Andrew Grundman – Grundman Mechanical Systems
- Written by: Bob Mentzinger
- Produced by: Ian Nichols
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning are all about comfort. So is managing business relationships.
As president and son of the founder, Andrew Grundman has followed a legacy of solid relationships his father insisted on when establishing Grundman Mechanical Systems in 1983.
While the senior Grundman might claim Andrew worked in the company at age 5 using highlighters to help mark up plans, in reality Andrew started in 1996 as a service technician and worked through every role in the organization.
“My dad wasn’t going to let me waltz in,” he says. “So I had to learn everything.”
That means, starting at around age 10, the younger Grundman spent countless summers and days off from school glued to the “blueprint” machine.
“Yes … a real “blueprint” machine that you had to manually feed paper in and out. We used to have to print multiple sets of every job we estimated, send copies out to subcontractors, and make up sets for our bid room for the vendors. Now we rarely have visitors, as all files are sent electronically to the plotter.”
Due perhaps to his “old school/new school” ethos, Grundman says he’s always interested in onboarding new technology. He believes his company is ahead of the curve with building integration modeling software allowing his team to nail down coordination issues before the first wrench is turned.
Estimates and take-offs once done manually are now done using an on-screen estimating platform. Shop drawings once done by hand with colored pencils are now done by building information modeling software. Tape measures and chalk lines have taken a back seat on some projects to the Trimble Robotic Total Station for reliable layout.
“Our entire process from the moment we agree to bid a project to closeout hinges on old-school values and knowledge of how it was done. That keeps us centered and allows us to adapt,” he says. “We’re not re-creating the wheel, we’re just balancing it so it runs smoother.”
Into the ‘graveyard’
When Grundman Mechanical Systems first became involved with the United States Military Academy at West Point, it was to retrofit a barracks.
He’d heard it called “a contractor’s graveyard.”
“The Army Corps of Engineers is very strict,” Grundman says. “You have to know what you’re getting into.”
It was 2013 and Grundman would deliver a renovation of a 100-year-old dormitory barracks with service and expertise that pleased Army officials.
“We’ve done a few now,” he says. “Each one is a decent size. They have gorgeous architecture. This type of construction has extremely thick walls and slabs that present logistical and physical challenges. Many are more than 100 years old,” Grundman says. “They are built like bunkers, not exactly for modern HVAC systems and code requirements.”
Notable completed projects at West Point are the Scott Barracks, Keller Army Hospital infrastructure and addition, Pershing Barracks and the new West Point Elementary School.
Some West Point renovations need more effort; others may hinge on special equipment such as a drill bit capable of busting an Army bunker. But they all rely on Grundman’s knowledge in an unconventional setting.
Like making a seemingly simple decision on whether to cut through a wall to fit a piece of ductwork, for example.
“It’s a consideration every time,” Grundman says. “You can spend a half million dollars or more just drilling through existing concrete.”
When it comes to installing new HVAC ductwork and piping, it’s time for more troubleshooting. “Floor-to-floor heights aren’t exactly conducive. They simply don’t have the space within the floor, so ductwork has to be flattened and routed accordingly.”
Project timelines can drag because of these special mechanical situations. With a year to complete a $150 million renovation, “if you lose half the time in demolition, now you’re challenged with a large job to complete in five, six months.”
“One of their requirements is everything is 100 percent U.S.-made, per the Buy American Act,” Grundman says. “If you bought a 6-inch weld elbow and it came from China, forget it. If it’s installed, you’re ripping it out. If you did 1,000, you’re ripping out the whole job. They don’t care.”
“If you think you’re going to go West Point and cheat,” he says, “you’re going to go out of business.”
While the Army Corps is consistently pleased with Grundman’s performance, as a federal agency it’s required to issue requests for competitive bids. “The Army Corps knows we do the right job,” Grundman says. “We may not win every project, but there’s a level of comfort when we’re on it.”
Apparently so. Grundman was recently awarded the contract for Bradley Barracks at West Point—the largest Army Corps barracks renovation contract to date, he says.
While West Point is a major Grundman Mechanical Systems customer, the company has always had a niche in the hospital space.
“Hospitals are always doing something,” Grundman says. “If not new construction, then they’re renovating floors because they don’t have the real estate to build a new building.”
His team performed the $12.5 million HVAC contract on a new building at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, N.Y., which had to be built above and beyond code due to the nature of the special needs of youth with respiratory illnesses.
He’s currently partnering with Turner Construction on a new nine-story building at White Plains Hospital, where Grundman’s team snared an $8 million “HVAC Wetside” contract to install all mechanical piping, including a four pipe chilled/hot water distribution system feeding fan-coils and chilled beams.
Grundman says 95 percent of the company’s work was health care related, focused on nursing homes, laboratories and assisted living facilities, “but we have diversified significantly with some recently-completed dormitory projects and hotel projects.”
And while his days turning wrenches may have long ago been traded for business development, Grundman is still his father’s apprentice at heart. The knowledge that he has gained from his father over the course of time is irreplaceable.
“I get out to the field a lot, saying hello, making sure everything is on track, maybe 8 or 10 sites a week looking at jobs. I feel that this time is very well spent as It allows me to bring the personal aspect back into the business,” he says. The rest of his time is spent in the office overseeing estimating, project management and all other operations.
“I still want to be involved on job sites, but I have to be hands-on in everything: estimating, project management, labor management, accounting, investing. It keeps it fun for me.”
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