If you live in a region such as ours, it’s hard not to take note of the many public works construction projects underway.
On the Eastside, these projects are outsized and conspicuous, such as a $4.5 billion Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) project completed a few years ago that replaced a segment of Highway 520 spanning Lake Washington, or Sound Transit’s $3.7 billion project underway to bring light rail service to Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond by 2023.
These are just two examples of hefty public works projects that bode well for construction workers, project managers, and structural engineers. That’s particularly true for KBA Inc., a construction management firm founded 25 years ago.
“Quite a few municipalities and cities have passed bond measures to do capital work, so there’s quite a bit of local agency work right now,” said Kris Overleese, president and CEO of KBA, during an interview at the company’s headquarters in Bellevue’s Wilburton neighborhood. “Utilities (departments) are constantly building new infrastructure and maintaining what they have. There are new, big facilities for wastewater treatment being built in our state. There’s just a lot of work.”
As evidence, consider KBA’s portfolio of projects and clients, which overwhelmingly is comprised of large-scale public works infrastructure projects — roads, bridges, highways, utilities, and transit systems — for sizeable public entities such as Sound Transit; WSDOT; and municipalities that include Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Seattle, Woodinville, and others.
When KBA is hired for a project, it typically offers services such as contract administration, project documentation, inspection, quality assurance, project scheduling and administration, and design phase and preconstruction expertise.
Today, the company is one of the largest construction management firms in the Puget Sound region, employs 90 people, and earns about $16 million in gross revenue, according to Overleese.
There was a time when just getting a foothold in the public works sector was difficult for KBA and its founder, Kris Betty.
After graduating from the University of Washington in 1981, Betty was hired by Fluor, where she worked as a field engineer at the construction company’s oil refineries in California and Texas. In 1984, she returned to the Pacific Northwest, where she spent the next 10 years working as a construction manager and project engineer for Entranco, Taylor Bros., and Atkinson Construction.
Betty spent much of those years working on road and bridge projects, including Interstate 90 and Highway 520 bridge spans across Lake Washington.
“Bridges were kind of my passion,” she noted.
Still, a downside to the work was that she was increasingly sent to the far corners of the state to manage projects.
“As a contractor’s project engineer, you are bidding work all over the region,” she explained. “They could move me anywhere. I had young kids and a husband who also was a civil engineer. I decided to open KBA somewhat in a move to take control of my own career and not have somebody transfer me out of town.”
Those early years of Kristen Betty & Associates, or KBA, were lean and difficult.
“At first, it looked like I had a really bad business plan because I thought I would be doing public work,” Betty recalled. “But I couldn’t get any public work because the firm didn’t have a résumé, and I didn’t have any employees yet.”
Fortunately, Betty landed Weyerhaeuser Real Estate as a client, and managed the capital program for Snoqualmie Ridge, a master-planned residential community in Snoqualmie with approximately 2,000 homes, a golf course, and business park on nearly 1,350 acres. That led to more contracts managing other master-planned communities, such as Redmond Ridge, Northwest Landing in DuPont, and Issaquah Highlands.
“Once we had that private work, we built a corporate résumé, I had employees, and we could compete for public work in the public arena,” Betty said.
From there, the company hit its stride, taking on public works projects throughout the region, and even opening satellite offices in Olympia in 1999, and Mount Vernon and Seattle in 2013.
Focusing on public works projects has contributed to KBA’s longevity.
During economic downturns, developers and banks tend to hit pause on private development projects such as residential housing and commercial real estate. Meanwhile, public sector projects that already have funding or grant money in place tend to move forward regardless of economic winds.
“When you have employees that are relying on you to keep them employed no matter what the economic cycle is, the public works cycle tends to be more stable,” said Betty, who is transitioning to retirement, but remains the company’s board chairman. “And they are really interesting projects that we enjoy and take very seriously. It’s a special obligation to make sure that taxpayer dollars are well spent.”
When Betty started to consider retiring and finding a successor, she said it was her employees who first suggested reaching out to Overleese.
Overleese spent 15 years working as a management analyst and capital project manager with the City of Shoreline, as well as five years as a city engineer and, for three years during that period, public works director in the City of Kenmore.
She already was familiar with KBA, having hired KBA to work on a variety of public works projects — a $52 million project launched in 2008 to upgrade a stretch of Highway 99 through Shoreline, as well as a $10 million project launched in 2014 to upgrade a stretch of Highway 522 in Kenmore.
“It’s probably the hardest decision to make — who to hand the reins to,” Betty said. “(Kris) understands us; she understands our clients. We feel very fortunate that it has been such a great fit for both of us. She’s a fabulous leader, and the company is in very capable hands.”
Overleese, who was hired as KBA’s president and CEO in September 2017, added, “We laugh that it was probably a 13-year interview process. I had been a client for 13 years, and KBA had been a firm that worked for me that long … I wasn’t looking to leave. It just happened to be that my favorite consulting firm ever offered me an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m very grateful for my government career, but KBA is awesome.”
For now, KBA’s roster of projects and clients continues to grow. Last year, it wrapped up work on a two-year, $5.7 million project to rebuild Main Street in downtown Bothell following a massive fire.
It also worked on a $44 million roadway-improvement project near Costco in Issaquah.
Kevin Simmons, KBA’s lead resident engineer on the project, earned a fan in City of Issaquah Public Works Director Sheldon Lynne.
“He did an awesome job all the way around, from contractor management, client management, construction management, mentoring new KBA engineers, communications, problem-solving — the list goes on,” Lynne said. “I’d use Kevin on any job.”
The firm has been hired by Sound Transit to support its multibillion-dollar projects to bring light rail service to Federal Way, Lynnwood, Northgate, and Redmond. KBA has 12 employees working on the transportation agency’s $450 million Operations and Maintenance Facility under construction in Bellevue’s Spring District.
Later this year, KBA will begin to work with the City of Kenmore on a $35.8 million project to replace the West Sammamish River Bridge.
KBA also is working with the City of Bellevue on a $33 million project to bring roadway improvements to a section of 124th Avenue Northeast in Bellevue’s Spring District.
And KBA is working on a private sector project — namely, a massive underground parking garage that is being constructed as part of a multi-billion-dollar upgrade to Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters.
While there’s plenty of work in front of KBA, there’s also plenty of competition.
“We don’t ever take anything for granted,” Overleese said. “Any work that we pursue, we want to win it and we do our best to win it. That said, quite a bit of our work is repeat business. KBA has great people, does great work, and has a great reputation. We are trusted. All of those things matter. Of course, all of that helps.”
A History of Eastside Construction
For the past 25 years, Bellevue-based KBA has helped build infrastructure projects throughout Washington state, including many on the Eastside.
1 Following a massive fire in 2016, the City of Bothell hired KBA to help provide construction management and inspection support for the city’s $5.7 million Main Street Enhancement Project, which created a downtown urban center that featured a curbless street system with removable bollards, as well as increased mobility for pedestrians.
2 Hired by Sound Transit to work on its multi-billion-dollar projects to bring light rail service to Federal Way, Lynnwood, Northgate, and Redmond, KBA is providing design review and construction management as the transportation agency’s $450 million Operations and Maintenance Facility is built in Bellevue’s Spring District. When completed, the facility will be used to store, deploy, and service the light rail trains that will serve the Eastside beginning in 2023.
3 The City of Issaquah hired KBA to provide construction management services to a $44 million project along Southeast 62nd Street, between Lake Sammamish Parkway to Lake Drive, and near Costco headquarters. The corridor includes two roundabouts, a multi-use trail connection, sidewalks, and a redesigned bridge.
4 As part of a multi-billion-dollar upgrade to Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters campus, KBA has been hired to offer expertise on the construction of a massive underground parking garage.