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August 08, 2008  BY David Reed

Mark Timberlake, a commercial construction engineer and part-time developer, appreciates more than the enticing smell of gourmet cooking when he and his wife walk into the new CC’s City Broiler or Jina Yoo’s restaurant nearby

Mark Timberlake of Timberlake Engineering, revises mechanical electrical plumbing drawings with his electrical engineer, Roy Nordyke.
Mark Timberlake of Timberlake Engineering, revises mechanical electrical plumbing drawings with his electrical engineer, Roy Nordyke.

“It always makes me feel good when it’s nice and cool in there,” Timberlake said.

That’s because Timberlake Engineering designed the “guts” of the buildings on Forum Boulevard – the heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems.

Mark Timberlake, of Timberlake Engineering, uses his design calculator to make adjustments to mechanical engineering plumbing drawings.
Mark Timberlake, of Timberlake Engineering, uses his design calculator to make adjustments to mechanical engineering plumbing drawings.

“It’s rewarding when you go around Columbia and see the results of your labor,” Timberlake said while sitting in his small office building on the northeast corner of Orr and Walnut streets, behind a desk covered with tools of his trade — a poster-sized mechanical drawing, a duct design calculator and a stamp embossed with his professional engineer’s seal.

Timberlake’s team of engineers and designers have been involved with many building projects in Columbia during the past decade, including the Lindner family’s innovative shopping center at the east end of Broadway.

A recently completed project includes the Williams-Keepers office complex at Broadway and Stadium Boulevard, while those under way include the visitor’s center and the offices of Jefferson Farms at the southeast corner of the city, and John Ott’s conversion of the Berry building at the northwest corner of Orr and Walnut street into lofts and office space.

In the local arts community, Timberlake is better known for the labor he put into converting his rundown warehouse next door into the Orr Street Studios, where more than two dozen artists work and put their creativity on display.

Timberlake’s contractors are now nearly finished renovating the adjacent warehouse, which once housed the Sunshine Laundry. The building will house Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s rehearsal and office space, Stella Studios, the C.A.R.E. Gallery for challenged youth run by city Parks and Recreation, a hair salon and Sven’s Coffee Shop, the brainchild of Timberlake’s Swedish wife, Lotta. Only one space is left to lease in the 10,000-square-foot building.

Workers this month will finish taking down the overhead utility lines along Orr Street and the alley between newly renovated Wabash Station and the Berry building.

The work in what has become the North Central arts district “is all very complementary,” Timberlake said.

Mechanical Engineer, Rory Stegeman, works on the design of the new Mizzou golf clubhouse.
Mechanical Engineer, Rory Stegeman, works on the design of the new Mizzou golf clubhouse.

Timberlake stresses that his engineering business is the “engine” that made his developments possible. Engineering “is my vocation,” he said, while development “is my hobby.”

Timberlake pointed out that engineering is also a creative endeavor, something that was reaffirmed during a transitional phase of his life.

Timberlake was born 49 years ago in Los Angeles County, and his father moved the family to Seattle, and then on to Columbia when he was in the third grade to take a job as a Russian history professor at the University of Missouri.

Stan Langley, general contractor for Sven’s Coffee Shop, prepares slate for tiling in the new building next to Orr Street Studios
Stan Langley, general contractor for Sven’s Coffee Shop, prepares slate for tiling in the new building next to Orr Street Studios

After graduating from Rock Bridge High School and then from MU with a degree in mechanical engineering, Timberlake went to work for Anheuser-Busch on brewery construction and expansion projects in St. Louis, where he met his wife, who was studying to become a chiropractor. After working on a brewery construction project in Colorado for a few years and starting a family, they decided they didn’t want to deal with another transfer and came to Columbia, where he took a job with the public school system supervising the maintenance of mechanical systems.

In 1998, Timberlake became the construction manager for a fast-growing company that made grain silos. But Timberlake said it expanded too quickly and went out of business a year later, leaving him without a job and with a wife and three children still in grade school to provide for.

It was a scary time, he acknowledged. “I prayed a lot.”

One of Timberlake’s brothers persuaded him to take a test to assess his personality type and explore career options. After answering that he liked art, liked to cook and enjoyed reading, he figured the test was taking him in a different direction and was surprised by the result.

“It said I should be an engineer,” Timberlake recalled.

Before long he got a chance to return to the profession. He found out from a friend in banking that local architect Brian Connell was looking for an engineering consultant for his projects. Connell agreed to put Timberlake on his team, and Timberlake decided to “take the plunge” and start his own business.

“That’s always your biggest fear, that you wouldn’t have enough business for awhile,” he said.

After working out of his house for nearly two years, Timberlake opened an office in the Guitar Building and his business grew gradually. In April 2007, when the number of employees had reached four, he decided to move the company to the old KFMZ building at 1101 E. Walnut, which he had bought as an investment for his retirement.

“I’ve always enjoyed taking something old and fixing it up,” Timberlake. “Now it’s buildings instead of furniture and motorcycles, and stuff I did when I was younger.”

Ott said Timberlake’s visionary renovations in the northeast section of downtown “kind of inspired me and others to get involved in that part of town. He took buildings entirely distressed and made something out of them. The way I look at it, he started the art village effort. To my knowledge, nobody had a facility like that in the past.”

Ott said Timberlake has a knack for updating the mechanics in older buildings, and hired him to do the engineering for several of his building renovations downtown, including the Paramount Building on the northwest corner of Ninth and Cherry streets.

While residential building has plummeted in Columbia, Timberlake said commercial construction in the past year has been steady.

“Commercial contractors say it’s been a good year — not terrific, but busy,” he said. “We’ve stayed busy.”  Timberlake said his primary competitors are CM Engineering, Malicoat-Winslow Engineers and Midwest Engineering & Design.

The move to North Central also coincides with a trend toward energy-efficient building that suits Timberlake, who has become certified in analyzing energy efficiency. A good example is Jeff Offut, who owns a score of Subway restaurants and uses Timberlake’s engineering services. Offut recently calculated that highly efficient energy systems, which often are a quarter to a third more expensive, are good investments because of soaring energy costs, Timberlake said.

Timberlake also worked with another engineer, Larry Lile from Project Solutions, on the Grant School annex, known as the EcoSchool house.

“We just finished the energy modeling calculations,” he said, “and it looks like it will use about 35 percent of the power (normally used in) a building designed using the latest code minimums, which is how most buildings are designed.”

Timberlake said the city could become more ?aggressive in providing incentives for energy-efficient construction, but cautioned that over-regulation ?could cause projects to become too expensive and never leave the drawing board. ?

Timberlake Engineering
1101 E Walnut St
Columbia, MO 65201
(573) 875-4365