By Cheyenne Mathews
Vast knowledge of costs, Alaska’s regionsearns estimator repeat construction clients
Sitting in his Anchorage office, Jay Lavoie pores over three computer screens as he builds cost-estimate spreadsheets. Each screen holds information about a different aspect of construction that later goes into a project’s final cost estimate.
“Three screens seem like a lot. Two is kind of necessary. Three is a luxury,” Lavoie said.
As the president of Estimations Inc., Lavoie figures the costs associated with specific construction projects for architects who’ve contracted that work with his company. Lavoie started working at what is now called Estimations 25 years ago when it was still owned by Clark Graves, and he bought the business in the 1990s.
“That’s all I knew how to do,” Lavoie said. “At that point, I had been doing this for 15 years. I knew how to run the business, and it seemed like a thriving business to take forward and it seemed like a good opportunity.”
Several years after Lavoie bought the business, his wife landed a job out of state with the Boys and Girls Club and the two left Alaska.
“She does good in her career — good for humanity,” Lavoie said. “I’ve tried to be supportive in that role, and my business can be run remotely. It’s a little bit of a risk. When we started in ’99 we were still using modems, but it all worked out. People stuck with us.”
One of those people is John Weir, a principal architect at McCool Carlson Green Architects.
“They are really an outstanding estimating firm,” Weir said. “Jay Lavoie is the owner there; he and I have worked together for a long time and have grown into a real trusted relationship related to how costs get related to buildings. He just does a really superior job understanding where the costs are in terms of estimating and providing good insight into the estimating and construction process.”
Several of the architects who contract Estimations’ services have used the company almost exclusively for the past 20 years. Daniel Seiser, partner at BDS Architects, said Estimations has been a useful partner because its relationships with vendors and contractors help them stay up to date with cost projections.
“Architects tend to be optimists and say, ‘Oh it’s really not going to cost that much to do this,’ and we obviously try to get our clients the best things. … But we’re not always good at understanding what all of the parts to that will ultimately cost or the time it will take,” Seiser said.
Jay Lavoie, owner of Estimations Inc., works on a project from his Anchorage office.
Photo by Cheyenne Mathews
Since Lavoie has spent the tenure of his career doing cost estimating for Alaska projects, Seiser said he has a good grasp on the logistics for remote and urban projects.
While Lavoie conducts a lot of his work remotely from his home in New Hampshire, he is always thinking about Alaska.
“My brain lives here,” Lavoie said. “It doesn’t matter where I am. I think this: My newspaper is the Anchorage Daily News. I have tried to make it as transparent as possible that my phone rings and this is forwarded 90 percent of the time to wherever I am.”
Maureen Benner has worked at Estimations for over 20 years as a senior office administrator and project coordinator. She said Estimations has worked on a diverse array of projects — including police stations, schools, all sizes of health care facilities and even the Alaska SeaLife Center — and that variety in experience helps Lavoie and three other estimators stay on top of cost estimates for a variety of regions in the state.
Lavoie graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with
an engineering degree in the 1980s and has worked in the
construction industry in some capacity ever since.
Photo courtesy Jay Lavoie
“We are fortunate to be able to have projects all over the state, everything from housing in Skagway or an office building in Juneau all the way out to things in Chefornak,” Benner said.
The team at Estimations works on 100 to 150 projects a year, which means they are doing about six estimates a week. For each project the team works on, there are normally three or four stopping points in the design process where Estimations will come in and calculate the cost of the project at that stage.
Scott Veerman, principal architect at NorthForm Architecture, has worked with Estimations at two other firms over the past 20 years.
“The costs here are so high, and they’re just so tuned into that,” Veerman said. “They stay on top of the industry in a way that is very difficult for us to do. Really, our focus is design and they keep tabs on construction, and I think what allows them to do that is just the breadth of work they do.”
Estimations has been a member of AGC for almost 20 years.
Cheyenne Mathews is a freelance writer living in Anchorage.