The new Kachemak Emergency Services Association Fire Station in Homer was a design-bid-build Axys project.
‘Some things seem simple at first but end up creating more havoc than you expected,’ reflected Grant Hendrickson, president of Axys LLC, formerly Wirtanen Commercial LLC. He was referring to their recent name change: In 2013, when Wirtanen Inc. split its commercial and residential divisions into two separate companies, the similarity of the company names “triggered some confusion” among suppliers and clients.
So in January 2016, the commercial company rebranded itself as Axys LLC. “We’re a year into the name change, and while the name is different, the project owners we continue to work with know we still bring the same experience, the same equipment and the same reputation,” Hendrickson said.
Axys’ seasoned crews specialize in turnkey project management; wood and steel framing; exterior finishes; concrete foundations, slabs and piers; structural steel erection; metal siding and roofing; and tenant improvements. With Hendrickson as the majority owner and his brother, Larry, and Steven Wirtanen as minority partners, Axys launched itself onto the scene in spring of 2010 with its first large commercial project — a Snow Removal Building (SREB) for the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities located in Fort Yukon.
Constructed under a subcontract to Cruz Construction Inc. as a part of an airport upgrade project, the Fort Yukon SREB cemented Axys as a company that performs beyond expectations when Hendrickson’s crew completed work nearly four weeks ahead of schedule.
“We were thoroughly impressed with their planning and execution,” said Jeff D. Miller, general manager at Cruz Construction. “Critical to all remote Alaskan work is a sound understanding of the phases and tasks at hand to complete a project. Wirtanen possesses all of these quintessential skills, and they top it all off with excellent owner and prime contractor relations.”
Because Axys self-performed most aspects of the project (while subcontracting the specialty trades), Hendrickson was able to handpick the team that worked on the SREB and was himself on site for the construction — details he believes contributed to the efficient completion of the project.
Hendrickson said some of the challenges he faced at the remote location included “procuring the materials and making sure they were ready for loading onto the barge by the right date, otherwise they’re not getting to Fort Yukon or you’re making other arrangements that come with a significant cost impact.
“This was the first time I experienced the added logistics created by the project location, thus requiring procuring and storing building materials four to six months prior to the actual construction phase,” he said.
All that planning allowed Hendrickson to visualize the project multiple times.
“Double- and triple-checking from the very first step to the last, before I ever got to the site, allowed me to spend very little time wondering what was the next step when we were actually out there working. That was a big part of why we were able to perform so efficiently.”
Success with remote projects such as the Fort Yukon SREB have led to other significant projects, most recently, Axys’ largest project to date: a $4.1 mil-lion renovation and addition to the Girdwood Fire Department Station 41, due for completion in May. Complicating the project was the fire station’s need to remain operational while work was being done.
“That’s been the biggest challenge,” Will Day, Girdwood fire chief, said, “but Axys has been nothing short of spectacular helping us with that.”
The addition of more office space; a dedicated classroom; a larger, updated kitchen; an exercise area; and more bunk rooms will provide much-needed living and learning spaces for the firefighters while increased storage space will allow staff to keep equipment indoors, Day said.
“Unlike in Anchorage, where they can keep the boats at one station, one truck here and one truck there, in Girdwood, we have to keep everything in one spot, and it’s a lot of equipment to store,” Day explained. “Before, we couldn’t keep all our trucks inside; we had to park them outside, exposed to the weather.”
Keeping firetrucks outdoors isn’t a problem during the summer, when Axys was performing work on the station’s existing garages, but as winter approached, Day explained, “We told them, ‘Look, we have to get these trucks inside so their pumps don’t freeze.’ And they were on top of it. They did all the work they needed to do so we could get our trucks back inside by mid-September. They adjusted their schedule to accommodate us, and it’s been just great working with them.”
Axys quickly built a solid reputation with its turnkey project management style, working with clients such as the state of Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Mat-Su Borough, for which Axys is currently upgrading eight elementary schools.
“We’re strong in project management; we’re strong in design-build,” Hendrickson said. “We’re able to have a lot of input with our design team because they’re in-house, and our expertise in project management means there are very few bumps in the project schedule, the budget and the owner’s happiness with the project.”
An AGC member since 2014, Axys relies upon the AGC seal of approval when selecting subs. “It’s recognition of a level of professionalism that we can trust,” Hendrickson explained. “The ability to reach out through that network is a definite benefit worth the cost of being a member.”
Axys is making a name for itself in that network. The young company — the majority of its employees are 31 or younger — already boasts the experience you’d expect from a much older crew. “We feel like we’re just getting started,” Hendrickson shared. “We have a solid resume, and we intend to be around, building in Alaska, for many years.”
Jamey Bradbury is a freelance writer who lives in Anchorage. Her first novel is forthcoming from William Morrow in early 2018.