The Mechanical-System Mavericks

Female-owned Huckestein Mechanical Services is breaking its industry’s business mold in more than one way

At the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg, PA, HMS replaced existing rooftop air-handling units with YORK equipment from Johnson Controls. The units had to be lifted by crane over the dome of the courthouse.

At a Glance

Location
Duquesne, PA

Founded
1948

Employees
30

Specialties
HVAC service and maintenance, design-build projects, energy management, building controls and automation, and retrocommissioning

Annual Sales
$7 million

Huckestein Mechanical Services, Inc. (HMS) was founded in western Pennsylvania, a man’s world of steel mills and blue-collar labor, and it took a long time for the business to get beyond that. The company began operations in 1948 as the C. L. Fallon Corporation, and it focused mainly on sheet-metal fabrication and installation. Then, in 1978, James E. Huckestein, an active member of Steamfitters Local Union 449, expanded the business under his name to include mechanical contracting, and HMS spent the next three decades aggressively adding new capabilities, including comprehensive plumbing, piping, and HVAC construction services.

It wasn’t until 2010, though, that current owner and CEO Wendy Staso, former manager at Westinghouse Electric Corporation and TNG Enterprises, LLC, entered the scene. Staso purchased the company and turned it into the premier woman-owned, full-service mechanical contractor in the region. “With my purchase of the company, leveraging our woman-owned status became a key component of the marketing strategy,” she says.

Mecal McDade, HMS’s business development and energy management director, agrees. “In addition to this leveraging,” she says, “we have also reaped substantial benefits from Wendy’s vision to restructure the company to focus on higher-margin, repeat business.”

Today, the company specializes in HVAC service, design-build projects, energy management, building controls and automation, and retrocommissioning. It brings its skills to bear on high-profile projects, including a recent renovation of the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensberg, Pennsylvania. Constellation Energy selected HMS to do the mechanical work for the multimillion-dollar project.

The job—replacing air-conditioning equipment during cooling season—was accomplished while the courthouse continued operations; this required creative project management of on-site resources, delivery schedules, and inventory storage. Over the course of two separate weekends, HMS used a 285-ton crane to lift four new rooftop HVAC units over the building’s 65-foot-high dome, and because of meticulous planning, the courthouse went without cooling for only three days—with virtually no disruption to the occupants. “It was a challenging project because it took place during the summer, and the building could not be without cooling for an extended period of time.” Staso says.

In keeping with HMS’s new business model, the courthouse project was a design-build retrofit for an existing maintenance customer. Staso and her team were able to use their knowledge of the building—gained through a long-standing client relationship—and the team’s aggregate technical expertise to ensure a cost-efficient installation. “Our core competencies are just as much concerned with cost-effectiveness and technological efficiency as they are with streamlined energy-management operations,” McDade says.

Heating and cooling systems account for the largest amount of energy usage in residential and commercial buildings. Huckestein provides customized solutions to achieve energy reductions through energy-efficient equipment, conservation design projects, and energy audits. Because Huckestein’s work helps companies enhance mechanical efficiency, the firm provides energy savings assessments and strategic capital planning in addition to its trade services.

“At first there was some skepticism that a woman could actually thrive in this industry,” Staso says, “but over the past two and a half years, with the direction I’ve taken the company and the successes we’ve enjoyed, that attitude is beginning to change.” ABQ