Mike Martin (right) shown with Marv Polo and Bob Thompson.

CLEVELAND - I didn't see Drew Carey in Cleveland, but I did get to meet the two Martin brothers of T.H. Martin Duct Systems Inc.

Carey is a big, expansive guy, but Martin SM is expanding in a way more suited to sheet metal. It's grown over the past 10 months by moving into a new 65,000-sq.-ft. facility, and by tackling one of the biggest jobs in its 16 year history: the new 22 story Federal Courthouse building downtown.

A larger quarters, carved out of a former NAPA auto parts warehouse, allowed the company enough floor space to expand equipment-wise as well, with a new 5-foot Iowa Precision coil line and Lockformer plasma cutter. No six foot line? Vice president Tom Martin Jr. said the company considered it, and is still considering it. A new Gorelocker from Spiral Helix and spiral machine were brought in around the same time the company moved into its new building.

Brother Mike is the other vice president. Father Tom is also president of SMACNA-Cleveland.

"It was wild," says Tom Sr., recalling the early years. "I was supervisor for 19 years with one of our competitors, and wanted to accomplish some goals in my life that I didn't think I could working there. I started out with nothing, just got a little building and a shear. I had four employees my first year, then picked up a couple of large jobs. I went from $800,000 in sales that first year, to $1.5 million the next, then $2 million. We started out on Lakeside Avenue in 1987-88 then went to Commerce Avenue, which I thought was a good building, but pretty soon we were handcuffed. We couldn't stage materials or do some of the other things I thought we needed to be able to do. I wanted more of a mechanical shop, and sheet metal too."

A used Wysong shear gave way to a brand new Accu Shear, and a double Vulcan plasma cutting table, then the Lockformer coil line in '92. "We didn't even have a Pittsburgh at first," Tom recalls.

Born in Canada, Tom Sr. moved to Cleveland when he was 10. His father worked for Ford Motor Co. but got into the trades, which is where Tom got his start after trying out for the apprentice program.

The company has around 70 employees, including 20 to 30 in the shop, who are members of SMWIA Local #33. It generally runs one shift, but runs two occasionally on the cutter and coil line to keep stock readily available for the next day.

Mike Martin said he and his brother divide up duties somewhat at the company but stay out of each other's way more so by dividing up the customers: Tom focuses on some, Mike on others. Mike is also a little bit more toward the fabrication end of the business, while Tom is more on the installation end.

Mike said the business mix is running about 50% bid spec, 25% design-build and 25% fabrication.

Mike is married while Tom is not. Mike said there are few problems in working together with family, except maybe "When we're together we're always talking shop. And if we don't get together after work, it's because we're together all day." The two are young enough, around 30, to not worry too much yet about getting Dad out of the business. Tom Sr. plans to be around for 3-5 years before he begins to ease out, according to Mike.

The interior of the shop is clean and well-lighted. So is the office area, with some room still left over for future expansion.

"I went way over my budget when it came to lighting," says Tom. "But some of the shops I was in, it was like they were working in a cave."

Ninety percent of the company's jobs come from greater Cleveland, with the remainder primarily in Akron, Canton and Lorain.

Upscale ducts

The work on the courthouse building is some pretty impressive stuff: much of it is double wall perforated or 1/2 -inch to two-inch lined, for improved acoustics and better indoor air quality.

The General Services Administration broke ground for the first Federal Courthouse to be built in Cleveland in over 87 years. Completion is scheduled for fall of 2001. The structure will have a gross area of 727,000-sq.-ft. for courtrooms, judges' chambers, Clerk of the U. S. District Court, U. S. Attorney, Probation Services, Pretrial Services, U. S. Marshal Service, and other court related agencies.

The curved side of the courthouse will overlook the Cuyahoga River. Above the seventh floor, the juncture of the two flat sides will be clipped, forming a diagonal fourth wall oriented to downtown and the Terminal Tower. This high-profile project is one of the first in Cleveland using metric measurement throughout construction. It also employs a mat foundation as a cost saving alternative to drilling deep caissons. The building's entire 55,000 ton weight will rest on a 6-7 foot thick concrete mat.

The structural shaft, accented with gray and light limestone, rises 15 levels above the base and is capped with a large, distinctive abstraction of the cornices below. It will be one of the most well-known landmarks in the city when completed.

Design and planning for the project is being done under a joint venture of two nationally recognized firms - Kallman McKinnell and Wood Architects Inc. of Boston, and Karlsberger Architects Inc. of Columbus Ohio. Construction manager for the project is a joint venture of Turner Construction, Cleveland, and 3D International of Houston.

The Dick Corporation, Pittsburgh, is the general contractor and construction manager. Hvac and plumbing was awarded to The Smith and Oby Company, Cleveland.

Mike Martin said a lot of planning sessions and late nights went into carrying out this fast-paced project, but there were no unusual problems. "It was just one big project instead of a lot of smaller ones," he said.

While a big job, the company is no stranger to this type of work. Early on, Tom Sr. got a boost when he landed work for the Cleveland Convention Center, Jacob's Field, the Renaissance office building and, more recently, Progressive Insurance as a mechanical contractor.

Martin Duct has been adding more and more fittings, taps, end caps, reducers, volume dampers, etc. where needed to lessen the amount of labor that has to be done in the field - often under adverse conditions.

Standard spiral is fabricated to SMACNA 4-inch water gauge; higher pressure classes are available. Standard duct and fittings are fabricated from galvanized steel meeting ASTM A-527. Other materials available include: paintgrip, black iron, polyvinyl coated, aluminum and stainless steel.

Dual wall spiral and fittings use "AccuFlange" for leak-free connections. Companion flange, vanstone and other connection types are available. Available fitting seams are gorelock, spot and seal, and welded, among others.

Rectangular duct is made from galvanized steel meeting ASTM A-527, with other materials available. Available connections are slip and drive, TDC and raw edge, among others. Coil line duct seams are Pittsburgh, snap lock or raw for welded seam.

Is there a problem working with family? Nope. "When they were young I was their coach," says Tom Sr., "and we learned how to deal with things; now we know how to deal with each other at work. Family is family, and business is business. Guys tell me they can't work with their family, but we do and we have a good time at it."

Tom Martin Jr. gets asked a question common to many who have expanded their in-house fabrication work: any problem selling to other installers? Not really, he said. "Of course, we'd prefer to get the installation work as well, but that's not always possible."

He also said something that may be a sign of our changing times, or maybe just a temporary glitch in the local winter construction market: T.H. Martin isn't hiring. After hearing the beleaguered cry so long and from so many quarters for more skilled workers, "We're pretty much where we want to be right now," Martin said. "Things have slowed down a bit locally. Not slow, just not as busy as they were." Tom Sr. says Cleveland is a good place to live, and a good place to raise a family. "There's access to culture, there's sporting events," he said. "I might prefer to leave it for a while in the winter, but otherwise it's just fine."