Block 9

“Why are there no skyscrapers in Fargo?”

If you were expecting a punchline to that question, sorry to disappoint you. What sounds like a setup to a joke, isn’t. Not even close. But it does have a fascinating answer… later.

The current construction buzz in downtown Fargo is Block 9, and MEI is the electrical contractor for the core and shell electrical work. Here’s the topline info for those of you in a hurry:

  • Project name: Block 9
  • Project location: In the heart of downtown Fargo, ND
  • Project type: Mixed use mid-rise tower,
  • Project physical size: 290,000 sf + 149,000 sf parking ramp, 234 feet tall
  • Project cost: $117 Million
  • Parsons involvement: MEI is installing electric and prepping the core and shell for tenant fit-out. Parsons Technical Services is providing testing services.
  • Parsons budget: $2.9 Million
  • RFP type: Bid Spec
  • General Contractor: McGough Construction
  • Project owner: Block 9 Partners, LLC

Block 9 History

The 200 block of the east side of Broadway was once home to a brick structure called the Keeney Block. Built in 1882 at a cost of $80,000, it was named after Fargo’s first postmaster, Gordon J. Keeney. The Keeney Block housed numerous small businesses, including a law firm, a dentist, a Turkish bath, the Western Union telegraph office and a music school. Then, on June 7, 1893, disaster struck Fargo. In a matter of hours, the worst fire in the history of Fargo incinerated over 160 acres of North Dakota living rooms and livelihoods. Wooden boardwalks became boulevards of flame. Much of downtown’s stick frame construction was reduced to ash. More than 31 blocks of businesses and residences were destroyed, including the homes of most of Fargo’s 6,000 citizens. Despite its brick construction, Keeney Block burned, as did all of its neighbors. By November of that year, Fargo rebuilt, this time with strict fire codes and stone sidewalks. By 1910 the Keeney Block was replaced with another multi-story building called the Continental Block. It, too, burned when, in 1976, an arsonist lit up the building. The damaged structure was demolished in 1983 and has been a parking lot ever since.

The Project

Block 9 broke ground on September 12, 2018. The project is an 18-story mid-rise, mixed-use tower that will top out at 234 feet; when completed in 2020, it will be the tallest building in Fargo (and only 9 feet shorter than the state capitol in Bismarck, the tallest building in ND.) Prior to breaking ground, the location was home to a 48,000 square foot surface-level parking lot. The project includes headquarters for hundreds of team members of R.D. Offutt Company, ground floor retail, a boutique hotel, restaurant, and residential condominiums.block 9 aerial

Located in the downtown core at the busy intersection of Broadway and 2nd Avenue, Block 9 shares 2nd Avenue with many of the important civic buildings in the city: the Fargo Civic Center, the downtown Fargo library, the downtown Fargo campus of North Dakota State University, and Fargo City Hall. The city and project ownership hope that Block 9 will be the jumpstart to a renewed and renovated 2nd Avenue promenade. The street would feature abundant green spaces and a pedestrian/bike corridor running from NDSU’s downtown campus, connecting all the way to Viking Ship Park in downtown Moorhead.

The Owners

The owners are Block 9 Partners, LLC, a partnership of Kilbourne Group and the R.D. Offutt Company. Kilbourne Group describes themselves on their website as “redevelopers, realtors, designers and investors passionate about and dedicated to a community that thrives in the Great Plains. But more so, we are citizens of Fargo, working to make our home one of the world’s most vibrant communities.” The Kilbourne Group was founded in 2006 by current North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

R.D. Offutt Company, a family owned and operated potato farm operation headquartered in Fargo, is the largest potato grower in the United States. Think McDonalds and French fries. The company operates farms in seven states, and harvests 50,000 acres of potatoes every year. R.D. Offutt Company also owns RDO Equipment, a large agriculture and construction equipment dealer with 78 stores across 10 states, as well as partnerships worldwide. R.D. Offutt Company has annual revenues of $2.6 billion, and employs more than 4,400 people. A Block 9 headquarters gives the company the opportunity to bring together hundreds of employees scattered over multiple satellite offices.

The Architect

In 2015, Kilbourne Group engaged Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), to design Block 9. SOM is one of the world’s largest and most influential architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms. Their work includes 7 World Trade Center in New York City, Al Hamra Tower in Kuwait, the new NATO Headquarters in Brussels, the John Hancock Center and Sears Tower in Chicago, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is currently the world’s tallest building at 2,722 feet.

The Challenges

While nowhere near the height of the Burj Khalifa, erecting a tall building in Fargo has its own complexities. The city sits on waterlogged clay, once the bottom of a lake that formed at the end of the last ice age. Under a tall building, that clay can compress significantly and lead to destructive settling. Beneath the lake bottom is a mix of clay and gravel brought by glaciers during past ice ages and compacted by them, with the deepest layers being the most dense. The construction solution, then, is a foundation that reaches down to the dense layer. For Block 9, that foundation consists of 367 concrete piers, 110 feet deep. 19 tons of rebar and more than 300 truckloads of concrete create the stability needed for an 18-story building in downtown Fargo. That’s why most Fargo buildings are only four or five stories; that’s the limit for a building without piers. The piling requirement carries such an expense that it’s played a major role in shaping Fargo’s skyline.

Another constraint when building in the heart of downtown is the need to minimize disruption to traffic and commerce. Kilbourne Group has made this a core commitment of the Block 9 project. McGough is delivering on this imperative by spreading the Block 9 construction site across the city and region. Many concrete components will be pre-cast and steel components pre-assembled, then trucked in only when workers are ready to install them. There are no on-site storage or lay-down areas, so everything is scheduled for just-in-time delivery. Schedules are designed to prevent lines of waiting trucks that would further disrupt traffic flow. To further maintain that flow, there is no on-street parking for any crew. All parking happens at a leased lot blocks away from Block 9.

For MEI, communication with other trades has been imperative and constant because of an aggressive timeline and tight spaces between floors. BIM has played a critical role in collision avoidance and efficiently planning-out the above-ceiling space. In addition to collaborating via shared virtual model, the electrical, mechanical and sprinkler fitting teams have a biweekly one-hour meeting to coordinate tasks and eliminate collisions.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP is known for its precision design and engineering. For Block 9, the rigorous testing protocol outlined by SOM provided a great opportunity for MEI to bring aboard Parsons Technical Services. As a third-party testing agency, Technical Services ensures that MEI delivers on the complicated testing specifications set forth by a world-class firm like SOM.

A unique electrical load metering system was designed specifically for Block 9 and is being integrated into the building management system. Power usage will be monitored per system, not just structure zones. Electrical loads for exterior lighting, interior lighting, receptacles, HVAC and more will be measured separately to deliver the big picture about energy usage. Branch circuit wiring will pass through a current metering transformer as it leaves each panel. With each floor more likely than not to have multiple panels, and each panel feeding multiple branch circuits, the complexity builds quickly. But Block 9 managers will have a granular view of where their power is flowing.

MEI Division Manager Mike Rasmussen shared his thoughts on the build. “I think Block 9 is key to a re-energized downtown. Being part of the team, for MEI, and for me personally, it’s Fargo pride. When I was a kid, I came downtown to watch the Radisson Tower go up. Now here I am, on the team building the future of Fargo!”

Summary MEI Field Leadership Training

Several months ago, our field leadership team at the MEI Electric office in Fargo, North Dakota started developing a multi-phase Field Leadership Training that is now in the execution stages. The goal of different phases of training is to ensure that all of the Parsons Electric companies (including Parsons Technologies, MEI, ASI, ecs, and all other Parsons companies) receive the same training, and can leverage that experience in their respective markets.

The first phase of training for MEI Electric was run by Todd DeGraw, general superintendent for MEI Electric. Todd trained participants on the Parsons Electric standards of work, processes, and tools available in the field. Bill Olson, VP of Field Operations and Rob Gephart, Operations Manager, were also present and spoke about the changing markets and how teamwork is necessary to capitalize on these changes. The leadership team also took part in a hands-on training session with their iPads, run by Ryan Hildebrandt, Field Service Engineer. They learned about the electronic tools available, and how to competently utilize them. Proper implementation of these skills will allow for our jobs to run at peak efficiency, adding more value to our customers while also standardizing our work.

The second phase of training was held at Border States Electric in their Fargo, North Dakota branch office. During this session, Todd DeGraw trained on Mark Breslin’s 5 Minute Foremen book, where the field leaders learned about communication, the importance of mentorship, and other soft skills. The discussions were led by the team, allowing them to drive topics they wanted to learn more about. During this training, Chris Hoff, Account Manager at Border States Electric came in to speak about some of the new products they are offering, along with the services they provide to our field, that many leaders were unaware of. Chris Hoff’s presence along with the use of the 5 Minute Foremen book at this training proved very beneficial to our field leadership team, adding more tools to their soft skills toolbox and demonstrating the tactics necessary to be a successful leader and mentor for our current and upcoming projects.

“Communication, the human connection, is the key to personal and career success.” – Paul J. Meyer

This Thursday, the field leadership team will be receiving their first Lean construction training from Perry Thompson, Lean Executive Director. This training will go over the utilization of the Last Planner system, in a step toward our company’s goal of being “Lean Ready.”

In the next year, the field leadership team will be involved in other phases of training. We are striving for a world-class workforce in our industry. To do this, we are continually looking for new topics and ways to train that will improve our leadership companywide.

Planning is Lean

Parsons believes that the Last Planner System is effective because it drives connection between people planning in the office and people executing in the field. Pre-planning is the most important phase of any project and Lean planning boards offer a bird’s eye view of the next six weeks on your project.

Using the Last Planner System to plan our work has had an almost incalculable effect on our teams internally as well as on the project site. These visual planning boards allow our teams to get out of the assumption stage of planning and transition to a demonstrable and concrete plan that we can all collaborate on and reliably commit to.

Assumptions interfere with good planning. Assumptions are when we assume that we know what to do because we are the experts and have done this countless times before. In reality, the size and complexity of projects have increased throughout the years. The failures and pitfalls of project execution lie in the assumption that we are all on the same page, which is easier said than done. The Last Planner System creates visual planning boards that serve as an opportunity to illuminate all assumptions and turn them into agreements based upon the conversations held during the early planning phases. These visual boards allow us a comprehensive view of the project in six-week increments while thoughtfully managing the work we plan to accomplish, as well as eliminating the constraints that include unanswered RFI’s, design clarifications, or vendor equipment clarifications. The Last Planner keeps the team planning and eliminating constraints on a weekly basis.

Thank you for following our Lean Ready videos! Although this is the final week of our Lean Ready series, this is just the continuation of our Lean journey—and hopefully yours as well! Being Lean is a mindset involving continued dedication to reevaluating your work at all stages of execution and asking yourself a series of questions, including: “What can I do to improve this?”

If you would like to look back at the entire series, you can look at the Lean tag on our website or check out our Lean Ready album on Vimeo. As always, we welcome your engagement on our blog or on social media.

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Reliable Commitments are Lean

Reliable commitments require reliable planning. Parsons uses Lean planning boards which become a spatial tracking system for achieving project milestones and deadlines.

Without reliable commitments to our customers and trade partners, planning will fail. Lean Ready teams are prepared to deliver on their commitments to the rest of the team, striving to improve established commitments through Lean thinking. What does Lean thinking focus on? Eliminating waste to create reliable workflow throughout the project life cycle.

We have come to realize that waste is everywhere, because everything is a process, whether you’re making a cup of coffee or installing a light fixture. There will be less process waste if you come out of automation mode to watch and learn. During your observations, you will find waste and recognize ways to eliminate it. We are often in a rush or planning on the fly, so we do not have the necessary time to properly address real problems. These problems are frequently fixed with temporary solutions, but being Lean Ready has taught us to plan early enough so that we can keep an eye open for improvement on existing standards. As a result, efficiency improves in addition to reliably committing quality to our customers and trade partners.

Although we have one week left of our 7 Week Lean Ready series, Lean doesn’t stop here. We welcome your engagement on our blog or via social media. Let’s get Lean together!

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Team Integration is Lean

Lean Ready teams are integrated teams. These team members have thoroughly planned each phase of their work early on and are prepared to engage with the collective trade partners to determine the most efficient transition between trades. They have vetted through constraints and are better prepared to reliably commit to the rest of the team.

A Lean Ready team starts each project with the appropriate tools necessary to execute the project successfully. Imagine how much better your project could be with efficient planning, team cooperation, and effective communication. At Parsons, we believe that if our project team is skilled at team integration, our customer’s project benefits with better performance.

Project team integration is another way of saying project coordination between team members. When teams integrate correctly, the project benefits as a whole. Our Lean Ready teams have processes in place that help foster integration, which in turn prepares us to fully integrate with the project teams on site. These processes include but are not limited to, discussions around site material handling, punctual delivery schedules, all materials on wheels, tact, and flow, and the elimination of constraints and barriers make being Lean Ready an asset to our customers.

Have you worked on an integrated team? If so, what was the most important take away from that experience? As always, we welcome your engagement on our blog or via social media. Let’s get Lean together!

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We Deliver Flow

Being a Lean Ready team helps with project flow. As a whole, project flow refers to the manner in which work progresses through the project lifecycle system. “Good” flow describes a system where work moves through steadily and predictably, whereas “bad” flow describes a system where work stops and starts frequently. Reliable and predictable planning reduces starts and stops which improves project flow.

Our Lean Ready teams are mapping their processes for each phase of the project lifecycle to align their teams better and to look for any waste in their current processes. We prepare ourselves to assist in the trade partner project planning sessions by being fully aware of what we are capable of delivering and how soon we can deliver it. Accomplishing this involves eliminating waste in our own processes—including the early detection and removal of constraints that could impact our workflow. We are vetting our lead time constraints, design, materials, and the decisions needed before production starts.

Flexibility ensures that even when there is an obstacle at the job site, the project team is ready to make accommodations to finish on time or ahead of schedule, regardless of the circumstances. Parsons applies Lean Planning to create a flow-supportive project environment on each job site. What ways do you ensure flexibility on a job or at the office?

So far we’ve covered safety, scheduling, and flexibility in our Lean Ready series. We hope it’s inspired you to look at ways you can be Lean Ready in everything you do. We’ll leave week five’s topic a mystery, but for the time being, we welcome your engagement on our blog or via social media. Let’s get Lean together!

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Schedules are Lean

Our schedules are Lean! Shortened schedules are part of meeting the ongoing needs of our customers. One of our solutions to continually meet this need is to be Lean Ready when we begin to schedule. When we reduce the duration of different processes on site, the final cost (which includes time and materials) decreases for everyone. This leads to greater savings for our customers.

Being Lean Ready means we plan early to determine prefabrication opportunities. When we can build assemblies in our prefabrication shop we can reduce the amount of time we need on the project site to get our work installed. Using this approach, onsite slab and wall rough-in work is often cut in half, which allows for the project teams to move on to the next stage in construction.

Reducing material handling labor, eliminating defects, reducing waiting times, and focusing our talent on value added tasks creates a reduced schedule while increasing overall value for our customers—something that is beneficial to everyone involved on the project. How do you schedule? Do you use Lean to improve efficiency and reduce waste? Have you considered all of the areas that there might be waste? Are your schedules Lean?

This is the third video in our Lean Ready series. As always, we welcome your engagement on this blog or via social media. Let’s get Lean together!

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Safety is Lean

What motivates you to stay safe on the job site? Our safety program Journey to Zero and our Lean Ready practices improve job site safety because lean projects plan ahead for the right equipment needs. Not only that, Lean job sites are clean and organized with reduced material handling and less job site waste.

Part of safety is planning and that’s what lean is. If you have a good plan you’ll have tools there.
Our Lean Ready practices incorporate early planning to identify ways to reduce onsite material, waste handling, and onsite storage. We create detailed material handling plans to accommodate project flow through the work spaces throughout the life of the project. Just in time deliveries reduce storage clutter which helps keep the site clean. Materials on wheels improve the handling of materials that are on the site. A clean job site is a safer job site and ultimately means there are fewer things to move around, trip hazards, and opportunities for an individual to strain their muscles moving unnecessary material or using inappropriate tools and equipment.

This is the second video in our Lean Ready series. We welcome your engagement and sharing of this content. Let’s get Lean!

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We are Lean Ready


Construction Week 2017 may be over, but it never really stops for us. With an increasing number of projects emphasizing site safety, it’s important for us to continue to develop and invest our time in new ways that reinforce safe and efficient construction. This shift has led us to focus on Lean construction practices.

But what is Lean? Lean Construction (known as just Lean to us) allows us to better serve our customers by identifying value from the customers’ perspective and laying out the processes necessary to deliver that value. For each activity, the necessary labor, equipment, information, and materials are defined.

Practicing Lean improves safety on the job site, team integration, efficacy of scheduling, and flow of a project. However, the biggest reason Lean is an asset for us on a job is that it helps us stay accountable with our commitments and planning.

Over the next seven weeks, we’ll be releasing videos of interviews with our employees who are immersed in Lean culture. You’ll be able to hear firsthand why we believe in Lean and how it is improving construction outcomes for our customers. We welcome you to share these videos and engage with us on social media over the next seven weeks—what about Lean interests you?

Sanford Health’s “Cully’s Cabin” Completed

Cully’s Cabin, a 3,000 sq. ft. children’s area within Sanford Medical Center, opened on Monday, June 19th. 

It is the vision of Matt and Bridget Cullen. The couple founded the Cullen Children’s Foundation in 2003 and Cully’s Cabin is Cully's Cabin is part of the Cullen Children's Foundationpart of the foundation’s work to improve children’s quality of life and provide resources to organizations that support healthcare needs with an emphasis on cancer.

Within the space are arcade games, PlayStation 4, and comfy couches and chairs. Having space for the children to be children was important to the Cullens and their hope is that it will help the children enjoy time with their families while dealing with tough stuff.

MEI was part of the project team to deliver the Sanford Medical Center and was also involved in the Cully’s Cabin project. Our scope included power, data, audio/visual, and access control. We are proud to be a part of the project team to help deliver on the Cullen’s vision and dream to support children and teens as they work toward healing.

Moorhead Electric

Moorhead Electric