Behind many of the most iconic structures on Bainbridge Island is a single name: Fairbank.
Pleasant Beach Village, Island Church, St. Cecelia School, Madrone Village, Manor House, the Beach House Restaurant, the Wing Point Clubhouse, the Pool at Pleasant Beach — all of these and more, plus a slew of private homes and special projects, are the work of Fairbank Construction Company.
Founded in 1978 in Snohomish County by CEO Tad Fairbank, the company recently celebrated four decades of business (36 of them spent based on Bainbridge Island).
“We want to do the best job that we possibly can and be as honest as we can with the client,” Fairbank said. “That’s kind of been my M.O. since I started the business: You don’t have to build it as cheap as possible. You don’t have to threaten a lawsuit if the owner complains. There’s a way to do business that’s fair and honest. You provide value and also want to be paid for it, but you don’t want to rip people off.”
Fairbank moved his family (wife and two boys, plus one on the way) to Bainbridge in 1982 — and the budding business soon followed.
“I didn’t move here to move my business here,” he said. “We just thought, ‘Wow, what a great place to live,’ and I was fully prepared to commute because we had projects going over in Seattle.
“Things just took off.”
Fairbank and company built a few homes on the island and suddenly found themselves among the go-to contractors for an incoming wave of people looking to make Bainbridge home.
“A lot of it’s just word of mouth,” Fairbank said. “We’ve competitively bid projects. We’ve done a lot of work off the island; a lot of people don’t know that about us. We have an office in Seattle and we’ve been building in Seattle for close to 30 years.
“Our first four custom projects [on Bainbridge], three of them were [for] attorneys, all from Seattle,” he said. “Two of them … they had bought homes already on the island … because they wanted to get a feel for the island and where they wanted to live and they’d both bought waterfront parcels.”
The infrastructure and construction support grew along with Fairbank, but the early days on Bainbridge were a bit more rough-and-tumble than today, Fairbank recalled.
“It wasn’t like building in Mexico, but it was certainly slower paced, less structure,” he said. “I think we brought that, I think the architects appreciated the structure. Not that we were highly organized, we were just better organized than the other guys.
“In a pretty short period of time we captured a lot of that market. I think part of it is that we came here with more systems and organization in place, so that our jobs were getting done in a more timely manner and the budgets were being more carefully monitored.”
It was a matter of being the right people in the right place at the right time.
“We brought a level of sophistication that I think matched the type of client that was starting to move to Bainbridge Island,” Fairbank said.
“We were sort of at the beginning, just by chance, of this wave of migration from Seattle, and other states as well, but a lot of Mercer Island people and downtown Seattle people, who had either vacationed here or thought about Bainbridge, started making Bainbridge their home. So our timing was pretty fortuitous.”
The big anniversary has the founder, now 66 years old, reflecting and looking ahead. He intends to be less directly involved in the years to come, though doubts he’ll ever be totally hands-off.
“I’ve always viewed the company as something that would continue after I was gone, either died or incapacitated or just no longer working,” he said. “My focus is now the next generation.
“I don’t intend to retire per se, but I do recognize that things are different today. It’s either a faster pace or I’m just getting slower, but there is a difference. I recognize that we need people who are current with technology, current with building practices who have the energy and enthusiasm.”
Fairbank Construction Company President Sharen Borgias, who moved to Bainbridge in ’94, is taking a larger hand in running the show, and has been for several years.
It is, she said, only the second construction company she’s worked for after early experiences put her off to contractors.
“The reputation of contractors just is generally not great,” she said. “I sort of thought there are not many good contractors out there, and then when I met Fairbank Construction I was like, ‘No, this is a good company.’
“My goal is prove those people who don’t trust contractors wrong and make the process enjoyable above all,” she said.
“I tell my clients this is a really special honor. Everybody doesn’t get to build a home or do a remodel or be involved in construction. And it’s not just construction. It’s art, it’s science, it’s a labor of love. It’s a physical labor. All of that is part of what makes it a rewarding industry and I don’t know that a lot of people see that.”