Pandemic Or Not, Here Comes The New HQ

How United and Blue federal credit unions completed construction on their new headquarters with little or no delay.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Despite the coronavirus pandemic striking during construction, Blue FCU is on track to completing its headquarters project on schedule and under budget.
  • The coronavirus caused a month-long statewide shutdown during the construction of United FCU’s new headquarters, which gave the credit union time to redesign the interior of the building to allow for more social distancing.

There’s no good time for a deadly pandemic. For two credit unions — one in the Rocky Mountain West and the other on Lake Michigan — the coronavirus complicated matters beyond figuring out how to serve members while working from home.

United Federal Credit Union ($3.2B, St. Joseph, MI) and Blue Federal Credit Union ($1.3B, Cheyenne, WY) were both fully immersed in headquarter construction projects when COVID-19 struck. Both are still on track to open their new digs this fall, although each credit union has had to deal with challenges along the way. 

On Time And Under Budget In Wyoming 

Blue FCU is the product of the 2016 merger of Warren Federal Credit Union in Wyoming and Community Financial Credit Union in Colorado. The credit union now has support staff at four locations across the two states. What it doesn’t have is a headquarters building.

That will change with a new building in Cheyenne that combines a 75,000-square-foot main office building with community and amenity space, two grass plazas for community events, and a contemplative garden for events like weddings and anniversaries, says Blue EVP/CFO Kim Alexander.

The community wing will include a kitchen, bar, and open area that can accommodate up to 300 people seated or 150 at round tables, Alexander says. There also are two accompanying retail buildings that can house up to eight businesses along with a Blue branch also speak to the credit union’s commitment to the local community it has served for decades, beginning as the cooperative for F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

The new headquarters campus for Blue FCU includes a large building that will house office space for Blue as well as event space for the community. A second facility will house retail space for businesses and a branch for Blue.

“The project is special in that Blue chose to revitalize a section of Cheyenne that has become run down with abandoned businesses,” Alexander says. “The community has been supportive and is excited to see this central location become viable again.”

Blue closed on the land purchase in January 2019. The credit union then demolished the existing buildings, including asbestos removal, before beginning construction on its new home, which it expects to be ready to occupy in November. Then, the coronavirus hit.

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Wyoming never went into the kind of lockdown that most other states did, so the pandemic complicated construction but did not halt the project. The contractor adopted CDC guidance and conducted daily temperature checks as well as required the wearing of masks,  Alexander says. 

“To date, we’ve not had any positive COVID-19 cases on the site, which is pretty good with contractors coming in from Colorado and Wyoming and more than 100 workers on the site on a busy day,” the Blue executive says.

Some building supply manufacturers did have to shut down plants, but Alexander says the credit union made arrangements to keep the project on schedule and even under budget as it cruises toward its November opening. Having most of the pricing under contract before the pandemic struck helped in this regard.  



Social Distancing On The Shores Of Lake Michigan

United FCU serves more than 174,000 members through 37 branches in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Nevada. But for its new headquarters building, United is returning to its roots. 

Timeless Tips To Complete Construction

Stacy Fillmore, chief operating officer at United FCU, and Kim Alexander, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Blue FCU, offer tips that can apply to any major construction project during good times and bad.

  • Contract with a respected builder, and hire an expert guide. Credit union leaders are good at leading credit unions, not necessarily construction projects. “Our consultant has been instrumental in working with our contractor to save the credit union money and ensuring our new headquarters is built with the best products and quality construction,” Alexander says.
  • There will be challenges, delays, and other unforeseen issues, so develop a contingency plan for each aspect of the project. “Although a pandemic wasn’t part of the plan, we were able to re-evaluate our options, retool our plans, and continue to make progress toward our goal,” Fillmore says.
  • Don’t underestimate the investment necessary in technology and furniture.
  • Visit other credit unions that have recently built new headquarters. “Sharing ideas and data has been a large part of our successful budgeting,” Alexander says.

Whirlpool employees founded the cooperative in 1949. Now, for its new HQ, United has purchased a site in St. Joseph from the global appliance maker. The new site is located just a few streets away from United’s current headquarters, but the 80,000-square-foot facility — now slated to open in October instead of late July — will double the space provided by the credit union’s current 35,000-square-foot location.

The new facility — dubbed Team United HQ — sits across the street from Lake Michigan and includes several amenities, such as a wellness room, a fitness center with locker rooms, game tables, a cafeteria/micro-market, and a courtyard with a deck, a fountain, and outdoor seating.

Like Blue, United is combining employees from four buildings into one. The move will cut overhead costs and boost collaboration. To ensure the latter, the credit union has designed plenty of open collaboration space, with 11 bookable conference rooms, eight no-reservation spaces, and 88 workstations, says chief operating officer Stacy Fillmore.

“This building is designed to foster inter-department communication and idea-sharing that allows us to work more efficiently with the member in mind,” Fillmore says. 

Construction stopped for a month during Michigan’s statewide shutdown and was further slowed by distancing mandates that limited one group of trades workers to be in any single area at a time.

The credit union took that extra time to seek employee input and rethink its workstation layouts. It now has designed spaces that allow for more physical distancing and safety barriers between cubicles. It also has delayed ordering some of the collaborative area furniture.

“Some of the plan for the physical space has changed for the time-being,” Fillmore says. “But United still encourages employees to practice virtual and distanced collaboration that keeps the spirit of our culture — and of Team United HQ — alive and well.”

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