For Whom the Bell Toils
The native New Yorker and NFL Legend Vince Lombardi is esteemed as one of the winningest coaches to ever grace the gridiron, yet also revered for finesse in fostering teamwork. He once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” For a New York-based contractor specializing in construction as well as mechanical and plumbing services, the achieving of operational triumphs and earning of industry reverence has similarly resulted from a unique commitment to group-effort which complements capable expertise. Their work has been critical to the work of other companies, communities and our country, but for those who may not immediately recognize the range of services offered by this industrial icon, the work of its customers will certainly ring … a bell.
From mechanical, civil, structural and general construction contracting to design/build, fabrication and mechanical services, The Bell Company of Rochester, New York, resonates with a rare kind of operational capacity and ability to expertly address so many engineering applications that it is widely known as a “GO-TO” source for solutions. Over the last fifty years, Bell’s industrial talents have been sought out by an impressive array of equally dynamic institutions, resulting in a substantial portfolio of project achievement.
For instance, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed someone to assume the complete construction responsibility for a new heating and refrigeration plant that would serve the entirety of the Pentagon complex, it was The Bell Company who stepped-up to fulfill the task. They developed a facility capable of delivering some 240,000 lbs of steam per hour, which utilized more than 37,000 tons of refrigeration, and they achieved that without disrupting operations at its existing heating/cooling facility at the time. Adding to the complexity of that job was a requirement to bore two 90-inch tunnels under the Jefferson Davis Highway for the installation of utility piping as well as 40,000 lf of reinforced concrete ductbank and 27,000 lf of water, storm, sanitary and process water systems.
Not complicated enough? Then, just consider the work Bell conducted at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the Scientific Ecology Group, an organization formerly distinguished as the nation’s leading processor of radioactive waste. This operation deploys what is known as “Quantum Catalytic Extraction” to break down the molecular components of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes into less complex elemental constituents. Radionuclides are isolated and stored, but with the addition of certain reactants the waste can be wholly or partially converted into products for reuse, a process that involves applications of molten metal and systems capable of generating up to 15,000 degrees of heat. The management at Bell designed and installed foundations, floors, interior walls, the systems for processing and cooling water, the compressed air, high pressure oxygen, nitrogen and natural gas applications, the HVAC, the HEPA filter system, fire protection components, as well as the electrical and instrumentation control systems – and more.
At the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Bell was tasked with upgrades essential to a multi-phased modernization program that had them installing new natural gas systems, the sanitary and storm water systems, the telecommunication, steam and electrical systems, as well as the construction necessary to house four 5,000-ton centrifugal water chillers and other auxiliary equipment. At the Dept. of Energy’s Savannah River Site in Aiken, SC, Bell served as the Design/Build contractor in a project consolidating the area’s domestic water systems to provide a singular source of treated domestic water, an undertaking that involved water distributed through a looped piping system connecting more than 250 buildings with a new water treatment facility and two storage tanks ascending some 243 feet into the sky.
Bell also handled general construction of the National Security Agency’s Supercomputer Center at Fort Meade, an 183,000 square-foot complex which at the time was among the largest facilities of its kind in the world. The company also performed the site development for the F.B.I.’s fingerprint identification center in West Virginia. The list goes on, and on. From the construction of facilities at various military bases to medical centers, universities, correctional institutions and nuclear power plants, the Bell Company’s capabilities in construction has figured in the formation and functionality of critical initiatives throughout America.
Despite the company’s industrial fortitude and the litany of challenges they’ve overcome to achieve what can be very complex performance requirements for the applications they deliver, one won’t find Bell Company President Steve Ruether bragging about all the company has done or who it has served. In rather low-key and down-to-earth tones, Ruether cautions against fanfare and explains that the company prefers to operate with a quiet humility and committed approach to duty. He concedes that many in the firm’s hometown base of Rochester may lack full awareness as to the wide range of work the company fulfills, and to be sure, that’s just fine with him and his team. Though proud to have participated in so many projects, Ruether says the company simply doesn’t believe in tooting its own horn, so to speak. The Bell Company prefers to prosper by embracing principles of attraction versus that of promotion.
Building a Legacy
The Bell Company got its start in 1940 with John P. Bell Sr. who was well known in Rochester as a professional plumbing contractor. As J.P. Bell grew his business, he and his wife were also busy growing their family. They raised seven sons, as well as a daughter, and this progeny all grew-up assisting in the family business, or working in other trades. The sons matured and sought out their own respective career paths, but in 1967, they ultimately determined that it made little sense for them to labor for others when they could establish their own company. Ruether says this was a dynamic era for the city of Rochester, with Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb contributing to an economic boom of development. The Bell Brothers determined to galvanize all their varied service expertise to create a company that could deliver a range of solutions under one roof. Each brother essentially became an expert in their respectful field, be it hospital, central utility plant construction, power or some other corridor of industry. Ruether says the deploying of diverse expertise was a crucial strategy, but the company further benefited from their incredible work ethic. “Work hard. Play hard. And treat people fair,” says Ruether. “Those of us who have been here for twenty-five to thirty years all followed.”
Over time, The Bell Company advanced from mechanical and plumbing to general construction projects. While much of the early work was solely performed in Rochester, in time, the company began to venture out of their home base to take on projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic States.
Quality assurance systems have been critical to that advancement explains Ruether. In addition to being ISO 9001: Certified, the Bell Company holds National Board “R” certification as well as other certifications from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers critical to welding applications or the maintenance and repair of boilers and pressure mechanisms. The Bell Company’s ASME NQA-1-2000 certification is crucial to securing work among the nation’s nuclear energy facilities. Ruether acknowledges the Bell Brothers astuteness in not only acquiring the expertise to sufficiently deliver on so many services, but also taking the necessary steps to acquire the certification validating that expertise.
The Bell Brothers ultimately produced another progeny that numbers several dozen, but in 2007, leadership of the company was turned over to a handpicked composite of veteran staff which includes Ruether, as well as Executive Vice Presidents Mike Benulis and Andy Carayiannis. The company has continued to flourish by maintaining a diversity of services, but has enhanced its core mechanical capabilities with experienced management in design assist, value engineering services and design/build guidance.
The Bell Company is also fully integrated in Building Information Modeling (BIM), a process that allows for the creation of comprehensive digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility. The producing of such models is essential to supporting construction decisions for a facility from the earliest conceptual stages. BIM, however, goes beyond the planning and design phase of a project, extending throughout the entire life cycle of a facility, effectively supporting determinations relating to the management of costs as well as the functionality of the completed project. Those who are involved in the building process are routinely challenged to fulfill goals under parameters that often include limited budgets, limited manpower, stringent deadlines and variance of priorities stemming from all the different players respectively tasked with different jobs to perform. As BIM demonstrates the virtual construction of a facility prior to the actual construction, the process effectively supports collaboration and understanding of all involved, but also serves to improve safety and overcome potential issues before any are actually experienced. BIM allows sub-contractors from every trade to input data within the model before construction occurs. This not only allows for greater cohesion, but can assist in determinations involving offsite pre-fabrication or pre-assembly of some systems, or help to reduce waste on-site by more efficiently allowing materials to be delivered in a just-in-time basis as opposed to being stock-piled on-site. Beyond its capabilities with BIM, the Bell Company can even provide the off-site pipe and modular-type fabrication units due to its investment in state-of-the-art equipment as well as its reliance on some of the most experienced craftsman ever to work in the trade.
Distinguished in Design/Build
Design/Build deserves special note for Ruether credits this project delivery service model as one of the most significant aspects of the company’s evolution. Design/Build refers to a modality used for project development and completion, not solely related to, say, the construction of a building, but tackling virtually any kind of project. As Ruether explains, the modality compels collaboration of a team comprised by the facility owner, the design/build team leader, the architect, engineer and sub-trades. This process begins with an owner clearly defining what he wants from the project. This can be a single page description or detailed account of prescriptive or restrictive facets in the completed project. The collaboration is designed to provide clear understanding of the owner’s goals, as well as the budget and time frame critical to the job.
Design/Build methodology relies on teamwork, with all striving to deliver on the owner’s goals through their group awareness of their respective roles, the available resources and requirements necessary to fulfill the objective. “It’s important to select a proper team,” says Ruether. “They have to be able to listen and communicate with each other…and leave their egos at the door.”
Ruether says the project owner gains everything by being able to step away from the liability and harness the power of a team which “circles the wagons” around completion of the goals, a process that is much more effective than simply hiring autonomous architects, builders and subcontractors who might otherwise function with different agendas or ideas about what needs to be done, and how to do it? “The training that led us to grasping the concepts of design/build has been critical to growing our company, and it has helped us earn respect from numerous contractors, engineering and architectural firms,” says Ruether.
The Bell Company’s efficiencies in Design/Build have been exacted in a number of important projects. Examples include the Federal Correctional Institution in Berlin, New Hampshire, a 600,000 square-foot facility that houses more than 1,200 inmates. Beyond the three 4-story general housing units, the complex accommodates buildings for educational, vocational, health, food services and administration all within a secured compound. And just beyond that perimeter, there is a utility plant, warehousing, fueling stations and additional housing for medium-security inmates.
The Bell Company has further provided Design/Build assistance crucial to the completion of U.S. Army Center of Excellence on the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. This 1,400,000 square-foot complex will be occupied by the Army units of Command & Control, Intelligence, Sensors and Reconnaissance (aka Team C4ISR) whose mission is to advance technology, research and development supporting the Army’s war fighter. Development includes the facility that supports the war fighter in real combat situations in any area of the world. The project calls for the constructing of buildings which will house some of the world’s most sophisticated technology, research labs as well as that necessary to accommodate the work of more than 7,000 military and civilian personnel. In this case, The Bell Company was awarded a contract to provide Design/Build assistance to the Joint Venture Team of Tompkins-Turner and Grunley/Kinsley. In another project, Bell is providing Design/Build assistance to the firm of Heery International for a project involving the renovation of the Langley AFB, Hospital.
While project sizes, purposes, material resources, deadlines and demands may all alter over time, the overarching need for teams of people to work together is something that never really changes, as Ruether says, it is the “key” component in any construction project.
He says the design/build system more easily allows for challenges to be confronted and overcome. And for all the sophisticated projects and sophisticated clients his company has served, Ruether only expresses appreciation for the fact that each job involved input from a team of people of which the Bell Company was able to work beside. “The pride only comes from having the appropriate team and being part of it,” says Ruether. “It gives you a great sense of pride when you put your heart and soul into your work, to overcome challenges… and in today’s economy with unemployment, design/build project delivery system helps get a number of people working quickly, working together, and that is helpful to the economy,” says Ruether.
By maintaining their focus on collaboration while adhering to the quality standards and diversity of services that have been fundamental to achieving growth and respect in their industry, look for The Bell Company to continue chiming with success.
For more information, please visit their website at: The Bell Company
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