90-year-old construction firm closing

90-year-old construction firm closing

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WATERLOO --- A 90-year-old construction company that built many of the buildings of Waterloo's largest manufacturers and retail centers is closing.

Prairie Construction, the successor to Jens Olesen & Sons Co., one of Waterloo's oldest construction businesses, is closing effective at the end of next month.

The announcement of the impending closure was made to its employees Friday.

"We had a stockholders meeting Thursday and developed a plan to dissolve the company," Prairie President Mike Christiason said. "It's been a pretty difficult economic climate in which to operate for a few years, so we decided this was the best direction for the company."

Several options were considered.

"It's a business decision. Not a business failure," Christiason emphasized. "We will proceed with the work we have under contract and go about closing out the affairs of the company and meeting all the obligations to our clients currently under contract."

That includes two high-profile downtown Waterloo projects: the Public Market building at the RiverLoop Expo plaza, and Riverfront Renaissance work on the west bank of the Cedar River between US Bank and the Waterloo Center for Arts.

"Most of our projects will be completed by the end of September," Christiason said, when a company equipment and inventory auction is scheduled.

The company currently employs about 25 people. Prairie officials will do what they can to help them find other work, Christiason said.

Prairie Construction at 321 W. 18th St., was established as Jens Olesen & Sons Co. in 1921. The older company merged with companion company Prairie in 1989.

"It's a real history that the two companies have enjoyed," Christiason said. "It's been a pleasure for everyone there to be of service to not only Waterloo and Cedar Falls but all of Eastern Iowa and around the state. It's better to go out with our heads held high and proud of what our associates have done over these 90 years."

Jens Olesen & Sons built much of what was became the John Deere Waterloo Tractor Works on Westfield Avenue, as well as The Rath Packing Co.

After World War II, the company also worked on numerous public and parochial schools, including St. Edward in Waterloo, St. John's in Independence, St. Patrick in Cedar Falls and Marshalltown High School and its "roundhouse" auditorium.

Other projects included the original Schoitz Memorial Hospital, now Ridgeway Place; and additional floor on Allen Hospital, and work on the old St. Francis Hospital at 1407 Independence Ave., now the Pinecrest Black Hawk County office building. Later the company built Black Hawk Village in Cedar Falls and Crossroads Center in Waterloo and was involved in construction and remodeling projects at College Square mall and the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

Other current projects include completing work on a new rooftop helipad project at Waverly Health Center, a remodeling project at UNI, a remodeling project for Kerry Ingredients in Vinton, and several small projects for MidAmerican Energy and at John Deere.

"We are also completing Phase 1 work on Bremer Hall Remodeling at Hawkeye Community College. " Christiason said. "We will be working with the owner and architect to assure a seamless completion of Phase 2 work that is scheduled for the summer of 2012."

Roger Olesen, former company president and grandson of Jens Olesen, the company's Danish immigrant founder, has been out of the business for about 10 years, but said he was sorry to hear the news.

"It's been in the family for a number of years. It always had a very good reputation and we worked hard to maintain that good name" through four generations, Olesen said. "It was successful. But it's a tough thing and there's a lot of competition out there."


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