Five Buildings In 10 Days

Staff | September 28, 2010

Five brick-clad, steel and concrete three-story dormitory buildings, capped by graceful peaked roofs to blend with the historic Allentown, Pa., area, were installed at Muhlenberg College in an almost unimaginable timeframe. The initial section of the first building was delivered to the site on Thursday, June 14 — the fifth and final building was completed by Monday, June 25. Each building contains six suites with accommodations for 30 students — a total of 41,000 square feet of student residence.

To replace outdated and inadequate dormitory space, the college chose to avoid the disruption that new construction would bring to the lives of students and townspeople by contracting for permanent modular buildings that could be installed quickly and cost-effectively during the school's summer break, a period of just 12 weeks. Following in the footsteps of Yale University (which recently dedicated a new Kullman built modular brick dormitory) and other colleges, Muhlenberg College turned to an established manufacturer of permanent, factory-built buildings to complete the job in record time.

Kullman Buildings Corp., a Lebanon, N.J.- based manufacturer of permanent, factory-built commercial and multistory buildings established in 1927, created the revolutionary construction process under which the dorms are built and installed. Like conventionally constructed buildings, the dorms incorporate traditional materials including concrete floors, steel framing and full brick exteriors. Spillman Farmer is the architect of the project. The construction manager is Whiting Turner. Michael Brewer is director of plant operations for Muhlenberg College.

Key to the building assembly was the 600-ton crane, the biggest mobile crane on the East Coast, from Kenilworth, N.J.-based United Crane Rentals. The firm's hydraulic all-terrain cranes include capacities up to 600 tons and boom lengths up to 420 feet with luffing jib and superlift attachments.

In the spring of 1937, United Crane and Shovel Service opened for business in Newark, N.J. — the brainchild of Edward T. Shinn and his son Edward Shinn Jr. The younger Shinn fabricated, patented and manufactured his own design of truck-mounted hoists, which became known as 'jiffy hoists.' For many years, these machines could be seen on job sites throughout the tri-state area.

Today United Crane Rentals is owned and operated by Timothy H. Shinn, the great-grandson of United's founder. Having been involved in the business for the past 35 years running, Timmy learned all aspects of the crane rental business by spending the first 17 years of his career in the field as an equipment operator, followed by seven years as United's treasurer and general manager. In 1995, Timmy Shinn became the sole owner and president of the company when he purchased all outstanding shares of United Crane from his other family members.

Kullman History

In the same year Charles Lindbergh would make his solo crossing of the Atlantic and Hollywood would introduce the "talking picture," a quiet but determined Sam Kullman started his own company building diners. Sam struck out on his own, leaving behind a good job with an industry leader and now a major competitor. With the Great Depression looming, perhaps it wasn't the best time for startups, yet Sam's business acumen and attention to quality and customer loyalty allowed him to thrive. Six years later, his former employer faced bankruptcy while Sam's new company began a legacy of quality and innovation that now stretches 75 years — and counting.

The diner industry provided turn-key, portable restaurants that served a market seeking fast, low-cost, home-cooked meals. Kullman Diners during this period earned a reputation within its industry for innovation and quality, placing it as a leader by the onset of World War II. The company consistently strove to introduce the latest materials into its product line, which then featured the earliest uses of stylized, fabricated stainless steel and Formica surface laminates — elements that still make the diner so immediately recognizable today.

Returning from service in World War II, Sam's son Harold Kullman joined the company after having earned his own degrees in finance and engineering. In a time when the industry produced larger and more ornate diners, Kullman advanced the design and construction standards of the industry. Sam's direction would see Kullman build some of the roadside's most streamlined and soaring restaurant designs.

Trends would prove fickle, however. By the mid-1960s, the spread of the "family restaurant" concept would induce Kullman's designers to reverse course. Suddenly, the diner experience would reflect a cozier setting drawing from colonial America — then all the rage in home decorating.

Still, the decade would not bode well for the industry. With the rise of the fast-food industry encroaching on America's roadsides, the demand for large, multisectioned diners had seriously contracted. The spreading popularity of homey chains such as Howard Johnson's and their meticulous attention to operational consistency threatened the family-owned diner as never before.

Clearly, the company would need a new direction or face its own demise. "We were friendly with presidents of different banks," Harold recalls, "because we provided financing for some of their diner projects." At the time, banks looked to expand their business by building more suburban branches. Kullman developed some plans up for branch banks, exploiting the advantages of prefabricated construction.

The result was America's first bank constructed in the modular process, installed in Marlboro, New Jersey, and still in use. This milestone coincided with the entry into the business of the Kullman family's third generation, Robert Kullman. Seeing a new direction for the family business, Robert set out to prove to the world of the benefits of modular construction.

Strip a diner of its stainless steel, its restaurant equipment, furnishings and ornamentation, and what remains is a highly durable steel and concrete building module that interconnects with other such modules to form a variety of building types. Kullman, with Robert's urging, aggressively pursued this new potential in the corrections, educational, institutional, and broader food service markets.

The company coined the term "Accelerated Construction" to describe a building process free from the uncertainties of weather, site conditions and contractor relations. Accelerated or factory construction utilizes the same building materials and labor found on any project site, but with an extra measure of quality control and predictability.

With the explosive growth of wireless communications, equipment shelters have also become a core part of the company's business. Kullman's design-build capabilities and tight control over the manufacturing environment made it a logical candidate for mass-producing diminutive but vital structures to protect sensitive communications equipment against extreme weather and vandalism.

If you don't use a cell phone or you don't eat at diners, you or your child may have attended one of the many school facilities Kullman has constructed. Kullman calculates over 60,000 students presently attend the over 2,500 classrooms built by the company in just the last 20 years.

In 1994, Kullman made history yet again by building a United States embassy structure at its plant in Avenel, New Jersey and shipping it to Bissau, Guinea-Bissau. This development marked the first construction of an American embassy in America, and its success led to projects for Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Manufactured, shipped and assembled by American personnel with security clearances, Kullman helped the State Department avoid the security risks that often plague on-site construction by local labor in foreign countries.

With all those old stainless steel diners disappearing off the landscape, the smart money betted on the diner's extinction. Yet, some individuals took notice and worked to elevate this unique architectural form into a new level of appreciation. In 1988, Jeffrey Gildenhorn's new restaurant in Washington, D.C. drew its inspiration from the style of a classic 1950s vintage Kullman diner. Gildenhorn asked the company to build the American City, a retro-styled diner that complied with all modern building codes. Kullman has since furthered this trend with new retro-styled diner construction and renovations across the northeast and overseas.

In 1995, Kullman moved to its new facility in Lebanon, New Jersey, greatly expanding the company's capacity to produce an increasing variety of building types. In the past decade, Kullman constructed hospitals and a college campus, while its food service division has branched out to build double drive-through hamburger restaurants and stylish drive-up businesses for coffee vendors. In 2003, the company expanded its presence in the correctional facility market by acquiring the key assets of Mark Solutions, Inc., the leading manufacturer of galvannealed steel jail and prison cells.