The 1980s and a New Identity
By 1980 the company was providing a full array of civil engineering, land use planning, and land surveying services for an upscale clientele in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Early that year the company was working on designing a separation of old combined storm and sanitary sewers in the Second Street area of downtown Augusta. City Engineer Jim Messerly recognized an opportunity to procure significant federal funding for several additional areas of the city, but only if plans could be ready by a certain date, which was not very far off. He approached the firm to see if it was possible. On the surface it seemed not. But, Baldwin & Cranston rose to the occasion and put together a design team that worked a schedule of 10-hour days to finish what would have been a thirteen-month job in only four months, thus securing the windfall funding for the city. In the end the city continued this sewer separation approach to cleaning up its waterways, so that it is now the only major city in Georgia with a completely separated sewer system.
The decade of the 1980s saw a number of significant changes to the internal operation of the company. The computer age had arrived and the days of a drafting room with six to eight draftsmen sitting on stools busily engaged in making drawings were fading away. Cranston was introduced to computer-assisted design and drafting which entrepreneur Ron Hogan was promoting at an American Congress on Surveying and Mapping conference in Washington, D.C. Soon afterward in 1984, the company purchased its first CADD system from Hogans company HASP of Loveland, Colorado. Drafting remained on the HASP system for several years until AutoCad, C&G, and Microstation software made their debuts. These and related or similar software systems continue to be important design and plan production tools for the company on a daily basis.
Continued growth led the company to move to new and larger offices in the City of Augusta's former firehouse, Old Engine Company No. 1, in 1985. The company took the opportunity of the move to reorganize as a professional corporation and to change the firm name to Cranston, Robertson & Whitehurst, P.C. The principals demonstrated their commitment to downtown revitalization efforts by completing an award-winning historic rehabilitation of the 1892 firehouse. By this time, the presidency of the company had passed to Tom Robertson, as Craig Cranston became more involved in the continued success of the Cashiers office.
In 1988 Cranston, Robertson & Whitehurst, P.C. added structural engineering to its repertoire when Jim Cranford became an associate. For the first few years he provided these services internally to support the civil engineering projects that had a structural component. Soon external clients, particularly architects, began to contact Cranford to team with them to design their building structures as well. The company responded by setting up what Cranford has built into a very successful structural design group.
The mid-1980s also gave Cranston Robertson & Whitehurst an opportunity to begin designing urban waterfront projects. This work was at the cutting edge of what has become an international trend for cities to reconnect people to the waterfront, as a tool of urban revitalization. Tom Robertson led the firm in this area of practice, beginning with the Augusta River Walk and its focal point, a breach in the Savannah River levee to open up the riverfront for public use. Initially, there were many nay-sayers about the City spending so much money on a park. But, after the opening day of the riverbank with its neatly detailed features and as soon as new private development projects nearby were announced, public support became overwhelming.
The Cashiers office also thrived during this period under the leadership of Craig Cranston. He filled out the staff with engineers, surveyors, and technicians, making the office become a self-sufficient branch. The work concentrated on producing a long list of private residential communities, including all of the important golf-oriented developments in the region, like Wade Hampton Club, Highlands Falls Country Club, and Cullasaja Club. The practice also included large-scale acquisition surveys for the U.S. Forest Service and designs of utilities and infrastructure for small towns and counties. In this respect, Cranston, Robertson & Whitehurst, P.C. filled an important niche, as there was no other engineering firm of significant capability in the mountains of North Carolina west of Asheville. The public sector assignments helped smooth out the seasonal peaks and valleys of the resort development business, which tended to boom during the mild summers and bust in the cold winters.
Craig Cranston suffered a mild stroke in July of 1984 and he remained on limited duty through the early part of 1985. The Cashiers office staff was able to carry on the routine production work, and Robertson and Whitehurst covered the management functions during the period. Cranston recovered completely and continued to run the
Cashiers office for the next four years.