Todd Stone – Stone Group Architects
Since Launching Stone Group Architects in 2012, founder and CEO Todd Stone can safely say that no two days have been the same even if the scenery is plenty familiar—he’s a native of the state of South Dakota, after all.
Under normal circumstances, that variety is a good thing—a way to ensure that everyone stays on their toes. These days, however, the word “normal” no longer applies, he says.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stone and his team have jumped into the fray, providing technical assistance for makeshift clinics in hotels and event centers, and remodeling existing hospital spaces to serve as isolation wards for patients.
“In a crisis and on the battlefield, you want to empower your entire team to think and act for themselves, because leaders aren’t always going to be standing next to you,” says Stone, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant. “That’s serving us well right now.”
Given the company’s status as a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business, much of Stone’s work involves upgrades, remodels and additions to VA Hospital facilities throughout the Midwest—though the firm is equipped to handle projects in myriad other sectors.
At any given time, the company has as many as 30 projects in the works. That could be anything from roofing and MRI replacements to pharmacy work and bringing health care facilities into federal compliance with 2019 hazardous drug law requirements.
This past spring, the company began receiving calls with COVID-19-related questions such as how to set up a quick triage area; how to convert a hotel into a makeshift hospital and event center; and the time frame in which these things can be done.
“It generated a lot of conversation, asking us what we would do under certain circumstance and how quickly we could get a project done,” Stone says. “A lot of it never materialized, but at least people know more now about what’s involved with air handling requirements in these types of spaces.”
But some sites are ready to move into action. Currently, Stone is awaiting word from the VA on a project involving a 16-bed COVID-19 isolation ward at one of its hospitals in Sioux Falls. Whether this area feels the full impact of coronavirus or not, the project will be used as a pre-op ward after this pandemic subsides.
Stone’s and his team’s expertise was needed to address ventilation issues. Specifically, ensuring proper air exchange in hospital spaces to better protect patients—including details down to the design of door sweeps. Other project details include providing areas where health care workers can suit up with their PPE—but you won’t find a patient waiting room for obvious reasons.
“The word got out because we’ve recently helped other architects do the preliminary informational gathering,” he says.
More broadly, COVID has sparked plenty of debate in the architecture world. Throughout the country, planners are figuring out ways to reconfigure certain spaces—especially conference rooms and offices—not knowing whether in a year or two standard design will go back to what was considered normal before the pandemic.
“We don’t know what it all means yet,” Stone says. “People aren’t going to want to be rubbing elbows. This is affecting everything—even the furniture.”
Pen in hand
Looking back, little did Stone know how doodling on his kitchen table as a kid would set his own future in motion. Coming from a family immersed in the construction business, Stone remembers his grandfather arriving back from a jobsite, complaining about a bad architect. He turned to his grandson, an 8th grader at the time, and said, “We actually need an architect who knows what they’re doing.”
The challenge was there for Stone to meet. Working on construction sites throughout his high school summers, Stone entered the U.S. Army at 19, beginning what would become a successful 23-year military career.
In 2002, he earned three Bachelor of Applied Science degrees from North Dakota State University in sociology, environmental design, and architecture (with a focus on space planning, master planning and structures).
Stone worked for Prairie Design Studio while in college and as an intern architect and project manager at Holman & Associates for five years after graduation. His next step was as an associate principal at Koch Hazard Architects, where he worked from 2008 to 2012. After that, he was ready to go out on his own.
“During my last mobilization on active duty with the U.S. Army, I was thinking about what was important in my life, and that was to spend more time with my family and to have my own firm,” Stone recalls. “It gives me the freedom to mentor and train people, give back to the community and not worry about extreme profitability. Being able to cultivate a culture of taking care of each other and knowing each person’s heart is in it makes it all worthwhile.”
Sky’s the limit
Since then, he’s plunged into a variety of projects, including country club remodels; event center facilities; university and secondary education work; apartment complexes; designing hockey rinks; and state projects with the Department of Transportation.
Stone says the markets in Missouri and Kansas have continued to grow, and he looks for future development in Texas. The VA work is his bread-and-butter.
“Here in the Midwest there’s no such thing as niche architect—you have to do many things,” Stone says. “It’s an honor and pleasurable to do work for our veterans, and I always keep that in perspective. We’re grateful for our work and our repeat clients and we’re always here to help.”
Aside from being able to control the company’s scope of work, one of Stone’s main drivers for starting his own firm was dedicating time to VA-related projects and other philanthropic endeavors, such as taking veterans on fishing and hunting adventures.
The military bond is for life, he says. Having spent time in Korea, Germany, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, New York, Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia and Texas, Stone also started a nonprofit called Warriors Never Give Up, where combat-connected veterans can participate in hunting and fishing trips.
“It’s about veterans taking care of veterans,” Stone says. “If your heart is the right place you can do just about anything.”
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