Tower General Contractors of Sun Valley has already built a reputation. Now, they’re building a museum. The Columbia Memorial Space Science Learning Center will be an educational museum focusing on 90 years of aviation history, focusing on the work that happened on-site. The Downey location was previously among other things, a Boeing and Rockwell facility and was used by NASA for manufacturing engines for the space shuttles and the Apollo capsules. It was closed in 1999. After building many hospitals and health care facilities, Tower is now building an 18,000-square-foot, two story, ground-up building with an aluminum skin meant to evoke a spaceship. The interior should represent the vastness of space, said Alex Guerrero, Tower’s executive vice president. The project broke ground not quite a year ago and is expected to be complete by September. With the steel superstructure completed and rough plumbing done, the final building will begin to take shape. “We’ll be open in time for the new school year,” Guerrero said. “The goal is to everyday have a line of buses full of kids visiting the museum,” with its interactive exhibits and the original Apollo capsule. There isn’t room for the city’s full-sized mockup of the shuttle orbiter built for training by Rockwell out of steel and plywood. Scott Pomrehn, assistant to the Downey city manager, is thrilled that Tower is working on the project. Nato Flores, Tower’s president, worked for a summer at Rockwell where he became eligible for and earned a scholarship. “That Flores is coming back to the site to build this, it just completes the story,” Pomrehn said. The project’s components, Pomrehn said, from the exterior covering to the detailed lighting plan, are all state-of-the-art. So there are bound to be surprises, he said. “We’ll be using Tower’s expertise in working through some of these issues, asking ‘does this make sense for a museum?’ and ‘Where’s the plug going to be?'” Pomrehn said. The city is considering the idea of a second phase, to add an auditorium perhaps, and certainly to provide a home for the full-sized shuttle mock-up, Pomrehn said. Downey would like to continue its relationship with the builder, Pomrehn said. After 9/11 the company was determined to get more involved in civic projects. Guerrero said. That effort redoubled after the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry in 2003. By the time a Congressional resolution approving a museum was passed, Tower had moved into high gear. They pursued the job actively, responding to the City’s request for proposals. “Everyone was vested in this,” Guerrero said. After they were awarded the contract, Tower’s work began in earnest two years ago. As the construction contractors, their job is to interpret drawings, oversee the schedule and quality work, keep tabs on the budget, and mediate and mitigate any problems. “Every project has issues. Our job is to manage those issues,” Guerrero said. One issue was rain. “When you’re building a ground-up building, you’re digging a big hole,” Guerrero said. “With the rain, it becomes a big swimming pool.” This winter’s weather could have caused 20 days of delay, he said, and that meant juggling the schedule. A delay of one task doesn’t necessarily mean all tasks are delayed, he said. Tower’s job is to move tasks around to keep people working. A high-profile project such as the museum means additional scrutiny. “It’s on everybody’s radar,” Guerrero said, citing the attention given already by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard. The latter authored the Congressional resolution giving the project a federal blessing and also its name. “But we’re just doing what we’re doing anyways,” Guerrero said. The ability to juggle and bear scrutiny served them well on past projects such as the emergency department at Cedars Sinai Hospital. At 28,000 square feet it’s the largest in the country, Guerrero said. Sun Valley-based Tower made its name for itself as a health care general contractor. Then when hospitals began experiencing a financial crunch, Tower refocused its aim to include work with defense contractors. They have continued to branch out. The company has worked with UCLA, utility companies and is building eight Union Bank branches. They’re also moving a chemical plant from Michigan to California, building a fire station on Catalina Island (where all the water they need for construction has to be brought from the mainland) and remodeling the Beverly Hills City Hall, Guerrero said. That landmark was built in 1932, and among the issues to manage is matching surface finishes that don’t exist anymore and woods that are now extinct, and keeping the integrity of terrazzo floors. The company is expanding on the other work they’ve already done at St. John of God retirement and care center, a health center for the aged that offers progressive stages of care from moderately independent to managed care. They are in the process of building a 36,000 square foot Alzheimer’s clinic at the site. The company’s focus on the community extends beyond the hospitals, care centers, fire stations and museum it builds. They are building college graduates as well. Beginning in the fall of 2009, Guerrero said, the company will sponsor a college freshman through four years of school, paying for room and books. In the summer, they will also give the student a job. Additionally, Tower will help to underwrite a fund for teachers to draw upon for supplies. Cal Poly Pomona is the focus of Tower’s affections because company president Flores is an alumnus. Flores founded Tower in 1985. It is now the largest minority-owned general contractor in Los Angeles County. Tower was named Fastest Growing Private Company of 2007 by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal in the $25 million to $99.9 million category and was also ranked the fifth Fastest Growing Private Company in L.A. County by the Los Angeles Business Journal, by virtue of its revenue increasing 87% from 2005 to 2006.
Space Science Center Latest Coup for Tower