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November 19, 2007

Letters to the Editor: Contractors respond to lawyer's criticisms

While there are kernels of truth in Barry LePatner's claims (“Lawyer says construction industry is broken,” DJC Nov. 8) and we at GLY Construction cannot speak for the quality of contractors nationwide, the majority of commercial construction companies in the Puget Sound are capable and efficient, with experience-based systems for estimating, planning, scheduling and building complex projects with plenty of variables.

Read it here:
Lawyer says construction industry is broken

Contrary to his claims, the best contractors are technologically innovative, and seek partnership with owners, developers and designers to produce high-quality work, on time and on budget. They also strive to build good ongoing relationships based on value, performance and customer service. That's plenty of incentive “to build good projects at fair prices” that LePatner says the industry lacks. And that's why, as in any industry, the good ones survive and the bad ones don't.

This story begs for perspective. Perhaps your reporter could do a little local investigating to test LePatner's thesis. While we agree with his call for technological innovation and good construction management programs, we suspect that some of his book needs as much updating as he claims the construction industry does.

Pamela Leptich

GLY Construction

How naive Barry LePatner is about the construction industry. He is correct that if owners would supply complete and accurate plans the cost of construction would go down. When subcontractors have to guess what is needed bid costs will always be high.

LePatner omits one of the biggest factors: getting paid in a timely manner by the owners or general contractors. I do structural steel and often we do not receive the final payment for our services for a year or more even if it is in the contract that we will be paid in a timely manner. We could sue but who wants to pay $50K to collect $100K so we just build into our cost of doing business the expense of loaning money to the owner or general contractor.

Government agencies are the worst, with overly complicated specifications and items that are not needed such as cleaning of steel in the shop for fireproofing in the field and holding the fabricator responsible for the cleanliness of the steel months later. We charge a lot extra for that when it is the fireproofing contractor's responsibility in the first place. I could go on and on about the waste that starts with the specifiers/engineers/architects that either do not know what they are doing or simply do not have the time to do their job correctly.

Jeff Hayes


While I agree with several of the major thoughts expressed in the article, I find many of LePatner's observations and conclusions to be self-serving for the legal profession, naive and/or arrogant and, therefore, inaccurate and misleading. I do, however, feel the need to read his book before commenting more accurately. Ironically, I choose not to spend one penny for what I assume to be trash. (I understand the risk, difficulty and danger in assumptions — and I still choose to save my pennies and take that risk).

If the sole purpose was to “create a national debate” let's have one without communication control by the legal profession and one that investigates brokenness in the construction industry and those professions that have contributed to the damage.

Don M. Drury

Drury Construction Co.

I just knew this article would set off a cascade of comments. After taking a few days to reflect and assemble my thoughts I have just a few short comments.

• This is an article clearly intended to promote book sales, so consider not only the source but also what was said and how it was couched as a promotion to sell the book. There has to be some type of drama/hype to promote sales of anything.

• The construction industry does have its problems, some of which are mentioned in LePatner's article, and I'll be quick to say a lot of those issues are self induced. That said, I don't believe it is more extreme than say the subprime mortgage business or the energy brokerage business that was in the news a few years back. These issues are systemic to a capitalist type of free market economy and can only be regulated so far without overstepping the free market philosophy. Through ethical management these problems can be eliminated.

• Our industry has come a “quantum” distance in the last several decades. For instance, construction management university programs were virtually nonexistent before the mid 60's. Now they can't produce enough graduates to meet demand. This fact alone almost single-handedly created a level of professionalism unseen before in the industry. Projects run much more efficiently from a cost, schedule and safety perspective.

I could go on, but everyone who reads this response knows what needs to be done. The important thing is that each of us step up and make our contribution however we can to improve our profession and thereby (what I believe the book's intent is) bring the industry to a higher level of efficiency.

Norman Schwarzkopf said there's plenty of action for those that want to step into the fray. I say let's do it!

Tom Cole


I just couldn't resist responding to the absurdity of the (LePatner) article. Apparently his world is a parallel universe. If he'd take the time to look in the mirror, he could clearly see the cause of the problems in the construction industry. I don't believe there is a more regulated industry in the U.S. We're asked to bid projects that are “partially” designed and hold our prices. Our hands are tied by specifications that are purposely vague and when we ask questions we're treated like first graders. Legitimate change-order requests are “under review” sometimes for a year or more before they're addressed with the hopes that the contractor will “settle” for less. The only thing more outrageous than (LePatner's) claims is his hypocrisy. It's no wonder we don't have any meaningful relations with the owners when self-agrandizing fools like LePatner are allowed to consult with otherwise good intentioned owners.

Wally Clayton


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