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Williams hangs out his own architect shingle

Scott Williams

Scott Williams

J. Scott Williams, a 1995 graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Architecture, Art and Design, has been designing hospitals and other health-care facilities for Foil-Wyatt Architects and Planners, PLLC, Jackson, for 20 years. Since starting his own firm at the first of the year, JSW Architecture (JSWArchitecture.com), he hopes to put that experience with health care to good use while also working on business, industrial and residential projects.

“I have done a lot of medical work involving building and renovating clinics and hospitals,” Williams said.

“Technology in health care is huge. Like any organization, hospitals are slow to change and the technology is changing at lightning speed. It is a struggle to get hospitals to embrace these changes.”

That isn’t because hospital and clinics don’t want the most modern facilities. But in an era of changing reimbursement models, remaining profitable is a major challenge.

“The ones I’m working on or have worked on in the past are struggling to have money to maintain existing facilities, let alone upgrade to modern technologies because the reimbursements have been cut by insurance and government programs like Medicaid,” Williams said. “People forget they are running a business, too, and if they can’t turn a profit, they can’t be in business. If they can’t care for patients, they also don’t have a business. They are really caught on both sides.”

Modern health care is technology driven all the way from the electrical and mechanical systems to how doctors talk to each other and nurses and other staff.

“The problem with getting hospitals to embrace renovations and upgrades is the expense,” Williams said. “It is a big expense. But if they don’t upgrade, they quickly get outdated.”

Health-care executives and other types of customers who need architecture services often would save money in the long run by using “green building” techniques to improve energy efficiency. But often there is only so much that can be done within current budget restraints.

“Green building is still slow in Mississippi, but everything is moving that way,” Williams said. “The codes have changed. I did one house that is can be completely off the grid if they want it to be. It has a solar panels. Green building is still special. It is still a growing industry, but an expense not everyone can afford. With fuel prices so low, there is less incentive to invest in energy conservation. Medical facilities don’t have that luxury in their budget when equipment costs so much.”

For commercial customers, it can be a struggle to get a client to invest in green building unless it is their personal office and they aren’t renting out part of it.

“But green building is still becoming more common,” he said. “I have clients who come in and say, ‘I’m tired of paying these high utility bills.’ I’m working on the JWH Equipment LLC building, a Case dealership, and they want it as energy efficient as possible. The owner believes in spending more money up front to save money in the long run.”

The new JWH Equipment headquarters located at 1101 U.S. 80 West in Jackson will be almost 20,000 square feet and will house office space, retail showroom, meeting room, and equipment service bays.
The additional cost of green building isn’t as much for residential and commercial buildings because of the scale of the projects.

“If you spend $3,000 on a heating and air conditioning system versus $5,000, even if it pays for itself in a few years, people can’t afford this extra $2,000 initially,” Williams said. “It is an uphill battle. You have to educate clients. I’m a big fan of spending money on quality windows. You get what you pay for. Cheap vinyl windows will deteriorate faster.”

No matter what type of client he is working with, Williams said he is there to make their goals a reality.

“Whatever I do is about customer service,” he said. “Projects take a long time. I want to make client happy and make a good building in the process. What I’m doing right now is treating every client as the number one client, because that it what they really are.”

Williams’ new office is in his historic home in Belhaven. He renovated and converted one room into office space.

And he followed his own advice renovating the home by improving energy efficiency and lighting by replacing all the old windows, including adding new ones to a former room added on that didn’t have any windows. He has done work on other homes in Belhaven in addition to his own.

“I live in an old neighborhood where houses constantly needed updating and renovating,” Williams said. “I have gutted and renovated my house and helped several people in the neighborhood. Working on homes is a nice contrast to the high technology of a hospital. It is nice to get in and work one on one with two people and design something that is very personal to the homeowner. In some ways, it is more difficult.”

He purchased his home 20 years ago when it was in bad shape with some poor additions. He combined two small rooms to make one big kitchen, and added a wall of windows to bring in natural light.

“It took living in it a bit to develop my vision for it,” Williams said. “Then I had to wean it down to a vision of something I could afford because you can spend million on interior finishes if you want to. No windows in the house opened. It had no ventilation. So the most important thing was getting windows that open and function. I replaced every window in the house I could with new historically accurate windows that open and close. It is an historic house on outside, with clean and open space inside. I didn’t want little chopped up rooms. I’m limited in square footage, but we made the most of it.”

He is learning how to balance work with home life now the two are in the same space.

“You have to make a decision to set up a routine,” he said. “I knew this was coming. I knew I wanted to go out on my own. So when I renovate for the home office, I designed a place I can go to and shut the door and I’m not in the house and more. You need some kind of transition or you will stay in pajamas all day long.”

Williams and his new wife, Michele, like to backpack, camp and kayak. He also likes to do woodworking.

“The next big step on my house is to set up the wood workshop,” he said.


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