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Walker Flashlights: Al Bustamante, PE, CDT

Al Bustamante has been at Walker for just over one year and has made a tremendous impact on not only the Houston office’s restoration efforts, but the company’s push for this sector of our business (Walker Restoration Consultants) – a big congratulations and thank you to Al! He is a wonderful choice for our very first Walker Flashlights!!

For those that don’t know, our Houston office had zero dedicated restoration professionals prior to January 2015. Now they have three full-time team members, one part-time technician, and there are no signs of slowing down!  Adding to that, the restoration division has opened its own satellite office in The Galleria area, a bustling and prominent part of central Houston.  It is quite incredible the influence Al’s leadership and experience is generating.

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Q: Like so much of what Walker does, our restoration services are a somewhat niche market to be in, what attracted you to this kind of work?

A: I love the versatility. Every day is different. On any given day I can be wearing a suit in the morning giving a presentation to a client, and I’ll be wearing jeans and a t-shirt in the afternoon inspecting the façade of a 65-story building form a swing stage.

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Q: Speaking of our restoration services, many are unaware of all that we offer and that we do a whole lot more than just parking garage restoration.  What message might you like our clients to know about all we can do for them?

A: Basically, everything related to existing structures. We solve problems for any type of structure including buildings, parking structures, monuments, historic structures, stadiums, bridges, infrastructure, etc. We have a practical approach to solving problems that leads to cost effective repair solutions.

Q: Historical preservation is certainly part of the plethora of expertise we can offer to customers, and it’s a sustainable practice that we’re very proud of.  Tell us about your most memorable or significant project you worked on that helped preserve the built environment.

A: I have worked on several historic buildings, but the one that comes to mind right now is The Lancaster Hotel in downtown Houston. The historic hotel is a 12-story structure built in 1926. Originally known as “The Auditorium Hotel”, it was designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark (RTHL) by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) in 1984. The structure is a reinforced concrete frame with clay tile infill, single wythe brick veneer, and cast stone trim. The clay-brick masonry exterior wall extends the full building height with aluminum-framed windows that were replaced as part of a 1982 renovation. Ornamental cast stone elements accent the top and bottom floors and a cast stone parapet cap extends along the length of the south and west street facing elevations. The east and north building elevations consist entirely of clay-brick, aluminum windows, and terra cotta parapet caps. I have developed a “surgical” repair program for the façade of the building that will solve the structural and water infiltration issues with the building façade, while maintaining the historical status of the building. This program consists on developing repairs to the façade elements on a case-by-case basis. This approach has led to significant cost saving repairs, as compared to a complete removal and replacement type of approach.

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The Lancaster Hotel – a Historical Building in Downtown Houston

Q: When you’re not saving the world, one structure at a time, what might we find you doing?  What are some of your favorite hobbies and what do you do to relax?

A: I am a martial artist. I am a 4th degree black belt in Shotokan Karate-Do, and I also hold black belts in other martial art styles. I have been a karate practitioner for over 35 years. I started when I was five years old when my dad got me involved and took me to all my lessons. I love training karate and I also compete. I have won multiple national and international titles in both Venezuela and the U.S.A., and I was a member of the Venezuelan national karate team. I also teach karate to both kids and adults. My dad is the reason I got involved in karate, and I will be eternally grateful for his influence.

Mom and Dad

Al’s parents – he credits his father with introducing him to martial arts

Q: You have been tasked with and will likely continue to grow your group, what are key traits you look for in your team members?

A: I look for enthusiasm and a desire to do forensic and restoration engineering, otherwise nothing can be accomplished. Even if the person does not have all the skills to do the job, that’s alright- those can be developed, but the individual must have the drive and passion.

Q: In addition to being a PE (Professional Engineer), you hold the CDT certification.  Can you tell folks what that stands for, its significance, and how it helps you better assist clients?

A: It stands for Construction Documents Technologist. This is a certification provided by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) that is intended to help engineers and other professional develop skills related to developing construction documents. Going through the training to obtain this certification has been very beneficial for my career because I use these skills on a daily basis. In college, engineers do not learn how to write specifications, so obtaining this certification is highly recommended for any engineer that is going to be involved with developing repair documents.

Q: We hear you’re quite the fútbol (soccer for those that are less familiar with the term) fan – so who’s winning gold (for the men) in the Olympics this year in Rio de Janeiro?

A: I didn’t play soccer as a kid, but I am a big fan of the sport. My four year old son plays and he thinks he is Lionel Messi (the best soccer player in the world right now)! In the Olympics it’s hard to tell who is going to win because the historically great teams do not bring their best players to the event (like Argentina, Germany, Brasil, etc). I’m rooting for the U.S.A. of course, but I think Brasil being the host nation and soccer being their national sport will win it for the home crowd.

With Son

Al and his son, the soccer pro 🙂

Q: You have a beautiful accent, but before you came to Texas you went to school in Chicago?  Surely that’s no Midwest native tongue that you possess!  We’d love to know a bit about your cultural background and your journey to the Lone Star State.

A: I was born in Lawrence, Kansas but I grew up in Merida, Venezuela. I came back to the U.S.A. alone as a teenager to finish high school. I attended a community college and then transferred to Old Dominion University (ODU) as a full-time engineering student, while working 40 hours a week in a Mexican restaurant as a dishwasher, cook, waiter, etc. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from ODU and earned a spot as a graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which was a dream of mine ever since I was a teenager in Venezuela. UofI is known worldwide as one of the best if not THE best civil/structural engineering school. I also worked for International Paper as a project manager when I was in Virginia. I then came to Houston in 2002 to work as a forensic/restoration engineer.

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Al’s family – his wife and two children

Q: Obviously it will be very tough to top your first year at Walker, but are there any goals you’re willing to share with us?

A: I agree that we had a great first year in 2015, but I’m not settling for that. We want to be the top restoration consultant in Texas and I am going to lead that effort. My vision is to have restoration offices not only in Houston, but also in Dallas and Austin. Houston will be the main Texas office with 15 to 20 restoration consulting professionals, and Austin and Dallas each with at least six restoration consulting professionals.

Reach out to Al!
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