FISTA demolition

Demolition work launched earlier this summer is removing the retail aspects of the old Sears store in Central Mall, allowing conversion of the space for use by defense contractors.

Members of the FISTA Development Trust Authority are negotiating with an Oklahoma City construction firm to oversee conversion of the former Sears department store in Central Mall.

The one-time retail space will be the first major site for defense contractors who will be tenants of the FISTA — FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator — inside Central Mall. Trust authority members said last month they would be meeting with four contractors who were interested in providing oversight for the mall conversion project. Those firms were Crossland Construction of Oklahoma City and CDBL of Lawton (both have managed local construction projects), L.D. Kerns Contractors, Jenks, and Smith & Pickel Construction, Oklahoma City.

It was Smith & Pickel that ranked highest in a rating system assigned by a trust authority subcommittee meeting with contractors.

Isaac Hines, architect with the FISTA’s architectural firm FSB Architects and Engineers said subcommittee members interviewed representatives of the four firms to get to the point of negotiating a contract. Hines said the ranking system takes a variety of issues into account, including the complexity of the buildout necessary to convert what had been retail space into secured space that defense contractors must have while working on projects for the U.S. military.

Hines said that process includes installation of security measures, and everything that is done during construction must be strictly documented under Department of Defense regulations.

“It’s more technical than what I deal with 80 percent of the time,” Hines said, of the complexities of the defense contractor innovation park that don’t occur during a normal construction project.

Those complexities are what gave Smith & Pickel the edge, committee members said.

Barry Ezerski said the firm and its president/owner Matthew Thomas was involved in construction projects such as the Chesapeake Energy Corporation’s campus and data centers, proving he is “one of the best technical minds” for this type of construction. The scoring system put in place for the project reflects the technical aspect of the job, and that’s where the firm shined, Ezerski and Hines said.

The unanimous decision last week by the trust authority doesn’t hire the firm. Rather, the action directs committee members to negotiate a contract with Smith & Pickel, with that contract to be brought back to the full trust authority for approval in September.

The work initially will center on the old Sears, which will be the first full buildout of defense contractor space, FISTA Director James Taylor has said. While three defense contractor tenants (Dynetics Technical Solutions, Nemean Solutions and Raytheon) already are on site in Central Mall, those eight employees are being housed temporarily in the Business Integration Center until their renovated space is available.

FISTA officials have said they wanted renovation of the Sears space completed by year’s end.

Taylor said Midwest Wrecking has just about completed interior demolition work inside Sears and has moved to the former Dillard’s department store, which will be the second vacant retail space converted to FISTA use. Although Dillard’s won’t be converted for a while, FISTA board members combined demolition of the two former retail spaces into one $713,000 demolition contract to speed conversion.