From zoos to Google, Edge Concrete Construction LLC exhibits thematic craftsmanship
Whether installing complicated concrete work for the Google campus in Kirkland, Washington, or creating state-of-the-art animal habitats for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, Edge Concrete Construction LLC’s expertise grows with each new project. Edge Concrete Construction (Edge) is both a commercial concrete flatwork site work contractor in Washington state, as well as a thematic builder of zoo and aquarium habitats all over the country, says firm Managing Member Kevin Morrison.
“The Google Phase 2 project and the sea lion exhibit in Omaha are two of the projects I’m most proud of,” Kevin says. “The Owen Sea Lion Shores project encompasses more than an acre and will provide the sea lions with a new state-of-the-art habitat featuring a 275,000-gallon pool, 40-foot-long underwater viewing window, natural boundaries, heated rocks, an underwater kelp forest and sandy beach areas. This was a $4 million project for us.”
Making Magic from Scratch
The sea lion exhibit is one of five projects (and the most recent as it opens in fall 2020) that Edge has done for the zoo in Omaha. “We have a fantastic relationship with the Henry Doorly Zoo and have been their themed contractor for the last seven years,” Kevin says. “Those are the kinds of relationships we really seek out. There is a trust level we’ve developed, and we’ve become part of their design team rather than a sub working for a general contractor.”
Edge specializes in natural looking concrete re-creations of rockwork, mudbank and eroded earth formations. Kevin says their team artfully re-creates trees, vines and bamboo as well as a multitude of other props to offer clients a complete theming package.
“We use many construction means and methods and work with numerous materials including steel, wood, FRP (fiber reinforced plastic), foam and epoxy in addition to concrete,” Kevin explains. “For projects like zoos we usually work from conceptual plans and photo references provided by the designer.”
Kevin says their team builds a scale model of each project and the architects come to Edge’s shop as they are building the models to approve concepts or ask for changes. “The model often becomes our blueprint and serves as our guide and reference,” he adds.
These projects tend to be challenging as Edge works through ideas and “what ifs” with its engineering partner to ensure the process, from conception to the finished product, is top quality, he says.
For the second phase of the Google campus construction, which was completed in 2015, Edge constructed multiple elements that took the company out of its comfort zone, Kevin explains.
“We took on several types of concrete work that we wouldn’t normally have done for other projects, but it was good for our people building it, as well as for management and ownership. In flatwork, we don’t usually build radius and form liner walls or water features. We have a great relationship with the general contractor who wanted us to do it all. There were a lot of difficult radius walls, fireplace, as well as glow-in-the dark aggregate finishes,” he says.
For the last several years, Edge has performed the flatwork site concrete on many multifamily projects in downtown Seattle, Bellevue and other cities throughout Western Washington. Most of these projects have retail on the ground floor and five stories or more above.
Quality: The Wise Choice
“Our company motto is ‘Quality is never an accident. It represents the wise choice from many alternatives.’ We approach each project with the goal of delivering a quality product of which we can be proud. We like to build long-term relationships and consider ourselves partners in each project we do. The best way to build repeat business and develop those relationships is to produce quality work,” he emphasizes.
Additionally, as a value-add, Kevin says Edge develops a lot of early budgeting and design ideas for its customers and general contractors. “This is an important step in the design process for any project. We may go through four or five rounds of early cost budgeting on a project before it ever comes out to bid. It is time consuming, but it is those extra things that our repeat customers can count on us to provide,” he says.
Diversifying for the Future
The Edge team is working to diversify their services further by introducing more naturalistic elements into typical commercial flatwork projects. The company’s workload is currently fairly evenly balanced between themed work and commercial site concrete work. “We do amazingly detailed artificial logs, trees, rockwork and other elements that could be incorporated into your typical retail shopping center, medical complex or office building plaza,” he says. “We can do artistic sculptures, either fabricated or built on-site, and artificial land formations that can create environments you could not otherwise do. We use concrete, sculpting epoxies, fiberglass and other materials that can be used for heavy or lightweight requirements,” he says.
The biggest obstacle that Kevin sees is educating potential clients on the possibilities. For instance, on a retaining wall that is going to be a flat one-dimensional structure, it could be crafted to look like natural rock, which their team creates in shotcrete that has been handcarved.
Kicking Down Doors
Another challenge is when the company is bidding a project, its creative ideas can’t necessarily be interjected into the bid. He’s hoping to educate and inspire his repeat customers and general contractors, so they can consider more artistic creativity in their projects. “It really is an educational door we need to kick down,” he quips.
One last issue is finding the right people. The construction industry is facing a shortage of workers overall. Kevin says Edge prefers to hire people and train them in-house. Their team of about 50 employees includes 40 field workers.
“When I interview potential employees, I always probe into what they’ve done in the past, because it is really important. We have one field superintendent who applied as a basic laborer. When we questioned him about his hobbies, we learned that he builds guitars, so we felt he had some artistic flair. We showed him our fabrication shop, which piqued his interest. In a short time, he moved up to lead artist, then superintendent and now he’s running $5 million projects,” Kevin says. “We have struck gold more than once like this.”
Edge artisans, thankfully, are willing to travel to some of these projects that might take a few years to complete, Kevin says. “We are old school and do projects the old-fashioned way building all major components from ground up on-site, as opposed to pre-fabricating off-site. We feel like the owners get a better product that way, and it allows architects to tweak a project as they see it going up.”
Kevin and his business partner, Tawn Endres, are both very hands-on and travel to the Edge projects nationwide. Kevin and Tawn launched Edge in 2006 with another partner, Craig Morrison (Kevin’s brother). In 2017, Kevin and Tawn became the majority owners in the firm.
The duo believes community involvement is an important way to connect with the communities they serve. Among their efforts is donating work in-kind for exhibits at children’s museums as well other in-kind work and donations for ball fields and parks. Edge also donated decorative concrete and a water feature for an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project in Kirkland in 2007.
“Kids are so important and we like to create things to engage and enlighten children. Because so much of our work is focused on zoos and animals, we just feel like we’re in tune with that,” Kevin says.
Edge has received many accolades for its thematic work. Most recently, USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards selected the Asian Highlands project at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium as the best zoo exhibit in North America for 2020.
“It was a $5 million project for us and quite possibly some of the best work we’ve ever done. Completed in 2019, this wonderful exhibit was incredibly designed and showcases the best craftsmanship with a great level of detail. It features Himalayan temples throughout, and people can’t believe it’s not stacked stone, but hand-carved concrete,” Kevin says.
“The awards are certainly feathers in our caps, and they certainly demonstrate to the architects within the industry the value of our work,” Kevin adds. “Quality is what we really strive for. Just like our company motto that quality is never an accident; it is the wise choice of many alternatives. At the end of the day, it is important to us to be proud of what we’ve built.
“We strive for perfection,” he continues. “If you do a great job and produce a great product and you’re professional, then you’re going to get asked to do another project for that same owner. We’re all about repeat business. We find that repeat customers are the best customers you can have. It’s all about building relationships.”