PM Engineer is proud to announce that Kluber Engineering & Architecture, Inc., has been named the PME Engineering Firm of the Year for 2000. Located in Batavia, IL, KE&A has been in business for 12 years, providing engineering and architectural design services for municipalities, fire districts, library districts, colleges, corporations and institutions.
Although a number of highly qualified entries were received, KE&A was chosen as the firm that best epitomized the six criteria established for the award: innovation in design, ability to meet schedules, completeness and thoroughness, industry involvement, community involvement and customer satisfaction.
Company HistoryThe firm was founded by Michael and John Kluber in 1988 as strictly an engineering company, but in 1995, the brothers integrated architecture into the mix when they added Edward Skahan, a licensed architect, to the firm. Now, KE&A employs a staff of 12 people, all licensed engineers or architects, and their client list includes several local school districts and fire departments, Fermi Lab and Motorola. This year, the multi-million-dollar company can boast sales of $3 million. John Kluber attributes the firm's success to "delivering projects on time, on budget and with little or no change orders." And, he added, since KE&A doesn't specialize in only engineering or architecture, they can work with a broad base of clients, from the public sector to the federal level, resulting in repeat business and financial stability.
Jacks of All TradesWhat makes KE&A stand out among engineering firms? Although KE&A employs a small staff, each employee is completely responsible for and capable of designing his own project.
The firm is headed by three principals who also serve as directors for the corporation. Michael Kluber, P.E., serves as president and director of electrical engineering; John Kluber, P.E., is the vice president and director of mechanical engineering; and Edward Skahan, R.A., C.C.S., is the principal in charge of Educational Facilities and the director of design. The Klubers and Skahan have made sure to hire only licensed engineers and architects that can work together to design projects that meet codes and client expectations with very little changes. "We offer a streamlined approach," John Kluber said. "Each employee does his own drafting and specifications, and runs his own projects. We've got the process down."
"Anyone here can pick up the ball from anywhere on the field and score a touchdown," Skahan added.
John Kluber explained that KE&A's employees know exactly what to do from step to step because they have been trained in all aspects of project design, taking a generalized approach rather than specializing in only the engineering design.
And KE&A's employees seem to enjoy the challenge. "Our turnover rate has been zero," John Kluber said. "Our management philosophy is that the employees are our biggest asset, so we offer a SEP IRA that we fund fully at 13-15% of their pay, we pay 100% of health insurance costs, we offer disability insurance, we provide our employees with BMW or Jeep cars, and if the company does well, at the end of the year we disperse the profits to all of the employees, sometimes adding up to as much as 40% of their yearly salary. This is a pretty attractive total package," John Kluber said.
Innovation in DesignKE&A has designed and renovated over 24 educational facilities, including Elgin Community College, Oswego School District and Waubonsee Community College. To support its dedication to innovative design, KE&A provided several examples of recent projects in its award-winning entry. Here are a couple of highlights:
- The firm completed the mechanical and plumbing retrofit for the Housing Authority of Joliet's Murphy Building (Joliet, IL). The central mechanical plant serves a high-rise apartment building. The equipment and piping for the building's heating and plumbing systems had failed or were at the end of their useful life. KE&A designed a plan that would replace the 18 boilers with three forced-draft high efficiency boilers, and convert the domestic hot water to a water-to-water heat exchanger system. Staging of the equipment replacement and re-piping of the mechanical room required detailed phasing and close coordination with the contractor and the owner. The previous hard-to-maintain, cluttered mechanical room was transformed by KE&A's plan into an organized mechanical room with simplified operation and maintenance requirements
- A project for the Aurora Housing Authority (Aurora, IL) involved a four-story apartment building that was having trouble providing the necessary water pressure to the top floors. The original plumbing system consisted of 36 domestic water risers. The piping was galvanized steel and had started to leak throughout the building. Since the pipes were located in the walls, access for repairs required extensive demolition. There were no isolation valves on the system, so when repairs were needed, several tenants had to go without water until they were completed. A meeting was held between KE&A and the owner, and a new domestic water system design was decided upon that would meet the budget and the desired maintenance level. All the domestic piping was replaced with copper pipes. The system design also allowed the owner to isolate half the building, one floor or one apartment, as required for maintenance or future renovation. And, to alleviate the requirement of relocating the tenant's belongings from the affected apartments, the new piping system was to be installed from the corridor side into the apartment for final connection to the plumbing fixtures.
The hydronic heating piping in this building was also replaced due to leaks and insufficient heat. The difficulty with this project was that the building was to remain occupied throughout construction. The existing pipes had asbestos insulation, and the owner did not have the funds for abatement and demolition for removing the pipes. After a complete review and inspection of the existing system and building conditions, KE&A designed a plan that changed the location of the risers to cause minimal disruption and to allow for the existing pipes to be abandoned in place.
Ability to Meet Schedules
The majority of KE&A's clients are public entities with limited budgets, and they often do not receive funding approval until the last minute. In order to complete the necessary work while schools are out of session or before the heating season begins, it is necessary to have construction documents out for bid on a tight time schedule. If the documents are not completed in time, equipment procurement and operation of the client's facilities can not be accomplished. By having a full array of design professionals in-house and constantly communicating with each other, conflicts are quickly resolved, and project delays are eliminated.
"Because we have both on staff, we can bring the architects and the engineers together to work out projects over one table," John Kluber said. "This way we can work the changes out and interact on a daily basis."
"KE&A doesn't believe in designing a project and forgetting it after bids are received," Donald Ware, P.E., C.I.P.E., KE&A's plumbing and fire protection engineer, explained in the company's entry. "We believe the project is not complete until the owner is occupying or using the facility." Ware added that KE&A believes construction support throughout the project to address contractor questions and client concerns is essential to a successful, on-time project. If a conflict arises, KE&A sits down with the contractor and owner and solves the problem together to keep construction moving. "This is a reflection of the cooperative collaboration between clients, contractors and staff," Ware added.
KE&A also relies on the engineering design software Lightscape, AutoCAD and StudioViz to keep it ahead of the pack. "We can provide the customer with a 3-D model of the design concept, take them on a virtual tour of the completed building and make the changes they want, all before it is even built," Mike Kluber said. "When we provide clear, complete, concise drawings, we can work out any problems in the specification stage, [before construction begins]," Skahan added.
Completeness and ThoroughnessAccording to Ware, attention to the details is what can make or break a project. KE&A completes each project task with great attention to detail, thorough research and an integrated team approach, Ware explained in the company's entry. According to KE&A, having all the necessary information on existing conditions and the required work ensures that contractors will be able to provide accurate bids, and providing accurate drawings ensures that the bids will come in on budget and minimizes any change orders after construction starts. If the majority of bidders' numbers do not come within 10% of each other, then the construction drawings and communication have not been clear enough, Ware explained, adding that KE&A prides itself on being consistently within budget on its bid amounts and within the requisite 10% criteria.
Industry InvolvementAll of the firm's employees are involved in the industry's professional organizations, including ASHRAE, ASPE, NFPA, AIA, CSI, CEE/EA, BOCA, IES, ILA and IASBO. Donald Ware is a member of the Chicago Chapter of ASPE's Board of Directors, and some employees have been speakers at ASHRAE's Maxitech Seminar for School Design, the National Energy Conference by the AEE for school retrofit and IASBO's conventions for School Life Safety Requirements.
The firm has also received three Illinois Chapter ASHRAE Excellence in Engineering awards, the Regional ASHRAE Excellence in Engineering award and honorable mentions for several CSI Specification competitions.
Community Involvement"KE&A strongly believes in giving back to the people that have made us so successful-the community," John Kluber said. The company does this by sponsoring several community sporting teams and events. "We have a lot of coaches on staff, including myself," Mike Kluber said.
The company also sponsors several community projects, including golf holes at several fund-raising events for organizations such as the Oswego High School Athletic Department Golf Outing, the Oswego Foundation for Educational Excellence and the Elgin Community College Foundation Golf Outing. KE&A is also a proud sponsor of the Batavia High School "Night of Hoops" basketball competition.
The firm itself is a member of the Chamber of Commerce for both Aurora and Batavia in Illinois. Its community support was recently recognized with a Certificate of Appreciation from Oswego Community Unit District #308 School Business Community Partnership.
The company also encourages its employees to take part in the community's educational programs. Several employees have donated time to speak at local career days in grade schools, high schools and colleges to discuss engineering and architectural career planning, as well as speaking on facility design for the Illinois Library Association. KE&A has often worked with the Oswego Partnership Program to bring high school students into the company for summer internships, and Mike Kluber was appointed by the mayor of Aurora as a volunteer commissioner for the city to write and inspect its electrical codes.
Customer SatisfactionKE&A's employees' innovative problem-solving abilities, commitment to detail and responsiveness have directly contributed to the firm's success, and building strong relationships with their clients through listening to their needs and ensuring that the scope of the project is understood has brought repeat business to the firm. Examples of client feedback are included here: