Professionals involved in designing and building housing form Railroad District hub

By John Darling For the Tidings

You might think it’s the norm for architects and builders to compete and keep to themselves but now, in Ashland’s Railroad District, we’re seeing them collaborate in the “Splinter Group,” so they can chat up new ideas in the industry, educate the public and help groom the next generation in their professions.
Started five years ago, the group or hub, as they call it, also includes landscape design, interior decorating and sometimes financial and real estate people and often meets at Julie O Interior Design, the studio of Julie O’Dwyer, an interior designer, next to Noble Coffee.
Now old friends, they freely trade tips, offer assistance on projects, “put the brain trust together” to help clients and teach classes in their trade at local schools, says O’Dwyer. They also are there with support if life’s problems pop up — and a fave place for more relaxed confab is over a carafe of wine at Liquid Assets.
“Together, we create a synergy that has brought a very different kind of relationship with more potential than the old competition model,” says O’Dwyer. “Contractors and architects normally compete and don’t share information.”
Michael Hodgin of Coleman Creek Construction, who shares the office with O’Dwyer, notes, “We want each other to do better and not have that old thing of trying to knock each other out of business.”
The hub is intentionally thriving around 4th and A streets, the center of the alternate downtown that residents know and love — and where townies feel free to walk in and ask questions, says O’Dwyer, adding that it fortunately includes Ashland Hardware, the busy nucleus of building activity.
“It’s great energy around A Street,” says Dan Jovick of Jovick Construction. “People are packed in stores, the Grange, the Food Co-op, First Friday. It’s nice to be part of it.”
“It’s a huge resource for me to be able to call Mike (Hodgin) for advice and feedback on clients, projects, employees,” says Jovick. “We’re all so overloaded with work and life, so the group is great — then it’s back to realities of work.”
“It’s like a support group,” notes Hodgin. “We see others have the same struggles. We balance ideas and work together, though each of us own our own company. If any of us had a life event, the others jump in and cover their class or make sure their sub-contractors are taken care of, because we’ve built that rapport.”
A huge problem is “we don’t have enough young men” coming into construction, says Hodgin, who add that’s because of trimming, a well-paying job in the cannabis industry.
That is why hub members teach classes in area schools. Construction used to be a plum job to get through college and start a family, but now, says Hodgin, “There’s a stigma that construction is a fallback job, if things don’t work out. We want to open kids’ eyes that it’s flexible, artistic, creative and there’s always more population and more houses to be built. It can open doors and be financially rewarding to be part of the design-building community.”
A mission statement from Hodgin sums it up, “to serve the Ashland building and design community through the education and support of local industry professionals and homeowners (focusing) on outreach in local schools, educating and inspiring students to help plant the seeds for the next generation of design/build professionals.”
Chris Brown of Arkitek: Design & Architecture says the approach “encourages greater resources for us all instead of stifling them. You understand the bigger picture, not just having a singular type of focus. We can do some consolidation on projects.”
It’s a “peer business group,” says Carlos Delgado, where he, as an architect gains a better understanding of “the problems and the challenges of builders out there in the world … so the group helps us problem-solve instead of point fingers.”
Another benefit comes when, for instance, a homeowner wants to build an accessory unit and to determine whether it’s practical, it would be nice to get an architect, builder, lender and real estate broker sitting with you at the same table, instead of trudging around town to each one and getting opinions that may not mesh.
To help with this, they give a class to real estate people and, notes O’Dwyer, “we wanted real estate people to be part of our team, to help everyone understand what the costs would be. That’s realistic and pertinent.”
The core group also includes Kerry KenCairn of KenCairn Landscape Architecture. There’s a dozen more associated with the group.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at [email protected].

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