Hurley & David Has Its Ducts in a RowWard Woodruff enjoyed going to work for his uncle 37 years ago — so much, in fact, that he never left.
That was 1973, the year Woodruff came on board Hurley & David Inc., the Springfield-based HVAC company, as a sheet-metal apprentice, during his summer break from college. His uncle, Donald Tucker, had recently purchased the company from its original owners, Frank Hurley and Peter David.
A year later, Woodruff decided to stay on full-time, deciding that was his best option for a first career.
“I had no other real, driving force to go somewhere else,” he told BusinessWest, “so that seemed like a reasonable choice, a place I felt I could advance in.”
Once Woodruff started working full-time at Hurley & David in 1974, he began taking classes in the evening to become a refrigerator technician, and worked in the field as a service technician starting in 1975. Two years later, he moved inside, working in materials management and some sales, with occasional forays into the field.
That was the beginning of his education in the HVAC industry. Over the years, Woodruff has obtained Massachusetts trade licenses as a refrigeration technician, refrigerator contractor, journeyman gasfitter, master gasfitter, oil-burner technician, construction supervisor, and sheet-metal worker. He holds various licenses in Connecticut as well.
In 2005, having mastered the ropes for more than 30 years, Woodruff bought out his uncle’s remaining interest and is now president of the company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The company repairs and installs heating and air-conditioning systems, air-purification equipment, air cleaners, filtration systems, humidifiers, and ventilation systems for homes and businesses, Woodruff said. In fact, environmental concerns about air quality — and the occasional legislation associated with those concerns — has presented a fast-growing host of opportunities for HVAC contractors.
“People are concerned about mold, bacteria, and viruses in the air system and duct work where they can be breathed. With the products available today, we can mitigate the growth of these things,” Woodruff said, adding that the company focuses on ridding homes and businesses of all three types of air-quality dangers: particles, microbes, and toxic gases and chemicals.
In this issue, BusinessWest sits down with Woodruff to talk about how the HVAC industry has changed over the years — even as many of the key players at Hurley & David have not.
No Revolving Door
In fact, Woodruff credits much of the company’s success to a core group of employees, many of whom have been with Hurley & David for many years, even decades.
For instance, construction manager Gary Lubas started in 1976 in a co-op program while a student in the sheet-metal program at Putnam High School. Joe Sherry, senior sheet metal worker, has been with the company since 1973. And service manager Walter Thayer tracks his experience back to 1968, when he started with the former Westside Air Conditioning Co., of which he later became a partner.
Mark Kent also came to Hurley & David from his own company, MEK Engineering, in 1994. A registered professional engineer in Massachusetts with 30 years of experience in the field, he recently earned a key certification that will benefit one of the company’s critical customer bases — health care.
Specifically, he was designated a health care facility design professional by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
The ASHRAE certification program identifies individuals who have mastered a body of knowledge covering the successful design and operation of health care facilities, said Kent, who is one of only 15 engineers in Massachusetts — and the only one in Western Mass. — to currently hold the certification.
“Health care facilities need to be accredited by JCAHO,” he said, referring to the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. That accreditation process includes environmental issues such as air exchange and how it relates to infection prevention — not just in the final product, but in the construction process itself, since it generally occurs not far from a sick, vulnerable population.
“Also, patients can be infectious,” Kent noted. “So you have to protect your employees and the public, too, from patients who might have a contagious condition.”
Because Hurley & David has performed HVAC work for many health care facilities in Western Mass. — the medical industry, indeed, is a key driver of the regional economy — having someone with that designation on board is a plus for organizations looking to hire a contractor to design and install HVAC systems, Woodruff said.
“The certification benefits building owners, employers, and individuals,” added ASHRAE President Gordon Holness in a press statement. “Firms who employ ASHRAE-certified engineers are better able to promote their services, and individuals who are certified approach their design responsibilities with greater confidence.”
Hot and Cold
The years have brought many new developments to the HVAC field, such as the use of ultraviolet light to kill contaminants. Woodruff pointed out how the shady side of a building builds up more mold than the sunny side, where “it gets a sunburn and dies. Ultraviolet light acts like the sun to kill those things.”
Then there’s the ‘Talking Thermostat,’ a user-friendly, programmable thermostat that guides the user through set-up and temperature options — ideal for elderly or visually impaired people.
But these days, the most significant development is one that affects all industries — a recession that has increased competition and whittled profit margins down. “It’s gotten soft. Prices are low,” Woodruff said — so low, in fact, that they often don’t cover the cost of labor, materials, and subcontractors, so Hurley & David actually finds itself passing up work.
But overall, he said, the field is a stable one, and the company that once installed HVAC systems in some 300 Friendly’s restaurants is confident of keeping its employees — including, these days, Woodruff’s son and daughter — busy as the next 50 years begin.
The flow of new talent into the field is strong as well, Woodruff said, noting healthy programs at local schools (like Putnam Vocational Tech High School in Springfield) and institutions like Porter & Chester.
“Right now you can find people,” he said. “But they have to be quality people who are trainable.”
Just like a college kid who took a flyer on a summer job 37 years ago.
Joseph Bednar can be reached
at [email protected]