By agreeing to be purchased by Apax Partners Worldwide, a private equity firm, CONTECH Construction Products hopes to strengthen its alliances with big builders. The company, headquartered in West Chester, Ohio, manufactures and distributes civil engineering products used in commercial, public, industrial, and large-scale residential projects. CONTECH President and CEO Pat Harlowe says the infusion of capital will allow the company to expand its long-term prospects with national builders. With a new organizational structure consisting of four operating divisions—environmental storm water, bridges, earth stabilization, and drainage—CONTECH aims to become a single-source engineering contact for big builders. The Apex deal is valued at more than $1 billion.

CONTECH itself has been on a growth track, acquiring 14 local competitors since 1999 and increasing its revenues by double-digits over the last five years to $750 million in 2005. “The pool of capital we have as a result of the Apax acquisition will allow us to make larger acquisitions of companies that sell first or second adjacencies to our products, and we believe the national footprint we offer will be particularly appealing to big builders,” Harlowe says. In the next two years, the company plans to add a dozen manufacturing facilities to the 42 plants and 35 subcontractor locations.

In an effort to set themselves apart from competitors, builders do seem to be looking for more creative infrastructure solutions from engineering firms these days. Whereas once a gently undulating golf course might have been the obvious major amenity for an upscale master-planned community, developers are exploring new ways to create a beguiling sense of place.

At Daybreak, a 4,200-acre community in South Jordan, Utah, being developed by Kennecott Land and designed by Calthorpe Associates, in Berkeley, Calif., the 13,600 homes are organized around stores, walking trails, recreation areas, and the project's centerpiece—an 85-acre lake with marinas and an island large enough for 160 homes. “The land here is so flat we had to do some masquerading to build slopes into the road, so it lent itself well to a lake,” says Greg Rasmussen, Kennecott's director of land development. “It's also a good sustainable amenity because we don't have to use as much water as you would to maintain a golf course, and it can be enjoyed by more people.” Excavators moved 35 million cubic feet of earth to build the lake, which will be filled with water pumped from Utah Lake and three canals.

Kennecott Land, in Murray, Utah, is working with a roster of engineers to create prefabricated auto and pedestrian bridges, a dam with a cascading waterfall, and an integrated wetlands system able to hold water from a 100-year storm. Two CONTECH-owned bridge companies—BEBO and Continential—are supplying eight or nine distinctive bridges that provide the 26-foot clearance needed for small sailboats to pass underneath. “We wanted tall, picturesque arches that could supply a skyway effect to the entire project, and that could carry and mask the utilities that run to the island,” Rasmussen says. “They're meant to be icons that serve as a major selling point.” Two 84-foot-long vehicular BEBO bridges were manufactured locally of pre-cast concrete and set into place in four days. Two Continental pedestrian bridges, about 170 feet long, were installed during phase one of the project, which is scheduled for completion this spring.