Creating Remarkable Spaces
North Point Builders of Maryland, LLC focuses on clients to deliver exceptional projects
When you visit the website of North Point Builders of Maryland, LLC (North Point), the first thing you see is the company’s mission statement: “Creating remarkable spaces where life happens.”
A conversation with the company’s President, Kenneth (Ken) Wingate, and Project Executive, Cherelle Reno, also steers you in that direction. “We strive to learn and understand the culture of our clients and end-users, and then we involve them in the process until their project is completed,” says Cherelle, who is a LEED accredited professional and holds an AGC Certificate of Management-Building Information Modeling (CM-BIM).
“We build a lot of community facilities, a lot of people- based projects,” Ken adds. “We try and make them happy, then we help them with the transition of having a new facility, and we get to see those smiling faces when they come into their building for the first time.”
North Point is driven by delivering exceptional projects to its community, and its niche isn’t so much a particular type of project but servicing the Baltimore area. “We’re not the contractor who goes to Virginia or Washington, D.C. We’re here to service our community. We are passionate about our work and giving back locally is part of our culture,” Cherelle says. North Point’s work covers a wide range of projects, including health care, research and lab, offices, public safety, parks and recreation, historical and elementary, secondary and college campuses.
A prime example of North Point’s community-driven philosophy is its largest project to date, Dundalk Elementary in Dundalk, Maryland. The $35 million project was completed last year and has become a favorite among the company’s staff. “The school is in our neighborhood, so there was a desire to do this project because of that and we got lucky—we were a low bidder,” Ken says.
The project was a collaborative effort between North Point, Grimm and Parker Architecture, Inc. and Baltimore County Public Schools, and was challenging on numerous levels. To begin with, elements of the school’s previous, 100-year-old building had to be incorporated into the new structure. This included the restoration of the stone entry facade, auditorium proscenium and brick chimney. The 100,000-square-foot, two-story building was also constructed using a phased approach on an occupied site. The project team was able to substantially shorten the work time by constructing the new building on the athletics fields and letting students remain in the existing building during construction. The old building was demolished when school let out for summer break.
This well-planned approach resulted in the project completing eight months ahead of schedule during the wettest year ever recorded in Maryland. “We were driven to get it open on time, and we really put a lot of effort into that,” Ken says, adding that they worked a lot of nights and weekends to make it happen. “Our theme was ‘The kids are coming!’ ” The construction project received an Award of Merit in 2019 from Associated Builders and Contractors Greater Baltimore.
The project extended beyond construction. North Point staff discovered that 70% of Dundalk students qualify for free or reduced lunch, based on family income. The company decided that it wanted to give students the resources needed to begin the school year successfully. “Some of the folks within our company got together with the principal, and he told them that they needed supplies,” Ken says. North Point staff members began a grassroots effort to gather supplies for the school’s 700+ students.
“We reached out to subcontractors, architects, engineers—we had people we never worked with contributing,” Cherelle says, adding that a strong presence on social media helped to rally the troops.
“The comments on our Facebook page from the neighborhood would make you cry,” Ken says. Giving back to Dundalk was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the school and North Point, and they continue to check in to see where they can help.
Going the Extra Mile
This kind of effort is not unusual for North Point. Staff members believe that volunteering is also part of how life happens. “The passion for what we do isn’t necessarily just building buildings,” Cherelle says. “It’s giving back to the community that uses these buildings. That’s where we get our satisfaction after all those hard days where it’s pouring rain, or the roof is leaking, or whatever issues come up during a project.”
Going the extra mile on North Point projects is one of the things Ken and Cherelle appreciate most about the staff. That’s exemplified in North Point’s Elkridge Fire Station project for the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department in Elkridge, Maryland. The new 35,000-square-foot LEED Silver facility was completed in 2017 by a longtime North Point employee, Greg Lee, who passed away shortly after. Lee was the superintendent on the job and, although he was diagnosed with cancer, wanted to see the project through to completion. “He was a fantastic employee, and seeing him there at the opening of this high-profile project and the support he got from the team was such a testament to our culture,” Cherelle says.
Ken believes that the company’s culture fosters excellent connections that result in a large number of repeat clients. “It’s important to us that we work with our clients again. Not only is it good business, it’s just how we relate to people. We want to have a relationship with them,” Ken says.
Thirty Years of Progress
Ken started North Point in 1988 with a friend from high school, Pat Benhoff, who was also in the construction industry. When Pat first approached Ken, it was with the intention of starting a pre-engineered metal building company. “He asked me if I would run the business for him and his father, and I told him I’d be interested in starting a general contracting company. He agreed,” Ken says.
At the time, Ken had been working at Calvert General Contractors for 13 years and was the Vice President of the company. “We started with half of a conference room, sharing a phone and I think we each put up $500—it was very humble beginnings,” he says. After the successful completion of its first few jobs, North Point began to grow.
Within two years, Ken made an agreement to buy his partners out. The company has grown steadily over the last 30 years with a few peaks and valleys. “But over the past five years, we’ve had incredible growth—not just in revenue, but with people,” Ken says.
Cherelle joined North Point in 2016 after working in field operations for 18 years with several large national general contractors, including, Hensel Phelps and Clark Construction Group LLC. Her previously held jobs required extensive travel, and she wanted something better suited for her family. As Project Executive for North Point, her responsibilities are leading project teams through developing proposals, awarding contracts, driving project schedules, resolving issues, managing project finances and turning over successful projects to satisfied clients.
She is part of the company’s four-member executive team that also includes Ken, Vice President James Nicosia and Chief Financial Officer Mike Murphy. This group works together to develop the company’s strategic plan, set company goals and develop processes. “As part of my work history with national contractors, I’ve brought a lot of knowledge and processes that helps us manage larger projects with more people,” Cherelle says.
Design-Build and PreConstruction
North Point’s services include construction management, pre- engineered buildings, general contracting, assisting clients with green building design and, most notably, preconstruction and design-build. Ken and Cherelle believe that the concept behind design-build—in which the designer and contractor work together so that the owner manages one contract with a single point of responsibility—fits the company’s culture. “Once we know as a builder what’s driving the boat, we can service a heck of a lot better because the clients are more open with us about what they’re trying to do, and we can use our experience to advise them,” Ken says. By assuming responsibility for a project’s entire design, cost, schedule and quality, project teams are motivated to get it right the first time.
Three of North Point’s design-build projects have received 2019 ABC Greater Baltimore Excellence in Construction awards: University of Maryland, Baltimore County Design and Construction Offices, a LEED Silver project that also received a U.S. Green Building Council Maryland Leadership Award for Green Schools-Higher Education; Maryland Therapeutic Riding, an indoor and outdoor riding area that serves children and adults with disabilities through equestrian therapy; and Patriot Plaza, a redesign of the courtyard between the new and historical courthouses highlighting original memorials honoring the fallen police officers and firefighters of Baltimore County. “Due to the project’s sensitive nature, we worked hand in hand with Baltimore County and the fire and police chiefs to ensure that the design of the renovated plaza maintained the original vision for these memorials,” Cherelle says.
North Point focuses on preconstruction because it allows for early collaboration with clients and stakeholders, creating a smoother process throughout the life of a project. “It gives us the opportunity to have a greater impact on a project when we’re involved in preconstruction because we can work with the owner and design team during the early stages,” Cherelle says. “We can figure out what’s driving the project—is it money or schedule or design?”
The North Point team is currently trying to determine what the company’s future looks like, both during and after COVID-19. “It’s changing the way we live right now and so what we’re working on is how we fit into this new piece of the puzzle,” Ken says. “Even physically running projects is more challenging now.”
Still, the company’s 45 employees are finding ways to maintain connections with one another. Project Manager Dave Spivey, for example, sends cheerful all-staff emails every morning, with an inspirational quote and construction- related comics to keep a positive spirit.
“We choose people to work for us who fit into this kind of culture. It’s not just about skills and experience,” Ken says. “In business you have to win occasionally, but playing the game and how you do it culturally within the company is, frankly, the most important piece of the puzzle. That’s ultimately what produces the positive client relationships we have.”