More than buildings
Chris-Tel Construction is a locally owned and operated construction management firm with a longstanding reputation for quality and reliability. Based in Fort Myers, Florida, the company’s roots in their community go back almost 100 years. That history is reflected by the long-term relationships they have built with both clients and subcontractors, and by their extensive portfolio of large-scale, award-winning projects.
“We’re committed to our community,” says Howard L. Wheeler II, President and owner of the company. “We have built longstanding relationships with clients, contractors, and local officials. We work here, live here, and we’re raising families here. We are building more than buildings.”
Howard founded Chris-Tel Construction in 1989. Two years later, Donnie Singleton joined the firm as a partner. Both were already veterans of the construction industry, and both had grown up in Fort Myers. Howard’s family in particular had deep roots in the business, dating back to 1924, when Howard’s great uncle formed a building company that would alternately be known as Howard L. Wheeler Construction and Wheeler Brothers Construction.
Both Howard and Donnie are fourth generation Floridians, and grew up in and around construction. When Howard decided to form his own firm at the age of 21, there was no question where he would do it. He wanted to continue what his family had started back in the 1920s.
In the early years of Chris-Tel Construction, the business grew steadily, both in their size and the scope of their work. By 2000, the principals that guided the business – integrity, dedication, vision, and unwavering work ethic – were well known, and the firm started to take on new and larger buildings, as well as continuing services contracts with municipal agencies and education institutions.
Today, Chris-Tel Construction is known for delivering larger scale commercial, industrial, and transportation projects. They have proven their capability in that high-end arena on a number of high profile jobs.
In particular, Chris-Tel has been celebrated for their work at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, a historical museum and botanical garden that has been recognized as a landmark of history and chemistry. There, they completed a series of historic restoration projects, which spanned 10 years, encompassed restoration of all the buildings on the estates, and won a plethora of historic restoration awards, including a national award.
In recent years, other significant projects have included improvements to Hammond Stadium at Century Link Sports Complex, the construction of the award-winning North Fort Myers Recreation Centre and Eastern Metal Supply, and – most recently – ongoing work on the Estero Boulevard Improvements to Fort Myers Beach, a multi-phased project scheduled for completion in 2020.
According to Howard, Chris-Tel Construction is consistently selected for that kind of iconic work due to their depth of experience. That is especially true for projects in the public sector, where the qualifying process is stringent and regulated, and experience is highly valued.
“We have been in business here in Lee County and Southwest Florida for a long time,” Howard says. “A lot of the projects we have delivered in the area are iconic buildings, and people know that ‘Chris-Tel built that.’ That goes a long way.”
What also goes a long way is the company’s financial strength. Due to their long history of successful delivery and smart business decisions, they have obtained a bonding capacity of $100 million for a single project and $300 million aggregate. They are known to be a stable and financially sound firm, so clients, lenders and insurance companies have confidence that they will be there to see their job through to a successful conclusion.
Private sector clients are drawn to Chris-Tel Construction for the same reasons. However, since they don’t have to go through the same qualifying process as public clients, they can place more value on factors such as ‘comfortability’ and ‘trust’ – and Chris-Tel excels at earning that trust.
“When clients are picking a construction firm for a large-scale project such as a library or hospital, they know they are essentially getting married to that firm for 18 months to two years,” explains Molly Scott, Manager of Marketing and Public Relationships with Chris-Tel Constructions. “They want to like the firm they choose.”
“And clients do like us,” she says. “The majority of our business is repeat work. We have a lot of repeat clients that we have longstanding relationships with. ”
“We give the client a positive experience, no matter who they are, and no matter the size of the job,” Howard adds. “We make their lives easy. That’s why they want to use us again.”
Some of Chris-Tel’s relationships with clients go back almost 30 years. According to Howard, the company still works with some of the same clients they worked with in 1990. In many cases, those relationships have spanned generations, as Chris-Tel has worked with the children – and in some cases, the grand-children – of past clients.
Chris-Tel has earned that kind of enduring loyalty, Howard says, by “doing the right thing on every job, and doing it every time.”
Doing the right thing means producing a high quality product – which Chris-Tel Construction does on every project, without exception.
Chris-Tel employs an expert roster of superintendents, project managers, and staff, who all offer specific knowledge based on the task at hand, and together have the experience necessary to get the job done efficiently and effectively. The company also takes a multi-tiered approach to quality control, ensuring every project not only meets their own quality standards, but also fully complies with all the terms of the contract.
Howard credits the company’s quality consistency to their system and experience, but also to the personal care and commitment of the staff. He says that, at the end of the day, “building is not a science, it’s an art.”
“If you take ‘x’ amount of yards of concrete and ‘x’ amount of gallons of paint and pour it in a barrel, it’s not going to come out looking like a building,” he says. “A building is a product of the people who create it. The better the artisans you have, and the better the craftsman, the better the product you get.”
“That’s why we try to recruit people with the same mindset we have,” he says. “It’s not enough that they have the right talent. They have to be professional, service-driven, and quality-driven.”
And once they have the right people, Chris-Tel Construction has been very successful at retaining them. Howard says the company’s employee turnover rate is less than half of the industry average. Many of their team members have been with the business for over 10 years.
“The culture that has been built here is really amazing,” Molly says. “I truly believe it’s one of the best in the industry.”
A recent example of Chris-Tel Construction’s commitment to quality excellence is the Westin Conference Center facility at Tarpon Point, in Cape Coral, Florida. That facility is valued at roughly $15 million, and features a 35,000 square foot ballroom capable of being divided into six distinct meeting spaces for up to 1,950 guests.
Other features of that project include: a 4,700 square foot pre-function area; a 1,700 square foot terrace overlooking a local river estuary; a state-of-the-art catering kitchen; office and storage space on the second and third floors; a paved parking lot; a timber pedestrian bridge; and a portè cochere.
“That was a great project,” Howard says. “We are very proud of the result we delivered there.”
That project is not just a good example of Chris-Tel’s craftsmanship because Howard says so – the industry at large agrees. At the 2018 Lee Building Industry Summit Awards, the Westin Conference Center won the category for ‘Best Commercial Contractors Project – Hospitality – $5 million to $8 million.’
An even more recent example of the company’s award-winning dedication to quality, meanwhile, is the Estero Boulevard Improvements in Fort Myers Beach. Chris-Tel was selected to provide Construction Manager-at-Risk services on that multi-phased project, and they are currently working on segment three of six.
The scope of work on Estero Boulevard includes: roadway and infrastructure improvements over a multi-year period; adding a new force main; a center lane drainage system; improvements to sidewalks; addition of pedestrian refuge medians; trolley stop locations; lane realignment; and more.
“That’s probably the most difficult horizontal construction project the county has ever undertaken,” Howard says. “We’re talking about an island that has one way on and one way off, and that’s the main road, and that’s the road we’re changing.”
Chris-Tel has navigated that extreme logistical challenge by investing heavily in pre-planning and pre-construction, while also being flexible and adaptable on a day-to-day basis.
“You know what they say about a plan,” Howard says. “It all goes well until somebody snaps the football.”
“So we adapt to the challenges as they present themselves,” he says. “We have open and honest communication with all the stakeholders. We put our heads together and we work our way through it.”
Despite the challenges, Chris-Tel’s management of the Estero Boulevard Improvements project has also been recognized with an industry award. At the 2017 Lee Building Industry Summit Awards, the company’s completed work on Segment 1 won the category for ‘Best Commercial Contractors Project Infrastructure – $5 million to $8 million+’ and most recently, the project received the Sunshine State Safety Award from USF SafetyFlorida for Segment 2 of that project.
Changing the conversation
In recent years, Chris-Tel Construction has evolved considerably. Since 2013, when they shifted their focus to larger-scale jobs, the firm has grown from 13 employees to 36 – a number that in that time has only gone up, never down. Moving forward, Howard envisions that number continuing to rise as the company continues to take on bigger commercial work.
At the same time, he adds, the company will continue to maintain their special projects group, where they deliver projects up to $2 million, as well as their site civil group, which takes on a variety of projects, ranging anywhere from $200,000 to $100 million.
“We will continue to service our client’s needs, whatever they are,” Howard says. “Whether that’s a $300 door change out, or a $100 million apartment tower. We want to make our clients happy – that’s what matters to us.”
As they grow in size, Chris-Tel Construction also aims to grow in reputation. The company used to be known for doing moderately-sized jobs. Now they want to be known for doing everything.
“We want to change the conversation within our market,” Molly concludes. “We want to make it known that Chris-Tel is a competitive construction firm that can basically do anything from A to Z. We have the talent to do everything – whether that’s public or private, medical, educational, industrial, or multi-residential. We have the talent on our staff to do it all.”For more on Chris-Tel Construction and their service offering – and for more examples of their award-winning work – visit https://christelconstruction.com/