Paul J. Banks
‘Complicated projects’

What do CMGi Field, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the MIT Stata Center have in common? All three would likely be found at the top of any list of the region’s most ambitious recent construction projects, and they all bear the stamp of Vanderweil Engineers.

Vanderweil takes pride in its niche market: taking on some of the most involved projects in the country.

“We’re usually sought after for complex jobs. Vanderweil has made a niche in doing the most complicated projects,” Paul J. Banks, chief executive officer of Vanderweil Engineers, said in a recent interview at the company’s Boston office.

In its 52-year history, Vanderweil’s various accomplishments include providing the design for the country’s first fully automated post office in 1965; designing the first atrium project in Boston at Copley Place in 1981; and designing Boston’s World Trade Center East, a 17-story office building adjacent to the World Trade Center and Seaport Hotel, completed in 2000.

The company has also worked on diverse high-profile projects involving Sprint’s corporate headquarters, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the New England Aquarium’s IMAX theater, the Wang Center for the Performing Arts and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vanderweil prides itself on innovation, and its most recent local projects are no exception. Take CMGi Field, for example. The $325 million stadium for the New England Patriots football and Revolution soccer teams threatened to overload the already strained water supply of the host town of Foxboro; the 68,000-seat facility requires more than 600,000 gallons of water and wastewater treatment per event.

So Vanderweil took what it calls a collaborative design approach. Using sustainable design methods, Vanderweil designed a water treatment plant to be built at the same time as the stadium, the first time this has been done at an NFL stadium, according to the company, saving millions of gallons of water annually.

“This is where our engineering innovation paid off,” said Banks. The 1.7 million-square-foot open-air facility features more than 390,000 square feet of indoor luxury clubs and suites, locker and training facilities, food and concession facilities, maintenance and support spaces, a team store and ticket pavilion and 100,000 square feet of executive office space.

“We’re always trying to find ways to help the architect’s and the owner’s project be successful,” Banks said. “We’re always trying to use engineering design to allow the architect to be creative.”

Applying New Rules

Vanderweil has made a commitment to so-called “green” – sustainable and environmentally friendly – designing and building methods, including power and utility engineering. Banks described this commitment as a “differentiator” for Vanderweil among other engineering firms, though he predicts a growing environmental focus in the industry in the future.

The company has more than 23 staff professionals with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation, which the company asserts is more than any other engineering firm in the industry. In fact, the Massachusetts Institute of Technoloy’s Stata Center in Cambridge, the Convention Center in South Boston and CMGi Field all boast green components.

An energy-efficient design utilizing thermal storage, solar energy and photovoltaics won Vanderweil the contract to work on the $500 million Boston Convention and Exhibition Center project. The 1.7-million-square foot facility will have 600,000 square feet of contiguous convention/exhibition space on one level, as well as a 50,000 square foot ballroom/banquet room, 165,000 square feet of meeting room space and parking for 2,000 cars. The facility is currently under construction.

And the $185 million MIT Stata Center, also set to be complete next year, features displacement ventilation (supplying conditioned air in a raised floor) and an efficient building envelope to help attain a LEED certification.

The 430,000-square-foot facility will house MIT’s Computing Information and Intelligence Sciences programs. As such, Vanderweil incorporated accessible and flexible data infrastructure to support current and emerging technologies, such as wireless communication hubs. And because of the dense electrical structure involved and the varying shapes and sizes of the buildings of the complex, the unique underfloor air system can be manipulated to create different patterns of airflow as necessary, Banks explained. The system allows a more flexible and comfortable office environment, better indoor air quality, personal control of temperature and air flow by the occupant and energy savings.

The project is also distinguished by its use of a relatively new browser-based software interface for the architects, Vanderweil, the owners and other consultants to collaborate in one place.

According to Banks, technology such as this seems to be driving changes and competition in the engineering industry.

“With new technology, you have to apply new rules,” Banks said. “Everything seems to need to happen faster and faster. We need to use our technology resources to keep up with that.”

With that goal in mind, in the late 1990s the firm reorganized itself into market sectors, with core expertise being formed in “Centers of Excellence” in the academic, science and technology, healthcare, commercial, utilities, hospitality and entertainment, government and athletics markets. The centers, led by the firm’s most experienced project managers and engineers, are dedicated to understanding the language and specific needs of the particular market sectors.

“These experts document their expertise, and spread that intellectual capital throughout the company, where it applies to a particular project,” Banks said, describing a “cross-learning” process that constantly takes place within the company.

Banks, who has been chief executive officer of Vanderweil Engineers and Vanderweil’s On-Site Facility Services for the past 18 months, is the first CEO in the company’s history and the first non-Vanderweil family member to lead the firm.

A Brighton native, Banks has been with the firm for 14 years, having worked his way up as a registered professional engineer to be chosen to lead the company as CEO through a long-term (five- to 10-year) buyout process, selling the company to key contributors within the firm. Equity in the company has been transferred to 14 shareholders so far.

The company was founded by Rai Vanderweil in 1950 in a small office on Boston’s Newbury Street, offering heating, plumbing and electrical design for schools, hospitals, churches and residential projects. Now it has swelled to include a suite of Vanderweil companies: Vanderweil Facility Advisors, On-Site Facility Services, Vanderweil Engineers and Vanderweil P&IDC. Vanderweil boasts more than 400 employees in three main locations: Boston, Princeton, N.J., and Alexandria, Va., with Banks predicting the firm will expand to another three or four locations in the future. From 1995 on, the company’s revenue has grown steadily from about $22 million to $72 million last year.

The company’s mission is “to become the most valued and sought-after engineering firm in the nation because of our ability to improve the future of our clients and employees.” Here Banks points out that repeat clients make up about 90 percent of the company’s client base.

“We really want to be the firm where either the architect or the owner says, ‘That’s who we want to work with,'” said Banks. “I think we make a lot of things happen for people. Our work allows people to have better lives.”

Hub Engineers Relish Role in Complex Niche

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min