Working With Alward Construction? [PART 3 of 13]

A story of a Frank Lloyd Wright Residence in the 21st Century


Plans continued to be developed for the new house, but I was left out of the loop.  I suppose a settlement with the insurance company had been accepted, but I was not in the know one way or the other.  Many months after I was first introduced to the Buehlers, Walter called and wanted to know if I was willing to give a bid for the new plans he was finishing.  Work by the soils engineer, Joe Provinsano, the structural engineer, Jerold Turner, and the architect of record, William Simpson were now complete.  Van-Catlin Construction and Canyon Construction were giving bids.  They would be happy to have one from Alward Construction or if I wished to withdraw, there were plenty of other contractors willing to give bids. 

I wasn’t sure what part Walter had in the final plans.  The drawings were all in the style of Simpson’s office.  I could only imaging that as the project unfolded, there would be a stream of Walter’s drawings detailing all of the matters only hinted at in the bid set.  How could this be bid?  The real drawings for the project were yet to be produced.  I decided to stay the course and said that I would love to be the Buehler’s contractor but they would have to select me on something other than price.  I was not going to give a bid.  Looking back on this, I think my reluctance was largely a factor of inexperience with the business world, but at the time it seemed a matter of common sense.

However, I was not as sure as I might have seemed.  I talked with a number of people including Deva Rejan of Canyon Construction.  Even though he was giving a bid, he understood and supported my position.  Maybe he was hoping my position would eliminate me.  In any case, his assertions that I should really be the contractor because “I was probably the only one who could manage those old coots,” was reassuring.

The end of the bid period was fast approaching.  I got a phone call from Betty Olds saying that Maynard had a number of bids, including a third party, and was still awaiting one from me.  Cregg Sweeney, my employee, had been working on Walter and Betty’s house for a few years now and had virtually become Walter’s apprentice.  I asked Cregg to sit down with me and to see if we could generate a number.  We wanted to come up with something close to the $800K which we thought, for truly unsubstantiated reasons, was the likely settlement with the insurance company.  We produced a number broken into line items and said we were ready with a bid.  I turned it in but still insisted that this was a budget not a bid and that a bid did not make any sense and would not be good for either of us.

I got a call from Walter saying Maynard was about ready to make a decision but was not happy with my position.  He was willing to meet with me for the last time.  A date was set.  Just before the meeting, I talked with my friend, Gordon Bermak, a practicing psychoanalysis.  Gordon said that I had failed to convey to Maynard that he could trust me as his contractor.  There was no hocus-pocus, just the straight fact that I needed to let him know he could trust me.

Maynard and I met at the appointed time.  After some brief niceties, it was time to be serious.  We were out by the Koi pond.  Maynard asked how Time and Material contracting would work.  I said I would bill time on the job at our hourly rate and add 20% to my direct non-labor costs.  He wondered how long I thought the project would take.  I said, “about a year.”  “So you still won’t give me a price?”  he asked.  I replied that I had explained myself about as well as I could.  He said, “Well, I guess it gets down to trust and crazy as it seems, I’m trusting you to do the project.  I guess we should have some kind of agreement.”  I asked if he’d like a contract.  “Not a contract, I hate that word.  Just a letter of agreement.  And make it short.  I don’t trust a letter longer than a page.”  I asked when he wanted it.  “This afternoon would be fine.  And I’d like you to consider putting in the agreement that after a year, your markup will be 10%.”  We had an agreement.

Keith R. Alward
August, 2011