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Projetech Ltd.

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Projetech’s island experience comes into play on a new power plant project. People usually use electricity generators powered by diesel fuel as backup power. But that is the only electricity source in Providenciales on the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Coal or nuclear power are not options. Being able to efficiently handle a loss of electrical power and power infrastructure on Providenciales after a major hurricane was one of the motivations for the local electrical utility, Provo Power Co. (PPC), to build a new $5 million headquarters and customer service building adjacent to its power generation station.

Additionally, the building will identify PPC’s corporate presence on the islands, combining management, operations and public services in one identifiable location. Fortis, a Canadian distribution utility, purchased PPC, the Turks and Caicos Islands’ generating company, in August 2006 and has been pressing ahead with a significant infrastructure expansion.

Started in February 2010 and due for completion in March 2011, the three-story, 32,000-square-foot reinforced concrete structure has a hurricane shelter built into the basement. It also has load-bearing block work panels built between the overall concrete frame for additional strength.

“The unique side of the project is the way it’s been designed,” points out Chris Bryan, construction director for Projetech Ltd., the firm managing construction of the facility. “If there is a hurricane, it has to be open for business immediately after, so there’s a very strong structure encapsulated by a concrete flat roof, in essence a concrete box.” All the windows are impact-resistant, and it has Bahamian-style hurricane shutters on top of that.

The design includes a pitched roof over the concrete roof to give the building an aesthetically pleasing look not normally seen with commercial utility structures, according to Bryan. This combination instead produces a colonial-style exterior for the building.

Double Trouble

Although the Turks and Caicos are protected to some extent at least to the south by the mountain ranges of Haiti and the Dominican Republic approximately 90 miles away, in 2008, the Turks and Caicos experienced two hurricanes in one week. Before that, the TCI had not experienced a hurricane since a direct hit by Hurricane Kate in 1985.

“Two years ago when there were two hurricanes, Fortis flew in external help – linesmen from out of Canada, Grand Cayman and Belize – to basically increase the capability down here so they could get the power back on very quickly,” Bryan reports.

“So they will now have the capability to temporarily house any outside help in the hurricane shelter and be fully equipped as an operations center,” Bryan says. “It’s got its own dedicated generators down there and a communication system. It’s a building job, but it’s also a civil engineering job with regard to the substructure and superstructure.”

The Bermudan style of the facility is typical of the island and helps the building blend in with the local architecture. An exterior finishing system (EIFS) features a stucco-style finish. The perimeter walls are furred out with 1-5/8-inch metal studs with rigid insulation on the inside. All the electrical conduit is fed through the perimeter studwork or surface-mounted to the underside of the slabs, according to Bryan.

“So it makes the whole building very adaptable later on,” he adds. “You can quite easily get at the runs and the circuits and change things around if you need to. It’s very flexible.”

Small Subcontractors

Although Projetech Ltd. generally act as a construction manager, it does provide expertise to the subcontractors it employs. Bryan estimates approximately 16 subcontractors will work on the PPC building. The company splits packages among these firms because many of them are so small.

“Most subcontractors here are not large companies, and some of them may be labor-only, so we help them manage themselves,” Bryan says. “It also helps spread the work around. Generally on the island, it’s a good thing to try to keep everybody employed.”

Projetech Ltd. plays an active part in helping its subcontractors remain profitable and successful. Bryan says this helps his company complete projects on time with the high quality standards demanded.

“Many of these contractors have grown with Projetech over the last 14 years,” he continues. “Tradesmen now are able to include in their resumes some of the highest quality work performed in the TCI, which thanks to the demands of the high-end consumer, is comparable to anywhere in the world. With our management input, we can help them grow as companies as well. That helps you in the long run. We’re only as good as the quality and capability of the guys we employ.”

That also is the philosophy of Projetech’s owner, David Hartshorn, who founded the company in 1996. He says more viable options in the subcontractor base keeps pricing honest. “We bid and like to stay competitive, but most of our work is negotiated,” he adds. “We like to offer a complete package from concept to production.”

Negotiating work is just one of the advantages of locking in a contractor early in the life of a project, Hartshorn says. With the traditional bid/build method, a project is often over budget once the bids arrive.

“So we start the dream in reality – what’s the budget?” he asks. “Once we know that, we can go out and manage the optimum design for the budget and then convert all the risk to ourselves through a fixed price contract.”

Traditional Technology

Despite advances in construction technology over the last few decades, for the most part, Hartshorn still uses conventional construction methods. He says he has seen just about every prefab system fad come and go, but the old standbys are still the most reliable.

“To be honest, I haven’t seen anything that beats the old style of reinforced concrete block,” he says. “I have seen a lot of good ideas, but I haven’t seen too many materialize. We are still building as we did when I came to the island, but more efficiently.”

Although the basic structure remains the same, according to Hartshorn, companies like Projetech Ltd. have discovered new concepts in finishes. Metal, stone and exotic woods are being introduced, and the concept of “smart homes” and “green buildings” are gaining traction in the islands.

Bryan adds that company managers work with clients and consultants as a team. “We will go the extra mile to keep a client happy,” Bryan emphasizes. “That’s the most important thing. We thrive on repeat business with developers and clients.”

Keeping Employees Local

Hartshorn first came to Providenciales in August 1981. This familiarity with the island has allowed him to get to know his employees – 70 percent of whom are Turks and Caicos islanders – and to keep employee turnover low.

“We’re family first and foremost,” Hartshorn insists. “All my staff are handpicked. When I formed the company, the first two or three staff on board were all people I had worked with for 10 to 12 years. I knew their strengths and weaknesses and could trust them. It’s important to know your staff’s weaknesses – we all have them, you know – because then you can plug the hole.”

All staff members have long-term experience in TCI. The least experienced among them has served six years and all others have at least 10 years of experience in the islands. In addition, many have wider general international experience.

The added sense of family generated within the company glues the staff together, Hartshorn maintains. “This stability of local experience ensures a consistently high standard of management working practices, a uniformity of professional services and excellent team building,” he says.

During the recent boom years in the TCI, many of the larger contractors resorted to importing hundreds of workers from across the world, most notably Mexico, China and the Philippines. Projetech stuck with the tried and tested approach of using true locally owned and operated businesses for subcontracts, Hartshorn emphasizes.

Why the TCI?

Projetech was formed in 1996 by Hartshorn, who has nearly 40 years experience in the construction Industry, 30 of those in the TCI.

Hartshorn first stepped foot on Providenciales in August 1981. At that time, the island supported approximately 900 indigenous Turks and Caicos Islanders and about 30 expatriates, he says. “No more than 20 vehicles traversed the network of rough tracks between the few dispersed settlements,” he remembers. “The only direct route from the United States was via a local airline, Provo Air, and that entailed a four-and-a-half-hour flight on a vintage Beach 18 from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.).”

Originally hailing from Liverpool, England, Hartshorn was working as a quantity surveyor there when he became weary of what he considered the uncompromising environment shaped by the conflicting objectives of the client and the general contractor. He wanted his company to be different and to focus on making the process as enjoyable as possible, he says.

Hartshorn became a general contractor in his own right in 1996 with one management contract. Working from his dining room table, he secured the contract to build the first phase of the Coral Gardens resort with a new acquaintance, Canadian developer Ron Karnehm.

“There were a few scary moments,” Hartshorn remembers. “I agreed with my wife Elise that I would not touch our personal savings. One time, I had to borrow money to put gas in the client-supplied vehicle I was using.”

Later projects included two more phases of the Coral Gardens Resort. Hartshorn also has started complementary businesses, including an interior design and furniture supply company called Finishing Touch, a real estate business and several development companies.

Projetech’s list of completed projects includes some of the largest condominium projects and most expensive homes in the TCI. One is a complex of buildings on Emerald Cay, which was on a peninsula off the southwest tip of Providenciales that was separated from the island by digging a short canal across it to make it a private island.

“Emerald Cay is in a category by itself,” Hartshorn says. “We don’t build many of those. The original concept for the main house was about 6,000 square feet, but over time it just mushroomed into this wonderful project of 27,000 square feet with 18 different kinds of marble.”

The client competitively bid the project and then kept adding to it over the course of design and construction, which lasted for three years. Additional buildings on the site, which most recently was valued at an estimated $70 million, include a pool building and several guest facilities. The buildings were a joint effort between Projetech and Architect Ron Shaw, a principal of RA Shaw Residential Designs. Shaw shares an office with Projetech and together they have amassed a portfolio of high-end homes with imaginative designs.

“First and foremost, we love what we do,” Hartshorn stresses. “Creating form and function in a tangible way by placing one block on top of another is exciting, and to do this in a truly collaborative atmosphere guarantees success for all stakeholders. To achieve this, our philosophy is simple – an open and honest approach to contracting.”

Open, honest and close collaboration with the client from inception to completion and thereafter is a core philosophy at Projetech, Hartshorn says. “We are particularly proud of our repeat business, and thankful to the many clients who have entrusted us with their projects time after time,” he notes.

More in Mauritius

The global recession has, like everywhere else, hit the TCI hard. Projetech recognized the need very early on to restructure the company in order to survive the leaner period. This included painful staff cuts.

“We are fortunate in that we have remained in close contact with many of our past employees,” Hartshorn notes.

“We would love to take them back and many would like to come back, so once the opportunity presents itself, we are in a position to expand very quickly with people we know will perform to the highest levels of professionalism and integrity,” he adds.

One of the major new initiatives was to look for opportunities overseas. Hartshorn had spent a few years working in Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa near Madagascar, in the late 1970s. In 2008, he returned with his wife Elise, a Mauritian, to investigate business opportunities there.

Hartshorn now spends half his time in Mauritius and the rest in the TCI. He has set up a construction and development company there, Provotech, that is in the mold of Projetech. Provotech currently is constructing its own residential development, The Quiet Gardens of Chamarel.

Projetech also set up a small works division that focuses on tackling smaller projects throughout the TCI archipelago. “This has proved extremely successful in winning and completing all manner of new and refurbishment construction works, in a very competitive arena,” Hartshorn reports.

The management structure of Projetech also has been refocused to compete in the high-end single-family homes market. This arena was the backbone for the development of the company, although focus somewhat inevitably shifted during the boom years of large-scale resort developments. Projetech has secured sufficient workload to carry them through 2010. The company feels uniquely positioned to take advantage of any upswing in the economy.