Ark renovation project wins award from Washtenaw Contractors Association

A remodeling project at the Ark in Ann Arbor has won one of the Washtenaw Contractors Association's (WCA) six annual awards for excellence in commercial construction projects.

The Ark project was awarded "Best Project Team" for projects under $3 million during the March 10 ceremony for the WCA's PYRAMID Awards. The awards honor local contractors, architects, and owners for projects that show high levels of teamwork, service, and innovation. Judges picked the Ark project in part because it required a tight timeline and a high level of coordination between all parties.

The architect for the project was Mitchell and Mouat Architects of Ann Arbor, and the contractor was Phoenix Contractors of Ypsilanti.

Laborers from 15 different trades worked in a 1,200-square-foot space to give the legendary folk music venue a new concession and bar area, updated lighting, new food and beverage service areas, and upgraded finishes throughout the space in just four weeks over the winter holidays.

In order to ensure an impartial vote, the competition was judged by a panel of architects, owners, and contractors from outside Michigan. Graham Davidson, a partner with Hartman-Cox Architects in Washington, D.C., served on the panel and says the timeline and coordination of the project really stood out.

"What really cinched it was the incredibly tight timeframe, and yet there was the need to keep the venue operational for at least part of that time," Davidson says.

Davidson says that, ideally, all projects should be well-organized but that pre-planning doesn't always happen. The only way to make the four-week project work and keep the Ark operational for two of those weeks was for the contractor to be smart about organizing the contracting team, Davidson says.

"It was obvious there was intensive involvement with the owner and architect ahead of time, and the goals were well understood," Davidson says. "The pre-planning for this clearly took an enormous effort."

In addition to the Ark project, the "Best Subcontractor" award for contracts over $500,000 went to John E. Green Co. of Highland Park for a chiller replacement and chilled water interconnect for the University of Michigan's Medical Science Research Building II. The project involved replacing three absorption chillers and pumps with new centrifugal units and pumps and replacing four cooling towers.

Davidson says the panel was impressed with the level of planning and the extraordinary circumstances the subcontractors had to work under, which included making sure critical medical research wasn't damaged due to temperature or environmental fluctuations during the work.

"The facility not only had to be kept operational for research, but conditions had to be maintained pretty strictly. That, to us, made it much more difficult and more impressive than it at first seemed to be," Davidson says.

A full list of winners is available at the WCA webpage, including several located outside Washtenaw County. WCA executive director Gretchen Walters says the reason many of the winning projects weren't located in Washtenaw County is that members of the association must merely do work in Washtenaw County and need not be headquartered in the county. Members could submit projects located anywhere in their service area.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at

Photos courtesy of Washtenaw Contractors Association.
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