Will Kansas builders get lab work?

Updated: 2013-04-17T04:08:01Z


The Kansas City Star

Kansas officials got some welcome news from Washington last week when President Barack Obama included $714 million in his recommended budget for the planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan.

But as opposed to two other massive federal facilities built in the Kansas City area the past few years, the 574,000-square-foot laboratory project doesn’t guarantee how much of the construction work will be going to regional workers and contractors.

The state already has authorized more than $100 million in bonds and donated land to help attract the estimated $1.14 billion lab next to Kansas State University, but it has no say in how it will be built and by whom. That’s up to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

That agency has hired a joint venture between M.A. Mortenson Construction of Minneapolis, the firm that built the Sprint Center, and McCarthy Building Cos. of St. Louis. The entity, called McCarthy Mortenson JV, recently got the nod for the first actual project at the site, an $80 million utility plant that will serve the planned laboratory.

Under the terms of the agreement with the feds, McCarthy Mortenson JV also is in line to build the actual laboratory itself should funding ultimately be approved by Congress.

“The contract awarded to McCarthy/Mortenson includes phased options to award future construction tasks to the firm for the duration of the National Bio and Agro-Defense development process,” according to an announcement from Homeland Security.

So Kansas taxpayers have a lot of skin in this project, but the state is on the sidelines when it comes to how much of that construction money will benefit the state economy. And the state may be asked for a lot more. Sen. Pat Roberts told The Associated Press that Kansas ultimately may have to contribute 20 percent of the cost.

On the other hand, when he was Missouri’s senior senator, Kit Bond helped put together deals for the Kansas City area that made sure most of the federal development and construction money went to local pockets.

The $370 million for the 1.1 million-square-foot Internal Revenue Service processing center that opened on West Pershing Road in 2006 went to Kansas City-based DST Realty and J.E. Dunn Construction Co.

The massive new National Nuclear Security Administration complex in south Kansas City, where Honeywell will build parts for nuclear weapons, was developed by Centerpoint Properties of Chicago and Zimmer Co. of Kansas City, and the $443 million in construction also was handled by J.E. Dunn.

Dirk Schafer, executive vice president at J.E. Dunn, said his firm understood that McCarthy Mortenson JV had specialized skills required specifically for the planned bio-defense laboratory itself, but there is a lot of construction work surrounding that particular aspect of the project.

“We were interested in pursuing the job,” he said.

“The specific part of the job with credentials we don’t have deals with the lab, but they’ll still need construction work, masonry work and other work. There are plenty of Missouri and Kansas contractors who can do the work.”

Attempts to reach Homeland Security, Mortenson and McCarthy for comment on what their plans are for hiring local construction companies and workers were unsuccessful.

Don Greenwell, president of the Builders’ Association in Kansas City, says although Mortenson and McCarthy are national players, for practical purposes alone, much of the subcontracting work and jobs will land in the region.

“We remain very positive and hopeful the majority of the plant will be awarded locally,” he said.

Ron Trewyn, vice president of research at Kansas State and a key player in attracting the laboratory project, said the initial round of contracts for the utility plant appeared to have a regional flavor, with subcontractors as far away as Kansas City and Oklahoma showing interest.

“It’s logical to have the subs be local firms to keep people around,” he said. “McCarthy Mortenson wouldn’t bus them from too far I’d think.”

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to Follow him at

Deal Saver Subscribe today!


The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Kansas City Star uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here