JE Dunn building the state

With the oil boom in full swing, Marc Mellmer saw the possibilities for growth and looming building projects in western North Dakota, and he wanted JE Dunn Construction to be a part of it.

Nearly three years and more than 20 building projects later, the 31-year-old construction operations coordinator sits in his sensible, windowless office in one of the city’s newest buildings — one his firm had no hand in building, he notes with a laugh — and said despite the economic downturn in North Dakota set off by plunging oil prices, business is still looking good.

“I’ve been asked a million times, ‘Why would JE Dunn put an office in Dickinson, N.D.? That just seems crazy. Why would you do that?’” he said with a smile. “But our goal was to touch the entire state, and we’ll continue to touch the entire state and create relationships.”

This year, JE Dunn will begin or continue work on — among its many projects — the North Dakota governor’s residence and the new Bank of North Dakota Financial Center in Bismarck, Harold Newman Arena in Jamestown, and the Trinity High School reconstruction and expansion, a project near to Mellmer’s heart as he’s a graduate of the Dickinson Catholic school.

Mellmer graduated from Trinity 13 years ago and went on to earn his degree in construction management at the University of Minnesota. He was working for JE Dunn on the Sanford Health Clinic in Detroit Lakes, Minn., when he began pushing for the company to bid on projects in booming Dickinson.

“I requested that we begin to chase projects in western North Dakota, and it was made my primary responsibility to not only pursue the projects I wanted to back home, but also take them from the pre-construction all the way through the completion and warranty phase of projects,” Mellmer said.

So far, Mellmer and his team are doing just what he set out to do.

JE Dunn came to the area in 2011 to build the Mercy Medical Center Birthing Center in Williston, where they’ve had an office since 2012. Not long after that, the company was awarded building contracts for the $70 million Williston Area Recreation Center and the $100 million CHI St. Joseph’s Health campus in Dickinson.

“When we were about halfways through St. Joe’s hospital project, we decided we needed to open an office in Dickinson,” Mellmer said. “What anchored those projects like that were not only the fact that we were building those two big jobs, but also servicing those buildings and staying close to the owners and being committed to the area — to both Williston and Dickinson — after we completed the projects. And then the smaller projects started to spawn off of the two big anchor projects.”

Mellmer said what makes the JE Dunn Dickinson and Williston offices unique within the company is that they chase projects across in the entire state.

“The logistics of the North Dakota offices are different than the logistics of any of our other offices in the country,” he said. “They’re all in metropolitan areas, where you have a certain radius of work that keeps the business afloat. We think of North Dakota as a client. That’s been our motto from day one.”

JE Dunn, which is headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., has 22 offices in cities across the nation. It’s two smallest are Dickinson and Williston. Between the two Oil Patch hubs, the firm has about 20 full-time employees, and Mellmer said at any given time, it can employ 10 to 15 more specialists working in the state for up to two years at a time. Most of its work is done by local subcontractors.

“We thought it was in the best interest of us and our clients to open a physical office and hire local people to work for JE Dunn,” said Mellmer, a Dickinson native. “And also import our people to become local residents of western North Dakota and commit to the area.”

The newest employee is Michael Murphy, a project engineer and recent graduate of North Dakota State University who’s doing pre-construction work on the planned Newman Arena

Murphy, from Fargo, works in the Dickinson office but said he’ll be traveling around the state regularly once the arena project begins. He said he was convinced to join JE Dunn after speaking to the firm’s representatives at a job fair.

“The Dickinson area, at the time, was a very expanding market,” he said. “With the recent oil declines, the construction is still going strong. Being a new hire here, it’s a good opportunity.”

Other employees, like project coordinator Melissa Gjermundson, have been around the area their entire lives. She said working for JE Dunn has been a good fit.

Gjermundson came on board after spending time working for Dickinson’s planning and zoning office, Marathon Oil Co., and as a Dickinson Police Department dispatcher. She met Mellmer while working for the city shortly after its leaders decided to build the Public Safety Center — the new police and fire station that’s now the workplace of her former dispatch co-workers. At JE Dunn, she primarily works with subcontractors.

“I make sure they get their contracts,” she said. “I make sure they’re compliant and I make sure that they get paid.”

Having a strong stable of subcontractors is vital to JE Dunn’s success in western North Dakota, Mellmer said.

When the firm moved first started working in North Dakota, he said the oil boom made it difficult to hire top-quality subcontractors.

“The biggest successes were building the hospitals and the Williston recreation center at the peak of the boom, when contracting was at it’s highest level of difficulty,” Mellmer said. “From then, being able to transition to do smaller projects and more of what I’d call normal-size projects for western North Dakota, we’ve made a really smooth transition to become economic in building those projects and really creating relationships with our owners of these smaller projects, which seem to be difficult for a large corporation.”

Because the firm planted roots during the oil boom, Mellmer said he knows projects will become fewer and farther between with the state in an economic slowdown. He said that just means JE Dunn will have to venture out of western North Dakota more often and seek contracts in cities like Fargo and Grand Forks.

“That’s where we hold our ground and stretch our wings even further, and chase projects down every rabbit hole,” Mellmer said.

He said JE Dunn doesn’t view itself as a construction firm that only chases huge projects, and notes that the slowdown has afforded it the opportunity to do work that means a big deal to some small towns.

He pointed to the projects such as a new classroom and library at the Home on the Range near Sentinel Butte, the Killdeer Aquatics and Wellness Center that’s nearing completion, and the Flasher High School and Gymnasium.

All are small projects compared to JE Dunn’s usual scale, but Mellmer described them as fun and a positive experiences because of the response the firm receives from the small communities.

“We’re not too big or too proud to chase and work in any town, on any project, of any size,” he said.

Nutrition specialists at St. Joseph’s happy changes that came with with new hospitals

More was expected of CHI St. Joseph’s Health when it moved into its new state-of-the-art, $100 million facility in December 2014.

The food served to patients and visitors was no exception to that, registered dietician Darcy Stafford said.

Not only did the hospital put its new cafeteria front and center in the building off Fairway Street in west Dickinson, Stafford said its staff created an entirely new patient menu — which allows them to order what they want instead of eating whatever the cafeteria is serving that day — and changed its system to better track patients’ nutritional habits and make better recommendations for patients.

“Much like when you when go into a restaurant, you’d open our menu and order what you’d like to eat — which is probably one of the best things I can say happened in our department,” Stafford said.

Some patients may have limitations on sodium, dairy or carbohydrates, Stafford said, and the hospital’s staff can better track that and tailor meals to their needs now.

“We have an operator in our diet office who really monitors that,” Stafford said. “Since everything is computerized, as they order, it will add up.”


Better for patients

Lona Gordon, the hospital’s director of dietary services, said everyone received the same meal at the old St. Joseph’s cafeteria.

Patients appreciate the ability to choose now, she said, even if everything on the menu is a healthy choice.

“Patients can accept it so much better when it’s explained to them,” Gordon said. “(The dieticians) are great at furthering and helping the patient understand why they can’t or what it does to them. These guys are like scientists.”

She said the cafeteria recently received the highest rating of all Catholic Health Initiatives hospitals in a recent survey. The health system has more than 100 hospitals and in 19 states.

“That was for the patients and total meal experience, from food servers to food options, to the timeliness of getting their meal,” Gordon said.

Stafford said an operator in the kitchen either calls a patient’s room — when the patient is able to answer for themselves — or goes and visits them before each meal to ask what they’d like to order off of the hospital menu. The operator has the ability to tell the patient which items are restricted and steer them to choices that will be healthier.

“It’s a very nice personal touch, because the operator gets to talk to the patient,” Stafford said.

Being able to monitor what patients put into their bodies is good from a dietary standpoint, Stafford said, and patients enjoy being able to have a choice.

“When they get the choice, it’s so much better,” Stafford said. “It maybe makes it not feel so institutional. That’s a real benefit for us. As we go along, we’ll get to make more changes to the menu, too, and we’re really seeing what people like and what they don’t like. That’ll be upcoming here in the near future.”


Bigger, better and brighter

Cook Shaun Rattin likes to chat with people.

His job at Lefty’s grill and cafeteria inside CHI St. Joseph’s Health give him the chance to do that much more than the old hospital’s dining area ever did.

“It’s better, it’s brighter, it’s bigger,” sadi Rattin. “People can come in and see us.”

Lefty’s — affectionately named in honor of state Rep. Mike Lefor, the hospital’s former chairman of the board — serves a healthy menu daily for St. Joseph’s staff, clinic patients, hospital visitors and the occasional customer who stops by just because they like what it offers.

Stacy Stice, a dietary aide, said customers enjoy that Lefty’s has grill food without fried food.

“Customers love it,” she said. “They like it healthier, the healthier options that we give them.”

Lefty’s offers a daily salad bar, a yogurt bar during breakfast, ala carte snack options from its cooler, such as yogurts and cheeses, and always serves a lunch special.

“It’s not your average cafeteria food,” Rattin said. “It’s way better. It’s fresher.”

Gordon said Lefty’s has received a 92 percent customer satisfaction rating in a survey.

“We were proud of that,” she said.

Stafford said every item at Lefty’s is also labeled to include calories and ingredients, which she said helps customers make informed choices and avoid items they may be allergic or intolerant to, such as nuts, gluten or lactose.

“People are becoming more aware of their food, and wanting to know what the ingredients are in there,” she said.

Rattin said when they made the move to the new hospital, the kitchen lost its deep fryer — a decision he was totally against at the time. Now he sees how people enjoy the fresher food, and what he calls “reasonable prices.”

On top of getting rid of the fryer, Stafford said, the new menu made the staff become short-order cooks instead of assembly-line cooks.

“When we did move over, it was all new recipes for our cooks to learn,” Stafford said. “That was a huge challenge. We went from what they were used to to a totally new environment. … They all embraced it. Moving into a new facility was hands down just a big booster for us.”

After more than a year in the new hospital and its kitchen, Stafford said most things run like clockwork.

“It’s much more relaxed and they’re getting the system down,” she said. “I think they’re understanding, too, that as a hospital, you need to be one of the leaders as far as healthier choices. They’re excellent people in our cafeteria. They like people so they visit well, and they bring customers in.”

CHI St. Joseph’s secures new medical helicopter

It didn’t take long for CHI St. Joseph’s Health to find a replacement for its medical helicopter service.

Grand Forks-based Valley Med Flight agreed Tuesday to base a medical helicopter at the helipad of the new St. Joseph’s hospital under construction in Dickinson. Valley Med Flight will also provide fixed-wing aircraft support to southwest North Dakota from its existing bases.

“Our No. 1 concern is access for our patients,” said Reed Reyman, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Health. “We just know that a helicopter needs be based here and we know we have to have access to fixed wing, so we did all we could to get this in place.”

Continue reading “CHI St. Joseph’s secures new medical helicopter”

Constructive homecoming: Boom helps Dickinson native return home, coordinate major projects

Marc Mellmer, an operations coordinator for JE Dunn Construction in Dickinson, stands on the outside of the St. Joseph’s Hospital construction site. Mellmer, a Dickinson native, has climbed the ladder with JE Dunn is now part of the management team in charge of more than $250 million worth of construction projects in western North Dakota.

At just 29 years old, Dickinson native Marc Mellmer has found himself at the forefront of western North Dakota’s construction boom.

As an operations coordinator for JE Dunn Construction, Mellmer is responsible for building the new St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dickinson and numerous other infrastructure projects. All told, Mellmer estimates he and his management team will oversee about $250 million in vertical construction in western North Dakota over the next three years.

“My goal is not to leave,” Mellmer said with a smile. “I don’t plan on moving JE Dunn out of here ever — if I had it my way.”

Continue reading “Constructive homecoming: Boom helps Dickinson native return home, coordinate major projects”