Building on the Past
Premier Building Solutions, Inc.’s historic renovations create foundation for the future
The quaint town of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, boasts a population of 7,000. It’s known for “wearing its Scandinavian heritage on its sleeve,” and tourists flock there to take photos of carved, life-sized wooden trolls and signs of classic folklore displayed among shop entrances.
That’s not the only draw, however.
Glance down Main Street and it’s clear that this town cherishes the preservation of historic landmarks. Century-old buildings are meticulously maintained, showcasing updated signs and expansive windows that blend the charm of the past with the promise of the future. James Leuzinger was born and raised in Mount Horeb. As a child, he couldn’t have known that one day he’d leave an indelible mark on some of the town’s iconic structures.
What he did know was that college was not for him.
James developed a passion for building and craftsmanship at a young age, and the day after he graduated from high school, he decided to become a carpenter.
“I wanted something different—something that gave me an avenue other than a four-year degree—so I took an apprenticeship,” he reflects. “My family history is rooted in the construction industry, so that path fit the bill right out of the gate.”
James was eager to climb the ladder at a company that was growing at a rapid pace. By the time he was 22, he’d completed his apprenticeship and was traveling solo across the country as a superintendent, helping to build retail stores from the ground up.
Building the Business
James eventually returned to his hometown and met a man named Scott Zahler, a construction veteran with decades of experience in site excavation, layout and utilities.
The two had a lot in common: They were both born and raised in Mount Horeb, had worked on many of the same projects over the years for different companies, and—perhaps most importantly—they both felt they’d gone as far as their careers would take them.
“We talked for several years about the fact that we should start a company together,” says Scott. “There came a time when we decided it was now or never, so we tried it.”
The “now” was 2005. The “it” became Premier Building Solutions, Inc., a hands-on general contracting company that provides commercial, retail and residential construction services in Mount Horeb and across the United States.
Whether it’s new construction, remodeling or build-outs, the company has developed a reputation for delivering quality craftsmanship, vision and creativity for its clients.
James and Scott attribute their company’s success to a small but mighty family of architects, engineers, owners and consultants who help them handle anything from “the ground-up” construction projects to $100,000-plus bathroom remodels.
“Each person has their strength, which means we can do just about anything on any given day,” says James, President of Premier Building Solutions. “A lot of contractors won’t take on the unknown, so customers come to us with problems that others have stepped away from. If it’s out of the ordinary, we find a smart and economical way to tackle it. We’re not afraid to go outside of the box.”
Preserving the Past
In the construction world, it doesn’t get more “outside of the box” than historic remodels, which have become a specialty of Premier Building Solutions.
When asked which goes down in the history books as an all-time favorite, James and Scott reference landmarks in Mount Horeb’s downtown historic district.
“The Driftless Historium and Mount Horeb Area Historical Society,” says Scott, Vice President, not skipping a beat. “It was a large project with a lot of moving parts, but it ultimately turned out to be a really nice job for us.”
The project involved tying a 100-year-old building to two separate buildings constructed at different times and from different materials, then remodeling the three structures in a way that made them appear seamless as one.
It was fraught from the beginning with challenges—everything from little staging space to a complex heating and humidity control system required to preserve the artifacts.
It also involved working in lockstep under the scrutiny of a historical nonprofit committee that had painstakingly planned the project for more than a decade, as Destinee Udelhoven, Executive Director of the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society, can attest to.
“Premier Building Solutions took the ever-evolving (if well-intentioned) 10-year vision of a nonprofit organization and capably guided it to a beautiful and, even more importantly, functional reality,” Destinee says. “They endured, with patience and respect, months of weekly committee meetings, last-minute changes in direction and often-competing priorities.”
A mere 500 feet down the block from Scott’s favorite historic remodel is James’ most memorable project: the Duluth Trading Company’s flagship store.
When Duluth Trading Company announced it was building its first store in Mount Horeb in 2010, it tapped Premier Building Solutions to turn a 120-year-old hardware store into its flagship location.
“The building was a mess when we started, and we had to connect it with the building that was bought next door, so there were a lot of challenges,” James says. “The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access and fire requirements kept getting bigger, and we had to make sure all the finishes matched throughout. Every color and detail needed to look like it belonged.”
The project was the first of many to come, and Premier Building Solutions has assisted in the design and construction of all Duluth stores across the U.S., traveling as far away as Alaska, and with a 63rd store opening in the spring of 2020.
“It was very exciting to be a part of this new endeavor for Duluth Trading Company from the very beginning,” James says. “It has been an incredible 10 years that has allowed us to expand and grow as individuals and as a company.”
James and Scott believe that the company’s ability to tackle hard projects is the secret to keeping their customers satisfied and coming back.
“Our customers value us because we’re not the company that wants to just go out and put vinyl sidings on houses day after day,” James says. “Every project has its own unique problems, and we really strive to come together as a team to solve and work through them.”
Forging a Future
With such strong ties to Mount Horeb, it’s no surprise that James and Scott have dedicated their careers to breathing new life into the town’s buildings, but they’re not stopping at remodels and renovations.
They’re breathing life into the community, as well.
Members of the Premier Building Solutions team can be found on the Mount Horeb Area Chamber of Commerce board and the grounds committee for the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society.
The team also is involved in helping the next generation of Mount Horeb’s construction workforce. The company is raising awareness about opportunities that the trades can provide through involvement in many facets of the community.
They have representation on the Community Alliance for Skilled Trades board, which was formed by local businesses that work with the Mount Horeb Area School District to offer scholarships and help market other avenues for kids to express their talents in the trades. They’ve also helped Mount Horeb High School secure a grant for 12 new welding stations, and through support of SkillsUSA, a student organization that serves students enrolled in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, have assisted students with competition projects, among other activities.
What’s more, the team works to identify students with an interest in the trades and pays for their education to support their future aspirations for a career in construction. Through participation in the Dane County School Consortium youth apprenticeship programs, they’ve hired a Mount Horeb High School youth apprentice full time after graduation, and sponsored two Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Wisconsin carpentry apprentices.
James says that when he looks at high school students who are seeking something different for their future, he can’t help but see a younger version of himself.
“This is where I came from, and an apprenticeship worked for me,” he says. “Kids need opportunities, and the trades need qualified people—people who are going to be engaged leaders. This is just another avenue for the kids who are more hands-on, want to learn a craft or trade, don’t know what they want to do or just can’t afford it. It’s a way for them to feel proud and accomplished.”
Max Boelkes, who started working at Premier Building Solutions as an intern while he was in high school, went to work at the company full time in 2015. He says that work has set the tone for the rest of his life.
“I definitely took advantage of the opportunity and showed that I was willing to learn and put forth my best effort to help the business,” Max says. “These youth apprenticeships open up a lot of doors, and they are absolutely the path forward and direction that youth need.”
Constructing a Community
From rebuilding their careers to restoring their hometown and revitalizing the future workforce of their community, James and Scott take pride in overcoming challenges and building a path toward the future.
They’ve even started building structures on their land to create commercial space for local, growing businesses to expand and thrive. In three years, they’ve accommodated three small businesses: Water Quality Investigations, American Provenance, and Find a Wrench.
“Everybody that’s up here basically started in their basement or garage,” James says. “It was word-of-mouth that brought all three tenants to this location. We’re all just helping each other here.”
“Just helping each other” is a common thread for these co-owners, who have a knack for taking challenges and building something beautiful from them.
“We just want to see everybody associated with us—not just our employees, but our customers and community as well—to know that they’re valued,” Scott says. “In life, nothing’s going to work if everybody isn’t working together.”