Case Studies

Adam Hitchen — Atlantis Comfort Systems

He keeps his cool while cooling apartments

Reputations spread quickly in construction and Adam Hitchen has built his for reliability with Atlantis Comfort Systems.

Developer Trammell Crow Residential and its general contractor, March Associates, seemingly satisfied with how Hitchen’s company has been providing the HVAC to its massive market-rate apartment-mixed-use project in Harrison, New York, they’ve entrusted Atlantis with a similar project on the Boston-Cambridge line. Most of Atlantis’ work focused on the heating, cooling, and ventilating systems for new multifamily rental properties, Hitchen should have both projects marked as complete next year.

“The details can get lost in my memory,” Hitchen jokes in September via Bluetooth while driving between his West Warwick, Rhode Island, office and Westport, Connecticut, where another builder there might want Atlantis’ services for apartments planned in New Jersey.

Joking aside, Hitchen’s got control of everything. A tradesman at heart who learned the business from the ground up, he’s been with Atlantis for more than 14 years. The company’s work has been expanding north to coastal Maine and south to State College, Pennsylvania.

As president, Hitchen is licensed in multiple trades in every state where Atlantis operates. But, sometimes, to his chagrin, he long ago transitioned to managing the business end instead of working in the field.

“I do have a predilection to working with my hands,” he quips. “I’m just not around the boilers or installing the duct anymore.”

But Hitchen is ensuring that those fine-tuning the mechanics are functioning up to expectations. Atlantis, he emphasizes, must live up to its reputation as a value engineer.

It all adds up

The Alexan Harrison project on Westchester Park Drive in Harrison proceeds on schedule, with its 450 residential units to be augmented by first-floor commercial space. The site being within commuting distance of New York City, Hitchen says it’ll help mitigate a need for rental housing.

“We’ll get different versions of the blueprints and the plans and update our pricing as it goes along,” he explains. “We will be involved right from that point through to the equipment change recommendation, valuation unit engineering and things that we can use to input into the design process so that the budget can get in place.”

Before negotiations proceed, he’ll again review the details. If he’s satisfied, everything’s subject to further review by Atlantis CEO and industry veteran D’von Myles. If Atlantis is in the running for the project, Hitchen commences as lead negotiator.

The Harrison project closely resembles the one known as The Laurent where Trammel Crow is building 525 residential units in two buildings a subway’s ride to the hustle and bustle of Harvard Square or downtown Boston. Luxury units of various sizes are taking shape with many amenities planned.

Hitchen emphasizing on-the-job safety, he requires there be two floors above or below where his crews toil. It’s a staggered process much dependent on how fast the general contractor functions, but he reminds how any safety detail can’t be rushed. It is a company mantra.

Atlantis has fashioned close relationships with developers and contractors. Hitchen says they work efficiently enough to install the means to heat, ventilate and air condition between 6,000 and 7,000 residential units annually. Apartment projects account for around 90 percent of the company’s $65 million annual revenue, with the rest coming from light commercial and residential contracting. The construction industry again thriving in New England and the mid-Atlantic, Hitchen’s upbeat about Atlantis’ continued growth.

Atlantis also recognizes the value of its vendors and subcontractors as part of the success formula. During the COVID-19 shutdowns, vital equipment and material suppliers such as Robinson Supply, Distributer Corp. Of New England, DXS, and Homans Associates worked hand in glove with Hitchen’s management teams to ensure Atlantis could fulfill its contractual obligations.

Computer-aided coordination vital to the intricate process of ensuring that all the hidden elements of a building fit together, with KLS Consulting Services fitting the bill.

“We’ve worked with several coordination subcontract firms, and KLS stands apart from them all as to completeness and accuracy,” says Hitchen, crediting all his partners with helping Atlantis deal with COVID-caused cost increases.

Feel the heat

Everyone shares the satisfaction of the ribbon cutting at a new apartment complex, he says. Harrison and Laurent will soon be in the Atlantis portfolio, as will be a couple of multi-family buildings in State College. The Keystone State marks Atlantis’ southernmost footprint, and Hitchen envisions more opportunity there.

The cost of single-family homes soaring, he says rental housing’s the answer for at least the foreseeable future. Atlantis being a go-to for new builds as well as mill conversions, Hitchen says there’ll be much to bid on.

Hitchen’s responsibilities are shared by five project managers and two estimators, which he says everyone keeps busy.

“We’re fortunate to have a deep team,” he says. “At other places, people run projects though they’ve never had a hammer in their hands. That’s not how we operate.”

Hitchen was first putting a hammer to productive use at the age of 11, doing odd jobs at his father’s sheet metal shop in Central Falls, Rhode Island. By the time he was 18, Hitchen was overseeing crews, and he remained on the floor for the next 20 years. Finally, at 38 and with a wall of professional licenses, he was ready for the next step. He became a sales representative for Robinson Supply, focusing on expanding the wholesaler’s HVAC presence throughout New England.

“I must have found my calling,” he says. “I was salesman of the year for five of six years but had a vision of being in a key position for a large firm, meeting D’von and benefitting from his overall business experience made that vision a reality.”

Myles, a Stanford University economics graduate who founded Atlantis in 2009 after honing his HVAC skills with a major regional HVAC firm, hired Hitchen for his all-around industry knowledge and nurtured him to the company’s presidency.

But once a tradesman, always a tradesman. The same goes for being a father’s son, and Hitchen says his father Herb is one of a kind—still an active HVAC contractor at the age of 89. He taught his son the sheet metal trade and passed along his coppersmith and stained-glass expertise.

“In the last year I’ve started my stained-glass studio to fulfill my hands-on creativity gap,” the 59-year-old Hitchen says. “I aspire to be seen as a stained-glass craftsman but—yet again—I’m still an apprentice. Maybe when I’m in my mid-60s, I’ll be good enough to sell my wares.”

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