Architectural ‘Supergroup’ Draws on Experience

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Three firms that in their own right have built long-standing reputations in the Mahoning Valley have joined forces and created an architectural “supergroup” that combines the resources, experience and expertise of each.

The principals of Strollo Architects Inc., BSHM Architects Inc. and Phillips Sekanick Architects Inc. last year incorporated as Axiom Architects LLC, a partnership designed to harness the talents of the 20 registered architects of the three firms to tackle projects that on their own would be difficult to secure.

“Each of us have specializations,” says Gregg Strollo, principal of Strollo Architects, Youngstown.

Strollo’s firm has carved out a strong business in the health-care industry, while Phillips Sekanick has concentrated on projects related to retail, restaurant and commercial development. And BSHM over the years has earned a strong reputation in designing buildings for K-12 and higher education.

“We have a collection of folks who didn’t compete with one another in their field[s] of expertise,” Strollo says. “Now, collectively, we have a much broader portfolio.”

The concept behind Axiom was to create a company that allows these firms to pursue projects together that before would have been considered out of reach for each individual business. “Markets that we didn’t pursue before, we’ll pursue as Axiom,” he says.

Strollo says the companies will remain intact and maintain their clienteles. “It wouldn’t make sense to ask Phillips Sekanick to allow Axiom to do a project for Covelli Enterprises,” he says. “They’ve been doing that work all along. And they should keep it.”

The portfolio of Strollo Architects, for example, includes work on health care-related projects such as the St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital of Mercy Health, the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center and the Howland Medical Center. Phillips Sekanick boasts a resume that includes O’Charley’s restaurants, banks, office buildings and commercial retail outlets. The work of BSHM includes Liberty High School, the K-12 campus of Brookfield School District and the renovation of Cleveland Heights-University Heights High School.

However, for clients with more diverse and sophisticated needs, Axiom draws from a large pool of talent that could now address design, building and issues of functionality.

“We can pool this talent and really become a competitive entity. The background we have places us in a very good position,” Strollo says.

Recently, he discovered that Axiom was on the short list for a probate court project in Findlay. “We would have never been able to get this close as an individual firm,” Strollo acknowledges.

Among the first projects for Axiom are the new offices of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, under construction along state Route 193 in Vienna Township.

“This building is going to be a showpiece,” says Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of The Builders.

The 4,500-square-foot building will include offices, a large conference area and a smaller conference room that is more easily adapted for advanced technology.

“We do a lot of training here, and hopefully our members will be able to use this space for some of their training,” Reilly says.

The $1.5 million project should be completed in eight months.

“They’ve done a great job working with us,” Reilly says of Axiom.

The Builders project is a logical first step for the new company, says John Orsini, principal at BSHM.

“This was a project that presented some open opportunities,” he explains. “We’re collaborating on a new design that’s based on their needs, instead of the facility that’s already there.”

Orsini says the collaboration among Strollo, Phillips Sekanick and BSHM made sense since it also enables the firm to secure work outside of the immediate area and be considered for new, more complex projects. For example, BSHM has an office in Columbus, and Axiom now has the resources to compete head-to-head with some of the larger firms in that market.

“It’s an interesting model for a business,” Orsini says. “Things change quite fast in the market and you need to keep up with the times.”

Aside from The Builders’ new offices, Axiom was recently awarded two other major design projects: the indoor tennis court and bowling recreation center proposed for Youngstown State University near Belmont Avenue, and the Girard Performing Arts Center at Girard High School, says Bruce Sekanick, principal at Phillips Sekanick in Warren.

“If we come together under a single roof, it just makes sense,” he says.

The YSU center and other projects like it, for example, puts Axiom on the radar of other universities, Sekanick adds.

“There was a project at Kent State that we didn’t get, but we were on the short list,” he says, noting that neither of the firms individually would have even bid on the project in the past. “There are a few other ones we’ve interviewed for, and they appear to be good,” he says.

Moreover, Sekanick says, the collaboration allows employees to expand their interests and pursue other directions within the company. “It gives our employees an opportunity to work on a wider variety of projects,” he says.
This, he emphasizes, is especially important for younger architects who want to assume a future leadership role, Sekanick says.

“We’re a very small profession,” he says, noting that there are about 116,000 registered architects in the country.

“There are a group of older architects that were practicing in the 1970s and 1980s who will be retiring,” Sekanick says. “This gives us an opportunity to grow the firm with our employees.”

Pictured: Bruce Sekanick, Gregg Strollo and John F. Orsini say their combined company is able to bid on a wider variety of building projects.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.