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Firm takes building skill to Israel.

Firm takes building skill to Israel

Profile/The Tri-Tech Group

A U.S. developer needing to build a large amount of quality senior citizen housing on Long Island -- quickly and at reasonable cost -- contacted the Israeli government. He wanted to know how they were satisfying the urgent need to house their burgeoning immigrant population. The government official, ironically enough, referred the builder to a Long Island-based construction management and consulting exec -- Richard Geller, president of The Tri-Tech Group.

In a $5.5 million deal, Geller's firm of West Babylon, New York, signed a contract to construct the first Russian immigrant cooperative community, Alfa Tzafon, located outside the port city of Haifa. Tri-Tech, and its local Israeli partner, will build 122 pre-fabricated two-story wood frame homes. And, Geller is currently negotiating to build another few thousand units both single-family and multi-family dwellings.

"The housing needs are now and they're immediate and they're in the thousands," said Geller.

The homes are being built under the Ministry of Housing's new Amutah (cooperative) housing program. The Amutahs are homeowner associations whose members are entitled to government guaranteed home mortgages, which are combined and converted into a building loan to finance construction of the entire Amutah community.

Israel, according to Geller, is welcoming about 50,000 to 70,000 newcomers from both the Soviet Union and Ethiopia, constituting a 20 to 25 percent expansion of their total population within the next few years. The bringing in of these people, Geller said, has been adopted as a sacred mission for the Israeli government, however, the ability to house the immigrants has been an afterthought.

"You have a country with very limited resources with enemies on all sides and a military budget way out of proportion," he said.

Therefore, in light of their political and economic circumstances, Geller said, houses had to be built at minimum cost and at maximum quality. The CapeCod style homes will be built within a tight budget -- $45,000 to $50,000 excluding land costs. While homes in Israel are traditionally concrete and stucco, more economical and easier to build wood structures are being used with stone facing. And each house must contain a bomb shelter.

"If you build houses above this price range, you're not going to be in this market," said Geller.

Boost for U.S. Industry

This housing boom in Israel, Geller said, could be a "shot in the arm" for the U.S. construction market. The homes will be built here in panels by American contractors and will be shipped over there to be assembled quickly by Israeli and immigrant laborers. They are currently compiling a significant list of U.S. suppliers and there will be a demand for U.S. management expertise to supervise the 10's of thousands of units, wood and concrete, that will be built. Geller anticipates a two-to-three year boom in housing and after that a three-year boom in infrastructure, hotels, luxury housing, schools, office buildings, hospitals and other properties.

The outcome of the pending peace talks between Israel and Syria, Geller believes, may open up opportunities throughout the Middle East.

There is, Geller said, "broad recognition that Israel is one of the few places you want to be if you want to survive the depressed economy."

While there are a number of other firms negotiating to build for the Amutahs, Geller said, some U.S. management companies have "been chased away" by the Israeli way of doing business. In the United States, he said, contractors look to limit liability. In Israel, he said, "you contract fully liable for your performance... We had no problem with that.

"We learned early on that you cannot go into Israel without an equally strong Israeli partner," he said. Tri-Tech is working with Altschuler Construction Ltd., which will build the Alfa Tzafon houses once their components arrive.

Tri-Tech Method

Tri-Tech's work in Israel, according to Geller, is a natural progression of the way they've been working here in the states for the past 24 years. The firm prides itself in successfully managing time and cost through up-front planning and management detail by detail. The firm has put its mark on work at, among other properties, the Jacob K. Javits Center, Rockefeller Center, Meadowlands Arena, Kaufman Astoria Studios, Newark College of Medicine and Dentistry, Massachusetts State House, Trenton State Prison.

In the early 60's, Geller, who holds a BA from City College and an MS from New York University, began formulating critical path scheduling techniques through his work in creating the master schedule used to coordinate the Lunar Landing Phase of the Apollo Moon Program. "That really was the ultimate in achieving target date," he said.

Geller brought his program management skills to the construction industry in 1967 when he founded Tri-Tech Planning Consultants, Inc. Since then, Tri-Tech has been the management consultant for over $10 billion worth of major construction projects in the United States. The firms completed projects include public works, office and residential complexes and numerous state and federal facilities.

Tri-Tech's "total project control" services include: complete construction management and program management, financial oversight, consulting services, scheduling and cost control, financial oversight, consulting and claims and litigation services for all segments of the construction community.

Unlike other firms, Geller said, Tri-Tech has a strong background in management theory, planning and scheduling.

"Most of your construction managers evolve from the contractor fraternity," he said. "They enter construction management because they want to reduce liability as a builder."

They sometimes, however, Geller said, find themselves managing the same types of projects they had difficulty with as a contractor.

In today's market, more than ever, said Geller, the lack of control in construction is evident. The problems often begin, he said, when the architecture doesn't mesh with the owners requirements. A sharply-focused design effort up front, he said, can prevent cost overruns, time delays and a high price tag, among other woes.

According to Geller, the firm was commissioned to be the program manager for four New Jersey state office buildings. Each building involved four or five individual contractors. The state gave a cost estimate of $100 million for all four structures. After Tri-Tech implemented comprehensive scheduling and outlined the specific requirements, Geller said, the unknown was reduced and the contractors' bids came in 25 percent under the state's cost estimate.

"They bid the job very tightly because they were confident of what their contingency and responsibilities were," said Geller.

While many construction professionals are sitting idle and frustrated in today's market, Geller is traveling 6,000 to 7,000 miles per month and, he said, enjoying the frantic pace.

PHOTO : Richard Geller, President

PHOTO : Richard Geller, president of The Tri-Tech Group, (far right) and two Israeli contractors inspect one of the pre-fab homes he and a local partner are building in the port city of Haifa.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:The Tri-Tech Group
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:company profile
Date:Sep 11, 1991
Previous Article:7th Ave. office bldg goes condo.
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