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Balfour Beatty’s outreach to veterans pays dividends in leadership and growth

Contracts for work it’s done for the San Diego Unified School District have extended to several disabled vet-owned businesses.

May 20, 2021 |
Innovations Academy in San Diego

Nearly 13% of the $38 million renovation contract for the Innovations Academy in San Diego went to disabled-veteran owned subcontractors. Image: Courtesy of Balfour Beatty

The general contractor Balfour Beatty has been working with the San Diego Unified School District for 13 years. Over the past five years alone, the firm has completed five projects for the District, with number six currently under construction.

On all improvement and construction projects, the District has a mandatory goal of 50% participation by emerging business enterprises, or EBEs. That goal includes 5% for disabled veteran business enterprises (DVBEs).

For the District’s recent $38 million project that modernized its Innovations Academy, a K-8 charter school with nearly 400 students, Balfour Beatty delivered more than 62,000 sf of educational space within a tight five-month schedule. The contractor awarded $5 million in contracts, nearly 13%, to local DVBE firms, a portion that more than doubled the District’s participation goal for DVBEs. “That was outstanding,” says Tim Berry, senior vice president and one of Balfour Beatty’s K-12 market leads in California, whom BD+C interviewed earlier this week.

In total, Balfour Beatty has awarded contracts to five San Diego-area DVBE firms—Audio Associates of San Diego, IO Environmental & Infrastructure, Penn Air Control, PN Supply, and Veterans Engineering Services—that have worked on 22 projects for the District.


At a time when the construction industry has struggled with shortages of skilled labor, tapping the veterans’ community for workers can fill gaps for firms like Balfour Beatty. These partnerships, the firm has stated, “bring a pool of talent that is rich in leadership and complex problem-solving skillsets.”

Berry notes that over the past two decades Balfour Beatty has done a lot of work for the federal government and the military. On such projects, the vast majority of the construction is typically performed by small-business enterprises. Over this period, Balfour Beatty itself has also hired lots of vets, and continues to have a proactive outreach and networking program, particularly in southern California where there’s a large military population.

Programs that encourage, or even mandate, the hiring of veteran-owned businesses “open the door for us,” says Mike Bilodeau, CEO of IO Environmental & Infrastructure, which he started in 2007. With four offices and 50 employees, the company has grown to where it is performing jobs nationally (it currently has projects underway in North Carolina, Utah, and at Fort Dix in New Jersey.)

The San Diego Unified School District is one of IO’s long-standing clients. Ever since the District moved its properties into lease-leaseback agreements, many of its building upgrades have been whole-school remodels. “It’s almost like a design-build situation,” says Bilodeau, who served in the Coast Guard, and was also an environmental specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


Gym in the Innovations Academy

The modernization of the Innovations Academy included 27 classrooms, the gym, exterior play area and parking facilities, according to ABBA Project Management.


For the Innovations Academy project, the scope of IO’s work consisted of landscaping, irrigation, and decomposed granite resurfacing. Dan Parker, IO’s operations manager (and a U.S. Air Force vet), lauds John Atherton, MEng, CCM, DBIA, LEED AP, Balfour Beatty’s project executive, for keeping the Innovations Academy job moving forward smoothly. (Berry notes that this project required modifying the existing building’s structural component with 30- to 50-ft-deep shoring.)

To achieve dynamic DVBE participation on a hard-bid project like this one, Balfour Beatty develops targeted bid packages during preconstruction. Oftentimes, DVBEs come in as second-tier trade partners, so it’s important for the contractor to establish clear participation goals for the entire supply chain.

As consistent cashflow is of critical importance to small businesses, Balfour Beatty makes a point of paying the DVBEs it hires on time and in full. It also works with these subs to expedite the hiring process. “It’s essential that the paperwork be filled out properly, especially when financing is an issue,” explains Berry.

Balfour Beatty’s involvement with DVBEs may be about giving back to the community, and providing equal opportunities to all subcontractor companies. But the firm’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic: Berry says these partnerships help the firm grow. And the presence of vets on the jobsite can lift up the entire team. “There’s no entitlement mentality with vets, no ‘I can’t.’ ”

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