BALLYMENA building firm Patton Group has gone into administration.
The business will continue to trade while the administrator, Tom Keenan of Keenan CF, decides its future.
Among the possible options are breaking up the company, continuing to run its most profitable parts or finding a buyer for bits of it.
One of the province’s longest-established construction firms with an international reputation, Patton has been celebrating its centenary year but, like many other firms in the construction sector, has been hit by financial problems as a result of the crash.
As the Times reported on Monday, the company had said it was “facing cash pressures”.
At that stage a spokesman said the business was “not in administration but was facing cash pressures as a result of the recent downturn in the construction sector”.
He added: “We have been working with our bank over recent months to seek to navigate our way through what has been and continues to be a very difficult period. This contact is ongoing.”
The company, which was behind the construction of the new Belfast Metropolitan College at Titanic Quarter and other significant projects across the UK, employs around 320 people and will continue to trade while in administration.
It has a turnover of around £140 million but posted a £7m loss last year and said the decision to pursue administration was brought on by “extremely challenging trading conditions”.
Administrator Tom Keenan is to explore all possible options for the future, including sale of all or parts of the company.
Neil Patton, Patton Group chairman, said: “This is a very sad day for everyone connected to this family business and the communities we have served for the last 100 years,”
“The directors have looked at every possible option to avoid administration, but it became inevitable because of the general downturn in the building sector, pressure on margins and the resultant impact on cashflow.”
He added: “Unfortunately, the company has suffered from the widespread downturn impacting the construction industry and, as a result, has experienced a decline in trading performance.
“The financial position facing the business was such that administration was the last remaining option available to the directors.”
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said: “This is a hugely respected family firm which has been in business for a century and they are not just of importance to the North Antrim economy, but to Northern Ireland as a whole.
“I know the management and staff of Pattons are not only skilled, but extremely dedicated and they will fight back and look to turn this situation around,” he added.
“It is vital that our banks work with business in a positive spirit and I would hope that such a solution can be found in this case.”