The Holy Grail of Construction
Grail Construction, LLC seeks out challenging projects
Whether restoring an historic building from the Old West or constructing a waterslide park, Grail Construction, LLC thrives on intricate, challenging and unique projects. “We take on the difficult jobs others can’t or won’t do,” says Donna Smith, Vice President.
Headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, Grail Construction manages residential and commercial projects, tenant improvements and educational and government work for clients throughout Arizona. “We consider ourselves the ‘Holy Grail’ of construction companies,” says President Tim Smith, an admitted fan of the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” an iconic 1975 British comedy. “We hold ourselves to the highest standards in construction.”
The veteran-owned company takes on difficult work in remote locations. “We go where we’re needed—whether that’s hundreds of miles north of Tucson or a hard-to-reach, rural site on an Indian reservation,” Tim says. “We provide a wide array of large and small services throughout the state—from building new schools to building wheelchair-accessible ramps.”
When a project necessitates the use of subcontractors, Grail Construction is not only on-site, but its team of seasoned construction management professionals keep a close eye on all aspects of a project. “There are some general contractors out there who essentially manage the project on paper with very little representation on-site,” Tim adds. “That’s not how we function. We not only work with an experienced and reliable team of subcontractors, but we are present during all aspects of the construction process to ensure the client receives the best possible results.”
Although Grail Construction works with a network of subcontractors, the company doesn’t shy away from taking on projects in-house. “We have 10 employees, and each one has different specialties and talents they bring to the job. One superintendent is certified in welding, while another is great with site work. One of our employees is trained as both a carpenter and an equipment operator. Our team is diverse and multitalented,” Tim says.
He adds that the company is licensed to do plumbing work and is in the process of procuring an HVAC/mechanical license. “We are capable of doing structural welding, framing, drywall, painting and even concrete,” he says.
Jumping in with Both Feet
Tim got his start in the construction industry after retiring from the U.S. Army. “I was stationed in Maryland when I made the decision to leave the military after more than a decade of service. Donna and I had no jobs and no place to live. We came to Arizona on a wing and a prayer,” Tim says.
While in the Army, Tim served as a Project Manager. He carried that experience to his first job in light manufacturing, where he managed project work. “I jumped in with both feet,” he relates. Tim soon transitioned into construction, rising in the ranks from a Project Superintendent to a Project Manager.
Though trained as a legal assistant, Donna got her feet wet working for a structural engineer while living in Alaska. “I thought the construction industry was a lot of fun,” she says. When the couple moved to Tucson, Donna deepened her understanding of design while working for an architecture firm. “I learned a great deal about building design. The experience inspired me to obtain a degree in interior design,” she says.
The couple eventually merged talents working for a local construction company, where Tim served as a Project Manager and Office Manager, while Donna served as a Project Administrator. Each played a critical role in successfully navigating the firm through the Great Recession. “After the recession, the company’s owners decided to call it quits,” recalls Donna. “They told us to take what they had and run with it. That’s how Grail Construction got its start in 2013.”
The couple’s 23-year-old daughter Tylinn has grown up around the business and can be found in the office and even sometimes in the field. “Tylinn plans to study to become a surgery technician, but for now, she helps me with contracts, timesheets and other paperwork. She also does spot checks in the field to ensure all team members are using the proper safety equipment,” Donna says.
Bringing Designs into Focus
Just three years after opening its doors, Grail Construction was named a runner-up for the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Ethics, which recognizes companies possessing an outstanding level of ethics and integrity. “To receive that recognition just a few years after starting the business meant a great deal,” Donna says.
Grail Construction is particularly adept at what Tim calls “fuzzy construction.” “An owner might have a general idea sketched out on a napkin. We’re great at bringing these conceptual ideas to life,” he says.
That means anticipating issues that could affect the schedule and budget. “Owners are often unaware of the cost associated with making an entrance or bathroom ADA-compliant or the time needed to procure a particular permit. We catch these issues upfront so the client has a very realistic budget and schedule,” Donna says.
Tim notes that Donna’s design expertise and experience in the architectural world bring a unique perspective to their projects. “While I’m focused on the timber and the construction side of things, Donna has her eye on the project design. Does it make sense to have the rooms arranged in a particular way or is there a more logical design configuration? She looks closely at these types of things,” he says.
To give clients a clear understanding of the project plan, Grail Construction utilizes software like AutoCAD with 3D rendering, allowing clients to virtually walk through the designed space. Additionally, online project management tools offer a collaborative solution during the construction process. “If the homeowners are out of state, they can log online to check the schedule, see daily progress and review drawings,” Tim says.
From Bees to Waterslides
In just six years of business, the company has taken on some exciting projects, including the renovation of the Tombstone City Hall in Arizona, a registered National Historic Landmark. The company was tasked with repairing and restoring the front facade of the Old West-era building, which was constructed in 1882, as well as renovating the 3,200-square-foot interior. “As part of the project, we had to manufacture and install new finials and repair the window openings, allowing for new energy-efficient windows,” Tim relates. “The facade involved intricate woodworking. It was like putting together a million little jigsaw pieces. We did this entire project in-house. It was gratifying work.”
Making sure the detailed renovations appeared historically correct wasn’t the biggest challenge of the project, however. “The toughest part was removing the bees, which had taken up residence in the upper portion of the building. We worked with a local beekeeper, but it took several weeks to finally move them out,” Tim says.
Another project gave the company the opportunity to get its feet wet in the amusement park industry. Grail Construction managed the preconstruction work for a water park at Funtasticks Family Fun Park in Tucson. “We removed batting cages to create a new park with a massive water structure that spanned a half acre. The project involved installing holding tanks, artificial turf, cabanas and a pump house. It was a challenging project, but we like the stuff that’s hard,” Tim says.
A project for the U.S. Air Force had Grail Construction installing blast walls in munitions test areas. “We worked around a lot of sensitive areas. The project details were very precise to ensure our safety,” he adds.
Safety is ingrained in everything done at Grail Construction, according to Tim. “We do site assessments each and every morning to identify risks and we have weekly on-site safety meetings. We’re not fighting a war—nothing we do is worth someone getting hurt or killed. We take the time to do things right and to do them safely,” he says.
As a military veteran, Tim is committed to helping other veterans, even if it means not making a profit on a job. “We do a lot of work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, installing ADA pathways and remodeling bathrooms to accommodate disabled veterans,” he says.
Other community projects include the installation of two modular buildings and an office renovation at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. “Coordinating the logistics and permitting on that project made my brain muscles hurt,” Tim jokes. “It was incredibly rewarding, though, to know that what we did allowed the food bank to expand its services to the community.”
At its heart, Grail Construction is a family-oriented company with a passion for community, according to Donna. “We have many of the same advantages of a large company, but operate like a smaller company. We offer one-on-one time, listening to our clients, and we take the time to put them at ease,” she says.
And there’s nothing like standing at a client’s side during the big reveal. “To see their excitement when they see the finished product for the first time feels really good,” Tim adds.