From Weitz Thought Leaders: Building Safety Into Government Construction


Greg Sikora, The Weitz Company

Greg Sikora,                         The Weitz Company

Safety has changed the way many government buildings are designed and constructed. With concerns about intruders as well as natural disasters, there are many precautions that must be taken to ensure the safety of the building, and those inside of it. From the building structure, to interior systems, to exterior displays, safety and security are a huge part of government buildings.

The Weitz Company has provided construction services on more than 700 federal projects that have required advanced security features. Based on our extensive experience, here are several examples of how to enhance the security of government buildings.


Parking lots and parking garages can be vulnerable places susceptible to violence. Controlling access to these areas can help with these safety issues. Some ways to protect these areas are to make parking garages only accessible to those with a badge, limit visitor parking, and restrict large vehicles to controlled areas. Another threat posed by vehicles, is that of a car bomb. Weitz often creates barricades to prevent vehicle access from being too close to a building.

Access control

Controlling access to a building is a huge security issue in building design. There must be steps taken to control both interior and exterior elements. Interior controls include limiting the amount of entrances to a building, having locked doors that you must have permission to enter, and expanding the size of the lobby to accommodate advanced security features. Weitz includes controlled entry points in their federal projects that limit how far a person can enter into a building before they are stopped by security. When thinking about exterior access controls, the size of the building, amount of pedestrian traffic near the building, and perimeter security elements, such as fencing or gates, are taken into consideration.

Blast standards

A big concern with government buildings is the threat of a potential bombing. A way to protect the buildings is to design them to be able to handle the possibility of an attack. “The structural and exterior skin have upgrades to enhance the resistance to blast and penetrations,” explained Greg Sikora, vice president, The Weitz Company. Weitz uses more steel, masonry, and blast resistant glass, among other materials to achieve this and protect the building.

Space planning and adjacencies

The location of different elements inside a building has an impact on the level of security protection it receives. When building a new structure, it needs to be determined what is of highest importance to the building. These crucial features should be placed in the most highly protected spaces. For example, creating one area that houses all the critical functions of the buildings is more cost effective, allowing for better protection for all.

Landscape architecture

The environment surrounding a building can improve the security of the building. This can be achieved by creating natural barriers to the building, as well as creating a path that directs visitors to the correct entrances and simultaneously makes them visible to those inside the building. Weitz uses this strategy on their federal projects. “This is accomplished by use of bollards, landscape features, creative ways to move the access to the most secure point of entry,” said Sikora.

Planning for natural disaster

Another safety precaution that needs to be taken is protection against natural disasters including fire, tornados, and earthquakes. There are structural and non-structural strategies used to help reduce the damage of natural disasters. Structural approaches include strengthening the weight-bearing components of the buildings, such as columns, beams, and foundations. Non-structural approaches improve the non-weight-bearing parts of the building, such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and utility systems, to prevent harmful damage.


The Weitz Company Welcomes Tom Doyen, Senior Business Development Manager

Tom Doyen Photo

The Weitz Company announces the addition of Tom Doyen as Senior Business Development Manager for the company’s Senior Living segment.

Doyen brings significant business development experience to his role, specifically within the Senior Living industry. He is a sought after presenter at conferences across the United States, with involvement in various trade groups that include the Georgia Institute of Aging, LeadingAge and ASHA.

Doyen supports The Weitz Company Senior Living leadership team with a focus on further developing the company’s relationships and seeking new business opportunities throughout the country.

Doyen graduated from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science in Economics.


News Article: The problem with parking

Michael Hass, LEED AP and director of Senior Living at The Weitz Company, shares his thoughts on a winning strategy a common problem amongst all real estate: parking. Namely, how much to provide and where to put it.

This article originally appeared in the June 5, 2015 issue of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News & Assisted Living.

It is becoming more widely known (but perhaps not widely enough) that building senior care is more about operations than it is about real estate. Certainly those involved understand that the best building and site in the world can’t overcome lousy care and operations in the seniors’ environment. But this does not mean that senior care is immune from the realities of real estate development.

One common problem amongst all real estate is parking: Namely, how much to provide and where to put it.

The challenge of the parking problem begins with zoning requirements written during the explosion in automobile ownership and the trend toward suburban growth. Fifty years ago cities worked hard to ensure there was enough parking after generations of urban, neighborhood-centric development focused on other issues. In other words, the mayor of Anytown only got a call when a patron couldn’t find a parking spot so zoning requirements were written to make sure there was always plenty – usually between the public street and the building where everyone could see it. We are in the midst of a new way of thinking.

The current trend in zoning requirements (at least in some jurisdictions) is to think about parking as a stormwater problem (impervious pavement that keeps rain from reaching the soil and underground aquifers) and an architectural problem (the more parking between the street and the building, the less enhancements a nice building provides to its streetscape). In our senior living practice (and most other building types for that matter) we find our clients getting trapped between the two perspectives: Local authorities want sufficient parking for the building’s use but they also want a prettier city and to protect the environment. Today’s mayor of Anytown is trapped between 1955 and 2025 and, as a result, our clients have a very hard time proposing site plans that will get approved.

But there is one strategy that we’ve found to be highly effective. It’s one that can adapt to any municipality regardless of where they are in the spectrum between the two extremes. We have found that if a reviewing body is at all desirous to have the project then the most beneficial approach is to support your plan with data. Have lots of data. The relative scarcity of skilled nursing and assisted living buildings, at least compared to single-family homes or office buildings, means that most governing bodies don’t have a prParking Illustrationeconceived notion of how much parking one of our communities will need. If we can present an attractive site plan and support the parking count with real experience, we end up helping our projects move through the zoning process much faster. Sometimes the data just gives the public servant cover and sometimes we really enlighten them with an educational perspective that many projects can’t or won’t provide.

Parking, of course, comes in three “flavors for our projects: Residents, staff and visitors. It is true that the higher the acuity, the lower the resident parking need. Staff parking is easily derived during development because the operator will have a operating pro forma that provides FTEs (remember shift change!) for any given period. Our research into visitor parking was perhaps the most interesting. No particular level of acuity (including independent living) saw any significant per-unit difference in visitor parking demand. Anecdotally, it seemed to be that the larger the city, the more visitors, but even that was not perfectly consistent.

Design professionals with familiarity of the project location are critical to getting this right and, for operating communities, you know your residents and staff best. But here are some key metrics we use after surveying a portfolio of completed projects with a mix of acuities and sizes if you have nothing on which to base a case. We surveyed the designed/provided spaces per unit and then the actual demand for parking once the community opened.

Interestingly we found that teams pretty consistently over-design for parking. Perhaps this is those legacy zoning restrictions putting upward pressure on design. Perhaps parking is cheap and being under-supplied is painful. Or perhaps, like with structural systems, no one ever got fired for providing too much capacity. But as competition for land increases, affordable care becomes a higher priority and construction costs continue to climb we will begin to investigate all the places we can look to move from the comfortable and familiar to the innovative and challenging. At least you can go to your next public hearing with some data in favor of smaller parking, more greenspace and a prettier enhancement.


Construction starts at Girl Scouts’ Leadership Center

The Weitz Company announces the start of construction on the Girl Scouts’ Leadership Center for Girls and Women in South Mountain, Ariz. This project will transform the current 14.5 acre Camp Sombrero into a Leadership Center with large and small meeting spaces, classrooms for STEM and other programs and trainings, cabins for overnight stays and sports facilities, including an archery range, pool and sports field.

“Weitz is thrilled to have been selected as the construction partner for Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council,” said Mike Bontrager, executive vice president, The Weitz Company. “Our crew is excited to have started construction on a camp that provides the Girl Scouts with opportunities to try new things, improve skills, overcome fears and help other girls. We are looking forward to the unique opportunity to engage the Girl Scouts in various construction activities during the transformation of their camp.”

“We’re excited to have construction begin. This new Leadership Center will allow us to serve more girls and train more adult volunteers,” said Tamara Woodbury, CEO of Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council. “We believe the leadership created in this space will, in turn, transform Arizona.”

Marlene Imirzian & Associates is the project architect.

The Weitz Company Builds Commercial Construction Presence in Minnesota

Trillium Woods

The Trillium Woods project in Plymouth, Minn.

The Weitz Company, a national full-service commercial and industrial construction firm, announces the formal expansion of its commercial construction business in Minnesota. Personnel dedicated to commercial projects will locate with the staff of Weitz Professional Services, the company’s in-house industrial design-build operations, located in Plymouth, Minn. The Weitz Company is in the top 25 of general contractors by annual dollar volume in Minnesota.

The Weitz Company is currently building the Trillium Woods project in Plymouth, Minn.,  an $85 million Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). The project is comprised of a 50,000 square foot commons building, 44 bed skilled nursing and memory care facility, and 198 customized independent living apartments with underground parking.

“The Weitz Company has had the opportunity to work on numerous projects in the Minnesota market over the years,” said Mike Tousley, executive vice president, The Weitz Company. “By leveraging our local and national relationships and expertise, our Minnesota team will be focused on providing best in class service to our clients.”

The Weitz Company’s commercial office team will be led by Dave Rahe and Mike Zitelman.

About Dave Rahe

Dave Rahe has a decade of experience in the construction industry, providing project management leadership for projects totaling more than $270 million, including LEED Platinum and Gold projects. Rahe is a core group member of the LEAN Construction Institute – Upper Midwest Chapter and has a Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering from Iowa State University.

About Mike Zitelman

Mike Zitelman has more than thirteen years of experience in the construction industry, serving as the project manager for over 50 projects totaling more than $150 million.  Zitelman’s primary focus has been serving national accounts with several Fortune 100 clients. Zitelman has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Iowa State University.