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Roots and Relationships

Franjo Construction, with an unprecedented amount of self-performed work and a tireless dedication to client and employee alike, has been bringing change and quality to the Pittsburgh area for decades. by Joel Cornell


hen Joseph Leonello, Sr. began his career in the construction industry as a trade journeyman in 1956, he dedicated his work to his clients and all that those relationships entailed. As Joe Sr. raised his family, his two sons Frank and Joe were also brought up on a steady diet of building, construction, and business ethics. By the mid-1980s the family had began a process that would establish them as one of the most trusted general contracting firms in the Pittsburgh area. After more than 40 years in the industry, Joseph Sr. founded Franjo Construction in 1997, built on his own commitment to quality construction with dependability and integrity. Both Frank and Joe worked for their

father throughout their high school and college years. As the company grew, the two brothers went on to work for other major construction firms in Pittsburgh, cutting their teeth on unique projects of all sizes and scopes for more than a decade. In 1997, the Leonello family began to see new opportunities for Franjo Construction. Their years spent taking on jobs here and there, doing mostly estimating work, had finally paid off. As they expanded the scope of the company, Joe left the firm with which he had been working and officially joined Franjo Construction full-time in 2000. The father and son successfully ran the company, performing four to six jobs a year, until 2003 when Frank

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this page: Ross Elementary School, Pittsburgh, Pa. Top, the school entrance, under construction. The school, like many other schools in the district was constructed arounda central theme -water. At left, the bathroom tiling reflects that theme. OPPOSITE page: The converted Otto Milk Plant, Pittsburgh, Pa. The downtown district of Pittsburgh is currently going through a Cinderella-like transformation from the once highly-industrial and agricultural area into a burgeoning metropolis for young professionals. Franjo was hired to convert the Otto Milk Plant into high-end, sleek condominiums. They preserved the facade and some exposed brick walls as a nod to the building’s long history and paired up with Irwin Interiors System, Inc. on the interior of the building. Photos by Jim Browder.

joined the team and the firm kicked into full gear. “In 2000, we had just five employees,” Joe said. “Today, we run with anywhere from 60 to 70 highly trained professionals out in the field every day. We learned through experience how to operate a business on this scale, which gave us tons of vital knowledge that you simply can’t get from even the best university. We were finally able to incorporate and act on all of the things that we couldn’t during our tenure with other firms in the area. We keep the family business environment and spread that to our clients, but like the biggest firms out there, each superintendent is fully equipped with laptops on the job; everything they need in order to bring success to each project.” Franjo recently finished their eighth retail location for Aldi Supermarkets. Their relationship exemplified an ideal partnership between general contractor and client. The firm provides Aldi with the very same superintendent who had worked diligently to bring the previous projects to fruition. Additionally, Joe himself, who currently serves the company as Vice President, stepped up to act as project manager on many of the Aldi retail projects, including their most recent store. 2 Summer 2011

As has been the case with Aldi, the firm provides unique and substantial benefits for each client. Franjo Construction self-performs an astounding amount of the work on each project. Their large and hugely talented staff has performed virtually all of the concrete work for each project. With many different specialists on staff including carpenters, drywall experts, professional finishers, a full crew of painters and more, Franjo Construction is uniquely able to control the quality of the projects. “Our ability to control the critical paths and stages in each project has been a huge advantage for us,” Joe said. “It gives us the ability to control the level of quality for our clients in a way most general contractors simply can’t. Frank and I are 100 percent active with all of our clients and our employees. We see a lot of company owners sit back and keep a bird’s eye view on their company’s operations, but we prefer and almost need to be on the ground from beginning to middle to end. We have a full-time CFO as well, so we’re uniquely stable in our pricing power and our financing.” When Franjo Construction was elected via hard bid to serve as general contractor for the rebuilding of local school, Ross Elementary School, they

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found themselves in the unique position in that the publicly bid project saw There is a composite panel feature at the main entrance to the building that a total of nine prime contractors working all at once. The $9.6 million project resembles a large sail from a sailboat. Inside the library, Franjo Construcwas overseen by a separate construction manager elected by the school board. tion employed a specialty carpenter to build a representation of a schooner Additionally, the schedule for the project was condensed due to restrictions with the mast raising into the high bay area of the library. The theme carries based on the school’s need to open for their students. throughout the building: the corridors feature multicolored linoleum that “When we’re working with a schedule like a school project, if anything slips gives a textured water-like aesthetic; the tile in the bathrooms is similarly you have to be ready to react and think on your feet,” said Franjo Construction colored, ranging from darker to lighter blues and also whites and speckled Project Manager Jim Browder. “Fortunately, we never had to just hope that a cream to simulate the ocean’s spray. subcontractor would come through for us because we are able to step in and “For some construction firms, that’s a bad thing. They wind up never learning perform vast amounts of work on any project with our own staff if necessary. the details and nuances that are vital to each unique project,” Browder said. “Due to the number of prime contractors on the job, none of whom work “But for us, each project is truly the same in that it will always be unique. Each directly for us, the relationships on the job were a little less personal than project is entirely sensitive to context, environment, community, intent and we like them to be. Most of the projects we do, we are involved with the client. As such, we approach each job in the same way. The more difficult, client in the conceptual, budgeting and pre-design phases long before most the better, honestly. other contractors.” “We’re not a large generalist firm. We’re a small business that specializes in The Ross Elementary School, like many other schools in the district, was each and every building type that we can. We’re family owned, but we operate constructed around one central architectural theme: in this case, water. on a scope that might challenge even the largest general contractors.” CLT Construction Leaders Today 3

Franjo Construction  

Franjo Construction, with an unprecedented amount of self-performed work and a tireless dedication to client and employee alike, has been br...