In the business cycle of a development that involves building on land, the civil engineer typically is one of the first professionals whose skills are needed on a project.
“A lot of people don’t do that,” said Kyle Davis, a licensed professional engineer and vice president of Baker Design Build.
“People sometimes purchase real estate without knowing the pitfalls of what they are buying. There may be zoning, wetlands and environmental and infrastructure issues or building code or land use requirements.”
Tamara Baker, a licensed professional engineer and general contractor, established the firm in 2004 as a one-woman business.
“I started it in my laundry room,” Baker said.
In the past 17 years, the company has grown to 25 employees that work in offices on the second floor at the Cecil W. Powell Building in Downtown Jacksonville.
When Davis, 44, joined the firm in 2018, the focus shifted to the design-build business model that combines civil and structural engineering, architecture and construction.
“It is more efficient than the typical design, bid and then build. In design-build we evaluate and value-engineer as we go,” Davis said.
“That helps keep costs in line and the project in the budget. It also shortens the time from design conception until you can move into your building.”
The company specializes in small- and medium-scale projects.
“We’re not like Haskell or Stellar. We are a small business and a boutique contractor,” Baker said.
The firm also performs threshold inspections, independent third-party evaluations of a contractor’s work that lets the developer/owner know whether a completed project complies with all regulations and construction requirements.
The accelerated growth in multifamily development in Jacksonville has helped Baker Design Build grow its business.
Baker and her team are the civil engineers for the Atlantic North apartments, a four-building, 300-unit community under development at northwest Atlantic and Kernan boulevards that made this year’s list of top construction projects.
“We’ve had one apartment project a year for the past six years,” Davis said.
The company also has worked on projects including the Duval County Courthouse in LaVilla, Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center on the Southbank, the Jessie Ball duPont Center Downtown, the Daily’s Place amphitheater adjacent to TIAA Bank Field and the air traffic control tower at Cecil Spaceport.
Working with the National Park Service is another niche, Baker said.
In 2018, the firm received the Associated Builders and Contractors Excellence in Construction Award for work it performed in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District in Atlanta, including the complete restoration of a two-story building and replacing the roof on Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The recently completed Elena Flats apartments in the Cathedral District Downtown is another of its historic restoration structural engineering projects.
“It was a hard project because the building was so dilapidated,” Baker said.
Restoration of the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is the firm’s current federal historic preservation project.
The company also is working on the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Bay Street Innovation Corridor, a 3-mile project from Hogan Street to the Sports and Entertainment District. It is the first phase of JTA’s Ultimate Urban Circulator autonomous vehicle service in Downtown Jacksonville.
“We also work on schools and warehouses. We do a little of everything because we have to,” Baker said.
Born and raised in Folkston, Georgia, Baker said her family often visited Jacksonville to shop or see a movie.
After graduating from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in civil engineering, she wanted to live and work in a growing city and be close to her family as she began her career.
“I’ve watched Jacksonville grow a lot. We’ll work anywhere in the Southeast, but our bread and butter is here at home,” Baker said.
“If you love Jacksonville, it will love you back.”