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Lowest bid leads to longterm partnership


Pat Evans Grand Rapids Business Journal
Published 11 / 11 / 16

One lowest bid has blossomed into a fruitful long-term partnership between Orion Construction and Vista Springs Assisted Living.

Following Vista Springs’ purchase of a 28-year-old assisted living center in Lansing, the company reviewed 16 bids, including Orion Construction’s. What was thought of as a small job turned into a much larger project and convinced Vista Springs to continue using Orion on three other projects since Vista Springs Edgewood, with more slated in the future.

“We were fortunate enough to be the low bidder,” Orion President John Boonstra said. “The project was significantly over budget, and we needed to find a creative way to get (Vista Springs President and CEO Lou Andriotti) everything he needed in the building but still deliver a project for the dollar amount he wanted.”

Andriotti said the building’s drawings didn’t line up with the actual building, and the Orion crew constantly delivered bad news. In the end, Orion helped finish the job on budget.

“This situation shined in my eyes, the way they helped find creative ways to minimize costs but get the right things done,” Andriotti said. “It was a small job comparatively, but we needed more help than our internal team. It was great to have someone overqualified to do the job. We needed all the resources and creativity of a full-scale construction company to do the job.”

In 2014, Orion and Vista Springs partnered again on a $6 million renovation of the former Riverside Elementary School, 2420 Coit Ave. NE. Boonstra said Orion was able to save $3 million through the renovation project.

The problems throughout the first pair of projects brought the two firms together, Andriotti said, as Vista Springs leadership watched the Orion crews overcome obstacles.

“They kept saying, ‘We’ll hang around for the easy jobs,’” he said. “We finally got to some ground-up jobs, and I was amazed at how easy those are.”

Despite the ease, Andriotti said the ground-up builds aren’t easy cookie cutters like suburban hotel chains, since each community serves a different demographic on a wide array of properties. There have been multi-story buildings on small sites and sprawling one-story buildings on multiple acres.

Along with changing needs for its patients, Vista Springs has to be looking toward the future of aging generations.

The tail end of the greatest generation is phasing out, so amenities need to be amped up for the future generations, Andriotti said.

“The group we serve now doesn’t complain; they went through tough times and are hard workers,” he said. “The next generation coming up, the wants and needs have changed, and we have to go above and beyond. We constantly revise our model as medicine advances, and each time we do a project, we throw something new at Orion.”

Projects evolve as they’re under construction, a piece Andriotti especially appreciates of Orion, as the crews don’t say no to a change in plans, and most of the time, they look at how to do an aspect of a project and take it into future jobs.

Andriotti credits the first full occupancy at Vista Springs Edgewood, the firms’ first project together, in part because of Orion’s work. Similar credit is given to the ability for Vista Springs Riverside to reach full occupancy in 10 months, a statistic normally reached in 18 to 24 months when a new assisted living facility goes online.

Now, as Orion is in the midst of renovating and expanding Vista Springs’ Holland location, Andriotti said without Orion’s knowledge of working through the township application process and expedited work, the project timeline would be beyond an acceptable date.

The timeline is helped along by the familiarity between Vista Springs and Orion crews, Orion Project Manager Matt Anisko said, as the two sides don’t have to go through the get-to-know-you phase.

“The crews can just look at the type of facility and go to work, they don’t have to rethink it through the process,” Boonstra said.

With a dedicated assisted living project manager, Andriotti said Orion reminds him of Disney Development, the construction arm of Disney, when he was in the construction industry in the 1990s in Orlando.

“They go to a job, and there isn’t a learning curve,” he said. “The superintendent knows the standards. They hit the ground going from one project to the next.”

The efficiencies provided by working with same general contractor and team within the firm mean costs can be set for certain amenities, and materials and projects move smoothly, even as problems arise.

“Just like there are efficiencies when you carry a subcontractor from one job to the next, you get the same with a client,” Anisko said. “There are plenty of upfront efficiencies in costs when you know the partners and the relationships.