Napa-based civil engineering, surveying and construction inspection services firm Chaudhary & Associates (www.chaudhary.com) is bouncing back from the huge slowdown in private construction projects in the past few years, thanks to big public works projects rolling forward, according to President Arvin Chaudhary.
The firm currently employs 25, up from about 15 a year and a half ago and 49 at the peak of construction activity. In May, the firm moved to 211 Gateway Dr. W., in a same-sized office -- 7,200 square feet -- for about half the rent.
Targets for more business are a contract in Merced County that could call for four or five more employees and pieces of the $1.5 billion first and followup contracts for the planned California high-speed train project. Design-bid contractor proposals are due this fall for work next year. The company has been involved in major public works projects such as the Bay Bridge retrofit.
Yet with the state government fiscal crisis, Department of Transportation contracts for construction inspection and other services increasingly are less fruitful than anticipated, Mr. Chaudhary said. Overstaffing at Caltrans is resulting in retraining efforts and less of a need for consultants to fill roles on projects, as staff designers have been moving into field inspections, a role firms such as Chaudhary would handle.
The worry in civil engineering is that this move of Caltrans designers into the field will lead to a dearth of projects moving to construction in a few years, Mr. Chaudhary said.
The good news is that some local and regional agencies are picking up the slack. Self-funded agencies -- those with their own sources of funding, such as Sonoma County's transportation-related sales tax -- are starting to come in to take projects from new traffic signals to freeway access ramps to widening such as the Narrows on Highway 101 between Novato and Petaluma, Mr. Chaudhary observed. While Napa and Solano counties don't have such local funding, East Bay and Central Valley agencies have used their local money to finish projects in as little as half the time Caltrans had originally allotted.
Increasingly, the design-build element to public projects, in which the lead contractor coordinates design and construction, is helping to move projects from design to completion in a fraction of the time of typical Caltrans or agency-led projects. For firms such as 36-year-old Chaudhary & Associates, moving more projects through the office m0re quickly allows scarce staff resources to be devoted to landing new business.***
With classes out for the summer at Piner High School in Santa Rosa, Angwin-based general contractor Helmer & Sons (www.helmers.net) has started construction on the school's Science and Technology Center. [See the April 2 story, "Piner High School project to widen pathway to construction, science jobs."]
The Santa Rosa City Schools board in early May to award Helmer & Sons' low bid of $2.6 million to build the center and fix storm drains at the school. The district was up against state deadlines in June for moving forward with the project or losing $1.6 million in grants and project approvals.
When it's completed, set for a year from now, the building will house the school's 4-year-old Geospatial Technology Program, which has garnered national attention for its use of cutting-edge tools and real-world projects to teach students about global positioning systems and state-of-the-art surveying and mapping.***