April 23, 2024

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Building a legacy: 80 years of Bouten Construction

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In 1948, Bouten Construction landed its first commercial contract expanding the original Sacred Heart Hospital. The company has spent the past 80 years building projects around Spokane that matter.

But, sources said, the company’s impressive portfolio does not paint the whole picture.

“Yeah, they’re a top-notch company with the construction capabilities to bring really complex projects in on time but that’s just a small aspect of Bouten,” said Mark Mackin, president of Mackin & Little Mechanical. “A bigger part is their community involvement.”

Since its founder, the late Gus Bouten, started the Spokane company, (pronounced Bow-tin), in 1944, it has not expanded its reach much further than a few-hour road trip.

Instead, its leaders, including third generation CEO, Bill Bouten, have remained committed to Spokane and the surrounding area, according to Mackin.

For over 40 years he has collaborated with the Boutens including Bill’s father, Frank, and brothers Joe and Tim. Together, they have worked on Spokane projects like the Providence Sacred Heart Emergency Center, the Boxcar Apartments and an expansion to the Kootenai Health hospital in Coeur d’Alene.

But most important are Bouten’s lesser known projects, Mackin said.

“I mean, just recently, they did work with Joya (Child & Family Development) and Venessa Behan,” he said. “People should be lucky to have a company like Bouten here.”

Amy Vega is the executive director of Venessa Behan, an organization that supports parents by offering respite child care.

It was an easy choice to choose Bouton to construct their newest Spokane location, Vega said.

“When the bids came in, Bouten certainly rose to the top because of their experience and engagement in the community,” she said. “But they also gave us a bit of a discount on the building.”

She said Bouten’s bid on the project came in lower than all other competitors.

“Every dime that didn’t go into the building went right into the kids and the services we provide for families,” she said. “That’s a return on investment that can be felt by the whole community.”

In 2022, workers at Joya Child & Family Development moved into their new facility built by Bouten. The non profit delivers therapies to infants and toddlers with developmental delays and helps many low income families access them.

Colleen Fuchs, executive director at Joya, said Bouten discounted their building, as well, but helped in many other ways.

For 11 years, the construction company helped Joya transition from working out of the basements of churches into their own building. This included helping the non-profit find and purchase the right property.

“We had never done anything like this. It was huge undertaking for us,” Fuchs said. “We were raising funds during COVID and their were so many questions. And at the time, our lease was about to expire.”

She said she worked closely with Bill Bouten and other workers at the company every step of the way.

“Without them, we weren’t going to be able to do it,” she said.

The construction firm has a track record for leveraging their experience and community ties to get projects done on time and under budget, according to Troy Bishop who was part of the NAC Architecture team that designed the Kootenai Health eastward expansion project.

“We inspired the client to consider a more creative design and (Bouten) proved it wouldn’t break the budget,” he said.

The result was the curved façade of the eastern-facing wall of the facility, he said.

And the final product impressed Jeremy Evans, chief operating officer at Kootenai Health.

“That was a challenging build because it was adjacent to a patient tower that we wanted to preserve,” Evans said. “The team came up with the idea to curve the building so that in the middle, between the new and the older building, could be a courtyard that allowed for windows … which was really important to us.”

More impressively, Bouten was able to coordinate construction to cause minimal disruption to patient care, he said.

Bishop now works for a different firm, ALSC Architects as a partner and principal of Spokane-based ALSC Architects.

His previous firm, NAC Architecture, partnered with Bouten to design the Joya and Venessa Behan buildings, according to its website.

Bishop said ALSC specializes in technical projects like the expansions to multiple Chas clinics and an expansion to the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Camas Medical Center. Because the medical buildings are still in operations, construction was especially difficult, he said.

“That’s why we team with them to compete for projects,” Bishop said. “If it’s a lot of phases, occupied and technical, we go with Bouten to secure it.”

Mackin, the contracting firm’s president, said Bouten’s expertise is difficult to come buy, especially for a family-run company.

“The first generation is inspired to start it, the second one carries the torch,” he said. “The third one is bit removed, maybe. A lot of things change by the time the third generation takes the helm.”

Though he was exposed to the industry at a young age and picked up odd jobs at his father’s construction sites, Bill Bouten said he was unsure whether he wanted to carry the torch.

But in college, after taking general business courses, he realized construction management was in fact his calling.

“I opted to come back to the business and I’ve never regretted it,” he said. “Most days never feel like work.”

While the company has completed projects around the Inland Northwest, it has remained committed to the Lilac City.

“We build buildings here, but our team is incredibly engaged in community whether we’re building here or the Tri-Cities – it’s the same thing,” he said. “We’re part of the community and we have a responsibility to give back and support the community in whatever way we can.”

But their long tenure in Spokane did not come without adversities.

He remembers stories told by his grandfather about the early years of the company in 1950s when it nearly failed. This was caused by the multiple recessions in the decade following World War II.

“I think because they started during the war that they knew adversities right off the bat,” he said. “What’s interesting about construction is our business is very tied to how the economy is.

“In the early ’80s when interest rates were around 19%, or even during the 2008 financial crisis, everyone was scrambling for work. Weathering those economic downturns is what has really tested us through the years.”

To reach its 100th anniversary, the company will have to continue to innovate and be attuned with what’s new in the construction industry, he said.

Bouten speculated this will include artificial intelligence and prefabricated materials, meaning smaller components of a building are manufactured and constructed by a different company.

He said innovations will be needed to help the company deal with one of its greatest challenges – labor.

“We’re constantly dealing with not getting a solid craft workforce,” he said. “We’ve never had that issue before.”

As one of the most prominent companies in the area, he said his company has a responsibility to help grow to local skilled workforce.

“We have to make sure we’re attracting young men and women to the trades, and showing them these are good paying jobs, with good benefits,” Bouten said. “It’s a very, very rewarding career, and it’s incredibly important that young folks see that.”

That applies for those drawing up building plans, those under hardhats on construction sites and those continuing a family legacy.

“It’s just been really inspiring work. Projects like health care, higher education and multifamily have big impacts in the short term and long term,” he said. “As I drive across the city, I’m really proud of the things that we built, whether it was my grandfather, my dad or myself and others.”

“The fact is, my last name is on the front door and it matters a lot to me.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that but there is also a lot of opportunity, too,” Bouten continued. “It’s an incredible seat to be sitting in but at the end of the day, its exciting to build places that matter.”

This story has been updated to reflect that Troy Bishop worked for NAC Architecture on the Kootenai Health east expansion. 

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