Three million dollars, 546 steel pilings and 150 truckloads of concrete later, there is little to see on the Scheels site at Shiloh Crossing. Much of the construction has been underground.
But that’s changing.
On Monday, ironworkers started climbing beams, bolting and welding their way along the first of 4,500 pieces of steel that will form the metal ribs of what will be the largest single retail store in Billings.
“We’ve been out there for four months and there’s not much to look at from the road. They’ll really start to see it come together when the steel is in the air,” said Tobin “Toby” Basta, the senior project manager for Q&D Construction, the general contractor from Utah.
Basta is in charge of the business side of the two-year construction project, keeping the work on schedule and on budget, and keeping the clients happy back in Fargo, N.D.
Superintendent David Kerfeld handles the field construction, including up to 300 workers at the peak of construction beginning this summer.
The store covering an area the equivalent of 1 1/3 football fields is the third big-league construction project in Billings in recent years.
The $80 million downtown federal courthouse opened last fall. The $30 million Department of Interior office on Fourth Avenue North will open later this spring. And the $40 million Scheels store, with a bowling alley, wildlife mountain, saltwater aquarium and an indoor Ferris wheel, will open Sept. 6, 2014.
Apex Steel, based in Redmond, Wash., with an office in Billings, assembled steel at the courthouse and the Interior building and now is erecting steel for Scheels.
“This compares to the federal courthouse in size, as far as contractual value to Apex,” said Montana manager Brian McLean.
The ironworker, who looks like former pro-wrestler/Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, said the Scheels bid price will remain secret, but it’s a big project for Apex.
For the next four months, up to 20 Montana ironworkers will labor for 10 hours a day under winter skies and then a baking summer sun to frame the store.
Q&D will hire 30 to 35 subcontractors, most of them local companies, Basta said.
One of the largest bids to fabricate 1,500 tons of steel that Apex is erecting went to TrueNorth Steel of Billings, formerly Roscoe Steel.
Workers have been welding plates and caps onto steel beams since August. TrueNorth also is providing 18,000 bolts to join the 4,500 pieces of steel.
“They have steel coming in from all over the world,” Basta said, to build an 85-foot tall, two-story structure with mezzanines for storage.
TrueNorth area manager Tom Prill said Q&D managers have been great to work with, unlike some out-of-state contractors.
“(Q&D) go out of their way to make sure they are getting to work with locals,” he said. “I estimate about 90 percent of our part of the Scheels building will be done by Billings businesses.”
Each bolt and every weld will be inspected by Scott Kutt, a welder with three decades experience. Scheels hired Kutt, who owns K4 Inspections in Huntley, as an independent inspector to help ensure the steel goes up according to plan and that building specifications are followed.
“Every place an ironworker goes, I go,” he said. “It’s a bolt here, a bolt there, a loose bolt or a weld that got missed.”
About 5 percent of the work on an average project gets rejected and has to be redone, Kutt said, but he expects lower do-over rates with the Apex crew.
“They’re very good at what they do,” he said.
CMG Construction of Billings excavated the 15-acre construction site. Knife River and Gary Weber Construction installed sewer, storm and water utilities. Martel Construction of Bozeman poured concrete foundations and built concrete caps on the steel pilings, a contract that topped $1 million.
Some of the other locals involved include Custom Concrete, Empire Lath & Plaster, and ThyssenKrupp Elevator, which is providing some elevators and an escalator.
WMK Steel Fabrication is making the stairs and railings.
Private sector projects have been scarce through the recession, Basta said.
“We’re just happy to have a big project to go to,” he said. “Scheels is a really good, successful company to work for.”
Tri-Jack Design Products of Billings won the Scheels bid to provide a dozen sun tunnels and two access hatches for the roof.
Major construction work during the past few years occurred primarily on government projects, where paperwork can be a barrier for smaller companies. Project manager Reece Masters said Tri-Jack had to pass on the federal courthouse.
“They threw us a couple of crumbs, but it would have taken 50 pages of paperwork, so that wasn’t worth the effort to bid,” he said.
When Scheels starts bidding the interior work this spring, Masters said Tri-Jack may bid on providing half a dozen other specialty products, including movable interior walls and glass-and-stainless-steel handrails.
As the Billings store slowly takes shape, Scheels vice president of store development Jason Loney is working on other projects, including opening a store next month in Cedar Falls, Iowa, remodeling a Grand Forks, N.D., store and starting another in Overland, Kan., that will be a twin to the one in Billings.