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Big company, small town: JE Dunn plants roots in Dickinson despite industry norm

Members of St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center, Align Healthcare and JE Dunn break ground at the site of the new hospital. Submitted photo1 / 3
JE Dunn constructed the Dickinson Public Safety Cemter, which houses the headquarters of the police and fire departments. Submitted photo2 / 3
JE Dunn employees Brian Stark, Marc Mellmer, Erin Stark, Tracy Lecoe, Melissa Gjermundson and Ryan Anderson at the Berg Elementary open house. Submitted photo 3 / 3

JE Dunn, the construction manager at risk for the Dickinson High School project, is the 11th largest building contractor in the country and has had an office in Dickinson for four years.

Marc Mellmer, vice president of JE Dunn and native of Dickinson, said it is unusual for a construction company of their size to have a permanent office in a city of Dickinson's size.

"Our competitors will typically fly in and do a project when it's to the tune of 50 to 100 million dollars, and then they leave," he said. "The fact that we're here doing $3 million jobs, $6 million jobs, $100 million jobs, $50 million jobs, it's just a very odd thing. It's not the norm."

Mellmer said of the top 20 general contractors in the country, JE Dunn is the only one with offices in Dickinson and Williston. Two anchor projects — CHI St. Alexius buildings in Williston and Dickinson — led to the establishment of the offices in those cities.

"When we built a project of that magnitude in that community, we knew we were going to have to service that building in that area ... and we couldn't walk away from our client after it was complete. ... We didn't want to be like everyone else and build a building and leave town," he said.

Mellmer said their location works to the advantage of their clients.

"The fact that our projects are within a five mile radius of this office allows us to service those buildings with any sort of warranty concerns or issues that you have down the road," he said. "For us, it's not a phone call and a flight in three weeks later. It's a quick drive over."

Their local office also helps them build relationships with their subcontractors.

"Our local subcontractors, trade partners, they're not calling and sending emails to Kansas City. They physically drive to our office on a daily occurence to sit down and meet with Melissa. ... Western North Dakota is face-to-face communication. ... I think that's our strongest asset, is being here," he said.

Many of the projects JE Dunn has completed in the area have been schools, including Williston High School, South Heart School, Trinity High School and Berg Elementary.

He said they've learned how to better understand the goals and the needs of the school district and to incorporate staff into the decision making process.

"One big lesson learned is as a builder working through the design process truly listening to what the community has to say and what the end user/staff and faculty have to say so we can incorporate as many of those things into the building as we possibly can," he said.

The goals of the school district help them shape the design of the building.

For example, Mellmer said, a school with security as a goal shouldn't have a building with multiple, small entrances.

"We can't have 1,600 people coming through eight different doors everyday, but if you're only going to have those two main entrances, those have to be large enough and have the capacity to handle the flow of 1600 students," he said.

Mellmer said JE Dunn has also learned a lot by looking at the positive and negative outcomes of previous projects.

"Just understanding the really good outcomes of schools and then things that schools have struggled with or not been happy with are really beneficial to us in each project getting better and better," he said.