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BUILDING A FUTURE: JLG Architects to take on part of Schoen Associates; Schoen will concentrate on private clients

JLG Architects, one of the area's most prominent architectural firms, will soon absorb part of competitor Schoen Associates, Architects. Both firms are based in Grand Forks. JLG will take over Schoen's public sector projects and will take on thre...

JLG Architects, one of the area's most prominent architectural firms, will soon absorb part of competitor Schoen Associates, Architects.

Both firms are based in Grand Forks. JLG will take over Schoen's public sector projects and will take on three of Schoen's eight staff members. Some private clients, such as Bank Forward, will move to JLG Architects, and other Schoen Associates clients are expected to follow suit.

The two firms have similar portfolios and have collaborated on projects such as the design of the Alerus Center and UND's master plan.

"Our two companies have a similar style," JLG partner Lonnie Laffen said. "We are strictly architectural firms and our passion for design is shared between the two firms. It made sense for us to join together."

JLG will add the three Schoen employees Oct. 1, boosting the number of employees in JLG's Grand Forks office to 20. The company, which has added offices in Fargo, Minneapolis and Alexandria, Minn., since 2000, will see the size of its four offices combined swell to 40 employees.


The agreement, which was signed on Wednesday after about three weeks of discussions, will be more cost-effective for the firm, Laffen said.

"Size is a good thing in our profession," said Laffen, 49. "It allows you to provide better service. It will help with more manpower, more resources."

Schoen 'reinventing'

The development arm of Schoen Associates will remain open under the same name. The firm's staff will decline from eight to three, with principal Bill Schoen staying on along with a part-time architect and a part-time clerical worker. The firm, which was formed in 1983, will concentrate on a select number of private clients.

Co-founder Jim Kobetsky will retire, but will remain involved in development with Schoen Associates. Another Schoen Associates employee will leave the firm, but Schoen termed the departure as voluntary.

"Change is inevitable," said Schoen, 54. "The industry is changing. I have an opportunity to continue doing the business I love and join with a firm that is serious about architecture and continue with some of my clients.

"I'm not going away. I'm not retiring."

Neither firm would release the financial terms of the agreement. Schoen said he has "a few more quarters rolling around" in his pockets. But Schoen, who said his firm initiated the talks, said the change "isn't about money."


"We're reinventing ourselves," he said. "I get to concentrate on architecture. I get to spend my day planning things, designing things, which is what I love to do."

Schoen said he is excited about his change in focus, but admitted it will be difficult to let go of something he has helped to build over the past 24 years.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little sad," he said.

Fewer firms

The transaction will impact the pool of local firms bidding on public contracts.

"There are going to be fewer firms to choose from," said Rick Tonder, associate director of facilities and planning at UND. "There will be an impact. If you have fewer firms interviewing, you are going to have less exposure to ideas and different points of view."

But Tonder added, "there are still plenty of good architects in the region for us to choose from."

Both firms have been involved in a host of projects at UND from residence halls to the Ralph Engelstad Arena, which Schoen Associates helped design.


Other notable Schoen Associates projects include the Grand Forks County Office Building and East Grand Forks City Hall. Schoen Associates has also bought and redeveloped several older buildings into housing and commercial space, something that Schoen said the firm will continue doing.

JLG Architects was formed in 1989 and last year was named one of the 20 best architecture firms to work for in the country by ZweigWhite, an industry consulting and research company.

The firm's work includes the Canad Inns entertainment complex, the Devils Lake Air Terminal and a host of other civic, commercial, housing and retail developments.

JLG Architects will be designing the recently announced new terminal at Grand Forks International Airport.

The firm also received its first work order on Thursday for a border crossing station in Dunseith, N.D., the first of 44 such crossing stations it has contracted with the federal government to replace. In another connection between the two architectural firms, Schoen Associates worked on the border crossing station at Pembina.

"They have a backlog of knowledge and experience and we have a backlog of knowledge and experience," said Jim Galloway, 46, a principal in JLG Architects. "Combine those two and it makes us stronger."

Schuster reports on business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or rschuster@gfhe rald.com .

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