Leading Virginia’s Construction Industry
Joseph Nielsen founded Nielsen Builders way back in 1908. Over the next century, the commercial construction company left its mark throughout the Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia, eventually earning its place as one of the Commonwealth’s top contractors.
Currently headquartered in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Nielsen has grown to offer a broad range of project delivery systems including program management, construction management, general contracting, design-build, and consulting services. Clients vary from schools, universities, and truck stops to hospitals, senior living facilities, and churches.
Nielsen’s innovative construction techniques and commitment to quality have helped the company maintain its edge over the decades. Gaining the clients’ trust and building relationships has also been key. “We do business with honesty and integrity here,” says Business Development Rep Mark Stroupe. “People spend money with people they trust and people they like. Every time I have a client sign a contract I have a yes or no question for them, and that is ‘do you trust me?’ Once you gain their trust you can work together. But it all starts with a relationship.”
In 2007 Nielsen became an employee-owned company, giving the staff a greater stake in the business’ success. Mr. Stroupe sees the change as a significant advantage. “I am extremely excited about that opportunity. It means that all of us share in the profits at the end of the day. I think that [helps] all of our employees to be engaged in the company and for all of us to look out for the company’s best interest.”
Over its long history, the company has formed multiple divisions in order to best meet customer needs. For more than six decades, Nielsen’s millwork division has delivered commercial cabinetry, custom wall panels, wood moldings, and a variety of other types of quality architectural millwork. In 2005, the AWI certified shop officially became Legacy Cabinets & Millwork, but continues to operate beneath the Nielsen umbrella. Legacy’s skilled craftsmen boast years of experience in many types of molding and millwork designs, fabrication, and installation, allowing them to deliver top-notch workmanship. “Those guys are incredible,” Mr. Stroupe remarks. “They are true craftsmen.” Always eager to adopt the latest technology, Legacy has just brought in a new CNC machine and high-end molder to ensure that the division remains at the top of its game.
While Nielsen has constructed some of the region’s largest buildings, the company also runs a Small Projects Division, which produces $2 million in revenue each year taking care of minor tasks. No project is too small, the company insists.
TiltCon handles Nielsen’s tilt-up construction jobs, as well as taking on tilt-up work for outside projects. In this method of construction, a building’s walls are cast on-site and then tilted into an upright position with a crane. The team has been providing tilt-up services under the Nielsen name since 2002, but two years ago the company decided to launch a separate specialty division. As a result, TiltCon enjoys a lucrative position as the only company in the area dedicated to tilt-up. “There are a couple of other folks that do tilt-up in Virginia, but it is not what they do exclusively,” Mr. Stroupe explains.
TiltCon is capitalizing on the increasing popularity of tilt-up. “The craze started in California due to earthquakes, and then it came down to New Mexico, into Texas, over into Florida, and now I am seeing it really creeping up the East Coast as well.” The more people are exposed to the relatively new construction method, the more it gains ground. “It has got a lot of momentum coming up the east coast. A lot of architects and engineers are starting to understand how the process works.”
As these architects and engineers become more familiar with tilt-up, they are developing more applications for it. “In the past, tilt-up has been known for [its use in] warehouses, distribution facilities, and big box stores. And that is not the case anymore. We have learned how to do it efficiently so we can do churches, retail spaces, even agriculture facilities. It is sweeping the nation right now.”
TiltCon continues to pioneer new applications for tilt-up construction in order to capitalize on its many advantages. In addition to being LEED friendly, it costs less money to construct a tilt-up building than one built using traditional methods – and the savings continue even after construction ends. These durable, “hurricane-proof and fire-proof” structures enjoy lower insurance rates and need very little maintenance. “If you look at the overall costs over the lifetime of the building, it really, really makes sense,” Mr. Stroupe points out. In addition, tilt-up construction can produce a structure in a remarkably short period of time. For example, on the recent Gander Mountain Project in Charlottesville, Virginia, the team managed to cast and erect all of the footings, slabs, and panels in just 45 days.
TiltCon is a member of the Con/Steel Alliance, a network of concrete contractors that delivers reliable tilt-up construction using Con/Steel’s unique design and construction methods. By joining forces, Nielsen combines the company’s 100+ years of experience with Con/Steel’s 30 years of specialized tilt-up experience. TiltCon is also a member of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA), the international nonprofit trade association for the global tilt-up concrete construction industry. “The TCA is for the betterment of the industry,” Mr. Stroupe explains. “We all work together and help each other out.”
TiltCon has been involved in a number of noteworthy projects. The Stoney Run Dairy Parlor is one of the most out-of-the-box tilt-up jobs that the company has taken on, giving the team ample opportunity to showcase their skills. “There are a lot of unique things about that project.” The $1.7 million project totals 28,545 square feet and includes an open steel structure for holding and sorting cattle, offices, mechanical/chemical rooms, observation rooms, a milk storage room and a milking rotary that holds 72 cows. This rotary sits on a 76-foot wide, circular wall that can only vary by half an inch from the center pivot point. This wall had to be structurally designed to carry the weight of 72 cows, rotary equipment, six inches of concrete and dairy brick. Pipes and conduits running throughout the floor create further challenges.
The project’s special circumstances required a special approach. Because of the pipes and conduits included in the floor, the team had to reverse standard procedure. Instead of pouring the floor first and then forming the wall panels on top of the floor, the wall panels had to be formed first. This meant that the team had to form them on casting beds outside the building footprint. Only after these wall panels were erected could the floor be poured.
The Stoney Run Dairy Parlor utilized 56 panels ranging from 18 feet tall to 33 feet tall, from 4 feet wide to 36 feet wide, and from 6 ¼ inches thick to 9 ¼ inches thick. Individual panels weighed as much as 79,000 pounds and utilized steel rebar for reinforcement.
Another complication was caused by the fact that cows are remarkably sensitive to electric fields and will reduce milk production if exposed to them. “A cow can sense less than five ohms of electrical energy,” TiltCon’s website reports. This meant that the team had to ground all of the steel rebar inside the concrete panels. To do so, the company inserted a steel insert inside the panels, tied it to the rebar, and grounded it through a grounding circuit that runs throughout the entire building. “This circuit will essentially look like a lightning protection system in the building.”
Another current TiltCon project is the Petro Stopping Center, a $3.5 million, 19,094 square foot retail facility located along Interstate 81 in Raphine, Virginia. This “open mall” concept will include 24/7 showers and laundry as well as a Subway, Popeye’s, Caribou Coffee, a theater, a barbershop and Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy. “It will be the largest truck stop in the United States when we are done,” Mr. Stroupe reports. The building is being constructed to match the Petro brand’s look, with the Petro paint scheme and natural stone veneer.
The team is also currently building their first tilt-up church. The 26,000 square foot Believers Victory Center in Moorefield, West Virginia will include a sanctuary large enough to seat 500 people, a children’s department and youth center, and a gymnasium.
Projects like Stoney Run Dairy Parlor, Petro Stopping Center, and Believers Victory Church demonstrate the company’s ability to push the limits of tilt-up construction to deliver the solution that clients want. The team is eager to continue leading the industry in tilt-up construction as well as general contracting. “[We have] new, young project managers. They are very bright minds, very intelligent kids that are getting and teaching Nielsen business philosophy for the next generation.”
With 100 years of experience and success backing the company, the team is perfectly positioned to combine the wisdom of older generations with the enthusiasm and innovation of today’s millennial generation to carry the company through yet another century.