Contractor Torrey Johnson ’94 and architect Michael Allen ’99 team up to get the Echo Theater project well underway in Laurens, South Carolina.
Torrey Johnson likes solving problems. It’s how he went from a tinkerer to a full-blown contractor. And it’s how he turned his computer engineering career into an experienced construction business, TFJ Construction.
After graduating from Clemson in 1994 with a degree in computer engineering, Johnson moved into his grandmother’s house in Trenton, South Carolina, with his wife, Jessica Thompson Johnson ’92.
“[The house] had little odds and ends things that needed to be fixed,” Johnson says. “I would watch different shows on TV about construction — this was before YouTube. I would just love working on stuff.”
After assisting his parents in a home addition, Johnson served as the contractor on his own personal home build. That was when the idea of starting his own construction business began to form. After a transition period with his full-time IT manager position at FPL Food, Johnson pursued TFJ Construction full-time in 2008. The company got started doing weatherization and accessibility projects, such as wheelchair ramps. Now, TFJ Construction focuses on small- to medium-sized commercial and high-end residential builds, including demos, story additions, storefronts and exteriors.
These days, Johnson and his company are leading the demolition on the Echo Theater project taking place in Laurens, South Carolina, working in tandem with architect Michael Allen ’99 and his efforts to bring the community center envisioned by Reverend Kennedy and his congregation to life.
“It has been very, very rewarding,” Johnson says. “When people ask me about what I’m working on, this is the first thing I mention. … It’s like a glow I have when I start talking about the project.”
Johnson says the demo phase for the Echo is over 60 percent finished (as of June 2021), much of it requiring manual labor rather than machinery. Due to the height of the building and its interior, the work has as tricky as it has been strenuous.
“At some points, there’s a drop-off of about 15 feet,” he explains. “There’re holes in the floor that we had to put in on purpose and some where it was just rotten.”
With safety the top priority, Johnson has been very hands-on at the Echo, visiting the site often to ensure his workers are wearing the right equipment, like hardhats, safety glasses and close-toed shoes, and using the correct techniques. He’s also had the chance to reconnect with Allen and update him on the project’s progress.
Johnson and Allen first crossed paths during Allen’s days at McMillan, Pazdan and Smith. TFJ Construction had done some work for the architecture firm in the past, and Johnson sent over his teenage son for a day of job shadowing. “When I went to pick up my son, I found out [Allen]was working there,” explains Johnson. “We talked for a bit, and I got his contact information. I found out he was starting his own firm. I never had the opportunity to work directly with him until this project.”
Johnson came across the Echo Theater project through a mutual contact: “When I found out Michael Allen was working on it, I was like, ‘OK, this is something that I’m definitely going to take on.’”
For Johnson, his Clemson connection with Allen has been a highlight of the project so far. In fact, the two belong to the same fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. “In our fraternity, we always support each other in every field of human endeavor,” Johnson says. “[Allen’s] always told me, ‘Anything you need, just give me a call.’
“I’m glad y’all were able to write the piece,” Johnson continues, referring to Clemson World’s Summer 2021 feature “Open To All.” “It’s really good publicity for not only Michael and his company but the project in general. Hopefully, it can help the project raise funds so they can get where they need to be on their fundraising campaign and get the building constructed soon.”