BLS Architects has been in business in Johnson City for 97 years and has built a reputation in civic, industrial, church and especially education design. The company has also develped strategies to get through the tough times.
“Previous to the 1970s BLS had all the business it could handle. But due to increases in competition, the 1981 recession and a decrease in demand for schools design, we learned to be light on our feet and develop strategies for the tough times,” said BLS President Tony Street.
In the 1990s and 2000s increases in regional population and aging school systems put pressure on area education resulting in a $40 million Washington County schools project and other multi-million dollar education projects for BLS including universities and colleges. Business in medical and other areas also grew. In 2007-08 business was very good and so far some of these projects started then carried us through this year and business is OK,” said Street.
“We don’t know what 2010 will bring, but we know how to innovate. BLS has depended on good customer relations, helped clients with applications to obtain stimulus funds for projects, teamed up with other design firms including those with specific expertise in certain venues and adjusted our business, which is geared to $20m plus projects to projects much smaller.
“We have several state-funded projects this year and clients have sought out our help to position themselves to get projects that are federally funded. We’ve helped Hawkins and Sullivan Counties and ETSU to get government funds for capital projects. Interest-free loans are available and the cost of construction is lower than two years ago. This offers the opportunity to improve facilities that is the most attractive we have seen in some time.”
Ongoing green projects- Some projects underway include reroofing of Elizabethton High School, retrofits at Gray Elementary and Jonesborough Elementary, and a jail addition and renovation of the courthouse in Avery County. “Selling points on these types of projects are their ‘green appeal’. They are not taking up more land, not impacting the environment and using existing structures such as the renovation of ETSU dorms (a BLS project).
BLS Kingsport Office- In 2007 BLS opened an office in Kingsport staffed with architects, engineers and other professionals with deep experience in the regional market. “This has given us better access to Hawkins County, Kingsport, Bristol, and Southwest Virginia. The expertise of this staff is outstanding in education, civic and many other areas and are well known to clients in the area. The establishment of that office has really come through for our business this year.”
Teaming with other design firms, especially those with expertise in specific areas is another strategy that is working and resulting in some interesting projects. Examples iinclude new libraries for Johnson City and Bristol where we teamed with another firm deep in public library design. Both projects are now complete and are centerpieces of both cities downtown.
“We don’t know what the future will bring. In recent years business has been very good. But if the bottom line is less than the best year, maybe business is returning to a normal level and we will build on that with optimism.”