressure, humidity, carbon dioxide, etc.) within a specified range; 2) Maintain desired light levels in the space; 3) Ensure that the building is being monitored and controlled from a security perspective; 4) Monitor and control all the sub-systems performance constantly and advise the building operator when deviations from norms or device failures have occurred; 5) Do all of the above with the minimum amount of energy (electricity, gas, water, etc.);  and 6) Provide all of this information to the customer by way of having internet connectivity at anywhere they are in the world.

Engineered Controls has two primary business segments – New Construction and Building Service. Our New Construction group focuses on providing traditional temperature control and digital building automation systems (BAS) for the new construction industry. With our experienced staff of sales, engineers and installation technicians, combined with our excellent relationships within the consulting engineering and contracting community, Engineered Controls has positioned itself to be the low cost leader in the plan and specification market in Nebraska and Iowa. Our Building Services group’s focus is to provide a variety of products and services directed to our existing customer base. It is their responsibility to perform our scheduled Planned Service Agreement (traditional preventative maintenance work), retrofit work, and unscheduled demand service work for equipment breakdowns and repair.”

Killeen also discusses plans for his company in the coming year. “Our main points of concentration for 2015 will be first, to focus more attention on how we can assist building owners in reducing their energy consumption or how they can save on their utility costs and secondly, to focus more attention to assisting our customer’s with our preventative care program or our Planned Service Agreements.

Energy use in a commercial building is becoming an ever-increasing financial concern and operational problem for building owners. Building owners are looking for reliable, cost-effective solutions to answer these new energy challenges and reduce their carbon footprint. To that end, Engineered Controls has an Energy & Environmental Optimization or EEO program that is designed to leverage a broad portfolio of energy efficiency products and solutions, as well as offer a high level of energy expertise to commercial buildings in the hands of our skilled, knowledgeable and certified EEO professionals. Our EEO team can help building owners and managers obtain real-world data to help them make fact-based decisions about how to optimize their buildings for occupants comfort and save energy at the same time.

Our preventative care program focuses on the building hardware and is a standardized preventative maintenance program on a building controls system to maximize the systems reliability and to minimize the operational costs.  In other words, our PSA program offers comprehensive system wide checkups and testing to ensure that the control system is always operating at peak operating performance. Building systems that are properly maintained and controlled will enable you to focus on the core of your business while ensuring that everything is running efficiently. This also promotes longevity of equipment, protection of employees and equipment due to proper security measures, and energy efficiency which will result in minimizing operating costs and future unplanned capital expenditures.

Interoperability and computer/ cloud security are hot buttons right now that can be addressed in the planning process. In the building technology industry, interoperability is the ability to make a variety of a building’s sub-systems (like pumps, motors, generators, switchgear, lighting equipment, etc.) communicate on a common protocol and indirectly work together. Think of it as an industry standard that allows for the exchange of information regardless of equipment type, model or manufacturer. This provides a valuable ‘scalable solution’ for building owners to manage data and make the necessary adjustments to maximize a building’s environment and energy.

As more and more building owners want to manage their buildings remotely, building automation systems or ‘smart buildings’ are networkable by allowing them to connect to the Internet. But the functionality that the Internet brings can have a price to pay. It’s important to remember that when introducing the Internet into the BAS environment all of your system devices, equipment and computers on the network are now subject to attack from outside intruders. There are various ways building owners can protect their systems from attack. Putting systems behind firewalls is highly recommended. Another defense is keeping their systems updated. As with computers, building automation systems require updates to add enhanced functionality and security measures. We encourage our customers to purchase planned service agreements to keep their BAS systems up-to-date with the latest software patches and to perform frequent backups.”

He further advises, “Building owners need to know what they are buying, so it is crucial for them to participate in the bidding process and to be a smart buyer. Since the new construction industry consists of architects, consulting engineers, general contractors, mechanical contractors, and so on, many of the basic decisions that are being made regarding the BAS system are all being made by everyone EXCEPT the customer.  Far too often we spend months at a time assisting in the construction of a new building, only to find out later that the client did not get what they wanted. Or occasionally the BAS system is too complicated for them to operate. So the moral of the story for building owners is to get involved, ask questions, know what you want, and know what you are getting BEFORE the decisions are made by everyone but you, the customer.”

Almost all of the technology that your business utilizes requires an electrical power source to function. Therefore, it is also crucial to safeguard the operations of your business by incorporating a back-up power system, and this is something that can be considered in the planning process as opposed to waiting until after construction has been completed. Generators serve as a valuable back-up system that can be tailored to the needs of small businesses as well as larger ones. “We’ve worked with many small business clients, such as data centers, offices of real estate agents, and restaurants as just a few examples,” says Tobias Sommer, owner of Generators For Sale. “At the end of the day for business owners, time is money and if the power goes out it can very much impact your operations and your bottom line. A generator can keep vital systems such as security, lights, heating and cooling, refrigeration, and even the phones working in the event of a power outage. Having a back-up system for power in case of outage, whether it’s a smaller one for an important part of the business or one that keeps the entire business up and running, is absolutely in the best interest of any business owner. Here’s a great example – one of our clients, a small restaurant franchise, had us supply a back-up system that could run their entire store. The power went out one day and they were the only store in the area that remained operational. Their sales that day tripled, because they were the only ones open, so the generator paid for itself that day alone! Not only did they not lose product or business, they had a serious competitive advantage. Another current concern is cyber-attacks, and our back-up systems can help prevent someone from taking the entire grid out. More and more businesses will be affected by this in the imminent future; we can all potentially be affected by these large scale outages.

Many times a generator is an afterthought for businesses, whether after suffering the effects of being unprepared for an outage or realizing what they have to lose in the event that an outage occurs. At Generators For Sale, this is our specialty and we enjoy being a part of the planning process for commercial construction projects. We can assist in planning for the components that you want to continue running no matter what, or in tailoring a system that will best fit the comprehensive needs of your business. For those who don’t know who to talk to in this area, I can certainly facilitate the engineering. We have the ability to build the system in so that it doesn’t take as big of a generator to run the specific parts requested, so our clients can save a lot of money here as opposed to re-engineering after the fact. We work with the manufacturer to custom build a system, resulting in the most cost effective strategy for back-up. Having access to new product developments and code changes that deal directly with back-up power can help anyone from the end user to the project engineers. Our background in the construction industry even helps in project management for general, electrical and mechanical contractors who are working to build a system for their customers. This ensures better workflow and less wasted time, which saves our clients time and money on their projects. If you’re considering an upcoming commercial construction project, and your goal is to never have your business or its essential systems go down, we can definitely be of assistance.”

Exterior Features

In planning for the construction of your new building, you’ll want to broaden your focus out to include the entirety of your property as well. This includes all exterior features you’ll be incorporating; parking lot, entrances, outdoor gathering spaces, landscaping, signage, and so on. The sooner you involve all parties who will be assisting you with your project, the better the end result!

“Ideally we are involved from the very beginning,” emphasizes Brandy Prettyman, owner of The Grounds Guys of SW Omaha. “Mainly, when you look at a commercial project, it’s due to the fact that there are so many little things that come into play in terms of design. The plans for your building itself can affect the entire property, such as blocking sunlight in certain areas which would make it less suitable for certain plants, the proximity in which trees can be planted, and overall just being able to accommodate the type of exterior design or aesthetic you have in mind. These are real on-site planning issues, and the professionals designing your building may not have the expertise to let you know that the placement of the shade tree you have your heart set on won’t work with the existing plans. We typically get brought into this type of project early for that exact reason, and offer our expertise as a subcontractor that will be working on the project a few phases down the road. As a company starting a project, it is very important to meet with the key employees from the companies that will be your subcontractors to set the foundation moving forward and to make sure there’s a good working relationship. As the consumer in this transaction, you should be very comfortable with the people brought on to complete your project. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as ‘Who will carry out the design to completion?’ or ‘Who are you using for the work and can we meet them?’

Dependent on the property, ideally we see the plans and then go on-site, walk through with the general contractor, look at all of the utilities (water lines, sewer lines, power lines, etc.) to see how they will affect things, and to get a better idea of what kind of plants, shrubs, and trees we could potentially incorporate. There are so many tiny details in getting from the client’s vision to the end result, and a professional will be the safeguard who ensures everything has been taken into account before moving forward with each step. Many times you begin with a picture in your head of what you want your property to look like; an extension of your company’s image and brand. It can be months or years before you actually get to see the tangible final result, and if you’re not actively involved in the process and haven’t integrated all of your subcontractors well enough, it may not look like the picture you started out with. Also, if there isn’t a way to turn that picture into reality, you need to know why and if something similar can be substituted. We like to deconstruct the beginning picture and find out our client’s expectations for the aesthetic look of their property as soon as possible so we can let them know what we can provide within the confines of that design.

Landscape design is very telling of how new your building is; if you want to bring that established look with you it needs to be budgeted accordingly. A lot of the investment in new commercial landscaping is in choosing between juvenile and mature plants and trees. Most people want the ‘We’ve been there for five years’ appearance while only budgeting for the ‘I’ve been here five minutes’ look. More often than not people have these glorious designs in mind but have no idea how much money it will actually cost them. As one prime example, it is very expensive to transplant mature trees for a stately affect compared to the cost of planting saplings and then planning to accommodate for their growth.”

She adds, “When planning it is also important to be provided with an honest assessment of what you’ll be dealing with in terms of future maintenance up front. What will things look like in 1, 3, 5 or 10 years? You’ll need an accurate estimate of the cost of future care and management annually to ensure that you’re not biting off more than you can chew. You should be able to get a good ballpark estimate for the maintenance side as early as the planning stages. Another thing to keep in mind when you’re looking at new construction is who will actually be doing the upkeep on your property in the future. Will you be keeping the grounds care in-house or do you plan on outsourcing the necessary maintenance? Keep in mind for overall consistency that a landscaping company that can design and install as well as taking care of the future maintenance is a wonderful asset.”

Financing Options

On the financial side of commercial construction projects, you’ll also want to work with resources that have plenty of experience in this specific area to ensure the best possible outcome. Mike Alford of Pinnacle Bank offers some advice for those who are considering a commercial construction endeavor:

“Construction borrowers come to Pinnacle Bank with projects of all sizes and with a wide range of skill levels when it comes to commercial construction. We work with people who have never been involved in the construction of a commercial building before to some customers who have already invested in building dozens.

For a first time builder we are involved a lot more in the planning stages of the project.  Many times I will sit down with a borrower who has an idea to build a building and nothing beyond that idea.  We assist them through the process of getting plans drawn up, generating specifications and bids for the project, finding a general contractor if needed, and ensuring that they’ve done their due diligence with respect to environmental concerns and zoning on the land. While we are working through those things with them we are also discussing how long construction is going to take, followed by drawing up a schedule for the construction funds and deciding how are we going to structure the permanent loan once the project is complete. This includes whether we’d need to look at partnering with someone like the SBA for part of the term financing through their 7(a) or 504 programs.

In other cases the project may be more complex and involve multiple funding sources beyond the bank’s construction loan funds such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) or projects partially funded by Low Income or Historical Tax Credits. It is a necessity for our team at Pinnacle Bank to be able to be well-versed in these programs so that we can work seamlessly with multiple agencies to put together the financing package that gets the project completed.

The end goal for all borrowers is the same–that before they break ground their financing package is complete and approved, that it meets their needs for the project, and that when construction is over they have permanent financing in place.  We can take care of all of these items for our customers regardless of the project’s complexity.

Commercial construction covers such a wide range of property types that a lot of our advice has to be tailored to the type of project.   One thing that is always constant though is the need for thorough due diligence.  Have you investigated the land, is it clear of environmental issues, is it zoned for what you are going to do, can it be rezoned if necessary, and are utilities serving the property sufficiently for what you are wanting to build? Is your architect, engineer and surveyor up to the task and have they designed similar projects before?  Do they have a good working relationship with the city or county planning department?

Then you have to make sure your builder is up to the task of what you are going to do.  If a builder hasn’t done a project like yours before it increases the chance that there will be challenges in the project.  There are very few new construction projects that don’t have some kind of challenge associated with the project and your contractor will be key in making what could be a big issue a non-event.  Construction is still an art to an extent and different builders handle implementation of the architect’s and engineer’s plans in different ways.  With experience comes the ability to spot potential issues before they get set in concrete.  Go look at projects that they have completed and talk to the people that had them built and see if they were satisfied.

Finally, make sure to budget for overruns and changes. There are almost always changes, some dictated by construction and others that come about because something looks good on paper but once the project actually begins to take shape it becomes clear that certain aspects no longer fit with the overall plan.  Again this is where an experienced general contractor really earns their pay.”

Alford further advises, “There is a lot going on in Omaha and Council Bluffs right now in new construction. We are seeing new projects and a lot of rehabilitation projects under construction, and will see even more start in the spring.  I wouldn’t call it a trend but interest rates are still at or near historic lows.  When I started in the business, commercial construction typically had borrowing rates of high single to low double-digit interest and really old bankers will tell you of the days when prime was 18%.   Today rates for commercial construction are under 5%.  Rates will rise someday, when and by how much no one knows, but we’ve had a great rate environment for a pretty long run now by historical standards.  Let’s just say we’re probably closer to the end than to the beginning of this rate cycle.

Above all, for anyone who will be considering this type of project, it’s important to proceed with the understanding that commercial construction is definitely not a one size fits all process.  You need to work with partners that have experience and understand what your project entails.  Education costs money and if you are wanting to build a project  but using partners who don’t have experience with what you want to do then you may be paying for that education.”

So for anyone who will be considering an upcoming commercial construction project, no matter the size or scope, the most important thing to consider is exactly what you want and who you’ll need to work with to reach that goal. Assembling the best team of professionals for the job will allow you a farther reach into all of the possibilities that are available to you (many of which you might have no idea about going into the planning process), will allow you a clearer picture in terms of budget, timeline, and future considerations, and will protect you from costly errors and/or delays along the way.

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