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Construction firm builds for the future

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Mystic - A big red barn may not seem the best setting for the offices of a local building company.

But when you step inside the new home of the Mystic River Building Co. with its post-and-beam construction, expansive wood flooring and wide windows, you can see how it fits right in with the needs of this company, giving plenty of space for its staff to design projects, review blueprints and use its large space for a new workshop.

Norton Wheeler, who owns the building company at 67 New London Turnpike in Old Mystic, says his new address - it formerly was in downtown Mystic in a much smaller office setting - gives the seven-year-old company the growing room it will need in the coming years.

While Wheeler admits that the construction and real estate markets have been badly battered by this stubborn recession, he holds out hope that we've hit the bottom and construction spending, and building, will improve. "We're pretty close to the bottom," says Wheeler, "I don't know how we could go much lower."

Mystic River Building Co. also has evolved and diversified over the years to reflect the changing market conditions. It now offers a broader array of services, including designing and building homes and commercial structures, renovations and additions, "green" building and managing construction projects. In addition, Wheeler says the firm has developed an expertise in historic renovation and remodeling.

"We've kind of evolved as this industry has tightened up," says Wheeler. "We've had to diversify, and there's a lot of historic homes in this area - and we want to play an active role in maintaining those."

As he guides a visitor through the company's new headquarters, which at one time was the home of the former J.P. Daniels Restaurant, he shows off an expansive work space that will allow his construction crews to do milling work, woodworking and some sheet-metal construction. The shop, he explains, gives his crews a workspace to do what needs to be done for a project, including some prep work, without setting up shop outside, literally, during a project. The new space along the New London Turnpike (Route 184) in Old Mystic also affords him the opportunity to expand his hiring as market conditions improve. He says the barn's second floor also can be available at a later time for expansion.

"This is a great space for us," says Wheeler. "We're still newbies here."

Wheeler says his team - project manager Leslie Fredrick, finance manager Kathy Jablkowski, Dale Brown and Scott Ziegler - has more than 60 years of collective industry experience in designing, building and remodeling. Wheeler says he took a job in 1977 at the Cottrell Lumber Co. in Mystic and developed his passion for lumber, construction and the building trades. He's been involved ever since, including many years with United Builders Supply in Westerly and Niantic and Orvedal Builders, where he managed the Chapman Woods adult-active community project in Niantic, including the construction of 95 new homes spread across the 32-acre development. He has nearly three decades of industry experience and says he's built more than 100 homes over the past six years.

The new offices and work space give Wheeler and his team nearly 4,000 square feet of space, far more than the firm's previous space on Denison Avenue in Mystic. The firm's office space covers some 1,600 square feet and the shop space covers about 2,000 square feet. In addition, there is space outside the rear of the barn for storage of various ladders, scaffolding and other building supplies (tucked away from the road and out of sight, Wheeler points out).

"It all used to be in my garage at home and in the backyard," he says.

While they've only been in the new quarters for several weeks, Wheeler says he plans to do some outside landscaping around his new office, and he's hopeful that the nearby bridge along Route 184 that was washed out by this spring's massive rain storm will be rebuilt fairly soon, so commerce can continue along his portion of Route 184. But he admits nearly all of his work comes by word of mouth or references. "We've only had one walk-in during all these years," he quips.

In the meantime, Wheeler and his building-and-construction team are settling in to their new home in Old Mystic. Wheeler says his office is just about moved in, and in the main office space photos of the firm's work are already up on the walls, a large table holds blueprints of projects under way, and Fredrick stays busy on the phone and works the computer handling her project-management duties.

"This is a beautiful old post-and-beam structure. It's such an enhancement from where we were," says Wheeler. "When a client comes through that door, it gives them the confidence in us as a builder."

Business snapshot:

Name: Mystic River Building Co.

Location: 67 New London Turnpike, Old Mystic

Services: Design and build; renovations and additions; custom construction; green building, construction management.

Telephone: (860) 536-0102




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