1450 N. Jim Wright Freeway
White Settlement, Texas
1370 Pullman Dr.
El Paso, Texas
Builder Richard Thompson and architect Steve Buford mapped out their first project – a small office building in Arlington – 40 years ago, starting things with a handshake while drawing up plans on a kitchen table.
“I think they might have made about $40,000 on that deal, but it was a start,” says current BTC President Sammy Martin.
Flash forward four decades later and that tiny two-man company, recently rebranded as BTC – it previously was Buford-Thompson Construction – is no longer small at all.
The company has built thousands of commercial and government buildings, some with price tags exceeding $100 million. Its offices are in White Settlement – with 50 employees there – and a second newer facility in El Paso, where there are about 30 employees.
BTC now averages about $200 million in construction projects annually.
Indeed, it’s one of the largest construction companies in the Southwest within a particular niche: School buildings and related public education structures ranging from football stadiums to agricultural barns.
Thompson bought out Buford almost 30 years ago, and has since retired, selling the majority interest to Martin – himself a 27-year veteran of the company and the chief architect of a strategy that now focuses entirely on school projects.
Martin, 67, started out as a construction project supervisor with the company, bringing to that job some prior experience in school construction. Over time as he became the clear heir apparent to the company and moved up in management, he also developed a two-point strategy that continues to pay dividends:
• Focus entirely on school projects.
• Look outward from the Metroplex to all of Texas, but with particular focus on West Texas and the Panhandle.
“As of today, we’ve worked with more than 80 Texas school districts, some big and some small,” Martin said.
Major additions to Martin High in Arlington, along with projects in Aledo, Keller and Azle, among others. El Paso, Abilene and San Angelo districts have also been regular clients.
“For one thing, we’re good at it, the best I think,” Martin said. “For another thing, it’s really an industry that doesn’t fluctuate. Texas is growing and people are always willing to invest in their kids.”
And, Martin jokes, there’s another good reason: “With school districts, you always get paid.”
For a company with BTC’s expertise, there another advantage, Martin says. Business can be plotted years ahead into the future.
“At any given time, we’ll be working on projects being planned three or four years out while also working on maybe 15 or 16 current projects,” he said. “For instance, we just wrapped up Eastwood High School near El Paso ($83 million) and another school project at Socorro ($152 million).”
Depending on size, school construction projects can take from 12 to 30 months, Martin said, a process that involves extensive collaboration with both the school district and the project’s architectural designer.
Why so much emphasis on West Texas?
“I had what some said was a scattered-brained idea,” Martin said. “It was that many places in West Texas were growing and would need big schools. It turned out I was right.”
Both the West Texas idea and the opening of the El Paso office 600 miles distant have paid big dividends, though the distance also created a logistics issue. It is difficult, for instance, to be in Texarkana to discuss a project in the morning, followed that day by discussions in San Angelo, followed by yet another appointment in Abilene or El Paso.
“You can’t drive it, and when we tried commercial flights, that didn’t work either,” Martin said.
The answer came in the form of a company Phenom private jet.
“Travel time was eating us up,” Martin said. “Texas is vast. So, six years ago we went with the jet, and now it’s an essential part of our business strategy.”
As to the craft of building schools, some factors have remained consistent, some not.
“Construction is construction, but there’s much more emphasis now on energy efficiency and ease of repair,” Martin said. “Schools are also being built with a design to provide more security, and with the capacity to constantly add new technology.”
Too, Martin said, many school districts now make it standard practice to build schools that are themselves designed to easily accommodate future add-ons.
“For instance, at Northwest High School, we’re adding a three-story addition, but the original building was designed and built to accommodate that growth with minimum disruption,” Martin said.
Though he’s 67, Martin has no retirement plans.
“I plan to be part of this for a long time,” he said.
O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.