Long before the county and city would cleave their school systems, Shelby County Schools saw unprecedented growth as more and more residents filled the neighborhoods that seemed to appear overnight like springtime daffodils.
There were a lot of families filling those homes and their children needed schools, and many of those schools were built by one contractor: Webb Building Corp. On the company’s website, a testimonial from then-school superintendent James B. Mitchell Jr., refers to the team at Webb as “outstanding.”
Founded in 1985 by Bailey “Budd” Webb and Jerry Tucker, now retired, the contractor adheres to three principles: knowledge of the construction business, integrity, and the perseverance and determination to succeed.
Webb Building Corp., founded in 1985, has built a reputation as a school contractor, with 50 schools under its belt.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
Webb is a competitive bid general contractor, yet has built on its reputation of integrity and efficiency to the extent that it has been “handed the reputation as a school contractor,” said Bobby Sturgeon, vice president of operations for Webb. “We typically specialized, or have been fortunate to do numerous amounts of Shelby County, Memphis City and Desoto County schools. We’ve probably completed 50 schools since the company has been in business.”
“They’ve been very successful in that arena,” said Juan Self, principal of Self Tucker Architects Inc., who has worked with Webb on several educational facilities, including Bolton High School. “It was a very good experience, very positive. They were always professional, certainly I think their superintendents are really just excellent at what they do in anticipating issues and making sure their projects are delivered on time.”
In addition to schools, they have been responsible for projects such as a new municipal building in Jackson, Tenn., work on Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Shelby County Jail Annex, The Orpheum Theatre expansion and renovation, and the Germantown Community Library.
Webb has put its footprint on some high-profile buildings, to say the least. At the time of its construction, the $38 million Arlington High School was the largest high school in the state. Renaissance Group was the architecture firm for that school, as well as Southwind High School, and the two have just completed construction on the new Collierville Middle School.
Webb Building is “excellent” to work with, says Douglas Burris, senior vice president and partner of Renaissance Group.
“They kind of have the corner on educational work when it comes to public schools,” he said.
The company has grown as the Memphis metropolitan area has grown throughout the county and into neighboring Mississippi. Like so many segments of the economy, however, the commercial construction business took a hit in 2008. Sturgeon said of the industry locally, “we’re not in a good place right now as far as the construction industry is concerned and this market seems to be somewhat depressed as far as new work coming out. I think it’s probably the economy, the local landscape.”
Yet Webb perseveres and both Sturgeon and Self remain cautiously optimistic about their industry, and especially the niche in the design and construction of schools and municipal buildings.
“I think with the consolidation there’s probably a lot of deferred maintenance that will have to be taken care of,” Self said. “Those things will come about, I’m pretty sure, and then it’s also going to depend on the growth, both in the city and county, in terms of numbers of students and, of course, charter schools are having somewhat of an impact as well. So I think there will probably be growth in some areas and then contraction in some other areas as the population migrates to different parts of the city and county.”
In a recent report by the American Institute of Architects, its chief economist Kermit Baker noted that, while spending on educational institutions was relatively flat last year and not expected to grow much this year, for 2014, “as employment picks up and pushes up tax revenue for municipal governments, spending on education facilities is expected to increase by almost 5 percent. The other major institutional sectors – religious, public safety, and amusement/recreation – also are expected to see reasonably healthy gains next year.”
Though it varies depending on projects underway and those planned, Webb currently has 25 employees. Current work includes the $49 million Translational Science Research Building at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center campus. At four stories and 135,000 square feet the building, designed jointly by Hnedak Bobo Group and The Horrell Group Architects, will be a multi-discipline facility housing investigators working on cardiovascular disease.