As the fifth generation of the family business, John Feick was well on his way to building his future at a young age.
Watching his father, Edward L. Feick, manage the architectural, contracting and surveying firm, Feick said he can’t recall a moment of doubt about his career path.
“I’m not sure I ever thought I wasn’t going to be taking over the family business,” he said Wednesday afternoon inside his East Water Street office. “From the time I was very young, I cut grass for my dad, swept the shop, then started working in the office drafting until I finally graduating to estimating before I got to college.”
Feick graduated from Sandusky High School in 1968 and was recruited by several colleges for a swimming scholarship — but having already made up his mind to join the family business, a quality architecture program was his first priority.
He graduated in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Kent State University and returned home.
Arriving in Sandusky by his side was his college sweetheart, Jean, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who works as an advanced practitioner nurse at Firelands Regional Medical Center. The couple have a son, Adam, who works as an electrical engineer for Honda in Marysville, and a daughter, Molly Barcus, employed with a mattress company in Norwalk.
Now in his late 50s, Feick took a few moments to reflect upon the visions of his great-grandfather, Adam Feick, who arrived from Germany in 1850 and founded the company two years later — and how the building and design industry has evolved.
Q. Tell us about the history of Feick Companies.
A. We’re real proud of the history here. The founder, Adam Feick, brought in his brother, George, and started the business as Adam Feick & Brother. (Early examples of their work include buildings at Oberlin College and Lake Erie Women’s College.) Then in the early 1900s, he and his brother split, and George kept the business with his sons for himself. Adam’s son, John Feick, began developing it in other regions of the country. Back then, they traveled all over. My great-grandfather built the Wyoming State Capital Building in 1880 when the state was just getting started. There was nothing out there at the time, so he wrote letters daily to his uncle, asking him to send more materials by train. Later on, the company also built the big sugar mill upon which Sugar City, Colo., was founded and most stone buildings in Ohio, including Ohio State University, Oberlin, lots of churches and many of the wood buildings at Put-In-Bay.
Q. Whom do you admire most as an architect?
A. I don’t have one. Everyone seems to identify with Frank Lloyd Wright, but to be a good architect, you have to be very good at making buildings look good and also making them work. He was very good at making them look good but very bad at making them work.
Q. Tell us about some of the biggest projects your firm has worked on since you’ve been here.
A. At one time, we did a lot of motels — almost all the motels you see from Elyria all the way to Port Clinton. Then, after that market became less viable, we’ve been doing a lot of expansions and remodeling, rather than building new things. Probably the biggest expansion we did was the Huron Library addition, and it turned out really well.
Q. Do you have a favorite building or style of architecture in downtown Sandusky?
A. I like the style of old buildings, whether they’re stone or brick, because of the details of the stone work, which is what makes the building have an image. When those buildings were built, they spent time to do a lot of detail with the stone work. Buildings have a different character now because stone is so expensive. It’s just the natural progression of society.
Q. If downtown Sandusky was entirely yours to rebuild and redesign, with no budget or time limitations, what would you do?
A. We could put in a marketplace downtown and have all kinds of things — shoes, groceries, a salon — but if there’s no market for it, it won’t thrive. That’s the problem — there’s no market. What we need is a mixed-use residential area where a lot of people will walk around the downtown. I’d move Battery Park Marina and the Sandusky Yacht Club to Columbus Avenue so we’d have transient docking as a centerpiece, not on the fringe.
Q. Who or what has influenced your life the most, and what did you learn?
A. My dad (Ed Feick) — I worked for him all my life and worked with him until he retired in the mid-1980s and became elected as the Erie County Engineer. He taught me, No. 1, to do a project right, no matter what, and No. 2, to take care of the customer. People I talk to, when asked what they know us for, it’s always the quality of workmanship — people can’t take that way from you.
Q. What will we most likely see in the buildings of the future?
A. The big thing right now is energy. We’re so used to cheap gas and oil that now that it’s costing more, we’re looking for ways to heat more efficiently, and green technology is going to be the driving force. But it also costs us more money to build more efficiently, so there’s a learning curve we’ll all be involved in. We’ll start to see new products, such as styrofoam concrete forms that you set up like Legos and fill with concrete — they’re super energy-efficient and really good for sound.
Q. How long do you think it will take (and what will it take) for us to make those adaptations?
A. We’re used to everybody using two-by-fours with vinyl siding for houses, but there’s so much more, and we’re not quite ready to buy into it yet. What I think we’ll see more than anything are fully-integrated buildings, which are not only saving energy but enhancing the building itself. For example, we have rain water systems we now use to collect gray water to flush our toilets. The south needs them to capture and reuse all the water they can, and we’re used to having an abundant supply with Lake Erie. But when water costs as much as oil does, we’re all going to be doing that. What we need is for the government to get out of the way. They’re paying a lot of money to subsidize ethanol, which has made it become prevalent, but it’s taken corn out of production for food and other items. Instead of that, we should take the money and put it into windmills or solar power. Big industry will do anything if it’s subsidized and they can make enough money off it, but they don’t see enough profit in alternative energy yet.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
What’s in your CD player, iPod or stereo right now?
In the office, I listen to a lot of public radio because it’s soothing. In the car, I listen to oldies.
How are you most likely to spend your vacations?
In Cape Cod, Mass., with my wife’s family. But most of the time I spend there is doing maintenance on their house.
The three little pigs built with straw, sticks and bricks. What’s your building material of choice?
Actually, straw. There’s technology out there now for hay bale construction, which is extremely energy-efficient. But you’ll see it out west more than here.
What building innovation excites you most?
This isn’t all that new, but CAD (computer assisted drafting). In the past, we needed 10 people to do a project, and now we can do it with one. And smaller firms can now compete with bigger firms.
What advice would you give to an aspiring architect?
Coming into the business today is very different than it was when I first started. They need to be really computer-literate and have a good math and science background, as well as social studies and English. But as much as they need to know the math and computer skills, they really have to have people skills, too. So it’s almost an extrovert-geek that’s needed. That’s not to say that you can’t learn those skills if you don’t have them — you just have to want to do it.