A national company has bought a small architecture firm that has designed more than 3,000 public and private buildings, additions and renovations in the region, including the new Fairview Heights recreation center.
That project, and all other projects of EWR Architects in Fairview Heights, will proceed as planned, said Karen Jensen, president and CEO of Farnsworth Group, an engineering and architecture company based in Bloomington-Normal. It has several offices in Illinois and Colorado, as well as St. Louis, Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Dayton, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
"We have wanted to get into the east metro area," said Jensen, a trained civil engineer who has been with Farnsworth for 17 years. "That's something that we've been looking at for a long time."
EWR stands for Elmer William Reichert III. Its founding architect, better known as Bill Reichert, has become a Farnsworth principal, and all of his 11 employees are staying on with the company.
Reichert, 70, of Belleville, also retains ownership of EWR's building on Frank Scott Parkway.
"I'm not ready to retire," he said. "I still enjoy what I do. We've had pretty good success through the years, particularly the last couple of years. We're kind of at a peak, but you never know what the future holds."
Reichert noted that his two heart attacks and subsequent open-heart surgery got him thinking about how to protect his employees should something happen to him.
"I also wanted to take care of my clients and make sure this office stays open to serve them," he said. "I've made a lot of good friends in this community."
Reichert decided it would be a smart move to become part of Farnsworth Group, a 125-year-old, employee-owned company with 450 employees.
Farnsworth was interested in EWR partly because of its strategic location across the river from St. Louis, but also because of its strong reputation, Jensen said.
"This acquisition makes Farnsworth Group one of the largest full-service engineering and architecture firms in the region," she stated in a press release. The number of employees in St. Louis and the metro-east now surpasses 80.
One of EWR's biggest current projects is the Fairview Heights recreation center, which will be called "The REC." The $17 million, 58,000-square-foot building on Bunkum Road is expected to be completed next year. Brian Wheeler will continue as its architect.
"We have no concerns at all (about the ownership change), and we are moving forward," said Fairview Heights Mayor Mark Kupsky. "We will not skip a beat. There's no reason why we would."
EWR has had a recurring relationship with Fairview Heights since forming in 1984. The city gave the firm its first job, renovating City Hall, and has hired it for 25 more projects, including the new police station.
Other large EWR projects include Liberty Bank Amphitheater in Alton; Downtown Belleville, East Belleville, O'Fallon and Monroe County YMCAs; O'Fallon City Hall and Waterloo City Hall; Monroe County Courthouse; DuQuoin Multi-Purpose Arena; and many schools, apartment buildings, fire stations, car dealerships and office complexes.
"People have asked me, 'What is your favorite project?' And I say, 'All of them,'" Reichert said. "We've worked with some great clients."
Reichert started his architecture career at Booker Associates in St. Louis and worked for other firms before starting his own. The number of employees has gone up and down, but EWR always has covered 100 percent of their health-insurance costs, a source of company pride.
Reichert said he hopes the transition from EWR to Farnsworth will be "seamless."
"Our people are still here," he said. "Our office is still here. The only thing that's going to change is our (name) and the tremendous resources we are going to be able to draw on with the Farnsworth company behind us."