Building records

StructureTek documents information during construction

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— January DiTrani takes a deep breath and laughs out loud when asked how many hours she works a week.

"Definitely 80-plus hours," DiTrani said. "We have 12-plus projects under way right now and we're making one to two presentations a week."

That's the way DiTrani likes it. She is the owner and managing partner of her own business, StructureTek, based in the small business incubator program in Bogue Hall at Colorado Mountain College. Her motivation for working so hard is clear she believes she and her team are onto something hot a service business that hasn't been done before and holds the promise of selling franchises nation wide.

The service StructureTek provides to its clients is the digital archiving of every available scrap of information about a building all of the materials and all of the systems that went into it.

DiTrani's staff is ready to go to work on both residential and commercial buildings, both new and previously existing structures. And it's her goal to make the service affordable for modest homes as well as the expensive vacation homes that proliferate in ski towns like Steamboat. It's a technology-based business that depends on high-end computer scanners, digital cameras and inexpensive digital storage media to get the job done.

"We plan to open a Denver office by next spring and we plan on having a franchise stamp within three to five years," of StructureTek's startup date on March 12, 2002, DiTrani said.

That means within two years, StructureTek could be licensing franchisees to provide the company's service in cities outside of Colorado.

Scott Ford, who runs the Small Business Development Center at Colorado Mountain College, as well as the business incubator, believes StructureTek has a bright future.

"StructureTek is a rising star and is a prime example of economic development Steamboat Springs style," Ford said. "Economic development Steamboat Springs style can best be characterized by the statement 'we are a community that grows our own.'"

DiTrani's optimism is based on the enthusiastic response she has encountered from contractors and building owners while presenting her fledgling company's services. The encouragement of a handful of business mentors both in Steamboat and Denver hasn't hurt. Potential clients are quick to grasp the value of her service, she said. "We've yet to have a negative impression to our presentation," DiTrani said. "People get it right away."

Local clients include Tyke Pierce Construction, Fair and Square Construction, Dover Development & Construction, Fox Construction and Alpine Bank. Careful documentation of a building and its systems can save untold time, energy and money when it comes time to making repairs or undertaking remodeling years and decades in the future, she said.

For vacation homeowners, some of whom may own several expensive residences, it's reassuring to have quick access to the details about the home's systems and maintenance. That can become especially true when property managers turn over.

StructureTek's fees are calculated based on the size of the building. The base rate is 50 cents per square foot. The final fee could go up or down from that price based on a needs assessment performed by the staff, but it would never vary beyond 20 percent of the base price, DiTrani said.

For that fee, clients receive both a hard copy of the building's essential data (cased in a handmade leather binder), as well as a computer CD, or increasingly, a DVD.

StructureTek's field operations manager Jim Adleman visits construction sites weekly, taking 40 to 50 photographs to document the progress. Along the way, appraisals, cost estimates, rental leases, environmental test reports and change orders are all scanned and archived. StructureTek is able to scan large construction documents like blueprints.

DiTrani moved to Steamboat from California and began working in the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s slope maintenance department. Her responsibilities included keeping records on vehicles, from pickup to costly snow grooming equipment.

When American Skiing Co. undertook construction of the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center, she moved over to that project and undertook documentation of the $80 million job. It was that experience that sparked DiTrani's idea to create a business that to her knowledge no one had undertaken before.

Working on the Steamboat Grand "was like a college education," DiTrani said.

The building is among the largest on Colorado's Western Slope and numerous change orders during the two-and-a-half-year construction phase generated large amounts of paperwork. Coming up with meticulous systems for archiving and tracking construction drawings and documents was a matter of survival for DiTrani.

When she began to translate her experience at the Grand into a business plan, DiTrani consulted many professionals in Steamboat.

She realized early in the process she needed to use readily accessible computer software. The documents scanned and filed by StructureTek are catalogued using the ubiquitous database application Microsoft Explorer. "Nobody has to learn a new software," DiTrani said. "None of our clients have time to do that."

Before she launched her business, DiTrani sought the advice of local contacts in the construction industry.

"We went around town and conducted 15-minute interviews with about 20 different people. You could see peoples' wheels start turning," DiTrani said. She added that the business incubator at CMC and the Economic Development Council have both been tremendously supportive of her new venture.

Ford says DiTrani's young company has the potential to continue growing. "StructureTek is a model business incubator client," Ford said. "I believe they set an incubator record that will be hard to beat they out grew their space in two weeks. I am just glad we had the flexibility to move them into a space to accommodate their needs within the incubator."

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