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Taking Flight

Falcon Landing will be located just north of Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport.

Falcon Landing will be located just north of Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport.

In a location that once thrived as part of a computer manufacturing facility for Digital Equipment Corp., a joint-venture development team of Winstanley Enterprises LLC and NorthPoint Development is moving forward with approved plans to build a general warehouse and distribution facility. The recently obtained state and local approvals for the sought-after location come as the warehouse and distribution sector continues to thrive.

Falcon Landing is an approved 524,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art general distribution facility that will be constructed for one or two tenants adjacent to Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport on Falcon Drive in Westfield. The 126-acre parcel will include 362 parking spaces to accommodate two employee shifts and 322 tractor-trailer spaces. The site boasts easy accessibility and is located about two and a half miles from Mass Pike exit 41.

Last August, the joint-venture development team focused its multi-disciplinary group of planners, engineers, and architects on developing a scaled-down distribution facility at this location. After they listened to neighborhood concerns, the site plan incorporated a meticulously designed robust stormwater-management plan and preservation of mature trees for buffering, and also eliminated any connections to North Road. The project received state approval in October and local approval in February.

“Our project team worked very hard to put forward a sensible plan that is rooted in community input, prioritizes protection of sensitive resources, and delivers economic-development benefits to Westfield,” said Adam Winstanley, principal of Winstanley Enterprises. “We are excited to move the project forward.”

Marketing efforts have ramped up to secure a suitable tenant; however, the warehouse will be built on spec if a tenant is not secured prior to construction. With the needed approvals in hand, the team will continue to coordinate closely on finalizing both building-design elements and traffic-mitigation improvements.

“Falcon Landing is an ideal location for companies looking to grow their business at a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility that offers easy accessibility from the Mass Pike,” said Andrew Villari, Development manager for NorthPoint Development. “We are proud to be a part of this project and excited about the future in Westfield.”

“Our project team worked very hard to put forward a sensible plan that is rooted in community input, prioritizes protection of sensitive resources, and delivers economic-development benefits to Westfield.”

Winstanley Enterprises, a family-owned and operated commercial development company, has been a property owner in Westfield since 2018, when it purchased 1111 Southampton Road.

Winstanley owns and operates 12.5 million square feet of commercial real estate and is one of the largest local landlords of commercial properties in New England. The company believes its local presence and commitment to listening to the community is bolstered by the national experience of NorthPoint Development.

Established in 2012, NorthPoint is a privately held real-estate operating company specializing in developing, acquiring, leasing, and managing class-A industrial and multi-family properties. It currently has a 150.2-million-square-foot industrial portfolio, about 5,400 multi-family units developed and managed, and $19.5 billion in assets under management.

The project team supporting NorthPoint Development and Winstanley Enterprises on Falcon Landing includes Epsilon Associates, VHB, Good Earth Advisors, and Watkins Strategies.

Construction Special Coverage

Building on Momentum

Wonderlyn Murphy (standing, center) with her leadership team at City Enterprise.

Wonderlyn Murphy (standing, center) with her leadership team at City Enterprise.



To Wonderlyn Murphy, a successful construction project can be defined in different ways. And one of those is how gratifying it is.

Take the new digital marquee sign at the MassMutual Center, which displays upcoming events, weather, and other information. Springfield-based City Enterprise built the structure that holds the digital display in place and ran the electrical work. The stone exterior in that area of the building had to be removed, reconfigured, and reinstalled after significant steel reinforcement was added to the wall structure to support the 40-by-25-foot display.

“That’s a brand-new sign, and it’s a big deal for Springfield and a big deal for us. We wanted that contract because of everything that Springfield is doing,” said Murphy, City Enterprise president, noting other developments happening in the downtown area, like the transformation of the former Court Square Hotel into housing. “To be part of what’s happening in Springfield, for me, is important.”

Another gratifying project is City Enterprise’s work on Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyerian Church, which was set ablaze by an arsonist in December 2021.

“We’re currently working on rebuilding that, to make sure that they have services again,” Murphy told BusinessWest. “It’s a very significant project for us, being a local contractor, and that being an African-American church with all its history. It’s an important project for us, very close to home.”

In terms of sheer volume of work, Murphy said, “it’s been challenging finding the right opportunities for us to bid. We have found them — we have an excellent estimating department that fishes out all these opportunities to bid. But it’s slim pickings out there.”

That said, she added, “it’s cyclical. As the summer comes along, we’ll find more opportunities that fit within our wheelhouse.”

City Enterprise has been involved in an array of intriguing projects, though, from laboratory renovations at UMass Lowell and two projects at UMass Amherst’s Mullins Center — an HVAC system overhaul and chiller replacement — to work at the Moakley federal courthouse in Boston and a complete rebuild of a security entryway for the Air National Guard at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport.

J.L. Raymaakers & Sons has been busy on a project at Gardner Municipal Airport.

J.L. Raymaakers & Sons has been busy on a project at Gardner Municipal Airport.

“That’s a very significant project,” Murphy said of the latter. “We’ll take on any type of challenge.”

Dan Jodice has a similar take on being involved in a variety of projects. As a co-owner of PDS Engineering & Construction in Bloomfield, Conn., he’s seen the 60-year-old firm specialize in a widening list of sectors, including automotive, aviation, education, healthcare, retail, public safety, and more.

“Self-storage facilities are popular now, and car washes and car dealerships have been very popular with our clients over the past three years,” he said. “We can also do schools; we’re renovating a $40 million school in Hartford right now. Usually we do one school at a time, so we’ll do a school job, and when that ends, we’ll start on another one. We’ve also done a handful of churches over the years, and aerospace and aviation are pretty popular.

“We probably could be busier, but we’re happier with what we have now,” Jodice went on. “I’d say 60% of our work is repeat clients, and the other 40% is just getting out there and finding every lead possible.”


Challenge and Opportunity

John Raymaakers Jr. and Josh Raymaakers, directors at J.L. Raymaakers & Sons in Westfield, are plenty optimistic about how business is going, noting that all this year’s projects had been booked by last June.

The firm specializes in excavation, site work, and construction projects of all kinds, including airport runways and taxiways, pump stations, and, most recently, the foundation technique known as sheet shoring. Recent jobs include multiple bridge projects, Gardner Municipal Airport, a pump station in Great Barrington, and a Dunkin’ Donuts in Easthampton. “I’d say it’s a good mix right now,” Josh said.

“These are jobs funded through federal money and have been trickling into our local economy, which is helping us out and giving work for our employees.”

That said, they’ve dealt — like every other firm — with the key challenges of the past several years in construction: higher costs, supply-chain delays, and workforce shortages.

“They’ve been challenges, every one of them,” Josh said. “The pump stations require a lot of electrical components, and those have been an issue.”

Jodice agreed. “The biggest supply-chain issue is for electrical switchgear. If you order that now, it seems like it’s a year out, for some reason. Since COVID, that has not rebounded at all. Everything else is back to normal. Prices aren’t the same — I wish the prices were lower — but the supply chain is better. Ordering a metal building during COVID took six months. Today, it’s three months or faster.”

As for workforce, “we do pretty well,” Josh Raymaakers Jr. said. “Obviously, we would like more, but it’s a difficult challenge to find good people who have experience in our field.”

John recognizes the challenges across the industry as retirees are outpacing new blood, but as someone who grew up around the family business, he said construction is a stable and satisfying career — for those willing to put in the work.

entryway for the Air National Guard in Westfield

One current job at City Enterprise is rebuilding a security entryway for the Air National Guard in Westfield.

“You can’t be scared to get your hands dirty at first. The problem is, everyone wants to start at the top. But you have to work in the field and get your hands dirty. You have to learn. That’s what our parents made us do,” he explained. “That knowledge from being in the field is crucial, and that’s the hardest thing we’ve got to teach people. We have a project manager and bidder who started as a laborer, then became an operator, then a foreman, and now he’s a project manager. And his experience has been crucial for us.”

Challenges aside, “we’re very busy, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down, even with the private-sector work,” John continued, noting that about 75% of Raymaakers jobs are public, and 25% private.”

A great deal of the public work is being driven by a recognition that much infrastructure in Massachusetts is in need of repair, and federal money has been flowing in to help address those needs.

“Those are good opportunities,” he told BusinessWest. “These are jobs funded through federal money and have been trickling into our local economy, which is helping us out and giving work for our employees.”

Jodice said PDS doesn’t do as much public bidding as it does private, bidding maybe six public-sector jobs a year. “We try to stay busy in the private market. Public, you’re bidding against 10 to 15 GCs, and private, it’s maybe five, so there’s a better chance you get the project. And if it’s private, you can land a job more by building on a relationship with the owner and having them select you rather than the low number getting the bid.”

PDS got started six decades ago erecting pre-engineered steel buildings, and still does that work today, along with a much wider variety of projects ranging from commercial and industrial buildings to small fit-outs and large college projects — typically about $60 million worth of work each year across Connecticut, Western Mass., and Rhode Island. It also touts its expertise in the design-build realm.

“The convenient thing is we do our own design in-house; we can design and build rather than have the client go to an architect and have several different parties involved. The process is quicker because we’re doing everything here.”


From the Ground Up

Several years ago, J.L. Raymaakers & Sons launched a second business called ROAR (Raymaakers Onsite Aggregate Recycling), through which it collected and resold the dirt it dug up from construction jobs. That enterprise, which then expanded into bark mulch, processed gravel, and all kinds of rock, now employs four people full-time.

Because both businesses have been growing, the family bought land on Progress Avenue in Westfield and is building a new, 4,000-square-foot office space, which will be followed next year by a 7,000-square-foot maintenance garage. That property will be the new home of J.L. Raymaakers & Sons, while the current headquarters on East Mountain Road will exclusively house the ROAR operation.

“ROAR started strong, and it complements our other company,” John Raymaakers Jr. said. “We’re able to take the topsoil materials off of our jobs and then recycle them and sell them. That’s been a huge aspect of our business.”

City Enterprise has seen growth over the years as well, and now touts “the best team in the industry,” Murphy said.

“I have core values here, and I have people working with me that are really aligned with those,” she added. “Each department has their expertise, and we have a vision, and we’re working to get things done.”


A Long-awaited Transformation

Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia

Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia says the mill-conversion project will impact the city for many years to come.


On Nov. 20, Holyoke city officials and legislative leaders joined WinnDevelopment executives and Massachusetts housing lenders to break ground on a $55.3 million adaptive-reuse project at a long-vacant, historic mill complex that will be transformed into 88 affordable apartment homes for seniors ages 55 and older.

The redevelopment at the Appleton Mill property in downtown Holyoke will create new, loft-style apartments in three interconnected, 111-year-old industrial buildings that were once home to Farr Alpaca Co. and have been vacant for decades. In addition, WinnDevelopment will construct a new community building and connect it to the residential space via a closed skybridge spanning nearby railroad tracks.

“We’re excited to get to work on preserving this important feature of Holyoke’s proud industrial legacy and transform it into much-need housing for seniors who want to stay in the community they love,” WinnDevelopment President and Managing Partner Larry Curtis said. “This project is the first part of a two-phase redevelopment effort that will revitalize this historic mill complex and provide an economic boost to Holyoke’s downtown.”

All 88 apartments will be reserved for low- and moderate-income seniors, with 12 units reserved for households below 30% of area median income (AMI), 63 for those below 60% of AMI, and 13 for households below 80% of AMI. Eight of the units will be available to eligible households through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s project-based voucher program, and five units will be set aside for Massachusetts Department of Mental Health clients through the Facilities Consolidation Fund.

“This project represents our commitment to history, preservation, and housing. It also represents our commitment to senior living, affordability, compassion, and care,” Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia said. “The renovation of the former 111-year-old Alpaca Mill building to achieve these commitments is another Holyoke thing we do. I am excited to witness this unfold at this time in our city’s history and even more excited to see the impact it will have for many years to come.”

The project was made possible with significant federal, state, local, and private financing. Bank of America is serving as the project construction lender and as the investor in the project’s state and federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, authorized by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC), and state and federal Historic Tax Credits, awarded by the Massachusetts Historic Commission and the U.S. National Park Service.

“We’re pleased to help finance much-needed affordable housing for seniors in Holyoke,” said Mary Thompson, senior vice president of Community Development Banking at Bank of America. “We applaud Winn for their sustainable design that incorporates modern, energy-efficient heating, cooling, and appliances, while preserving the historic character of the Farr Alpaca Company complex.”

MassHousing provided tax-exempt bonds for the project financing, while the EOHLC provided soft financing, along with its partners, the Community Economic Development Assistance Corp. and the MassHousing Affordable Housing Trust.

The property’s current condition is a stark contrast to what it will look like in the future, according to this rendering.

The property’s current condition is a stark contrast to what it will look like in the future, according to this rendering.

“This decades-long-vacant and blighted mill property in the heart of Holyoke will be transformed into new, vibrant housing for older residents who will be able to live affordably and comfortably in downtown Holyoke,” MassHousing CEO Chrystal Kornegay said. “WinnCompanies has the experience and expertise to make this abandoned eyesore into a new affordable-housing community that will serve city residents for many years to come. The city of Holyoke has provided strong support, and MassHousing is pleased to be among the many public and private partners working closely together to complete this important project.”

Enterprise Bank, a locally owned and managed full-service commercial bank based in Lowell, played a key role in the redevelopment through the direct purchase of the bonds and the provision of bridge financing.

“We are pleased to have been able to partner with WinnDevelopment, a respected, award-winning property manager and creator of high-quality and exceptionally managed affordable housing, on this transformative project,” Enterprise Bank CEO Jack Clancy said. “We continue to remain committed to supporting affordable-housing initiatives throughout our footprint.”

The Holyoke Redevelopment Authority (HRA) provided a ground lease for the mill structure for a discounted value and provided additional funds for structural stabilization of the mill complex. Additional local partners include the city of Holyoke and local nonprofit OneHolyoke, which provided critical gap financing through local ARPA and CDBG funds. BlueHub Capital served as lender on the state credit loans.

“The HRA is proud of the partnership with WinnDevelopment and excited to see this project come to fruition,” said Aaron Vega, Holyoke’s director of Planning and Economic Development. “The whole team in our office worked on this project, and we believe in its transformative impact for our downtown and in addressing the housing needs of our community.”

Once the largest alpaca wool mill in the world, the 168,000-square-foot, brick mill complex features nine buildings on six acres and is one of Holyoke’s most prominent historic properties. After the Farr Alpaca Co. ceased production in the early 1940s, the complex declined and has been largely vacant since the 1970s, with deteriorating conditions hindering efforts to revitalize the area.

Located across the street from a state park dedicated to showcasing Holyoke’s industrial and cultural heritage, the site has been a priority for redevelopment since the city took title to the property a decade ago.

WinnDevelopment’s work is focused on an 86,000-square-foot section of the complex that includes three structures: Building 4, erected in 1880 and the oldest on the site; Building 5, a storage, washing, and sorting facility erected in 1905; and Building 6, also built in 1905 and the largest structure on the property.

Designed to meet the sustainability criteria of Enterprise Green Communities, the new apartment community will be completely fossil-fuel-free and will feature LED lighting; Energy Star appliances; low-flow, water-conserving plumbing fixtures; and premium roof insulation.

Resident amenity spaces will include on-site management offices, a fitness center, a resident lounge, an outdoor recreation area along the adjacent canal, laundry facilities, and 109 parking spaces.

Scheduled for completion in the spring of 2025, the project is being led by WinnDevelopment Senior Project Director Matt Robayna, with support from Senior Project Director Lauren Canepari and Assistant Project Director Hagop Toghramadjian.

Keith Construction of Canton is serving as general contractor for the construction effort, with the Architectural Team of Chelsea serving as architect. VHB is providing civil engineering and permitting services through its office in Springfield. Robinson+Cole of Boston served as transaction counsel.

Construction Special Coverage

Building Momentum

By Emily Thurlow

With the federal COVID-19 public-health declaration coming to an end this past May, the once-global pandemic may seem all but a distant memory. For many businesses, however, its impact certainly hasn’t vanished from sight.

Challenges in obtaining materials and equipment continue to vex general contractors in the construction industry in Western Mass. and across the nation. This extended period of uncertainty — in both duration and scope — has left many feeling uncertain about the future beyond 2023, but there are positive signs, too.

Rising building costs and higher interest rates have been of particular concern to Kevin Perrier, president and CEO of Five Star Building Corp. After work in the Easthampton company’s largest sector — aviation — was essentially grounded for the past two years, Perrier says he was expecting business to be on the slower side.

But to his pleasant surprise, he was wrong. Quite wrong.

“We really saw the aviation sector rebound this year. It makes up for essentially two years of no growth and no construction,” he said. “Honestly, this was one of our busiest years I can remember.”

And Five Star isn’t alone. In fact, despite ongoing resource constraints, construction firms like Laplante Construction Inc. in East Longmeadow and Sweitzer Construction LLC in Monson are reporting an increase in the volume of their work, while Fontaine Bros. Inc. in Springfield calls 2023 the firm’s best-ever year for revenue.

“We really saw the aviation sector rebound this year. It makes up for essentially two years of no growth and no construction. Honestly, this was one of our busiest years I can remember.”

“This year has been good. It’s been steady,” said David Fontaine Jr., CEO of Fontaine Bros. “I think our efforts to work really hard to deliver our projects on time and on budget have really strengthened our relationships with our clients because they’ve seen that we’re still getting things done, successfully, no matter how difficult the climate is.”

Reflecting back on those unprecedented times, BusinessWest spoke with several companies in the region who shared how they have been constantly rolling with the punches by being as strategic as possible when planning out projects and seeking alternatives in design, materials, or vendors when applicable, and, above all, maintaining the safety of everyone involved.


Gaining Altitude

Within two weeks of the national shutdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, Perrier estimates that Five Star lost “millions upon millions of dollars worth of work.” Initially, projects were put on a temporary hold, but shortly thereafter, the majority of those projects were canceled, he said.

Laplante Construction recently completed this new home build in East Longmeadow.

Laplante Construction recently completed this new home build in East Longmeadow.

This year, the company, which has been working up and down the East Coast in the aviation sector for the past 13 years, has more than made up for that lost time working with clients like Delta Air Lines and HMSHost International, a U.S. highway and airport food and beverage service company that is a subsidiary of the Italian company Autogrill SpA.

Some of the projects Five Star has completed include the new Gachi Sushi House in Terminal C at Boston Logan International Airport, as well as a Hudson store, offering food, beverages, and travel amenities, in the Terminal B/C connector, and a Hudson Nonstop at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina.

More recent projects underway at Logan include a new hangar roof for Delta Air Lines, some infrastructure work in the lower levels of the airport, and building the new Fox & Flight Restaurant in Terminal A for travel retailer and restaurateur Paradies Lagardère. Perrier said the new restaurant is slated to be the largest restaurant at the airport.

“I think our efforts to work really hard to deliver our projects on time and on budget have really strengthened our relationships with our clients because they’ve seen that we’re still getting things done, successfully, no matter how difficult the climate is.”

“At any given time, we usually have six to 12 projects going in the aviation sector, primarily at Logan,” he said. “The new Terminal E expansion at Logan kept us very busy; it generated quite a bit of work for us to the point that we were actually turning down bids out there. We just kind of reached our capacity for the summer because it was such a push all at once.”

Combined with several mixed-use projects, Five Star had its hands full, he added.

Meanwhile, Laplante Construction and Fontaine Bros. also share glowing reports for their work in the residential and commercial sectors, respectively.

Since expanding his business three years ago to Cape Cod, specializing in mid- to high-end home building and remodeling, Bill Laplante, president of Laplante Construction, says he hasn’t seen any kind of slowdown as a result of increased interest rates. Approximately 80% of the company’s business involves residential projects.

“So the Cape market has been very, very good. There’s an awful lot of work out there,” he said. “I just think there are fewer people out there that are relying on mortgages and are self-financing, or they’re paying cash for work to be done out there.”

For Fontaine Bros., projects that have been publicly funded have remained more consistent than privately funded or developer-driven projects.

Recently, the company completed the three-story DeBerry-Swan Elementary School project on Union Street in Springfield, which opened in the fall. Fontaine is also currently working on school-building projects in Westfield, Worcester, Tyngsboro, Walpole, Fitchburg, and East Brookfield, as well as the UMass Amherst campus.

Pat Sweitzer, operations manager of Sweitzer Construction, also described 2023 as an especially good year. She said that she and her husband, Craig Sweitzer, who co-own and operate the company, attribute this year’s successes to their employees and partners.

Sweitzer Construction has developed an expertise in dental-office construction

Sweitzer Construction has developed an expertise in dental-office construction, including this project for Alliance Dental Care in East Longmeadow.

Pat also offered praise to her sons, Brian and Michael Sweitzer, as both have taken on leadership roles as the firm is in the process of transitioning into a second-generation company.

On the smaller end of projects, the company repaired some buildings at Smith College’s campus and built a new dental office at 265 Benton Dr. in East Longmeadow. One of the larger projects on the company’s docket this year was the conversion of a 19th-century mill building in Northampton into Cambium Analytica’s safety-compliance lab for cannabis products. The new sterile testing lab, which hasn’t opened yet, is located at 320 Riverside Dr., at the site of the former Northampton Cutlery Co.

“Taking a former very old factory building and turning it into a sterile testing lab … the outcome is just remarkable,” Sweitzer said.

Mark Sullivan, president and executive project manager for D.A. Sullivan & Sons Inc., called 2023 the Northampton company’s “first normal year” in several years, adding that things started to stabilize, in a post-COVID sense, during the second half of 2022, and that momentum has carried through 2023.


Strength Amid Challenges

While supply-chain issues have dramatically improved across the board since the middle of the pandemic, almost every contractor BusinessWest spoke to has highlighted challenges with electrical components and equipment like meter sockets, switch gears, generators, and transformers. The demand for transformers has been exacerbated by the lack of available domestic manufacturers to meet the increased need.

“Some of those electrical items still have ridiculously long lead times,” Laplante said. “We built a house — literally finished the house a year and a half ago — and there was supposed to be a ground-mounted transformer for the electric service to the house, and they didn’t have them.”

While waiting for the transformer to come in, he said the electric company has supplied the customer with temporary power. “That transformer has been on back order for a year and a half, and we probably won’t see it for another year. When it comes in, we’ll swap it out.”

For the most part, customers have remained understanding, he added. Other materials that continue to be difficult to source in a timely manner include mechanical equipment, like rooftop units for healing and cooling equipment.

“It seems like anything that has a manufacturing process that has a lot of little pieces and parts that are coming from all over continues to be difficult,” Fontaine said. “And for things like, say, a chiller or a piece of switchgear, they won’t start the manufacturing process until they have every little piece or part of what they need at the facility where they put it together.”

Highlighting a similar concern, Sweitzer said her company has made efforts to order products ahead of time. On Nov. 28, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for one of its projects, Embr Springfield, a $2 million dispensary on Boston Road. At nearly the same time, Sweitzer Construction was ordering the rooftop heating and cooling unit.

“We’re just digging the foundation now, and we already ordered the rooftop unit because it will take that long for it to come in,” she said. “The long lead times are a challenge.”

Sullivan noted that, because lead times for electrical components and mechanical equipment are still driving the overall work schedule for D.A. Sullivan & Sons, the firm’s focus has been on pre-construction services and identifying items they feel may trip up their plans.

Another niche facing long lead times is luxury appliance brands like Wolf and Sub-Zero, according to Laplante. Under current lead times, both brands are averaging roughly 12 months to arrive once ordered. Similar to the transformer problem, Laplante said both manufacturers are providing small, temporary refrigerators until the one that was ordered arrives.

“A lot of the appliance companies and the manufacturers are doing the best they can to provide a temporary fix until the final product is delivered,” he said.


View to the Future

As the end of the year beckons, many of the companies BusinessWest spoke to are feeling cautiously optimistic about 2024.

Sweitzer has a number of projects on the books, including a few with new partnerships with other contractors like Kleeberg Sheet Metal Inc. in Ludlow.

Sullivan said his firm is wrapping up some municipal work and starting some new projects at libraries, fire stations, and safety complexes, and even has a few projects at local universities and colleges in the queue for next year.

“Next year and beyond, we have the biggest backlog we’ve had in over 10 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fontaine Bros. has secured a healthy amount of public-education work for next year and is positioning itself to be ready for other projects on the horizon.

“I think, generally speaking, the industry is always changing. It’s always exciting,” Fontaine said. “It’s been a challenging couple of years, for sure, but it’s something new and exciting to wake up to every day, and we’re thankful that we’ve continued to be able to be successful through it. So hopefully, 2024 and on will get easier, but whatever happens, we’ll be ready to tackle it.”

Though the residential trend of smaller luxury homes looks to continue, Laplante said there are also a number of very large-scale luxury home builds on the books.

“We’ve seen people downsize and go from a large, two-story home to a high-end, smaller ranch with very, very nice amenities on one-floor living, but interestingly enough, we also have some very large homes in the pipeline for next year,” he said. “This is particularly interesting because, generally speaking, over the last five years, there’s been a trend to reduce the overall size of the homes that are being built to single-story living.”

As for Five Star, Perrier says the new year still holds a lot of question marks for him as the aviation sector tends to be a little more unpredictable. Though there are infrastructure and retail build-out projects on the books, higher fuel costs and tightening budgets can often bump jobs at the last second, he explained.

“What tomorrow brings, I don’t know. I guess I’m still going in with the same hesitation I had for 2023,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be pleasantly surprised again.”


Greener Pastures


Greenfield Community College (GCC) will develop a new HVAC training program that’s focused on improving equity in the green workforce thanks to a grant from the Healey-Driscoll administration.

GCC’s Workforce Development division is developing the HVAC training program with funding from an $18 million grant designed to drive equitable clean-energy workforce development. The awards are being provided by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), a state agency dedicated to accelerating the growth of the clean-energy sector to meet the Commonwealth’s clean-energy, climate, and economic-development goals.

“We’re thrilled to partner with MassCEC to bring this high-demand workforce-training program to Greenfield,” said Kristin Cole, vice president of Workforce Development at GCC. “This grant award, rooted in equity, will allow GCC to train unemployed and underemployed individuals for a family-sustaining career in a growing industry. HVAC technicians will become increasingly more in-demand over the next few years to help meet the state’s climate targets for 2030 and 2050.”

michelle Schutt

Michelle Schutt

“Clean-energy jobs are good for the environment and good for family incomes. This is a win-win situation for GCC and our region.”

GCC is receiving $1.1 million to develop and deliver a HVAC training program that includes paid on-the-job training with employers. Trainees will be provided technical skills and career-readiness training, as well as professional certifications, comprehensive student support, and a two-month paid internship.

These efforts aim to provide career-ready individuals for an industry that will need to increase the number of professionals by 17% between now and 2030, according to a recently released needs assessment for the Massachusetts clean-energy workforce.

“Clean-energy jobs are good for the environment and good for family incomes. This is a win-win situation for GCC and our region,” GCC President Michelle Schutt said.

The college and its partners at MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center will specifically focus recruitment efforts on historically underrepresented individuals.

“Building and expanding our workforce is a foundational element of the clean-energy transition,” MassCEC CEO Jennifer Daloisio said. “The evolution of MassCEC’s programming in workforce development shows our commitment to inclusive and intentional growth that delivers good-paying jobs to families and clean energy to residents across the Commonwealth. We are grateful for the Healey-Driscoll administration’s continued support, and we look forward to seeing these organizations carry out their promising work.”

Sue Surner, CEO of Surner Heating Co. and a GCC employer partner, added that “this program will be a critical resource to prepare students for an excellent career path in the HVAC industry. We are excited to not only support GCC’s efforts to design a valuable training program with industry-recognized credentials as outcomes, but also to partner with GCC to provide paid internships to the participants coming out of this extensive training program.

“This grant will allow GCC to add 45 newly qualified individuals to our regional HVAC workforce pipeline,” she added, “and with the work ahead of us to move residents across the state off of fossil fuels and into cleaner energy, this couldn’t come at a better time.”

Construction Special Coverage

Setting Their Sites

Marois Construction

Marois Construction recently converted this single-family farmhouse built around 1860 into a three-story, 30-unit housing complex (top).


Construction is a lot like the mail. Projects have to be delivered on time, regardless of the weather.

And to say it’s been a rainy year is an undertstatement.

“Weather is a common occurrence in the construction industry. And, depending on what we have going on at any particular time, we typically have to continue operations, as long as it’s not a total washout,” said Carl Mercieri, vice president of Marois Construction in South Hadley.

On one day of downpours in mid-September, he recalled, “our crews were in the field. They were tying rebar for footings for a project they were doing for the Chicopee Water Department. They braved the weather and set up some collapsible canopies.

“Our project schedules don’t take weather into consideration. So we’ve got to complete them,” Mercieri added. “And not only that, but the crews doing that job need to move on to another job. So we do the best we can with what we got to work with. And, you know, I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, and the weather is not changing here in New England.”

But plenty else has changed in construction over the past 50 years, and Marois Construction — founded by company President Joe Marois in 1972 — celebrated that half-century milestone last year. Those changes run the gamut from new technology to cutting-edge materials to modern priorities in the building world, especially around green, energy-efficient building.

Through all of it, Marois has steadily built a solid reputation, and its current workload reflects that.

“Backing up a year, 2022 was a stellar year, and in 2023, we got off to the same start,” Mercieri said “Every year is a little bit different, though. This year has been a bit quirky. We’ve had a lot on our books, but for one reason or another, we’ve had some projects that got delayed.

“And then, of course, summer is our busy season, with all the college and school work. So we were working six days a week. Typically, when September rolls around, we start to slow down, and things get back to normal,” he went on. “But when those projects that actually got started got delayed, they all came to life in September. So we’re not seeing any slowdown here, looking at the third quarter and toward the end of the year. So it looks like it’s going to be another really good year for us.”


Broad Range of Expertise

Marois performs both public and private work, both new construction and renovations, across a range of sectors, including commercial, industrial, and educational projects, Mercieri said.

“Right now we’re doing a branch bank … we’ve got a couple of schools that we’re doing, kitchen renovations in schools. We’re also building a police department for one of the local municipalities.”

Carl Mercieri

Carl Mercieri

“I’d say probably 70% of the guys in the workforce are closer to retirement age than not. So it’s extremely important that we get some of the younger people in.”

This diversity can be a positive in an uncertain economy.

“With all the ARPA money out there, there’s a lot of school work going in the public sector,” he added. “And we’re seeing a trend toward the private schools and charter schools. We’ve got one that we’re working on right now out in Stockbridge.”

In the post-pandemic world, contractors have been faced with a number of challenges all at once, from the impact of inflation to supply shortages. Mercieri said those trends are starting to subside, but not as quickly as most would like.

“We continue to see issues. There seems to be longer lead times on products,” he noted, citing doors and windows as examples. “A few years ago, before COVID, we could call in an order in the morning for hollow metal door frames and have them by in the afternoon. Now, we’re seeing a lead time of several weeks, which really impacts the schedule.

“For a while there, lumber was scarce, but lumber seems to have rebounded,” he added. “Prices have come down somewhat, but they really didn’t get back to where they were.”

And when supplies and equipment are difficult to procure or beset by delays, “it keeps the project going. You can’t close it out, even though it’s substantially complete. So one of the things that we deal with is that, going into a project, you can anticipate these delays, but you really can’t put a finger on how long the delays are going to be; it really depends on the manufacturer’s production line and what they’re doing.”

In one case this year, involving a generator, he was given a delivery date of April, and a week or two before it was supposed to ship, the date was pushed to June, then it was pushed again to August.

“We ended up getting it the first or second week of September,” he went on. “So you have no control over that, and it’s an unfortunate situation. And we don’t know where the problem lies; we don’t know if it’s a matter of materials on the manufacturer’s end or labor or a combination of both. But it has a pretty big impact on the construction industry, for sure.”

So has a persistent workforce shortage, one that has affected many industries lately. “It’s tough, but that’s been a trending issue over the years; I don’t think that’s anything new in this industry,” Mercieri said.

“Ninety percent of it is showing up every day; 10% is paying attention and learning.”

“So … we’ve adapted,” he went on. “We run our crews a bit leaner, meaning when we set up a job, rather than having a large crew over there, we’ll set up a smaller core crew at each job. And then, as a task comes up, we’ll move people around to the job and build up the crew, get them in, get them out, and then move them on to another job.”

The leadership team at Marois is certainly not alone in noting the need for more young talent in the pipeline.

“I go to these job sites, and I see our own crew, or I see our subcontractors, and … some of these guys I’ve known for 35 years,” he told BusinessWest. “I’d say probably 70% of the guys in the workforce are closer to retirement age than not. So it’s extremely important that we get some of the younger people in.”

He said the industry has been hurt over the past couple decades by a prevalent message that young people need to go to college to be successful. In fact, Massachusetts ranks among the top states in sending high-school graduates to college. At the same time, industrial-arts programs have been cut from public-school curricula, due to liability, budget cuts, or other factors, Mercieri noted.

But there is a pitch to be made, at a time when families are growing more concerned with crushing debt coming out of college, that careers in construction are attainable, with a clear path to growth, without much, if any, debt.

“Ninety percent of it is showing up every day; 10% is paying attention and learning,” he said, citing the example of someone who wants to specialize in carpentry but might not have the skills for a specific niche right off the bat. “There are multiple facets in carpentry. And you may be better at one or the other. Maybe you’re good at rough carpentry, and maybe you’re not as good at finished carpentry. But over time, you’re going to be very experienced — and you’ll probably be good at both.”


From the Ground Up

Mercieri knows what he’s talking about; he fell into construction at a young age, doing work for a friend’s father who owned a construction business.

“Basically, I was the young kid, and I got to carry all the tools for the tradespeople. I learned the electrical trade, plumbing, carpentry. I got my hands and feet wet being a helper. Then, over the years, it kind of grew on me, and the rest is history.”

He’s been in the field long enough to experience the transition from bid requests via phone calls and snail mail to digital platforms.

“And you think about the field now. Back then, there were no cell phones; there were no iPads. If something came up, a guy would run to a phone booth, or we’d set up landlines with a trailer, and they’d be calling the office. Now our guys in the field have iPads; as soon as we receive something here in the office, it goes right upstream, and they receive it out in the field.”

It’s just one of many changes Mercieri has seen over his decades in construction. And with one more year almost in the books, he’s feeling optimistic about 2024.

“We’ve got a fair amount on the books,” he told BusinessWest. “Some of the jobs that we’re doing now will run into 2024. The bidding market seems very strong. So we think we’re going to do pretty well.”


Back on the Job

The construction industry added 19,000 jobs in July even as the sector’s unemployment rate increased, according to an analysis of new government data by Associated General Contractors of America. Officials with the association noted that tight labor conditions are bringing more previously employed construction workers back into the job market as firms continue to boost pay levels.

“The construction industry continues to add workers at a steady clip as demand for many types of construction remains strong,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s CEO. “Firms are boosting pay to cope with tight labor-market conditions, which is bringing more former workers back into the job market.”

Construction employment in July totaled 7,971,000, seasonally adjusted, an addition of 19,000 compared to June. The sector has added 198,000 jobs, or 2.5%, during the past 12 months. Non-residential construction firms — non-residential building and specialty trade contractors along with heavy and civil-engineering construction firms — added 10,600 employees (3.1%) in July. Meanwhile, employment at residential building and specialty trade contractors grew by 7,800 (1.8%).

The unemployment rate among job seekers with construction experience rose from 3.5% in July 2022 to a still-low 3.9%. A separate government release reported there were 378,000 openings at construction firms on the last day of June, close to the record high for June set in 2022, indicating that demand for workers remains strong.

Average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory employees in construction — covering most on-site craft workers as well as many office workers — jumped by 5.8% over the year to $34.24 per hour. Construction firms in July provided a wage ‘premium’ of just over 18% compared to the average hourly earnings for all private-sector production employees.

“The good news is that there remain private construction segments associated with rosier prospects, including manufacturing, data centers, and healthcare.”

Officials at Associated General Contractors of America noted that labor shortages in construction threaten to undermine new federal investments in infrastructure, semiconductor chip plants, and green-energy construction. They urged federal officials to boost funding for construction education and training programs, noting that the federal government currently spends five times as much encouraging students to go to college as it does on career and technical education programs.

“Unless federal officials begin to narrow the funding gap between college prep and career training, the construction industry will continue to struggle to find workers,” Sandherr said. “It is great that federal officials want to invest in construction projects; they also need to invest in construction workforce development.”

The report followed an Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) analysis of data published by the U.S. Census Bureau noting that national non-residential construction spending increased 0.1% in June. Spending is up 18% over the past 12 months. On a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, non-residential spending totaled $1.07 trillion in June.

Spending increased on a monthly basis in 12 of the 16 non-residential subcategories. Private non-residential spending was virtually unchanged, while public non-residential construction spending rose 0.3% in June.

“Non-residential construction spending growth downshifted over the past two months,” ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu said. “While stakeholders can expect ongoing spending growth in public non-residential construction segments as more Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act monies flow into the economy, private, developer-driven activity appears to be drying up in the context of higher costs of capital and tighter credit conditions.

“Among other things, these dynamics will translate into larger spreads in performance among contractors,” Basu added. “While those that focus on public work stand to remain busy for years to come, those who specialize in meeting the needs of developers of office buildings, hotels, and shopping centers are likely to struggle to support backlog going forward. The good news is that there remain private construction segments associated with rosier prospects, including manufacturing, data centers, and healthcare.”

Construction Special Coverage

Bringing It Home


Oliver Layne

Oliver Layne stands in ‘his’ bathroom, with a walk-in shower, one of many projects undertaken by those involved in the JoinedForces program.

Oliver Layne has come to call it “my bathroom.” Others in his family simply call it “dad’s bathroom,” for reasons that will become clear.

This is the small half-bath in his home on Border Street in Springfield, the one that was renovated to include a walk-in shower, something that became a necessity for Layne, a U.S. Air Force veteran of both Gulf wars, after he was afflicted with a rare muscle disease whereby his immune system attacks his muscles. This disorder made lifting his leg to get into a bathtub difficult, if not impossible.

“My day starts off with my cane, by the middle of the day I’m in my walker, and by the evening I’m in my wheelchair — I just get more and more tired throughout the day; I’m very limited in what I can do,” said Layne, whose bathroom renovation was realized through the JoinedForces program administered by Revitalize Community Development Corp. (CDC) and funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its Veterans Home Modification Program.

That well-thought-out name speaks volumes about this unique program and the many people who are involved in it.

For starters, the name helps convey that this is a program designed to assist veterans, many of whom are disabled and need help to stay in their homes or, in the case of Layne, live more comfortably in their home.

“Veterans are a big part of our focus,” said Colleen Loveless, president and CEO of Revitalize CDC, noting that the nonprofit agency also serves low-income families with children, the elderly, and individuals with special needs through initiatives such as its #GreenNFit and Healthy Homes programs. “Many are looking to age in place in their homes, many have injuries from their service, and this has become a particular focus of ours.”

“Veterans are a big part of our focus. Many are looking to age in place in their homes, many have injuries from their service, and this has become a particular focus of ours.”

The JoinedForces name also hints at how these projects to assist veterans are acts of collaboration, often involving a number of parties, including those at Revitalize CDC, other agencies focused on veterans and their needs, contractors, and area businesses.

That was certainly the case with Layne’s project, and also a coordinated effort to assist Ron Schneider and his wife, Cara, during a recent Volunteer Day initiative.

Schneider, a Vietnam War veteran now battling cancer he attributes to his exposure to Agent Orange, made his living as a general contractor. But his declining health left him unable to undertake many of the projects around the home that would have been so simple years earlier.

Fast-forward (we’ll fill in some details later) to this past spring, when there were two major projects at the Schneider home — one undertaken by a contractor to replace windows that had ceased to open easily, if at all, and the other involving an army (not a term we use loosely) of volunteers from Revitalize CDC and Home Depot to tackle a number of projects, from repairing the patio and driveway to building a shed and undertaking some landscaping work. New doors, also part of the mix, were put on earlier this month.

“All of this has taken a lot of pressure off me because I can’t do things around the house — I’m not physically able to do some of the projects that they handled,” Ron said. “And they did it in a day’s time because they had almost 100 volunteers.”

Suzanne Larocque (left, with Ethel Griffin)

Suzanne Larocque (left, with Ethel Griffin) says projects range from roof repairs and replacements to installation of handicap ramps and bathroom renovations.

These comments from Layne and Schneider effectively convey the sentiments of those veterans and their families who have had work done on their homes. As for those doing the work, they say there are many types of rewards, but especially the pride and satisfaction that come from helping those who served their country.

“I love it — it’s not about the money,” said Frank Campiti, a general contractor who handles many projects for Revitalize CDC and its #GreenNFit, JoinedForces, and Healthy Homes programs. “I get a lot of satisfaction from helping these veterans. We do everything we can to make their lives better with whatever their repair is.”

Myles Callender, who served as construction manager for Revitalize CDC before starting his own construction company with his brothers, and still handles projects for the agency, agreed.

“Some of these projects may not look big in terms of their size and scope,” he said. “But they make a huge difference in the lives of these veterans. It’s very rewarding to help improve the lives of those who have served.”

“All of this has taken a lot of pressure off me because I can’t do things around the house — I’m not physically able to do some of the projects that they handled. And they did it in a day’s time because they had almost 100 volunteers.”

For this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the JoinedForces program and its efforts to help veterans and their families feel more at home — in all kinds of ways.


Building Hope

Layne told BusinessWest that his physical issues started several years after he returned from his service in the Gulf and started his professional career, working first at a college and then for AT&T. He suspects the disorder results from exposure to contamination at two bases where he served — Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan (now closed), and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.

He started noticing that he was having trouble walking straight and that his hands didn’t work right.

“My body just didn’t work the same as it did before; I couldn’t run anymore, I couldn’t walk long distances,” he recalled, adding that it took doctors more than two and a half years to figure out what was wrong with him.

In 2017, he was officially diagnosed with a muscle disorder, and it was determined that there was no known cure. All medication was stopped, he said, adding that he is doing what he can to try to slow down or mitigate the condition’s progress, though diet and physical therapy, for example.

He has soldiered on, but increasingly has struggled with everyday tasks. He walls with a significant limp and can no longer navigate stairs — the Veterans Administration put a stair lift in his home — and has trouble getting in and out of the shower.

Ron and Cara Schneider (center, with their daughter, Bridget, between them)

Ron and Cara Schneider (center, with their daughter, Bridget, between them) celebrate the work done on their home in Ludlow by dozens of volunteers.

He became aware of Revitalize CDC and filled out an application for assistance late last fall. “That was on a Monday, and on Wednesday, I got a call; they were asking me what I needed done in my home and how they could help.”

Layne’s bathroom renovation is, in many ways, typical of the projects undertaken through the JoinedForces program, said Ethel Griffin, vice president of Community Engagement for Revitalize CDC.

She told BusinessWest the agency works with other veteran-related organizations on outreach to help make sure people know about JoinedForces and the agency’s other programs and encourage them to apply for assistance.

“Our work with veterans is important because they’ve served our country, and they deserve to have comfort in life,” she told BusinessWest. “A lot of our veterans are very old, and it’s amazing to see the conditions they are living in. We do spend a little more time and bit more money with the veterans — because they deserve it. This program gives us the feeling that we’re helping our country as well, even though we’re helping individuals; it’s our time to serve.”

Larocque agreed. “I don’t come from a military background at all, so meeting these veterans has been such a great experience. They’re so appreciative, and it’s been really rewarding to work with them.”

Since Loveless came on board in 2009, the agency has assisted between 200 and 300 veterans across the state, with the vast majority of them living in the 413, and veterans’ homes are included in all Revitalize CDC programs, including #GreenNFit.

Ron Schneider

Ron Schneider is grateful that JoinedForces has taken pressure off him because the volunteers completed projects he no longer can.

The projects vary in size and scope, said Suzanne Larocque, HUD project manager for Revitalize CDC, adding that they range from roof repairs and replacements to installation of handicap ramps and bathroom renovations like Layne’s.

Other projects have involved removal of asbestos from one home, installation of a drainage system and dehumidification system to relieve water issues in a basement, and many window-replacement initiatives. Meanwhile, the agency is undertaking more projects to replace heating systems with more modern — and green — systems.

Revitalize CDC hires licensed contractors to handle such work, obviously, Loveless said, adding that there is an emphasis on hiring minority- and women-owned firms. In some cases, the agency can get materials and labor donated, as it did for a veteran in Springfield who needed a new roof.


The Battle Is Joined

Ron Schneider, who served in the Army as an engineer building roads, tells a story somewhat similar to Layne’s, one of returning from service, launching a successful career, and then being beset with health problems that left him unable to do things around the house.

“I’m disabled, and I just can’t do much physically,” he said, noting that, in addition to his cancer fight, he has fought other health battles over the years.

As Ron’s condition deteriorated, and as needed work at his home on Prospect Gardens in Ludlow piled up — as noted earlier, many of the windows, originally installed in the 1940s, would no longer open or close easily, if at all — the Schneiders filled out an application for assistance through the JoinedForces program.

“Ron was a contractor for more than 40 years; these were all projects that he’s been hired to do over the course of his career that he can no longer do. For him, it was challenging; it was hard for him to be able to say ‘yes, I need help.”

That was prior to COVID, Ron said, adding that they received a call from Larocque early this year, and work commenced in phases this spring.

The first phase was replacement of the windows in April, work handled by a local contractor. Then, in May, Revitalize CDC joined forces (there’s that phrase again) with Home Depot, for a massive Volunteer Day effort at the home.

Cara Schneider put the improvements and what they mean to her husband and the rest of the family in their proper perspective.

“Ron was a contractor for more than 40 years; these were all projects that he’s been hired to do over the course of his career that he can no longer do. For him, it was challenging; it was hard for him to be able to say ‘yes, I need help,’ she said. “And then, to have these people come in and do it in a way that was respectful and that made our lives so much more functional and for him not to have to worry about these things while he’s going through treatment … it took all the stress off. And he’s able to open windows now.”

These sentiments hit at the true mission of the JoinedForces program, said Campiti, who has worked on dozens of projects over the past several years.

He said most are not large in scope, but can be rather involved. And in many cases, these are projects most contractors would pass on because of their degree of difficulty, the conditions in the home, or their small margin for real profit.

“I get involved with projects that other contractors look at, but they don’t even call them back,” Campiti said, adding that, in other cases, contractors will take on the work, but at a cost beyond what the veteran is willing or able to pay.

Such was the case with Layne, who said he looked into renovating his bathroom and installing a walk-in shower, but the cost was prohibitive. A friend, also a veteran, told him about Revitalize CDC, and he applied for assistance to undertake the bathroom renovation.

He was hesitant to install a walk-in shower in his main bathroom due to concerns about impact on the resale value of the home, but, after consultation with Campiti, was convinced that his half-bath, also home to his washer and dryer, could be renovated and outfitted with such a shower.

This was a fairly complicated project that involved moving the laundry equipment to the basement, constructing the shower, and redoing the floor, he went on, adding that it took several days to complete.

Overall, he’s working on two or three projects a month, most of them addressing the accessibility issues that many veterans face, whether it involves a bathtub, stairs, or a backyard deck.

“We do a lot of railings and grab bars in places that would be considered non-traditional,” he explained. “We put them in places beyond the bathroom, like with a person walking out to their patio; they can’t step down anymore.”

He stopped short of calling this work fun, but reiterated that it is gratifying on many levels.


On with the Fight

Returning to this concept of ‘his’ bathroom, Layne injected some needed background.

Indeed, he said he has four daughters, including twin 14-year-olds who still live at home.

“Bathroom time is extremely difficult to get,” he said with a laugh, adding that he obviously has to share his facility, which has actually become quite popular.

“They’ll say, ‘can I take a shower in your shower?’” he said of his children, adding that he used to ask why. “They say, ‘because it’s big; you can move around in there.’”

That’s because Campiti made it big enough to put in a chair, which is necessary, as Layne is prone to falling because his legs don’t move as they should.

It’s quite unfortunate that Layne, a veteran of two wars, needs this walk-in shower with all that room in it. But he — and his daughters, for that matter — are fortunate to have it.

And it was made possible by an agency with a name that truly says it all.



Pathway of Progress

An aerial view of part of the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail.

An aerial view of part of the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail.


A study initiated by the Norwottuck Network to assess the benefits of the completion of the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail (MRCT) system predicts that general health and wellness would improve and annual trail usage could quadruple, creating opportunities for overnight visitation, new jobs, increased local small businesses, and an overall economic benefit ranging from $87 to $182 million annually.

The nonprofit Norwottuck Network raised $75,000 to commission the study by Kittelson & Associates Inc. of Boston and Cambridge Econometrics of Northampton to evaluate the potential use and health and economic benefits of completing the 104-mile, multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail system that runs east-west between Boston and Northampton along the historic Massachusetts Central Railroad corridor.

Findings outlined in “Envisioning a Statewide Connection: Mass Central Rail Trail Benefits Study,” released in mid-May, indicate that completion of the trail would result in increased usage of up to 4 million to 5 million people annually and reduced health costs from $4.1 to $5.8 million per year. On the economic side, a completed trail would create $87 to $182 million per year in new economic activity, including $55 to $114 million in new spending by trail users and up to 1,250 new jobs.

Leaders of the nine-member Norwottuck Network board, founded in 2000, will now ask the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to evaluate construction costs and create a timeline for completion.

Currently, 55 miles of the trail are officially open, with roughly 20 miles in the planning or construction stages. Challenging sections of the trail to be completed include areas where bridges are missing, trail segments that will need to be purchased from private owners, and needed repairs to a 1,000-foot tunnel near the Wachusett Reservoir.

A completed Mass Central trail would eliminate those barriers and open those sections, and also link the rail trail system to 18 additional existing and under-development rail trails, creating a 273-mile trail network within the state of Massachusetts.

“These long walking and biking trails produce a lot of benefits. The question was, is it worth spending public money? This report unequivocally says yes, it will be worth it.”

Craig Della Penna, president of the network board, said the DOT recently conducted a study to evaluate the feasibility of reassembling segments of the Mass Central Rail Trail into a unified trail system and released findings in 2021; no action was taken because the benefits had yet to be assessed.

“This report is the next step,” Della Penna said. “And we are not surprised by these findings. These long walking and biking trails produce a lot of benefits. The question was, is it worth spending public money? This report unequivocally says yes, it will be worth it.

“Consultants never overestimate benefits in an analysis,” he added, noting they are more apt to underestimate. “There are no negatives. Tourism is the third-largest industry in the state. A completed trail would allow people to bike right out of their neighborhood and explore the state in a way they’ve never been able to do before.”

Kittelson & Associates noted that the completed network would be within 10 miles of 64% of all Massachusetts residents and would offer a boost to 19 cities and towns defined by the consultants as gateway communities — those that face social and economic challenges but retain assets such as infrastructure or major institutions.

Among the gateway communities that would benefit are Barre, Billerica, Clinton, Easthampton, Hardwick, Hatfield, Lunenburg, Marlborough, New Braintree, Oakham, Palmer, Saugus, South Hadley, Southampton, Southwick, Ware, Warren, West Boylston, and West Brookfield.

The unequivocal positive impact on these gateway communities was the one surprise for Della Penna in the report. “This is a way to focus on making these communities better,” he said. “The state can’t help you improve your house, but it can help you improve your community. This is an infrastructure project that improves communities, helps to improve health outcomes, and will generate a significant positive economic benefit.”


Evolution of a Trail

Trains running along the Massachusetts Central Railroad traveled between Boston and Northampton, serving residents and industry through the early 1900s, until struggles with maintenance, negotiations over ownership, and damage from the hurricane of 1938 led to the railway’s eventual decline.

The MCRT began to form in 1980 when the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management each purchased unused sections of the railroad corridor from the Boston & Maine Railroad.

The first section of the Mass Central Rail Trail was a segment called the Norwottuck Rail Trail. Completed in 1993, the Norwottuck Rail Trail segment between Northampton and Amherst was instantly popular.

“The state can’t help you improve your house, but it can help you improve your community. This is an infrastructure project that improves communities, helps to improve health outcomes, and will generate a significant positive economic benefit.”

In 1995, community leaders and volunteers in several Central Mass. communities formed Wachusett Greenways, a nonprofit with a goal to develop the Mass Central Rail Trail segment in the Wachusett region, including Sterling, West Boylston, Holden, Rutland, Oakham, and Barre. Their work inspired other communities to build their own sections of the MCRT corridor.

Kittelson & Associates said investments in multi-use trails throughout Massachusetts have provided meaningful economic and health benefits, and long-distance, continuous trails have greater impact. They attract through-cyclists and overnight visitors, which, in turn, results in increased spending on lodging and restaurants.

As part of its study, Kittelson & Associates surveyed current Mass Central Rail Trail users, receiving responses from more than 2,000 participants. These are among the findings:

• If the trail is completed, 26% of current users would use the MCRT for shopping, 16% to commute to work, 5% to commute to school, and 86% to access parks and other features;

• Ninety-three percent of respondents anticipate using the MCRT more frequently and traveling on the trail for longer distances; and

• Almost 50% would take a multi-day trip.

Other findings were based on economic and health results associated with use of the Erie Canalway Trail in New York and the Great Allegheny Passage in Maryland and Pennsylvania. These trails generate $253 million and $121 million per year, respectively, so the planners on the team of consultants estimate the MCRT could generate between $117 and $212 million annually.

“The MCRT shares many characteristics with these two trails, including similar tourism opportunities,” the report notes. “It would connect historic towns and improve access to outdoors destinations, such as rural areas outside of the Quabbin Reservoir area and in the Connecticut River Valley.”

The MCRT has an additional benefit in that it connects numerous rail trails in the Boston metropolitan area as well as Northampton and Amherst, which provide a second population anchor that will encourage travel along the completed route. One of the 18 trails that connects to the MCRT is the longest interstate rail trail in New England, the New Haven & Northampton Canal Greenway.


Broad Impact

Existing trail systems generate 1.3 million annual visits, with 15,000 overnight trips, giving Kittelson & Associates cause to estimate the completed MCRT would bring between 4.1 million and 5.5 million visitors, including 120,000 to 390,000 overnight visits.

Visitors to the existing MCRT currently spend about $19 million annually, and spending is expected to increase to between $74 million and $133 million annually for the completed MCRT.

The completed MCRT could also generate an increase of $87 million to $182 million from the economic activity associated with the existing sections of the MCRT, including up to roughly 1,500 new jobs, for total economic activity estimated at $117 million to $212 million.

Della Penna, a longtime advocate of rail-trail systems said of the study and next steps, “it’s big, and it’s ongoing.”

More than 10,000 volunteers across the state are involved in developing bicycle and pedestrian trails in the state. To read the report detailing the benefits of linking the undeveloped segments of the Mass Central Rail Trail into one unified multi-use trail across Massachusetts, and to learn more about the MCRT, visit masscentralrailtrail.org. To learn more about the Norwottuck Network, visit nnnetwork.net/about-us.

Construction Special Coverage

Past Meets Future

Stephen Greenwald

Stephen Greenwald has built a strong reputation in a variety of construction niches over the past 47 years.


For Stephen Greenwald, growing his construction company was tied closely to how he saw his role in it.

“I started as a one-person company — just me, doing whatever I could do,” he said of the origin of Renaissance Builders in 1976. “The very small remodeling jobs … those were the only kinds of jobs I could get back then.”

A little over a decade later, he had nine employees, but he felt he was spending too much time building and renovating, and not enough time managing and planning.

“I still put on a tool belt and went to work most days, pounding nails,” he recalled. “And if you’re out there working, pounding nails every day in the field, the biggest issue is time commitment. You just don’t have enough time to run a company. You’re not answering the phone, doing estimates, meeting with clients, working on designs, and bidding other projects.”

As a result, “there’s a certain limit to your income,” he added. “So in the very late ’80s or very early ’90s, I came to the conclusion that, if I ever wanted this company to be more than a company where I worked in the field every day, we needed to grow in size and systems and management. So I made a conscious decision that we’re going to start looking at bigger jobs.”

“I came to the conclusion that, if I ever wanted this company to be more than a company where I worked in the field every day, we needed to grow in size and systems and management.”

Today, Renaissance, based in Gill, boasts 27 employees and a broad range of work, from residential to commercial to historical preservation, up and down the Pioneer Valley, from Springfield to Brattleboro.

By the early ’90s, “we were doing almost entirely residential work,” Greenwald recalled. “And two events happened that sort of pushed us in different directions.”

The first was an opportunity to build a water-treatment plant in Greenfield for groundwater pollution remediation, which exposed Renaissance to a new line of work. Then, in the late ’90s, Greenwald had an opportunity to tackle the interior fit-out of a food-processing facility in Turners Falls. “Now we have multiple clients in the food industry,” he said.

wrestling arena at Northfield Mount Hermon School

This award-winning wrestling arena at Northfield Mount Hermon School was designed by Jones Whitsett Architects and built by Renaissance Builders.

The bulk of the firm’s work is negotiated, though it also bids on public jobs. Since it started growing in earnest, Renaissance has dramatically broadened its scope, from restaurants and commercial kitchens — its area projects have included complete renovations for Blue Heron and Goten in Sunderland, and Hope & Olive in Greenfield — to retail establishments and service industries, including a new Greenfield Savings Bank branch in Turners Falls, which was built with energy-saving goals in mind (more on that aspect of the business later).

One intriguing renovation project was Ode Boutique in Northampton. A suspended ceiling hid the original plaster medallions on the ceiling of the downtown location, and the retail space was split in half by a wall. A new steel beam allowed the dividing wall to be removed, and the entire interior and storefront were redone in a fresh, rustic style.

Meanwhile, a three-building renovation project along Bank Row in the center of Greenfield included a complete interior and partial exterior renovation of the Allen and Pond buildings, with ground-floor and exterior renovations to the Siano building. The roof was raised to create a full third floor in the Pond building, and the basement was excavated to create usable retail space in the Allen Block. The project also included significant energy upgrades and facade renovations to historic specifications.

“During the pandemic, a lot of people were sort of investing in their homes, and they had some expensive projects to do.”

On the education front, Renaissance has done multiple public-school projects, and is starting work on Athol High School this summer. “That work ebbs and flows,” Greenwald said. “It’s driven by the purse strings of local governments and the state.”


Comforts of Home

Most of the company’s work is located in the Valley, but Renaissance has taken projects as far south as East Hartford. The balance between residential and commercial work tends to shift with the economy, but most residential projects have been high-end renovation work.

“There’s not a whole lot of new housing because new housing is particularly expensive these days, especially in Massachusetts,” Greenwald said. “And during the pandemic, a lot of people were sort of investing in their homes, and they had some expensive projects to do.”

Kitchens and bathrooms have been the biggest request, he added. “We have two crews that have done nothing but kitchens and baths for two years — just one right after the other.”

Renaissance Builders

Renaissance Builders has long had a strong presence in residential work, including this home in Northampton.

While design styles have understandably changed over the decades, one striking change in recent years has been why people are renovating.

“Fifteen years ago, it was, ‘I’m in this house until I can afford to move to the next house — a bigger house or a better spot.’ I’m not sure what’s driving it, but now, they’re much more focused on making big improvements even beyond what the value of their house is,” he explained. “So, clearly, they want to live there. They want to be comfortable, and they realize that, by putting $150,000 into their home, they probably couldn’t turn around and sell it tomorrow for that. But they want what they want.”

One factor, of course, may be that buying a new home is historically expensive right now, due mainly to supply-and-demand issues in the Western Mass. market, as well as still-high costs of building materials. Renaissance has navigated the inflation issue in its own business along with all other area builders.

“Some basic materials have come back down — the cost of plywood is an example. And the cost of two-by-fours has returned to where it was,” Greenwald noted. “But what hasn’t come back down is, for example, the cost of a window. I can’t speak for what a manufacturer is going to do, but my guess is that manufacturers are now getting this price, so they see no reason to not keep charging it. It’s similar to what happened the first time fuel surcharges showed up on our deliveries. Well, fuel went back down, but the fuel surcharges never went away.”

Supply-chain issues continue to nag at the industry as well, he said. “It’s gotten better, but it hasn’t gone away. There are still issues every week with items not showing up, or items showing up damaged. The supply chain is still a big issue.”

That said, “we’re very busy,” Greenwald said, noting that Renaissance has a strong reputation with clients, especially when it comes to what he called “some unique problem-solving skills, which have earned us the loyalty of customers.”

For example, “we had a client that said, ‘we have this 11-foot-diameter, 40-foot-tall cylinder which we have to put inside our building. It’s in our parking lot. And you have to come up with a plan to cut a hole in the roof, and you can only have the roof open for 12 hours.’ So that was kind of a neat challenge.

“With those jobs, the clients aren’t too interested in the cost; they’re interested that you meet their 12-hour deadline,” he went on. “We have a reputation among a lot of these manufacturers, that we’re excellent at solving these problems.”

Renaissance has a reputation for historical-renovation work as well, including elements of that Bank Row project in Greenfield, which earned the owner, Icarus, Wheaten & Finch, statewide preservation awards, and other projects, like a window restoration of Forbes Library in Northampton.

Historic-preservation work is a clear area of opportunity, Greenwald said. “It’s one of those areas where there’s not a lot of competition. And on municipally funded jobs, a lot of times, you have to be DCAM-certified in historical renovation. There are very few contractors in this part of the state that have that designation; we’re one of them.”


Green Thoughts

Renaissance is also well-known for green building projects. Contractors have to be these days, of course, but Greenwald got involved in energy-efficient building in the late ’80s, when such work was far from the norm.

“Western Mass. Electric, which morphed into Eversource, had a program called Energy Crafted Homes back in the early ’90s, and we built the first model for it,” he said. “For those days, it was airtight and super-insulated. It was very progressive. So, in the ’90s, we started doing that.

“The whole industry has progressed, of course,” he went on. “Building science has grown exponentially in the last 30 years, and has really made some huge leaps forward. But that’s still important to us. Even the additions we do, there’s a component that falls into green building. It’s kind of expected, almost — I mean, the building code is demanding.”

Early on in the green movement, the industry recognized the value of insulation and air sealing, he explained. “Building science has discovered over the years that, if you control the amount of air that leaks into your house, not only can you improve the health and comfort of the occupants, but you can also reliably predict how much it’s going to cost to heat the house or cool the house and design accordingly. So that’s a big element.”

Building materials comprise another element. “And there’s a lot of discussion, with all sorts of points of view, about what constitutes green building. You will get lots of varying opinions, like, should you use foam for insulation because it’s made with petroleum products? But it has a long lifespan, and, from a insulation point of view, it’s doing its job, and may be the most effective of all the insulations available, versus using Rockwool or cellulose, which are both made with some form of recycled products.”

Whatever the specific debate, it’s clear that the bar is always rising on what constitutes quality green design.

“I built my house in 1995, and it was state-of-the-art in 1995,” Greenwald said. “It’s an antique by today’s building standards, but it’s still a very efficient house.”

At the end of the day, what he appreciates most about his job is the problem-solving aspect, and how gratifying it is when a client’s plan matches reality, whether it’s historical preservation or the cutting edge of green design — or both.

“I love being able to help people achieve their goals, and coming up with unique, out-of-the-box solutions to problems,” he said. “That’s what keeps me interested in this.”


Claiming Mileage


On March 30, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill that includes $350 million in bond authorizations for transportation needs across the state, including $200 million for the state’s Chapter 90 program, which provides municipalities with a reliable funding source for transportation-related improvements, including road and bridge repairs.

“This legislation will maintain and improve our state’s infrastructure, ensure that residents have safe and reliable transportation options, and support sustainable, regionally equitable economic development in communities across the Commonwealth,” Senate President Karen Spilka said.

The legislation also authorizes $150 million in programs that will assist municipalities with various transportation-related projects. This includes $25 million each for the municipal small-bridge program, the Complete Streets program, a bus-transit infrastructure program, grants to increase access to mass transit and commuter rail stations, grants for municipalities and regional transit authorities to purchase electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them, and new funding dedicated to additional transportation support based on road mileage, which is particularly helpful for rural communities.

“Rural towns do not have large municipal budgets like some Commonwealth cities; yet, with much smaller municipal budgets, they have been expected to maintain many hundreds more miles of roads than their urban counterparts.”

“By dedicating a $25 million fund to rural communities for road and culvert work, the Senate has once again demonstrated a commitment to regional equity,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said. “Rural towns do not have large municipal budgets like some Commonwealth cities; yet, with much smaller municipal budgets, they have been expected to maintain many hundreds more miles of roads than their urban counterparts. They have culverts in need of repair and a significant number of gravel and dirt roads. This rural program recognizes and begins to address these pressing, inequitable realities for rural communities, and I’m deeply grateful.”

In arguing for the bill’s passing, Comerford made a passionate appeal for relief for communities in her district, which includes parts of Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester counties.

“I know Boston didn’t have a lot of snow this winter. That was not the case in my district. Just over two weeks ago, a number of towns in my district received over 24 inches of snow, some getting as much as 38 inches just in one storm,” she said. “The Hatfield DPW director wrote that, ‘due to the late storms, we have a lot of roads that have fallen apart and a lot of tree damage. With the costs of asphalt rising and the Chapter 90 funding staying the same, we will never catch up.’ The Greenfield DPW director told us, ‘due to many freezes and thaw cycles, our roads have shown accelerated deterioration, and our pavement-management program is really in shambles.’

She said the base amount being provided to communities has been static for many years, while costs are constantly rising. “Weather events are getting more extreme, putting more stress on roads and bridges and cleanup, and rural municipalities have many dirt and gravel roads, making up more than 30% of a municipality’s road network, in some instances, in my district. And this, of course, is exacerbated by climate change, the erosion and the disrepair of these roads.”

She noted that the existing Chapter 90 formula used to distribute funds — established more than 50 years ago — takes into account road mileage, but also population and employment. “But this doesn’t work for the places that don’t have the people, but do have the miles and miles of roads. Adjusting the base Chapter 90 formula to put more emphasis on road mileage is something that I respectfully urge us to consider.”

State Sen. Paul Mark, who represents all of Berkshire County among some communities in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, agreed that the mileage-based calculation will greatly benefit smaller towns.

“In a district of 57 cities and towns, 54 of which have populations of fewer than 10,000 people, and in some cases communities as small as 120 residents, we live first-hand every day how difficult it can be to undertake road repairs, invest in new equipment, or have our voice heard in Boston,” he said.

Legislators outside Western Mass. also praised the bill’s passage.

“Our transportation system is the backbone of our Commonwealth, connecting us to our jobs, families, and communities,” said state Sen. Brendan Crighton, chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation. “This investment is not just an investment in infrastructure, but an investment in the future of our Commonwealth, enabling our cities and towns to make the necessary improvements to promote efficient and safe travel for all.”

State Sen. Edward Kennedy, chair of the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures, and State Assets, added that “I’m pleased to see this crucial investment in the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges move toward fruition. The cities and towns of Massachusetts depend on this necessary funding to maintain their transportation infrastructure.”

A different version of the bill having previously been passed in the House of Representatives, the two chambers will now reconcile differences before sending the bill to Gov. Maura Healey’s desk.

Construction Special Coverage

Yard Markers

By Mark Morris

Sean Corrigan

Sean Corrigan says landscapers have to deal with the challenge of longer lead times for delivery of many supplies.

Mark Lacombe likes good head start.

And like others in the landscaping industry, he’s grateful for one of the mildest winters in many years — from one perspective, at least.

“A mild winter helps us because there’s no frost in the ground, which allows us to start working on sites now rather than waiting for the frost to thaw and the mud season that would typically follow the thaw,” said Lacombe, general manager of Commercial Grounds Maintenance for Mountain View Landscapes in Chicopee.

However, the downside of a mild winter affects snowplowing, the other business many landscapers run in winter months. Lacombe said a normal winter allows the company to start the year off with revenue, even though he can’t count on it every year.

“During a normal winter, we’ll do about a million dollars in snow removal,” he said. “This winter was only about 65% to 70% of our normal business. That’s where a mild winter really hurts.”

Still, area landscapers say they are staying busy as spring takes hold in New England, and 2023 holds promise as well as some continuing challenges.

Brian Campedelli, owner of Pioneer Landscapes in Easthampton, said his crews are already busy finishing several jobs that carried over from last year due to the unprecedented growth his company experienced in 2022. This year is off to a strong start, too.

“During a normal winter, we’ll do about a million dollars in snow removal. This winter was only about 65% to 70% of our normal business. That’s where a mild winter really hurts.”

“We had a good turnout at the home show,” Campedelli said of last month’s annual event put on by the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass. “Many people we spoke with are interested in new projects.”

Greg Omasta also begins the year with several carryover projects. The owner of Omasta Landscaping in Hadley believes he will have a busy year, but he’s also concerned that increases in basic necessities like food and fuel may cause some homeowners to delay their yard improvements.

“We’re still getting calls every day, so I guess I’m optimistic and pessimistic all at the same time,” Omasta said.

Greg Omasta (right, with son Chris Omasta)

Greg Omasta (right, with son Chris Omasta) says inflation in basic necessities may cause some families to delay yard improvements this year.

At the height of the pandemic, the residential side of landscaping exploded as homeowners who would have normally scheduled out-of-town vacations had to stay put. Many decided to convert their yards to outdoor entertainment areas. From elaborate projects like swimming pools and outdoor kitchens to simple landscape upgrades and firepits, every contractor had more business than they could handle.

However, while COVID-19 boosted the staycation phenomenon, it also created unusually high demand for all the products used in hardscaping and landscaping at a time when supply chains around the world faced sporadic delays due to the pandemic.

Landscapers now report that many of the supply-chain issues have subsided, but there are still delays for some products, and everything costs more.

“As we order for this season, plant prices are up, and the freight charges to ship them to us are really high,” Lacombe said, noting that this is a particular challenge when bidding for commercial landscaping projects that won’t start for 12 to 18 months. “We have to estimate the costs for a job that will happen a year from now, while our material prices are only guaranteed for 30 days.”

“Since COVID, municipalities are paying more attention to outdoor spaces and upgrading them, particularly with more climbing structures.”

Omasta pointed to one pleasant surprise, as grass-seed prices have seen a slight decrease. “Also, fertilizer prices have stabilized. I don’t expect them to come down, but at least they are more stable than they’ve been.”


Places to Play

Public parks and playgrounds are an area of commercial business both Omasta and Mountain View have seen as growth opportunities.

Sean Corrigan, vice president of Landscape Construction for Mountain View, said his company has a full schedule of reconstruction work on parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields, with most of the work happening in Connecticut and the Boston area.

“Since COVID, municipalities are paying more attention to outdoor spaces and upgrading them, particularly with more climbing structures,” he said. “They are interesting structures, and many have unique designs. The kids love them.”

Playground equipment and drainage piping are among the products that still have long lead times for delivery, Corrigan noted. “It’s getting better, but we still have to factor in extra time for these items.”

Finding enough workers is another challenge that still exists, but the situation has started to improve. Campedelli said this year has been easier to hire laborers as better-quality applicants are looking for work.

“Some of the more specialized jobs, like hardscape installers, are still hard to fill,” he said. “We recently hired a new general manager and a new office manager, who are both fantastic.”

Dave Graziano

Dave Graziano says the industry is being challenged to cultivate the next generation of workers.

While Omasta hires extra workers for spring and fall cleanups, he depends on a core group of employees who have worked with the company for years. “We provide them with benefits, holiday and vacation pay, as well as other perks to keep them with us.”

Lacombe said more people are looking for work this year than in the past, but finding workers with experience remains difficult.

“We’re hiring on attitude more than anything else,” he said. “I can teach someone what they need to know, but they need to be willing to come to work every day and put in the effort.”

Dave Graziano, project manager in the Landscape division of Graziano Gardens in East Longmeadow, sees a larger industry problem finding the next generation of landscape workers who want to put in the effort to be successful.

“Anything you can do outside to enhance the entertaining possibilities in your yard is generally what remains popular with people.”

“It’s not for everyone, but it can be rewarding work,” he said. “You see the fruits of your labor from the design of a project through completion, and you make the customer happy. It’s very satisfying.”

Graziano proudly noted that he and his brothers, Mark and Chris, work closely with all their customers. “One of the reasons people call us is because they know they will get a Graziano, and our customers like that.”

Along with landscaping services, Graziano Gardens also runs a retail location, he added. “In addition to people who hire us for landscaping projects, our clients are also do-it-yourselfers who are looking for good ideas and advice.”

As the world continues to move past COVID and more people leave home for vacation, landscapers say there are still plenty of homeowners who want to improve their yards.

“It seems that people are traveling by car more than plane, yet they are still spending money on their yards,” Omasta said.

“It’s not for everyone, but it can be rewarding work. You see the fruits of your labor from the design of a project through completion, and you make the customer happy. It’s very satisfying.”

Campedelli added that he’s hearing from plenty of homeowners who still want stone patios, new lawns, firepits, and other projects. “Anything you can do outside to enhance the entertaining possibilities in your yard is generally what remains popular with people.”


Long-term Value

In addition to the entertainment factor, Omasta noted one compelling reason to invest in a landscape project is the value it can add to a home when it goes up for sale.

According to Better Home and Gardens, attractive landscape projects can add 5% to 12% to a home’s resale value, while a professional hardscape project can add 15% to 20% to the resale value.

For many consumers, thoughts about landscape improvements don’t occur until the weather reaches 70 degrees and stays there. Campedelli’s advice for homeowners planning large backyard projects? Book soon if you want to get your job done this year.

“For special projects, we are scheduled into June and maybe a little later,” he said. “We can bring on new yard-maintenance clients without waiting, but big projects are booking further out.”

While traveling for vacations is on the rise, many people are still staying close to home and investing in their backyards. During the winter months, Campedelli attended seminars from hardscape block manufacturers who said they are in full production this year with lots of new product selections.

“They said the availability is much better this year, and we’ll have no problem getting what we need,” he said. “I hope they are right.”


View from the Top

From left, Web Shaffer, Hubert McGovern, and Dewey Kolvek on one of the plant floors at OMG Inc.

From left, Web Shaffer, Hubert McGovern, and Dewey Kolvek on one of the plant floors at OMG Inc.

The past three years — spanning the pandemic and all the ways it has impacted industry, from supply chains to workforce challenges — have been rough on businesses of all kinds.

But for OMG Inc., it’s been a different story.

“I want to say three-quarters of the business is re-roofing,” said Web Shaffer, senior vice president and general manager of the firm, which encompasses two main divisions: OMG Roofing Products and FastenMaster. “So, while it’s not entirely recession-proof, when your roof goes, you can patch it for a little while, but you can only do that for so long.”

OMG President Hubert McGovern agreed. “You either get a bucket, or you get a new roof.”

And the bucket isn’t the ideal choice for a large company — think of an Tesla factory, a Target store, or an Amazon warehouse — with plenty to protect under that roof.

Meanwhile, 2020 found people stuck at home, not going on vacation, and, in many cases, investing in their homes, said Dewey Kolvek, OMG’s senior vice president of operations. “During the pandemic, it was crazy, with everybody battening down the hatches. A lot of people were at home, looking around, and saying, ‘you know, maybe we should remodel our bathroom. Maybe we should remodel the kitchen. Oh, let’s put a deck out in the back.’”

OMG Roofing Products, which manufactures and supplies roofing fasteners, adhesives, and rooftop drains, pipe supports, and solar mounts, as well as proprietary installation technology for the flat-roofing market; and FastenMaster, which develops fastening and adhesive products used by remodelers, deck builders, residential framers, home builders, and floor installers, both benefited from this environment.

“We’re not making basic drywall screws or something like that. If we have a new product, it’s got to have a feature, a benefit, a patented intellectual property, and something the customer wants.”

And during a time of global supply-chain issues in 2021 and 2022, “we grew out of control, and we couldn’t keep up,” McGovern said. “These last two years have been record years for the company because of the demand. It’s finally starting to settle, but we’ve been under the gun to produce as much as possible, as fast as possible, for probably two and a half years.”

Kolvek recalls it all vividly. “For a period there, we were on 24/7 for two months, just to try to put a dent in it. It was brutal.”

OMG is no stranger to growth spurts. After launching in 1981 as Olympic Fasteners, by 1987 it was manufacturing 100 million fasteners a year. In 1993, the company became Olympic Manufacturing Group — hence the OMG acronym — and in 1997, it was acquired by Handy & Harman, which was later taken over by a public company called Steel Partners. Throughout its history, OMG has grown about 10% a year, on average, through organic growth, constant product development, and a series of acquisitions.

Today, OMG boasts more than 650 employees — about 450 of them at its Agawam campus, which spans 480,000 square feet over a half-dozen buildings — and records about $400 million in annual sales. Its three other plants are located in Addison, Ill., Charlotte, N.C., and Rockford, Minn., in addition to field salespeople located across the U.S. and overseas. The company estimates that around 65% of all commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings in the U.S. that have been built or reroofed within the past 25 years have one or more of its products on their roof.

“The good news about roofing is, people need roofs,” McGovern said. “So if you have a decent building, you’re not willing to let it just deteriorate; you’re going to get a new roof if you need it. Or you’re going to have a lot of buckets and be running around like a chicken with your head cut off every time it rains.”


Hot Stuff

During BusinessWest’s recent visit to OMG’s factory in Agawam, Shaffer pointed out a Chinese advertisement for RhinoBond, the first non-penetrating, induction-based roof-attachment method in North America, which OMG introduced in 1999.

“RhinoBond is a global leader in induction heat welding, and a leading-edge technology in the commercial roofing industry,” he noted. “So we make stuff in Western Mass. and export it to places like China, which is pretty cool. It usually goes the other way.”

McGovern said OMG has a family of about 20 patents on its induction roofing technology, which uses heat to meld the roofing membrane to a fastener plate without having to puncture the membrane with a screw. “It’s a different way of doing roofing — and we lead the market with that.”

On an aerial photo of the Agawam campus, he pointed out a building dedicated to research and development that houses about 30 employees, mainly engineers, who work on developing new products. Over the years, the company’s developments have included TrapEase, the first composite deck screw that does not mushroom; OlyBond Insulation Adhesive, a two-part, low-rise polyurethane foam; OlyBond500 canisters, a new method of applying adhesive, and many more.

OMG’s patented heat-induction system

This flat roof will use OMG’s patented heat-induction system, which requires no screws to pierce the membrane.

“A lot of the growth has come from looking at our customers and saying, ‘what else can we sell these guys that will help them build a better roof?’” Kolvek said. “And that’s where you see our drains come in, or the solar mounts and other things. Those accessories have helped grow the business, as well as new technologies that cannibalize some of our original product line or allow a more premium solution to builders.”

Shaffer agreed. “We’re really getting out there to the customer and saying, ‘how can we help you? What are your challenges you’re facing?’ And maybe we can bring a solution to the table.”

FastenMaster in particular has been introducing new products at a brisk pace, as evidenced by an innovation award it received from Home Depot in November, for its Cortex Hidden Fastening System, which is used to build a deck with fully hidden hardware and fasteners. That kind of continuous development is possible only by staying atop and even spearheading industry trends, McGovern said.

“Some of the technology is changing, but we’ve changed some of the technology with our products,” he noted. “And we’re not making basic drywall screws or something like that. If we have a new product, it’s got to have a feature, a benefit, a patented intellectual property, and something the customer wants.”

“We’re in Western Mass., and we’re all vying for the same pool of workers. So what makes you different than someone else you’re competing against for that same labor?”

Clearly, customers do want them — not only domestically, but in a place like China that’s known much more for its imports to the U.S. than its exports from stateside manufacturers. “You don’t see that a lot in any industry — maybe in some more high-tech ones,” Kolvek said. “But in the construction industry, there’s a lot more imported product. So we have to be different — and better. That’s the bottom line.”

And when OMG develops a successful product, similar products will follow, as with the OlyBond canisters. “We introduced that technology to roofing and, it took off — tens of millions of dollars of sales in a very short period of time,” McGovern said. “Now everybody has a canister technology.”

OMG’s Cortex Hidden Fastening System

Last year, Home Depot gave one of its three innovation awards to OMG’s Cortex Hidden Fastening System.

“In business, that’s what happens,” Shaffer added. “If you’re successful like Tesla, well, somebody else is going to come out with electric cars. They’re not going to let you just do that forever. So you’ve got to move on and innovate again, which is what that whole R&D building is all about.”

And being first to market is important when operating on a global scale, McGovern said. “Then it’s everyone else playing catch-up.”

A key element in OMG’s success has been its embrace of lean manufacturing concepts, Kolvek explained.

“We have a pretty robust continuous-improvement program where we want all employees to be engaged with that thought: what is a better way? How do I improve efficiencies? Can I work safer? Can I work faster? You know, really just instilling people to understand the principles of driving the waste out of everything that we do. There’s always an alternative, and we have to pursue that to stay competitive and stay out in front.”

Shaffer agreed. “How do we compete globally from Western Massachusetts, which is not an industrial region? It’s the innovation plus lean operations keeping costs down and improving that value proposition to the end user. Managing costs and innovating — that’s how we succeed here in Western Mass.”

Focus on People

McGovern said the importance of employees is also reflected in initiatives ranging from tuition reimbursement and financial-wellness programs to company picnics, subsidized healthy meals, and physical-wellness programs such as yoga, massage therapy, and a gym and fitness trainer on site.

“These are all things that enhance people’s lives, that aren’t necessarily attached to the working piece of the company. But if people feel better about themselves, if they’re financially well, if they’re physically well, then we know they’re going to be a better employee. We win, and they win.”

Such efforts are even more important at a time when businesses of all sizes struggle to recruit and retain talented workers.

“It’s a huge issue. That’s why we spend a lot of time and money on it,” McGovern said. “We want the best employees, and we want them to stay. And it’s not an easy market.”

The goal has been to create an employee-centric culture, Kolvek added, and the proof of that model’s success is OMG’s continued growth.

“Management will walk the floor every day, in different areas of the company, just to find the pulse: ‘what are your challenges? What can I help you solve? Do you need anything from me?’ Maybe we’ve got to make an investment somewhere, and who better to highlight that than the person who’s dealing with that challenge day in and day out?

In addition, “you have to differentiate yourself from your competition,” Kolvek said. “We’re in Western Mass., and we’re all vying for the same pool of workers. So what makes you different than someone else you’re competing against for that same labor? If you have employee programs where people see value and benefit, they’re going to be more inclined to come here, stay here, and make a career here.”

Construction Cover Story

Building Momentum


Wonderlyn Murphy

Wonderlyn Murphy



Wonderlyn Murphy has some ambitious plans for City Enterprise, the construction company she started nearly two decades ago.

She wants to take it to $150 million in annual revenue — roughly six times the current level. She wants to expand geographically and open new locations, perhaps one in Florida and another in Maine or New Hampshire. She wants to build a new headquarters facility in this region because the company has clearly outgrown its current home on Berkshire Avenue in Springfield. She wants to add more staff, and she wants to broaden the portfolio with larger projects, likely through partnerships with larger construction firms.

Yes, there is a lot on her ‘want’ list. But she believes it’s all realistic, and, more importantly, she has a blueprint for getting there.

“We’re in a transition period now where I’m growing the company,” she said. “And I have some very aggressive goals for the next five years. I want to be a $150 million company, and we get there by scaling, we get there by duplication, we get there through collaboration and partnerships, we get there by building the employees based on our core values, get there through outside-the-box thinking and vision, more than just focusing on getting the next job.”

Getting where she wants to go will certainly be a challenge, but Murphy has already clearly shown that she has the ability to set goals and then reach them through hard work, determination, and overcoming obstacles in her path.

“We’re in a transition period now where I’m growing the company. And I have some very aggressive goals for the next five years. We get there through collaboration and partnerships, we get there by building the employees based on our core values, get there through outside-the-box thinking and vision, more than just focusing on getting the next job.”

Indeed, she has taken City Enterprise from a small, one-person venture that started with Murphy designing, building, and flipping homes to a multi-dimensional company with 14 employees that has secured work with clients ranging from UMass Amherst to the U.S. Park Service; from the General Services Administration to the U.S. Coast Guard.

She’s done all this by making connections, forging relationships, and, yes, taking full advantage of City Enterprise’s status as a woman- and minority-owned business.

Such status has certainly opened some doors, but Murphy has had the entrepreneurial drive, and that determination, to march through those doors and, as noted, put down some ambitious plans for what comes next.

Today, Murphy told BusinessWest, thanks to some new staff additions, and especially the addition of Vice President of Operations Charles Young, she is able to spend more time on the business, rather than in it.

And with that fundamental change, she believes she is putting the pieces in place for a story of change, growth, and taking her company to places that she probably couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago.

But then again, she probably could.


Building a Foundation

As noted earlier, City Enterprise has been a work in progress, or a dream in progress, for Murphy for nearly two decades now, or not long after she graduated from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston with a degree in architectural design technology.

At first, it was a part-time pursuit, something she did after working the overnight shift (midnight to 8 a.m.) as a correctional officer with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office at the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center on Howard Street, since torn down to make way for MGM Springfield. That work was a learning experience on many levels, she said, and one that has helped in her current roles as employer and entrepreneur.

“It was a very interesting experience, to say the least,” she told BusinessWest. “I got to know the population and came to understand what it really meant to be a corrections officer; there’s much more to it than slamming cell doors, even though there were no cell doors there. The population came from varied backgrounds, and to navigate all of that took a certain amount of finesse.”

Abatement work at the former Court Square Hotel

Abatement work at the former Court Square Hotel in downtown Springfield is one of many municipal projects awarded to City Enterprise.

While working in corrections on Howard Street, she designed, built, and sold a few houses, including her first such endeavor, a home on Eastland Street, just a stone’s throw from City Enterprise’s current home on Berkshire Avenue. Later, she designed and built a two-home development on Parkerview Street in Springfield and handled a few renovations and additions as well.

It was difficult to manage both sides of her work life, but she managed.

“I would get out of work at 8, and I would go straight to my job sites and my projects, because I was the only one doing it at the time,” she recalled. “So I had to line up my subcontractors; I had to be on site and make sure everyone was there. I had to schedule everything … and time is always of the essence in real estate, because you want to hit the market at the right time.”

This was the start of City Enterprise, she said, adding that, as she continued to operate her venture out of her basement and create the first of what would be several business plans for its future, Murphy applied for status under what is known as 8A under the Small Business Administration, a program created to help firms owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

Applying for such status is a difficult and lengthy proposition, she said, adding that it eventually took her three years to gain that designation. At first, she was turned down, in large part, she believes, because she was still working in corrections at the time and thus — to those reviewing her application, at least — she was not fully committed to her business venture.

After waiting a year — and after leaving the Sheriff’s Department in 2012 and making City Enterprise a full-time pursuit — she applied again, and this time was granted 8A status. And during that year, she was making connections and building relationships with agencies ranging from the General Services Administration to the Army Corps of Engineers to the U.S. Navy.

“I was letting these people know that I was coming — I was developing relationships even before I was admitted into the program,” she said. “Because I knew the 8A was more government-contract-driven, I sought out those agencies.

“I was confident because I made the necessary sacrifices to make that happen,” she said. “I knew there were things I had to do to get past that first rejection, and I did them. I took full advantage of that year.”

The 8A designation certainly opened some doors, as noted earlier, especially at government-owned and operated facilities, such as Westover Air Reserve Base, where she earned first commercial contract — renovation work in the bowling alley on the base.

Wonderlyn Murphy, seen here with recently hired Vice President of Operations Charles Young

Wonderlyn Murphy, seen here with recently hired Vice President of Operations Charles Young, is setting some ambitious goals for City Enterprise.

This was another important learning experience, she said, adding that she initially hired the wrong type of flooring company to work on the bowling lanes, but later secured the right subcontractor, a company in Ohio, and finished the project in good order.

“It was a very difficult entry into the commercial space, but we got through it, and it was a great learning experience,” she said, adding that the company would go on to secure projects with a number of government entities in the ensuing years.


Drafting a Plan

That list includes the city of Springfield, which hired the firm to handle the abatement of the historic former Court Square Hotel, which is being converted into market-rate apartments; the National Park Service, which hired City Enterprise to undertake restoration of the porch of the commanding officer’s quarters at the Springfield Armory; UMass Amherst, which has contracted with the company on a number of projects, from renovations of the Rand Theater to envelope repairs at several of the dorms; UMass Medical School, which hired the company to do skylight replacement; the U.S. Coast Guard, which used the company for repairs and renovations to its small-arms range; and countless others.

Current projects include installation of a new marquee sign at the MassMutual Center, work at the Beals Library in Winchendon, and construction of a new amphitheater, also in Winchendon. The company has also submitted a proposal for the Old State House in Boston, what would be its most significant project to date, and is awaiting word on that bid application.

The growing list of clients, the wide range of work undertaken for them, and the growing staff at the company, now numbering 14, including an estimating staff, project managers, an accounting department, and that aforementioned vice president of Operations, shows how far this company has come since Murphy started building houses.

More intriguing, though, is where she wants to take it moving forward.

Indeed, as she mentioned at the top, City Enterprise is in a transition stage in its development, and the broad plan is to essentially scale the operation — in many different ways.

One of them is geographic reach. She said she would like to have a location in South Florida, and perhaps another in northern New England to better serve potential clients in that market. She is also looking at growing through acquisition as well.

“Time is always of the essence in real estate, because you want to hit the market at the right time.”

Meanwhile, as noted earlier, she is settling into … not a new role, necessarily, but a different set of responsibilities as the company makes this transition. Indeed, instead of handling many of the day-to-day matters, which will now be handled by Young, she will be even more focused on the proverbial big picture and goal setting.

“I’m not as involved with the day-to-day as I was a year ago because I have brought on a vice president of Operations,” she said. “But I am very involved with executing my vision and getting my team aligned with the vision, and getting the right people to go with me to that number I just mentioned — $150 million — which is probably the most important part.”

the porch at the commanding officer’s quarters at the Springfield Armory.

City Enterprise has tackled a number of assignments involving government agencies, including work to restore the porch at the commanding officer’s quarters at the Springfield Armory.

Elaborating, the company’s broad portfolio of projects — meaning the depth and diversity of the client base and the wide variety of work — is indicative of “where we’re going and who we are,” Murphy said, adding that the focus moving forward is simply on controlled growth and doing what’s necessary to meet those lofty goals.

A new headquarters building is a key part of that equation, she said, adding that she has plans on paper for a new building and a site in mind. Further diversification of the portfolio of clients is another key goal, she said, adding that the company is working to add more colleges and universities, government agencies, municipalities, and healthcare facilities, among others, to that already significant list.

Continued relationship building and potential collaborations with larger construction companies on larger projects is another part of that equation, she said, adding that the company’s status as a woman-owned and minority-owned company could be a huge asset in such collaborative efforts.


Bottom Line

Such conversations are ongoing, Murphy said, adding that, as she moves away from the day-to-day of running City Enterprise and more into the broad task of marketing the company and being its “face,” her job description falls into the category of making and building connections.

“It’s a very ambitious place I’m going to,” she said in conclusion, adding that she is putting the pieces in place for something special. The foundation has been built, and she is now ready to build upon it — and in dramatic fashion. u


George O’Brien can be reached at
[email protected]


Waiting for a Correction

supply challenges would help builders and buyers move forward on projects with confidence

Dave Fontaine Jr. says a ‘correction’ on cost and supply challenges would help builders and buyers move forward on projects with confidence.
Photo by Joe Santa Maria, Kill the Ball Media

Dave Fontaine Jr. hears talk of a recession that could affect the construction industry, but he prefers to use a different word: correction. After a couple years of soaring costs, he feels one is necessary, and coming.

“I think in the last two years, costs have risen over 20% each year. When you go back over the last 30 years, the average increase per year is 2% to 4%,” said Fontaine, CEO of Fontaine Brothers Inc. in Springfield. “It’s been very difficult for projects to absorb, and for clients to absorb. We’ve seen several projects — some we’ve been involved in, some we’ve watched from the outside — that have either stalled or been canceled because of cost challenges.

“We’re hopefully undergoing a correction. And I like to use that word, the idea being that we need to get back to a correct place. Sometimes [rising costs] are a necessary evil: things get overheated; COVID brought challenges with supply chains, labor, and transport that affected materials and pricing. But I think, frankly, construction costs are in need of a correction. When that happens organically, when we’re able to broaden the supply chain again, get things flowing … we’ll get back to a place where people know what the cost is to build, and move forward with confidence.”

That said, Fontaine noted, “it’s been a really good year; we’ve been busy across all the geographies we serve and all the different sectors as well.”

Bill Laplante, president of Laplante Construction Inc. in East Longmeadow, which specializes in home building and remodeling, had an equally strong report.

“The demand carried over from 2021; demand for remodeling was really high, and a lot of that was just people being home during the pandemic. They were able to work from home and wanted to make a nice office or put a bedroom suite in.”

“We had a fantastic 2022. It was probably one of our best years in the last 20 years,” he said, noting that some of that success was driven by expansion onto Cape Cod, but some was based on demand that carried over from 2021. “Some of it was pandemic-related, but we actually have a really strong outlook for 2023 with the jobs we have in the pipeline.”

He agreed, though, that supply and cost challenges have been discouraging.

“Some materials, things like plastic pipe and conduit, have increased five times the cost. It’s not as simple as a 8% or 9% increase here and there; for some materials, it’s completely off the charts. It makes it difficult to sign a contract and build a house, when you’re not going to be purchasing those materials for four months, not knowing where things are truly going to land. Obviously, once costs go up, you try to plan for the next house.

“The supply-chain issues have been brutal over the last couple years,” he went on. “It seems like it’s something different every week. You can’t get the plastic for the buckets for drywall cement. Then the next week, you can’t get runners for cabinet drawers. The next week, you can’t get a hinge. That’s been very, very difficult. Plus, a lot more planning goes into it, with the increased lead times for windows, doors, and appliances. We need to get selections a lot sooner than we would from our customers so we can get orders placed. With high-end appliances, we’re out 10 to 12 months.”

Fontaine echoed those sentiments. “Lead times are still challenging. There are some items getting better, which is good, and most items are not getting worse, which is also good. But we’re still seeing a lot of difficulty with items like electronic components, chips, boards, stuff like that. That’s affecting things like rooftop units, electrical equipment, and generators.

demand has been up for new homes

Bill Laplante says demand has been up for new homes and remodels alike, despite rising interest rates.

“For us, it’s not anything that’s stopped our projects from opening on time,” he added, “just something we’ve had to pay much more attention to, and we’ve become more creative with how we procure things and meet our schedules.”


Ups and Downs

Despite reports that some area contractors had a strong 2022, rising interest rates are expected to impact construction nationally in 2022. The 2023 Dodge Construction Outlook predicts U.S. construction starts will drop by 3% next year.

Meanwhile, the Architecture Billings Index, a forward-looking indicator for construction activity, dropped significantly in October after 20 months of positive growth. And the Associated Builders and Contractors backlog indicator, which tracks work construction firms have booked but haven’t yet begun, fell below its pre-pandemic reading from February 2020, largely due to a decline in the commercial and institutional category.

“The construction sector has already started to feel the impact of rising interest rates,” said Richard Branch, chief economist at Dodge. “The Federal Reserve’s ongoing battle with inflation has raised concerns that a recession is imminent in the new year. Regardless of the label, the economy is slated to significantly slow, unemployment will edge higher, and for parts of the construction sector, it will feel like a recession.”

Some sectors are expected to perform well, he added, including data-center construction, manufacturing starts — especially chip-fabrication plants and electric-vehicle battery plants — and publicly funded infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the office, warehouse, hotel, and retail sectors are expected to lag. Branch also expects single-family starts to drop about 5% next year.

“There’s got to be more emphasis put on job training and vocational schools. The opportunities out there for tradespeople, and what a skilled tradesperson can make, are incredible.”

Laplante said remodeling, additions, renovations, and home improvements comprise 30% to 40% of his firm’s work, and the pandemic played a role there.

“Again, the demand carried over from 2021; demand for remodeling was really high, and a lot of that was just people being home during the pandemic. They were able to work from home and wanted to make a nice office or put a bedroom suite in. We saw that pretty much across the board. People weren’t traveling overseas; they were putting in poolhouses and sunrooms and outdoor kitchens, things like that.”

While he expects interest rates to slow activity in the home-building and remodeling industry, Laplante said the large size of some of his projects, which can take from six months to a year, tends to dampen any slowdown.

“Smaller remodelers are probably seeing more of an effect with interest rates slowing things down quicker than we will see it,” he said. “And then, of course, we’re working with a lot of customers who aren’t interest-rate-sensitive.”

He added that subcontractors may see a slowdown before builders because they don’t deal with the same project duration.

The Cape Cod expansion is a strategic move partly based on the fact that Laplante was already building there, and it’s also a fairly high-end market, where, as he noted, clients are more willing to weather higher interest rates. “So part of that was a hedge against the economy; you don’t see the deep swings in demand you would see in the Western Mass. market.”

the facade of the former Court Square Hotel

A worker from Fontaine Brothers works on the facade of the former Court Square Hotel.
Photo by Joe Santa Maria, Kill the Ball Media

Fontaine said his company, while also expanding its reach geographically, is taking on more housing work now that it’s starting to become a priority again. “We did a lot of it for a long time, and we’re seeing a lot more public housing, affordable housing, make its way back through the funding pipeline.”

His most notable current project in that realm is the ongoing transformation, with Winn Development, of the Court Square Hotel in Springfield into 71 units of market-rate housing, accompanied by retail on the ground floor.

Fontaine’s longtime presence in the education sector is also strong right now, with projects including the new DeBerry-Swan Elementary School in Springfield, an elementary school in Tyngsborough, a middle school in Walpole, a project at UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester, and the $240 million Doherty Memorial High School, the largest project in the city of Worcester’s history.


Help Wanted

After inflation and supply woes, the third challenge construction companies are dealing with remains a workforce crunch, which has affected many other sectors of the economy as well.

“The number of people going into the trades is way, way down,” Laplante said. “There’s got to be more emphasis put on job training and vocational schools. The opportunities out there for tradespeople, and what a skilled tradesperson can make, are incredible.”

To that end, he works directly with area vocational schools to cultivate talent, and often schools that aren’t vocational, per se, but have vocational programs. For example, an intern from Longmeadow High School will come on board soon, and Laplante hired another intern from that school last year.

“Through COVID, we’ve had people who have been borderline on retirement, and COVID pushed them to retire,” Fontaine said of one of the stress points in the construction workforce. “But we honestly haven’t had as significant labor challenges as some of our peers.”

That’s partly due to working with some of the large local unions, which can supply a more reliable workforce, he said. “But we’ve also put a lot of focus the last few years into workforce development, even before COVID. We actively go into the community and work with workforce programs, with community organizations, to bring people into the workforce.”

Those efforts are crucial, he added. “When I look at the next 20 to 30 years, that’s one of the biggest challenges, to be able to recruit people into the trades.”

Fontaine added that his company has been able to integrate a lot of technology into projects over the last few years, which has helped overcome challenges related to cost, lead times, and workforce. “We’re using technology to track lead times and inform other projects, so we avoid those ‘gotcha’ moments, and we’re using technology to coordinate mechanical systems and prefabricate them off-site, which helps with some of that labor and lead-time burden.”

In short, he said, “we’re trying to modernize an industry that’s by nature not modern, to the best extent possible. That’s been a big theme for us the last couple years.”

That said, the main theme across the industry in 2023 could be the impact of those rising interest rates finally coming to roost.

“Our planning process is so long, and the jobs we’re getting ready to start now are jobs that were planned four months ago, and when the financing is finally put together, we’re ready to get shovels in the ground. That’s a house that people ultimately will be moving into in the fall,” Laplante explained. “So, because of that, we see a little more of a lag in the drop in demand based on the interest rates, but it certainly is coming.”

Still, Dodge’s Branch believes any downturn in the construction industry will not be as dire as the Great Recession, which settled over the U.S. almost 15 years ago.

“The funds provided to the construction industry through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act will counter the downturn, allowing the construction industry to tread water,” he said. “During the Great Recession, there was no place to find solace in construction activity — 2023 will be quite different.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Special Coverage

Managing Change

As Bryan Hughes listed off some recent projects at Western Builders, where he took the reins as president on Oct. 3, he mentioned the new Girls Inc. of the Valley headquarters on Hampden Street in Holyoke.

“I’m excited to see that project, how they’re doing in that building,” he said, “because I have some memories there.”

He certainly does, as the property was previously the headquarters of the O’Connell Companies, of which Western is one of five divisions. The main construction division, Daniel O’Connell’s Sons (DOC), is where Hughes cut his teeth in the industry and then built his experience and skillset for nine years.

While at DOC, Hughes filled numerous roles over the years, most notably as a project manager on several college and university campuses, overseeing projects that ranged between $30 million to $80 million in overall construction cost, including Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum and the UConn Athletic Village.

“We had a lot of diverse projects, and I was able to learn a lot just being in the field,” he told BusinessWest.

Construction management wasn’t his first career path, however. “I’m math- and science-based for the most part; that’s how my mind works,” he said of his enrollment at Lehigh University to study engineering.

East Gables in Amherst

East Gables in Amherst is a passive-house project, a voluntary standard for energy efficiency.

“I landed on civil engineering because I was interested in the building side of things and heavy, highway-type construction. But when I graduated, I realized I have people skills as well that would go underutilized if I stayed in the engineering field. So construction management was a perfect fit in terms of combining the technical and personal aspects of the the construction field. And I really fell in love with it when I started with DOC.”

During his time at O’Connell, Hughes attended a hybrid program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to earn his MBA. “That further honed my interest in the business side of things and ultimately got me interested and inspired to lead a company.”

When the opportunity came up to lead the 26-employee team at Western Builders, both Hughes and O’Connell leadership felt it was a good fit. “What led me to Western was my experience, just having a passion for construction and getting into the details of a project, both techically and in terms of relationships with clients and the community.”

“Part of what we provide as a service is to understand the issues with the supply chain and try to react to them as best we can, or at least propose solutions to owners to work around those challenges.”

James Sullivan, president of the O’Connell Companies, agreed. “We are very fortunate to have someone of Mr. Hughes’ caliber and experience, and I am very confident that Bryan will successfully lead Western and will do so with a clear understanding of our culture and reputation,” he said at the time of the hiring.

“He has exceptional operational and communication skills and is client- and employee-focused with deep leadership capabilities, proven to me in his nine-year tenure in another subsidiary company, Daniel O’Connell’s Sons,” Sullivan added. “With this renewed leadership, I am confident our best years lie ahead of us, and that Western will continue to be the builder of choice in the communities we serve.”


Learning by Doing

Hughes’s final job for DOC was managing a project in Rhode Island with the Narragansett Bay Commission, which followed a design-build project-delivery method.

“We were in control of the design process for two new buildings — the administration and maintenance buildings,” he explained. “I think design-build is a method that could be more ubiquitous in the future, combining our talents as construction managers to include the design team in that process.”

While his role will certainly change as the president of Western, his experience as a project manager on multiple large projects helped him hone his organizational and leadership skills.

Western’s 26 Spring development

Western’s 26 Spring development is among the projects in Amherst aimed at mitigating the town’s housing shortage.

“As a PM, it’s a lot of correspondence with the design team, building a relationship with the owner so there’s a trust factor there, and just bringing the team together — working with the superintendent to nail down a schedule and keeping subcontractors accountable.

“Inevitably in the construction industry, things come up, so PMs manage the change-order process as well and how to solve problems on behalf of the owner, and come up with solutions to those problems,” he added. “We provide the service for the owner so they feel a comfort level going into a project and through that project — we’re kind of looking out for their best interest.”

Hughes takes over at a company that has built a strong reputation in recent years in commercial housing projects, including two in downtown Amherst in partnership with Archipelago Investments that are attempting to fill a critical shortage of housing in town — an issue many municipalities are facing.

“There’s a lot in the pipeline in the housing sector,” he added. “That’s one thing people come to us with — people trust us based on past performance in the housing market, or the commercial-housing space,” he said. “We’re working with some developers now on some other potential properties, all in Western Mass. or Connecticut.”

While Western boasts a wheelhouse of sorts in housing, “we have the capability and the capacity to broaden those horizons and take on more challenging projects because of the experience level of our people,” he added, noting, as examples, a current project to build a PeoplesBank branch in South Windsor, Conn., and the firm’s work a few years ago to renovate the Basketball Hall of Fame and update the weatherproofing of its signature sphere, panel by panel.

“Developers and owners come to Western and ask us to help them with their projects because we have close-knit roots in the area,” Hughes went on. “And what I’ve really learned to love about Western is the sense of feeling comfortable and at home and part of the community. That makes Western more attractive to a lot of developers who are coming from New York City or Boston or all over the country to develop Western Mass. And I think we’re ready to take on the challenges of guiding those folks through that journey to develop the area.”

“If we have a plan to grow as a company and take on some of these challenging projects, we’re going to need more people to do that, especially as some of our highly talented, very experienced people start to retire. In terms of age demographics, there are more people going out than people coming in. So that’s a tide that’s working against us too.”

An increasing number of such projects involve passive housing, which is a voluntary standard for energy-efficiency in a building, he added. “We see that as a space that’s going to continue to grow. So, when I mention developing Western Mass., there’s a smart and climate-conscious way of doing that.”


Supply and Demand

While Hughes sees opportunities to grow the business at Western, he’s also dealing with the same inflation and supply-chain issues plaguing all other companies in this sector.

“The supply chain has been a challenge for us and for a lot of our competitors for sure,” he told BusinessWest. “Part of what we provide as a service is to understand the issues with the supply chain and try to react to them as best we can, or at least propose solutions to owners to work around those challenges. It’s nobody’s fault … it’s just another thing that has come up in the industry, like everything Western has dealt with for the past 45 years or so — just another bump in the road. It too shall pass.”

The hope is that price pressures will ease sooner than later, of course. “I think there will be some level of plateau, especially with interest rates going up, and hopefully the broader industry can find that balance of prices that are acceptable for everyone so that owners and developers still want to do business, still want to proceed with their projects. And I think we’re on that path for sure.”

As he looks to future growth, Hughes faces another national headwind — the challenge of hiring and retaining a workforce in a tight market for employers.

“Just like every other company around, we can always use more good people; it’s hard to find help,” he said. “If we have a plan to grow as a company and take on some of these challenging projects, we’re going to need more people to do that, especially as some of our highly talented, very experienced people start to retire. In terms of age demographics, there are more people going out than people coming in. So that’s a tide that’s working against us too.”

But he’s hopeful about the younger generation, noting that he attended an awards gala at Springfield Technical Community College earlier this month, and “we heard some stories about the students there and their willingness and excitement to get out into the industry. I think there are a lot of good opportunities for young people — at STCC, Bay Path, Westfield State, Putnam, even up at UMass there’s a building and construction technology program. That’s a lot of young people I hope are willing and excited to stick around Western Mass.”

Originally from Rhode Island, Hughes chose this region as well, as did his fiancee, an Ohio native whom he met playing dodgeball in Northampton seven years ago; they’ll marry in April.

“When I started working with DOC, I was able to find a home in Western Mass.,” he said. “I really enjoy this area of the country and hope to stay here for many years to come.”

He remembers first settling down here and those early days at O’Connell, when he was one of those young people excited to get started in construction.

“I really considered the older, more experienced people role models for me, listening to their stories. Coming up through the ranks as a laborer doing physical manual labor and working up to being a superintendent, those types of stories really inspired me; I knew I could learn a lot from those people. So while a lot of our more experienced people are on the way out the door, the more people we can bring in to learn from them before they’re gone, the better-positioned Western will be for the future.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]


Survey Says

Construction’s skilled-labor shortage is a well-known and serious concern for the U.S. construction sector, but the extent of the problem shows issues that need to be resolved right away if the country is to satisfy rising construction demand.

Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Autodesk conducted a workforce survey, and the results show that 93% of construction companies report having positions available they are trying to fill, and 91% of those firms are having trouble trying to fill at least some of those positions, especially among the craft workforce that accomplishes the majority of on-site construction activities.

According to Ken Simonson, chief economist at AGC, the most common rationale for problems filling positions, mentioned by 77% of employers, is that available individuals lack the skills required to work in construction or cannot take a drug test.

According to the national employment figures, the construction sector’s unemployment rate as of July was actually slightly lower than that of other sectors, he added. That’s remarkable in a sector where workers aren’t always kept on the payroll once a project is completed. With a 3.5% rate, virtually no one with prior construction expertise is actively seeking employment in the industry.

However, a panel of construction professionals in a webinar hosted by AGC said the industry needs to attack the issue from every perspective, which includes education and training, public relations, and things as simple as employers improving wages, perks, and labor standards. The survey results highlight the need for public officials to invest in new workforce-development programs focused on the construction industry.

According to Simonson, federal, state, and local officials must invest in the kinds of professional and technical education programs that will introduce more current and future employees to the myriad job possibilities that exist in construction. Additionally, these programs offer the kind of fundamental capabilities employers are looking for.

On a completely separate note, Simonson proposed that, in order to help cover demand gaps, federal officials could also take action to permit more workers to legally enter the nation. Later in the online conversation, the panelists discussed how to spread the word about the advantages of a career in construction to other undiscovered labor pools, including those in the retail and hospitality industries.

The panelists also talked about considering those who have served time in prison as job seekers because many of them are trying to better their lives but haven’t had much luck finding work.

Regardless of potential remedies, the existing shortages will undoubtedly hinder the completion of projects.

Construction enterprises of all shapes, sizes, and labor arrangements are suffering from a serious scarcity of laborers, according to Simonson. These labour shortages are making it harder for businesses to deal with supply-chain risks that are driving up building material costs and causing uncertainty in delivery times and product availability.

Indeed, 82% of businesses claim that projects they are working on have been delayed due to supply-chain issues, and six in ten state that projects have been delayed due to manpower shortages. The federal government’s new infrastructure spending and more recent expenditures on semiconductor manufacturers and energy-infrastructure projects won’t deliver as much as promised if there aren’t enough people to keep up with demand, Simonson cautioned.

The findings indicate that all kinds of businesses are facing the same difficulties. Contractors working on building projects, highway and transportation initiatives, federal and heavy work, or utility infrastructure reported results that have been remarkably similar, whether they used only union craft labor or open-shop employers, contractors with annual revenues of $50 million or less, or those with more than $500 million.

Construction is becoming more expensive as a result of labor shortages and supply-chain issues. In the past year, 86% of businesses increased the basic pay rates for their employees, while 70% passed on higher material costs to project owners.

Some project owners have canceled or delayed projects due to cost and supply-chain issues; according to 58% of respondents, owners have done so due to rising costs, while one-third of enterprises say projects have been affected by extended or unknown completion deadlines.

Many construction companies claim to be taking action to address the labor shortage. Along with the fact that most companies have increased pay rates, 45% of them are now offering incentives and bonuses, and 24% of them have also upgraded their benefit packages.

Technology is a key factor in how well businesses are able to deal with difficulties like labor shortages. In fact, 87% of businesses agree that, in order to enable new technologies to succeed, staff must be proficient in digital technology. Even if few candidates have the necessary construction abilities, at least half of the responding businesses claim that the individuals they are employing have the necessary technology skills.

While the majority of construction companies are now having trouble filling vacant positions with qualified candidates, Allison Scott, director of Customer Experience and Industry Advocacy at Autodesk, noted that, as more workers retire, the labor crisis will only worsen. What’s promising is that construction companies understand this and are proactively training young people for careers in the industry.

She added that the industry is committed to taking action to build the next generation of the workforce, as seen by the increased efforts in career development and training programs, as well as an emphasis on digital skills.

The AGC is urging officials at the federal, state, and local levels to support career and technical education initiatives that will introduce more current and future workers to the diverse career options in the construction industry. In order to help bridge demand gaps until the domestic channel for training personnel is established, the group is also pleading with federal officials to permit additional workers to legally enter the country.

There is a lot of work for the business to undertake, but there aren’t enough workers or resources to finish the projects, according to Simonson. The construction industry will be able to rebuild America’s infrastructure, modernize its manufacturing sector, and contribute to the delivery of a more dependable and cleaner energy grid by addressing labor shortages and supply-chain issues. u


This article first appeared in World Construction Today.


Center of Activity

MassDevelopment recently issued a $30 million tax-exempt bond on behalf of the Berkshire School, an independent, coeducational, college-preparatory boarding and day school in Sheffield for grades 9 through 12 and post-graduates.

The school will use bond proceeds to build a 17,000-square-foot addition to the existing 31,000-square-foot student center; replace the building’s roof, windows, and mechanical, electrical, and fire-protection systems; and fund furniture, fixtures, and equipment for the building. When complete, the student center will house a kitchen, dining commons, music center, gathering space, snack bar, club space, Student Life offices, post office, bookstore, radio station, and more.

Construction is expected to begin in the late spring of 2023 and be completed in the fall of 2024. TD Bank purchased the bond, which will also fund construction of new faculty housing.

“The Commonwealth is fortunate to have many independent preparatory schools in our education ecosystem that provide quality academic experiences for students and open the door to successful career paths in our communities,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as chair of MassDevelopment’s board of directors. “MassDevelopment’s financing solutions gives these schools the chance to make cost-effective upgrades to their facilities.”

MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera noted that “a key component to a well-balanced academic and social experience is providing students with a place to join together outside of the classroom. We’re pleased to be a part of the Berkshire School’s investment in student life and faculty housing that will improve the foundation of its campus and community.”

Andrew Webster, TD Bank’s vice president and senior relationship manager, added that “we are thrilled to work with MassDevelopment and be a part of the expansion and improvements being made to the Berkshire School campus. The local community is an integral part of what we do at TD, and we are honored to be able to support quality education for the students and faculty who live within it.”

Established in 1907, the Berkshire School is located on a 400-acre campus and serves approximately 400 students from 30 states and 31 countries. It offers signature programs in advanced math and science research and advanced humanities research with a range of artistic and athletic offerings, along with national recognition for its efforts in sustainability. In addition, students have their choice of more than 50 extracurricular clubs, interest groups, affinity spaces, and activities to foster individual talents, promote self-esteem, and encourage leadership.

MassDevelopment has previously supported Berkshire School with tax-exempt financing. In 2018, the  agency issued a $3 million tax-exempt bond to help the school build, furnish, and equip an approximately 2,280-square-foot addition to its Spurr dormitory, demolish and reconstruct portions of the building, and replace about 185,000 square feet of existing athletic turf fields.

“Once again, MassDevelopment has stepped up to support Berkshire School in a truly impactful way,” Berkshire School Chief Financial Officer Robert Boyd said. “This financing will help us to build and create an open and multi-functional space where everyone is welcomed and has a place to come together as a community.”


Construction Daily News Environment and Engineering Landscape Design Meetings & Conventions News Tourism & Hospitality

WESTFIELD Tighe & Bond, Inter-Fluve, the Town of Falmouth (MA), and project partners have been recognized with two awards for the Coonamessett River Restoration and John Parker Road Bridge project.

The project team received the Bronze Engineering Excellence Award from The American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts (ACEC/MA) and the Nicholas Humber Outstanding Collaboration Award from the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC).

The awards recognize the successful transformation of 56 acres of abandoned cranberry bogs, which established a thriving, self-sustaining ecosystem supporting wildlife, increasing coastal resiliency, and providing educational opportunities. Numerous barriers to fish passage were removed including a dam, water control structures, a series of undersized culverts that were replaced with the new John Parker Road Bridge, and 5,560 feet of the river were reestablished to closely match the historic natural flow of the river. A river overlook is a gateway to miles of trail with interpretive signs about the natural history placed along the river that is protected by town and land trust conservation lands.

“The Coonamessett River restoration achieved its goals to be a nature-based solution to increase resiliency to climate change and community resiliency,” said Elizabeth Gladfelter, Falmouth Conservation Commission Member. “This project has increased awareness and stewardship of natural resources in Falmouth and both formal and informal educational programs.”

Project partners spanning local, state, and federal organizations collaborated with the technical engineering and construction teams to successfully complete this project. The restoration is serving as an example for other Cape Cod communities transforming former cranberry bogs across the region into thriving wildlife habitats and educational and recreational opportunities for all.

Architecture Construction Daily News Real Estate

SPRINGFIELD — Developer Peter A Picknelly, along with Springfield city officials, on Thursday unveiled a proposal to build a new Hampden County courthouse on a 14.5-acre site along the Connecticut River north of the Memorial Bridge. The proposal, which also includes housing and a marina, comes with a pricetag of $475 million.

The plans, unveiled at a press conference, call for a four-story, 210,000-260,000-square-foot courthouse; an 11-story residential apartment building with 120-180 units; and a 50-slip marina on the waterfront and a space for an outdoor restaurant.

The proposal hinges on whether the state decides to replace the troubled Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse on State Street. The state is exploring potential new sites and the cost of building a new courthouse; the existing facility has been plagued by health concerns.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said that if the state decides to build a new courthouse, the proposed riverfront site would be the ideal location.

Sarno, Picknelly, and Tim Sheehan, Springfield’s chief development officer, all said that a development of this size and with its various components could be a catalyst for growth along the river and in the North End of the city, similar to what the Basketball Hall of Fame has done for the area south of the Memorial Bridge.


Increase Pushes Level of Planning Above Most Recent Cyclical High

A measure of nonresidential building projects, the Dodge Momentum Index provides an analysis of the construction industry. Analysists delivered some bright news recently with the announcement that the Dodge Momentum Index increased 7% in May.

The index measures data about nonresidential building projects planned, to track spending in the sector. For May, the institutional component of the Momentum Index rose 9%, and the commercial component increased 6%.

May’s reading came in at 176.2, up from April’s 165.2.

According to Dodge Data & Analytics, May’s increase in the Dodge Momentum Index pushed the level of planning above the most recent cyclical high in November 2021.

During the month of May, commercial planning was led higher by an increase in office and hotel projects. Institutional planning saw a boost in education and healthcare projects entering planning. On a year-over-year basis, the Momentum Index was 17% higher than in May 2021. The commercial component was 24% higher, and the institutional component was 8% higher than one year ago.

A total of 19 projects with a value of $100 million or more entered planning in May.

The leading commercial projects were:

• $333 million Bitcoin Mining Facility (a large computing building) in Corsicana, Texas

• $300 million Gun Lake Hotel and Resort in Wayland, Mich.

The leading institutional projects were:

• $250 million Drexel University life sciences building in Philadelphia

• $160 million Colorado Research Exchange life sciences campus in Broomfield, Colo.

Despite higher interest rates and fear of recession, nonresidential building projects continue to steadily enter the planning cycle, according to Dodge. While higher prices and labor shortages may result in projects reaching groundbreaking later in 2022 or early 2023, they provide hope that the construction sector will be able to withstand a potential economic slowdown fed by higher interest rates.

Construction Cover Story

History in the Remaking

Dave Fontaine Jr.

Dave Fontaine Jr.

Crews working on the $64 million initiative to transform the former Court Square Hotel in downtown Springfield into market-rate housing say the project takes them back in time. Actually, it takes them to several different periods of time — from the property’s days as prominent hotel to more recent days, when it hosted a popular tavern and several other businesses. While doing this time-traveling, these same crews are living in the present and confronting a number of challenges as they usher in the next chapter in this property’s intriguing history.

Dave Fontaine Jr. calls it a “cool memento.” Actually, it’s turned out to be more than that.

He was referring to a bid package submitted by his firm, Fontaine Bros. Inc., for redevelopment of the former Court Square Hotel in the heart of downtown Springfield. The date on the three-ring binder, crammed with interior and exterior photographs and other materials, is 2000.

And that wasn’t the first — or only — time the company had submitted a bid on a project to transform the property, now vacant for more than 25 years, for a different use — endeavors that never saw the light of day for one reason for another.

There have been so many in fact, that Fontaine, vice president of the company started by his great-grandfather and his brother, had some humorous material for use when he was asked to say a few words at one of the many ceremonies to mark milestones for the project that actually made it off the drawing board — a $64 million initiative to convert the property into 71 units of market-rate housing.

“I joked that I believe I’m the third generation of Fontaines to bid on the project,” he told BusinessWest, adding that both his father, Dave Sr., and grandfather, Lester, were involved with similar proposals. “We’ve been pricing it over decades, with at least a dozen iterations and many different planned uses.”

More than a quarter century after the first such bid, Fontaine is finally at work in Court Square, with one of its banners hanging on the front of the property. It’s an intriguing project, said Fontaine, one of many the company has handled that falls in the broad category of historical restoration. Others include the transformation of Classical High School into condominiums, Berkshire Hall at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, the public libraries in Holyoke and Shrewsbury, and even the conversion of 95 State St., visible out the windows of the Court Square property, into the home of MGM’s headquarters in Springfield.

Work at Court Square began early this year, he said, noting that the first phase involved weatherizing the property and making it structurally sound, significant steps for a building that was, in his words, in “terrible shape” when crews arrived and set up shop.

One of the original staircases at the Court Square Hotel.

One of the original staircases at the Court Square Hotel.

Actually it was in terrible shape in 2000, as photos in that bid package reveal, he said, adding that conditions only worsened over the past two decades as the elements took their toll on the structure.

“It had been vacant for 20 or 30 years,” he explained. “When we got there, the envelope needed work — and there are still areas where water gets into the building when the weather is poor — and historically there has been no heat in the building in the winter. The building was really on its last legs.”

Repairing and renovating what Mother Nature has damaged is just one of many challenges on this project, said Fontaine, noting that, like all construction projects undertaken at this time, this one has had to contend with everything from supply-chain issues to often dramatic increases in the prices of materials and labor.

“I joked that I believe I’m the third generation of Fontaines to bid on the project. We’ve been pricing it over decades, with at least a dozen iterations and many different planned uses.”

So much so that the Springfield City Council approved an 11th-hour request for $6.5 million in emergency funding to handle cost overruns for the project which came to fruition through a public-private partnership that includes a number of players, from the state, to Wynn Development and Opal Development, to MGM Springfield.

Another challenge is implied in that phrase ‘historical renovation.’ Indeed, the property, which dates to the 1890s, is on several lists of historic properties, said Karl Beaumier, on-site superintendent for the project, adding that, in many respects, crews from Fontaine are dismantling what was in place in the old hotel rooms and other spaces, storing those pieces, and putting them back after mechanicals, equipment, and appliances are installed and finishing work is completed. Everything that goes into the renovated structure, including new windows (600 of them) must be reviewed by the National Park Service.

“We salvaged a tremendous amount of the wainscoting on the corridors — some of it was left here, some of it came off and it’s going back on,” said Beaumier. “All of the doors were salvaged, the door frames, the door cases, the window cases on all the exterior windows, the baseboard, the chair rail, the crown molding — all of that stuff got saved; there are 10 40-foot conex boxes (shipping containers) completely full of salvaged woodwork that has to go back in the building.

“It’s been carefully removed, catalogued, and stored,” he went on. “It will all go back as part of the historical renovation.”

For this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest took a hard-hat tour of the property, and talked with Fontaine and Beaumier about the massive undertaking and the steps still to come.


Past Due

As they started their tour on the ground floor of the property, most recently home to several storefronts and eventually to be the site of a restaurant, Beaumier and Fontaine said that for the on-site crews, going to work each day also means going back in time.

Or to several different times, to be more precise.

view out one of the windows on the sixth floor

This view out one of the windows on the sixth floor explains why there has always been interest in converting the property for residential use.

Indeed, on the ground floor, the areas housing the storefronts bear evidence of their former uses, especially the space that was home to the tavern known as the Bar Association, a name chosen to reference the many clients from the legal community, many with offices within a block or so from the courthouse just south of the Court Square property.

“It was like things were stuck in time from the late ’80s,” said Fontaine, noting such items as the stained-glass window in the Bar Association and a door that still had the ‘R’ from owner Tony Ravossa’s name. “It’s cool seeing the old storefronts.”

From the ground floor, Beaumier took BusinessWest to the basement, where collected water provided evidence of still-ongoing work to shore up the property, and then to the second floor, where the next use of the property is starting to come into focus.

There, and on the remaining floors, long rows of what used to be hotel rooms —most all of them with doors to the rooms on either side — have been essentially gutted, with the masonry walls that divided them (see photo, page 30) taken down and the groundwork laid for what will become one- and two-bedroom apartments. In one hallway, rows of shower units were waiting for eventual installation.

While the property will have a completely different use than it did a century ago, it will look, in almost all respects, as it did back then, Beaumier explained.

“When we’re done, and we look down this corridor, it’s supposed to look just like it did in 1900,” he told BusinessWest as he gestured down the narrow hallway of the wing of the property that runs north-south toward State Street. “All these doors that went into the individual hotel rooms … we’ve opened up the spaces, so there will probably be two dummy doors for each unit; the doors that we took off have to get pinned back in the wall so that when you look down this corridor, it looks the same as it did historically; every third door will actually open into a unit, the rest will be dummy doors.”

Elaborating, he said that the actual walls to the units were pushed back a foot from where they stood originally, because the original corridor is too narrow for a wheel chair to turn in, an example of how some adjustments have to be made to enable a century-old building to comply with modern building codes and state and federal regulations.

The tour then provided more glimpses into the past as it went to and then down one of the original staircases to what was the lobby area of the former hotel, complete with the remains of a revolving door, marble-covered walls, and a ceiling, now in an advanced state of decay, that will be restored.

“Right now, we’re getting the building structurally back to where it needs to be so we can do the mechanicals and other systems,” said Fontaine adding that the initial phases of this project have involved demolition, structural work, and salvaging a number of features. When these have been completed, crews will move onto installation of those mechanical systems, replacing hundreds of windows, building out the individual apartments, and putting the salvaged items back in.

When the tour reached the sixth floor, Beaumier pointed out one of the north-facing windows to dramatic views of Court Square (see photo, page 26), looks that help explain why there has always been interest in redeveloping the property for housing, and why there has been a high level of interest in this project.

As they walked and pointed out specific areas of note in the sprawling property, Fontaine and Beaumier talked about everything from the significance of the project to Springfield and its central business district to the many challenges involved with undertaking a project like this at this time of soaring prices, supply-chain issues, and a workforce crisis that has affected all sectors of the economy including construction.

Photo by Joe Santa Maria, Kill the Ball Media

Work to convert the property into a mix of residential and retail spaces is expected to be completed in the early fall of 2023. Photo by Joe Santa Maria, Kill the Ball Media

Fontaine, whose family has developed or redeveloped many properties downtown, from the aforementioned State Street project to the expansion of what is now known as the MassMutual Center, to the creation of MarketPlace, said the Court Square is an important next step in the revitalization of that area.

“That downtown area means a lot to us, we’ve handled a lot of projects in that area,” he said. “I grew up in this area, we’ll stay in this area; I want my daughters to be able to stay around here and work and live here if they choose to, and I this is a big step toward making downtown attractive to working professionals and people who want to be downown.”

As for the many challenges that come with building at this time, Fontaine said there have been some adjustments to make.

That includes the emergency funding from the City Council, he said, adding that the amount allocated should cover the escalating cost of the project. But it also includes longer lead times for items and, in some cases, having to use different products or materials because the lead times are too long.

“As with every construction project going on right now, there have been a lot of items with long lead times — significantly longer than normal,” he explained. “We’ve been working through that with the designers to use some products that do what we need them to do, but also get here within the lead times. With the mechanical systems, one of the manufacturers that was specified for the unit heaters had a 52-week lead time; we found something we could get in the time frame in which we needed them.”


Finishing Work

The elaborate project is expected to be completed in the early fall of 2023, said Fontaine.

There will certainly be an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony at that time, one that will close the book on the long, often-frustrating efforts to create a new life for the historic property, and usher in the next chapter.

Fontaine can also close the book — figuratively but also quite literally — on more than 25 years of bidding on projects to transform the property.

That binder from 2000 is, as Fontaine said, a cool memento, but it’s also a symbol of this property and how long its fate has been a critical issue in Springfield.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Special Coverage

A Framework for Continued Growth

D.A. Sullivan & Sons.

Mark Sullivan, center, with several members of the team at D.A. Sullivan & Sons.

It started with a few people building a home in Williamsburg in 1897. And over the past 125 years, the firm that came to be known as D.A. Sullivan & Sons Inc. has expanded in every way a construction firm can. Its vast portfolio of projects includes construction and renovation of schools, libraries, hospital facilities, dormitories, churches, and much more. While there are many keys to the success of the firm, it’s fourth-generation president says it all comes down to relationship-building.

By Elizabeth Sears


Mark Sullivan knows the elements of a successful building — strength, stability, durability, to name a few. And he should know — he’s the president and executive project manager of D.A. Sullivan & Sons, a construction company in Northampton.

Sullivan also knows firsthand that these same elements are essential for a successful company.

While constructing schools, churches, municipal buildings, and more, the Sullivan family has built an enduring business with a strong foundation. Indeed, D.A. Sullivan & Sons is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year — a milestone that speaks to the impressive legacy the Sullivans have built.

“Now I’m the fourth generation — my brother Dennis and myself are the fourth generation,” said Mark. “Our nephew, Andrew, joined us a few years ago, he’s the fifth generation. Hopefully we’ve got more to come.”

The company was started by his great-grandfather, Dennis A. Sullivan (D.A.) along with his brother, in 1897. They worked mostly on houses in Northampton — the city they’ve been based in for the past 125 years. Initially the pair traveled wherever the work was, even as the company grew, but for the past 75 years D.A. Sullivan & Sons has concentrated its services from Pittsfield to Worcester.

D.A. Sullivan & Sons acts as a construction manager or a general contractor. Sometimes it even acts as an owner’s project manager or “OPM” for towns that are undergoing building projects. It acts as a consultant to shepherd municipalities through the whole process of a public building project — undertakings that are often large and complex in nature.

“As a construction manager or a general contractor, we’re responsible for everything,” Mark Sullivan explained. “We self-perform with our own forces — more work than most firms our size. We’re responsible for the coordination of the entire process,” Sullivan said.

Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan says that relationship-building has been the key to success for this family business.

Of course, the industry has evolved dramatically since the company started all those years ago — the nature of commercial work has changed considerably since D.A. Sullivan & Sons was established in 1897. Even in the 35 years that Mark Sullivan has been with the company, he notes that technology and efficiency have been ever-improving.

“It used to be that my brother and I would each run three or four projects, we had a secretary with us, and that was it,” he explained. “Now you’ll have teams of personnel for each project. You can have four or five people dedicated to a single project … it’s worlds apart from where we were 55, even 35 years ago,” Sullivan said.

And it’s not just the industry that’s been evolving and growing.

D.A. Sullivan & Sons has also grown considerably, now having more than 50 employees. However, it’s important to note that there are certain elements to the company that have not changed, even after all this time. The firm continues to be a community-oriented family business, and it is still equally as committed to maintaining close relationships with its clients as it was over a century ago.

“Because we’ve been around a long time and we’ve worked with almost every municipality in Western Mass, we have long-standing relationships with a lot of the private colleges and schools in the area,” Sullivan told BusiniessWest. The Eaglebrook school in Deerfield, in particular … that relationship is three decades old. It culminated a few years ago in their new science, art, and music building, which was a signature project on campus. That was a lot of fun.”

For this issue and its focus on the region’s construction sector, BusinessWest looks at the 125-year history of D.A. Sullivan. Along the way there has a been a good deal of that fun that Mark Sullivan described, but mostly hard work, attention to detail, lots of that relationship-building, and adding on that solid foundation that was put down when William McKinley was roaming the White House.


From the Ground Up

Just a quick look at the portfolio of completed projects on the firm’s website provides some deep insight into the diversity of work the company has taken on in recent years and some perspective into how it has changed the landscape in the region — figuratively, but in some cases, also quite literally.

Indeed, the firm handled the recent project to renovate Springfield’s Pynchon Park, which links the downtown to the Quadrangle area. It also took on a massive renovation of Chicopee’s historic City Hall, a project that included rehabilitation of the auditorium, exterior work on the main building, and renovation to the existing clock tower and numerous stained windows.

D.A. Sullivan & Sons has been changing the landscape

D.A. Sullivan & Sons has been changing the landscape at UMass Amherst for decades, including this dormitory built in the 50s.

Meanwhile, the firm also took on projects to renovate the Worcester Public Library, Gamble Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College, the Fitness Center at Mass. College of Liberal Arts, and the 646-foot-long Fine Arts Center Bridge on the UMass Amherst campus, a complex undertaking that ultimately created more space for the Art, Theater, and Music departments.

Going back further, the portfolio includes projects (some could be called landmarks) such as the Blake Arena on the campus of Springfield College, the Springfield Materials Recovery Facility, Northampton’s new post office, Westfield High School, and countless others.

“Because we’ve been around a long time and we’ve worked with almost every municipality in Western Mass, we have long-standing relationships with a lot of the private colleges and schools in the area.”

Taken collectively, these projects show how the firm has evolved over the years and taken its teams across New England and well beyond. They also show how the firm has consistently added to a diverse list of clients over the years, while also maintaining relationships for years, and, in some cases, several decades.

Perhaps the best example of this is UMass Amherst. Indeed, one of the firm’s longest-standing relationships is with the university, said Sullivan, noting that the firm built 12 of the original 13 dorm buildings there, several other buildings, including Curry Hicks Cage, former home to the basketball team, and is still working with UMass today.

“I just came back from the previously mentioned Newman Center at UMass, which is a new facility for the Springfield Diocese,” he noted. “We haven’t built a church in a couple decades, so that’s been an interesting project.”

This relationship with UMass, one of many that go back 40, 50, or more years, explains why D.A. Sullivan is able to celebrate 125 years in business, and why five generations from the family have worked there.

“We’re a fifth-generation firm, which is incredibly unique. I believe we’re Northampton’s oldest firm,” said Sullivan. “We’ve just been here a long time and it’s crazy to think that my brother and I have been working for more than 35 years,”

Of course, maintaining such an accomplished family legacy comes with a daunting amount of responsibility. Not only do the projects themselves present challenges, but there is the added stress of each new generation keeping the company alive.

“We’re starting to think about that next leadership group coming behind us, and hopefully they’ll shepherd the company to the next century,” Sullivan said, “There’s a certain pressure to keep it going and not screw up on my watch, but we’ve been thankful throughout the years for the relationships we’ve had and the project’s we’ve built. We’ve got great people. More than anything, the people that work for us and with us, have enabled us to stick around for as long as we have.”

The team at the firm is consistently adding to that already large and diverse portfolio of projects with a number of current initiatives.

They include renovation of the public library in Grafton, the Newman Catholic Center at UMass Amherst, renovation of Goessmann Labs at UMass, renovation of the home for the Carpenter’s Local 336 headquarters, and a closely watched initiative in Easthampton called the One Ferry project.

This is an effort to stimulate economic development in the city by renovating a collection of abandoned mill buildings, said Sullivan, adding that the One Ferry Project has been and will continue to be a very important project for Easthampton and the surrounding area.

“It’s a build-out of a campus of old mill buildings, and we’re on phase two right now, which is Building 5,” he explained. “We’re looking toward phase three, which is either a renovation of Building 7 or new construction of a new facility next to the mill building.”

He told BusinessWest that the mill area has been a blight on Hampshire County for many years, and D.A. Sullivan & Sons is working with One Ferry Project developer Mike Michon to write an intriguing new chapter in the history of the property.

D.A. Sullivan & Sons is also currently providing general contractor services for the construction of a new library building in Greenfield, a project that started last fall. Sullivan said this is the type and size — $5 million to $35 million — project the firm specializes in.

As it turns 125, D.A. Sullivan obviously has quite a bit to celebrate — a glorious past, a solid present, and a promising future with new milestones to mark.


History in the Making

As noted earlier, the images on the company’s website and the photos in its vast archives tell a story.

Its main theme is one of longevity — 125 years is a milestone in any business — but it’s really about the forces that made such longevity possible — excellence, perseverance through the tough times (and there were many of them over the years and the decades), an ability to change with the times, and enduring relationships with scores of clients.

And the best part about this story is that there are many chapters still to be written.


A Powerful Argument

By Mark Morris


Ted Mendoza and Darci O’Connor note that the carbon-zero project at UMass Amherst will touch all of the more than 280 buildings on the campus.

Ted Mendoza and Darci O’Connor note that the carbon-zero project at UMass Amherst will touch all of the more than 280 buildings on the campus.

UMass Amherst chose Earth Day to announce an ambitious effort to convert the power systems for the entire campus to renewable energy by 2032.

UMass Carbon Zero puts the university at the “vanguard of a big idea,” according to UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy who added that the project will have ramifications far beyond the campus.

“For every advancement the university has made, there has always been support at the highest levels to create room for students to take part and learn.”

“UMass Amherst will be a leader of carbon-mitigation efforts in the Commonwealth while educating the next generation of leaders in sustainability,” Subbaswamy said. “Carbon Zero will also serve as a model for other large research universities as they pursue their own energy transitions.”

Massachusetts has set a target to reach carbon neutrality in all state systems by 2050. The UMass Carbon Zero effort has been in the works for two years to figure out the best way to achieve sustainability and a carbon-free future. The effort began with a task force that received input from hundreds of staff, faculty, and students to assess what it would take to move the entire campus to using renewable energy for all its heating, cooling, and electrical usage.

UMass officials estimate the project will cost at least $500 million over the 10 years, with funding expected from federal, state, corporate and philanthropic sources.

The main elements in designing a carbon-free system for the university will incorporate low-temperature hot water heating paired with geothermal heating and cooling. The plan also involves using a combination of battery-stored solar energy collected at UMass and purchasing energy from the green electrical grid.

Ted Mendoza, a capital projects manager for facilities at UMass Amherst noted that certain areas of campus make more sense for geothermal while other areas will incorporate low-temperature hot water heating.

“We have four buildings right now where we can run a pilot for geothermal and will expand that to 40 buildings,” Mendoza told BusinessWest. “What we learn from the pilot we will roll out to the entire campus.”

This large-scale transformation is not just a capital project. The university offers more than 500 classes on climate science, energy, technology, and other topics related to sustainability, so the Carbon Zero project will also be an opportunity to educate and train students.

“This is a chance to reboot our campus buildings and brand us as a destination for academic and operational interests. I see UMass attracting scholars, planners, engineers, and technicians looking to gain experience in the operation and maintenance of these new forward-thinking systems.”

In addition to the learning piece, students often provide new ideas, said Darci Connor Maresca, assistant director of the School of Earth Sustainability at UMass Amherst.

“There’s a value add in working with students because they push the envelope,” said Connor Maresca, adding that including students in major efforts is the way UMass does business.

“For every advancement the university has made, there has always been support at the highest levels to create room for students to take part and learn,” she said.

There’s data to back up the rationale for including students. Mendoza cited a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) survey that showed 91% of students agree that their place of study should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development.

“This is a chance to reboot our campus buildings and brand us as a destination for academic and operational interests,” Mendoza said. “I see UMass attracting scholars, planners, engineers, and technicians looking to gain experience in the operation and maintenance of these new forward-thinking systems.”

Both Maresca and Mendoza credit the UMass Chancellor as an early champion of the project. In many ways Subbaswamy sees UMass as a local community.

“Given our size, we are responsible for nearly 20% of overall greenhouse gas emissions among Massachusetts public facilities,” Subbaswamy said. “This makes us the single largest contributor among state entities. Our success in energy transition means success for the commonwealth.”

With a target date of 2032, it’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

“Unlike any other capital project we’ve ever taken on, this effort will have to touch all 280-plus buildings,” said Mendoza. “That means new and old; big and small; they are all part of the project to transition our entire campus to 100% renewable energy.”


Filling Today’s Needs

By Mark Morris

When Craig Sweitzer built his first dental office 37 years ago, he thought it was the coolest thing he had ever done.

As owners of Sweitzer Construction, Craig and his wife, Pat, enjoyed learning the unique design requirements and the technical knowledge required to build dental suites, known as operatories.

“We like to work on projects that are new, fresh, and exciting,” Sweitzer said. “Dental offices fit that bill because dental technology is evolving, and it’s fun to stay current with it.”

In a recent string of projects, the Sweitzers’ firm built or renovated three dental practices in the Berkshires, all owned by women dentists. Berkshire Dental Arts and Krol and Nazarov Family Dentistry, both in Pittsfield, and Shire City Endo in Lenox all presented different challenges to the team, among them building dental practices during a pandemic.

Dr. Sarah Martinelli said the building where her practice, Shire City Endo, does business began as a “rectangular brick box.” Built in 1978, three different banks occupied the site before Martinelli purchased the building in February 2020. Having worked in the area, she knew that dentists referred patients for endodontic work from all over the region, so the central location of this building on Route 7 in Lenox made it an ideal spot.

Craig Sweitzer explained that, when dentists plan a renovation or construction project, they will meet with him early in the process. From the choice of equipment to how each room lays out, together they form a plan.

“By purchasing this unit, it saved us from ripping out the ceiling and replacing the entire ventilation system. That would have been absolutely disruptive.”

“There are lots of decisions to be made,” he said, “from where the plumbing and electrical lines go to whether the doctor is right-handed or left, and do they want cuspidors or just suction?”

A dental-equipment supplier also enters the picture early on to work in partnership with the construction crew and the dentist.

“We do all the underground, behind-the-wall, and under-floor infrastructure work to make sure it will accommodate the specialized equipment the doctor ordered,” Sweitzer said.

Craig and Pat Sweitzer

Craig and Pat Sweitzer say the dental practice owner is closely involved in the design process from the start.

Dental offices fit that bill because dental technology is evolving, and it’s fun to stay current with it.”

For Shire City Endo, part of the early work involved removing a drive-up window left over from the banking days. When the crew was drilling into the foundation to run plumbing and electrical lines, they ran into another legacy of the building’s former use.

Foundation floors in banks are usually much thicker than those in regular commercial buildings to deter would-be thieves from tunneling in from underneath. After much more effort, the crew was able to install the necessary lines in the right places.

“I wasn’t worried before about someone tunneling into my practice,” Martinelli said jokingly. “And I sleep well at night knowing I’m protected from that now.”

The thick floors didn’t slow down the project too much, but as Pat Sweitzer noted, coordinating schedules with the medical supplier is an important part of the process. “The whole project is orchestrated for our crews to finish their work just as the medical equipment and the installers are available.”

As a general contractor, Sweitzer Construction is well-acquainted with the difficulties of sticking to schedules during the pandemic, not to mention recent price increases for raw materials. Lumber is the most notable building material to see wild price increases of up to 250%. Craig said he does not use much lumber, but instead uses steel studs to frame walls in his commercial projects. Still, he noted that steel has begun catching up to lumber in price and difficulty to get when it’s needed.

“We order materials long before we need them and then hope they arrive somewhere around the time we are ready to use them,” he explained. “It takes our office staff much more effort to make sure materials get here on time.”


Go with the Flow

When the pandemic first hit, air flow inside buildings suddenly became an essential consideration, especially in healthcare facilities. Sweitzer and the HVAC subcontractors who work with his company began to study how to design new systems and retrofit old ones to keep everyone safe.

Whether COVID-19 had existed or not, Martinelli knew she would have to replace the entire HVAC system in her building. Sweitzer and Mark Edwards from M&E Mechanical Contractors, the HVAC subcontractor for the project, installed a state-of-the-art negative-air system for all the operatories at Shire City Endo. Sweitzer explained it as a system that captures pathogens in the air which are immediately pulled out of the room by an exhaust fan before they can spread. In the past, operatories often had exhaust vents in the ceiling. The standard now is to locate these lower on the wall.

“Dentists and hygienists work in people’s mouths, the main path of respiration,” he said. “With lower vents, any pathogens are directed down to the floor instead of into the provider’s face.”

Dr. Anne Barnes

Dr. Anne Barnes says the 1960s-era space she took over in 2018 “just didn’t work” for today’s cutting-edge dentistry.

Martinelli appreciated that she had the opportunity to install a new HVAC system to deal with COVID and any other airborne maladies. At the same time, she saw her colleagues struggle to find answers on how to retrofit their offices to mitigate risks and improve air quality.

By purchasing this unit, it saved us from ripping out the ceiling and replacing the entire ventilation system. That would have been absolutely disruptive.”

Because Sweitzer and Edwards had been so helpful to her, Martinelli coordinated a Zoom call with the contractors and the Berkshire Dental Society, so dentists could get answers on how to manage air ventilation in their practices.

“Craig and Mark were great resources to the entire dental community, who had plenty of questions on how to keep their patients and staff safe,” she said.

Pat Sweitzer was on the Zoom call and credited Martinelli for organizing it. “The dentists had done lots of research, and we had done lots of research,” Pat said. “It was a time when everyone was learning how to contain COVID through different HVAC systems.”

Dr. Anne Barnes, who runs Berkshire Dental Arts, is one of the dentists who chose to retrofit her office with an air purifier that turns over the air in the entire room in three minutes. She said it does an excellent job, and while it’s a large piece of equipment in the corner of the room, it beats the alternative.

“In addition to knowing all the building codes that pertain to dental-treatment rooms, he also knows how to navigate the whole permitting process.”

“By purchasing this unit, it saved us from ripping out the ceiling and replacing the entire ventilation system,” she said. “That would have been absolutely disruptive.”

In 2018, Barnes established Berkshire Dental Arts after assuming Dr. Neil Pyser’s practice located on South Street in Pittsfield. The building was constructed in the 1960s by four dentists, and while it has changed hands several times over the years, the interior space was not much different from when it was first designed.

“What was here just didn’t work for me and wasn’t planned out for today’s dentistry,” Barnes said. As a captain in the U.S. Army Dental Corps, she had access to all the latest equipment, so while she knew what she wanted, the challenge was how to fit it in a predefined space.

At Martinelli’s recommendation, Barnes asked Sweitzer for help on how to make better use of the defined footprint of the building.

“Craig helped me troubleshoot and think about ways to convert the space we have into something more efficient,” she said. Her practice consists of four operatories, two used by Barnes, with hygienists working in the other two rooms.

She and her husband, Charles, who is also the practice manager, had a mental picture of how the operatories should look, but admitted they didn’t have the expertise on how to bring in new equipment without sacrificing elbow room.

“I wanted to make each room functional and comfortable to work in,” Barnes said. “Craig knows how much space you need around the chair and where to place all the plumbing and electrical hookups we use.”

She enjoys her redesigned office because she now has the equipment to do 90% of her lab work in house instead of sending it to an outside firm. For example, if a patient wanted to change the color of a crown, they would normally have to make an appointment two weeks after their visit while the crown goes to a lab. Because Barnes now has a ceramic oven in her office, the patient needs to wait just 15 minutes for the adjustment.

“A ceramic oven is a small piece of equipment,” she said, “but if you don’t have the counter space for it, you’re out of luck.”

Martinelli was also pleased with her office renovation, noting that she appreciated Sweitzer’s strong knowledge of dental-building infrastructure.

“In addition to knowing all the building codes that pertain to dental-treatment rooms, he also knows how to navigate the whole permitting process,” she said. “And he knew what needed to be done to check all the boxes at the end of the job.”


Tooth of the Matter

The knowledge the Sweitzers acquired to build dental offices has allowed his company to expand into other highly technical projects. From photovoltaic solar work to building clean rooms for high-tech companies, their business keeps expanding. Even with the new areas of focus, though, Craig still enjoys dental-office construction.

“Dentistry keeps changing, and there are always technical parts to it,” he said. “Besides, dental construction was my first love, and the complexity is still fun.”


Historic Renovation

An architectural rendering from Kuhn Riddle Architects

An architectural rendering from Kuhn Riddle Architects of the second-floor performing-arts and community space at Old Town Hall.

With the financial support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Cultural Facilities Fund and the Easthampton Community Preservation Act, CitySpace is beginning the first phase of a multi-million-dollar project to restore Easthampton Old Town Hall, the majestic brick building centrally located in the city’s downtown, as a center for the arts.

The $511,000 first phase, a portion of the total $6.9 million restoration, will prepare the building’s air systems for energy-efficient use, add new HVAC systems, and upgrade the historic building’s electrical system. Phasing the project will provide system upgrades and prepare the building for its next phase: completing the renovation of a 3500-square-foot, 350-seat arts and entertainment venue equipped with theatrical lighting, sound and projection systems, flexible staging and seating, and full accessibility.

“This is not a new project; it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time. I consider it the single most important, impactful project this city has going forward for economic development … I’m excited that we are starting it,” Easthampton City Councilor Dan Rist said at a Community Preservation Act Committee meeting in November. The committee and Easthampton’s City Council unanimously voted to push forward $255,576 of reserved funding.

“This is not a new project; it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time. I consider it the single most important, impactful project this city has going forward for economic development … I’m excited that we are starting it.”

CitySpace originally intended to build the $6.9 million project in one stage. However, this past summer, the organization explored the option of phasing the building project with the help of Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst, and found that dividing the scope of work was feasible. Other than the addition of an energy-recovery ventilator, the infrastructure improvements entirely reflect the established 2018 architectural plans created for the rehabilitation project.

In 2019, CitySpace was awarded $200,000 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council through its Cultural Facilities Fund in support of the restoration of the Old Town Hall. In collaboration with MassDevelopment, the Cultural Facilities Fund provides important funding for capital projects of creative spaces, “in recognition of their profound economic impact on communities across Massachusetts,” according to the council’s website. These funds will go toward this project located in Easthampton’s Main Street corridor, with an expected ripple effect to the region’s businesses.

“The incomparable support of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, MassDevelopment, the Easthampton Community Preservation Act Committee, and the generosity of our Western Massachusetts friends, neighbors, and businesses is why we are able to make these infrastructure improvements,” said Burns Maxey, president of the board of CitySpace. “This project will have extraordinary impacts on our economy while providing affordability and access to space for the arts and people in our region. I am so thrilled to see this project begin.”

The infrastructure improvements are expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Subsequently, with funding secured by the end of 2022 for phase 2, construction is planned to begin in 2023.

To date, more than $4 million in grants and contributions have been received for the $6.9 million project. Most recently, the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation awarded CitySpace $100,000 in support of the project’s second phase, creating the 350-seat space for performances, concerts, and community events. Besides seating, lighting, and sound, renovations also will include a new box office, elevator, and entryway. CitySpace is seeking further support for the project and has naming opportunities available.

“As we embark on this year, momentum is building to complete this campaign,” Maxey said. “The incredible support from the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation is a windfall for CitySpace and our upcoming plans for Old Town Hall. We are so very thankful.”

CitySpace is a nonprofit that serves to restore, preserve, and manage Easthampton Old Town Hall as a center for the arts. Old Town Hall was built in 1869.


In Search of Workers


Construction employment dipped by 5,000 jobs between December and January even though hourly pay rose at a record pace in the past year, according to an analysis by Associated General Contractors of America of government data released last week. Association officials said future job gains are at risk from several factors that are slowing projects.

“Contractors are struggling to fill positions as potential workers opt out of the labor market or choose other industries,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “In addition, soaring materials costs and unpredictable delivery times are delaying projects and holding back employment gains.”

Simonson noted that average hourly earnings in the construction industry increased 5.1% from January 2021 to last month, the steepest 12-month increase in the 15-year history of the series. The industry average of $33.80 per hour exceeded the private-sector average by nearly 7%. However, competition for workers has intensified as other industries have hiked starting pay and offered working conditions that are not possible in construction, such as flexible hours or work from home.

Since January 2021, the industry has added 163,000 employees despite the decline last month. But the number of unemployed job seekers among former construction workers shrank by 229,000 over that time, indicating workers are leaving the workforce altogether or taking jobs in other sectors, Simonson added.

Ken Simonson

Ken Simonson

“Contractors are struggling to fill positions as potential workers opt out of the labor market or choose other industries.”

Construction employment totaled 7,523,000 last month, which was 101,000 (1.3%) fewer jobs than in the pre-pandemic peak month of February 2020. However, he noted, the totals mask large differences between residential and non-residential segments of the industry.

Non-residential construction firms — general building contractors, specialty trade contractors, and heavy and civil engineering construction firms — lost 9,000 employees in January. Non-residential employment remains 213,000 below the pre-pandemic peak set in February 2020. In contrast, employment in residential construction — comprising home-building and remodeling firms — edged up by 4,400 jobs in January and topped the February 2020 level by 112,000.

Association officials said the Construction Hiring and Business Outlook survey it released in January showed most contractors expect to add employees in 2022 but overwhelmingly find it difficult to find qualified workers.

“Construction firms are struggling to find workers to hire even as they are being forced to cope with rising materials prices and ongoing supply-chain disruptions,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s CEO.

Speaking of which, construction materials jumped nearly 20% in 2021 despite moderating in December, according to an an association analysis released last month. An association survey shows that contractors rate material costs as a top concern for 2022.

“Costs may not rise as steeply in 2022 as they did last year, but they are likely to remain volatile, with unpredictable prices and delivery dates for key materials.”

“Costs may not rise as steeply in 2022 as they did last year, but they are likely to remain volatile, with unpredictable prices and delivery dates for key materials,” Simonson said. “That volatility can be as hard to cope with as steadily rising prices and lead times.”

In the association’s 2022 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook Survey, material costs were listed as a top concern by 86% of contractors, more than any concern. Availability of materials and supply-chain disruptions were the second-most-frequent concern, listed by 77% of the more than 1,000 respondents.

The producer price index for inputs to new, non-residential construction — the prices charged by goods producers and service providers such as distributors and transportation firms — increased by 0.5% in December and 19.6% in 2021 as a whole. Those gains topped the rise in the index for new, non-residential construction — a measure of what contractors say they would charge to erect five types of non-residential buildings, Simonson noted. That index climbed by 0.3% for the month and 12.5% from a year earlier.

Prices moderated for some construction materials in December but still ended the year with large gains, Simonson observed. The price index for steel-mill products rose 0.2% in December, its smallest rise in 15 months, but soared 127.2% over 12 months. The index for diesel fuel declined 5.3% for the month but increased 54.9% for the year. The index for aluminum mill shapes slid 4.9% in December but rose 29.8% over 12 months, while the index for copper and brass mill shapes fell 3.3% in December but rose 23.4% over the year.

Some prices accelerated in December. The index for plastic construction products climbed 1.3% for the month and 34.0% over 12 months. The index for lumber and plywood rose 12.7% for the month and 17.6% for the year.

Association officials said rising materials prices threaten to undermine what is otherwise a strong outlook for the construction industry in 2022. They urged the Biden administration to reconsider its plans to double tariffs on Canadian lumber and leave other trade barriers in place that artificially inflate the costs of key construction materials.

“Making lumber and other materials even more expensive will not tame inflation, boost supplies of affordable housing, or help the economy grow,” Sandherr said. “Instead, the administration should be removing tariffs and beating inflation.”

Construction Special Coverage

A Big Supply of Challenges

Christoper Burger, president of Inglewood Development

Christoper Burger, president of Inglewood Development, on site at a 12-unit apartment-complex project for the Holyoke Housing Authority.

How do you plan a construction project when you don’t know if all the supplies will be available, and even if all the workers will be ready to go — and stay healthy? Very carefully, said contractors who spoke with BusinessWest about the uncertainties of the construction trade these days. Demand and workflow are solid, they say — but the supply-chain and workforce challenges of the pandemic era continue to inject an element of frustration into many projects.


By Mark Morris


As the national economy continues to improve, local construction managers are telling BusinessWest they have plenty of work and a solid pipeline of projects for the immediate future.

That’s the good news.

The bad news, and there’s a good amount of it, comes in the form of a growing number of challenges, but especially supply-chain issues, inflation, and workforce matters, all of which are seeing varying degrees of improvement but nothing that is dramatic in nature.

Together, these factors make it difficult to make intelligent bids and do what every contractor wants to do — bring in a project on time and on budget.

“Everyone is tired of hearing about issues with the supply chain, but it’s a real thing,” said Christopher Burger, president of Inglewood Development in Longmeadow, noting that these issues stem from a variety of factors, everything from production challenges to problems getting materials shipped and then distributed to suppliers, to growing demand as the economy rebounds from the pandemic.

And they are prompting a wide array of colorful analogies — from hitting a moving target to shopping in a grocery store, COVID-style.

In addition to longer delays in securing needed materials, Burger said, even when materials are available, there are still glitches. As an example, an architectural roofing shingle manufacturer usually offers about a dozen colors of their product. After one of his customers made their selection, Berger had to tell the customer to pick another color from one of the three colors the company currently offers.

Trying to keep up with what’s available and what isn’t is like hitting a moving target, according to Carl Mercieri, vice president of South Hadley-based Marois Construction.

“Lumber is more available than it was six months ago, and while the price is still high, it’s leveled off for now,” he said. “On the other hand, rigid insulation is hard to get right now.”

Kevin Perrier, president of Five Star Building Corp. in Easthampton, said everyone in this sector is feeling the impact of COVID on finding available products. He compared purchasing construction materials to what shoppers are finding at the grocery store.

Kevin Perrier

“You walk in one day, and for some reason there is no pasta on the shelf; the next week, you go in, and maybe the cereal aisle is empty — it’s the same in this business.”

“You walk in one day, and for some reason there is no pasta on the shelf; the next week, you go in, and maybe the cereal aisle is empty — it’s the same in this business,” he said, noting that there is a similar hit-or-miss quality and inability to product availability that only increases the frustration level.

Indeed, Mercieri noted that, while lumber is available right now, that luxury (and, yes, it can be called that) may well be short lived. The recent protests among Canadian truckers over vaccine mandates may soon cause a shortage of lumber coming to the U.S. from Canada, he said.

After running his company for 22 years, Perrier said he could not have imagined the problems he has experienced with building materials over the past two years.

“There have always been long lead times for certain products, but generally most materials were readily available,” he explained. “This is a new experience, where lead times are no longer predictable, and some of the most common building materials are now delayed by weeks and months.”

For this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how several issues, most all of them COVID-related, are making this a good time, but also a very challenging time, for area contractors.


‘Lumber’ Curve

As he talked about supply-chain issues — and how the unavailability of needed materials is causing no end of frustration in his sector — Perrier noted that his crew had to install FRP interior wall paneling for a recent project. The adhesive used to secure the panels — easily available everywhere before the pandemic — was nowhere to be found when they needed it.

“We searched the whole country, multiple suppliers. We were told it would be 16 to 20 weeks before we could get the adhesive,” he said, with discernable exasperation in his voice.

Burger said products like overhead garage doors can have wait times of up to 14 months. Mercieri concurred, noting that his company was trying to finish a project for Yankee Candle, but the overhead doors caused a delay. “We had ordered the doors in May, and we just installed them in January.”

Carl Mercieri says hiring remains a challenge

Carl Mercieri says hiring remains a challenge, as few applicants have the experience the job requires.

A market environment of scarcity and price hikes also invites unethical practices. Perrier said he knows of subcontractors who have been approached by suppliers offering to reduce wait times if they are willing to pay more for the product. “If a product had a 40-week wait time, they could get it in 20 weeks if they were willing to pay 20% more for it.”

Situations like this beg the question, how does a contractor bid on a project and see it through completion with so many variables? The contractors who spoke with BusinessWest said they add in extra time for each job and keep a conversation going with their clients, most of whom are understanding of the times everyone is in and the challenges they present.

Open communication is key because it’s a given that timetables and prices will change during the project.

“When we need relief on the cost of material increases, we do what all good contractors do,” Mercieri said. “We open our books and show our client the original price from the vendor against the current price.”

While access to materials can be unpredictable, stockpiling them when available isn’t a feasible option, according to Perrier, because that would require large amounts of storage space that most contractors simply don’t have. Also, a big investment in materials today might become a losing proposition once supply catches up with already-considerable demand and prices move even slightly downward.

“There have always been long lead times for certain products, but generally most materials were readily available. This is a new experience, where lead times are no longer predictable, and some of the most common building materials are now delayed by weeks and months.”

As general contractors, Burger, Mercieri, and Perrier all remarked they are fortunate to have a core group of longtime employees. Problems arise, they said, as new projects get scheduled and they want to add new people, because, here again, there is ample demand but inadequate supply.

“As many ads as we run looking for workers, we don’t get much response,” Mercieri said. “Out of the 50 or 60 applications we receive, maybe one person has the experience we’re looking for.”

Subcontractors who do the plumbing, electrical, and other work on a building project have their own labor shortages that become even more pronounced when COVID strikes. By working as a team, subcontractors can be vulnerable to the easily transmissible virus, and one worker with a positive test can force the whole group into COVID protocols, causing another delay to a project.

“We’ve had jobsites where the subcontractor had COVID issues among their workers,” Burger said. “Out of precaution, they can’t show up for 2 or 3 days, at best, so that certainly hurts your schedule.”

Despite all the challenges, the three contractors have an optimistic outlook for the rest of this year and into 2023. They all have a mix of public and private projects, with some jobs bringing real satisfaction. Mercieri’s company is wrapping up a renovation project for the Mullins Center at UMass, and Burger discussed a building expansion nearing completion for Jewish Family Services in Springfield.

A rendering of the apartment complex

A rendering of the apartment complex Kevin Perrier says will change the facade of downtown Easthampton.

“They’re expanding their facility to accommodate Afghan refugees who will be coming in,” Burger said. “That was a nice project to work on, and we’re glad to be part of it.”

As an Easthampton native whose business is located there, Perrier admitted he has a soft spot for his hometown. One recent project involved his company designing and building a 30-unit apartment complex in downtown Easthampton at the corner of Cottage and Adams streets.

“Anything we can do to improve downtown means a lot to me,” he said. “That building will change the façade for downtown Easthampton.”

When BusinessWest caught up with Burger, his crew was in the early stages of building a 12-unit apartment complex for the Holyoke Housing Authority on South East Street. He said working with familiar clients like the Housing Authority makes it easier to get jobs done during these uncertain times.

“Repeat business is great because we all understand each other,” he said, also pointing to upcoming projects for longtime client Hot Table restaurants. In addition to just opening one in West Hartford, he is excited about working on new Hot Table locations planned for Westfield and Chicopee.

The aviation industry makes up a big part of Perrier’s business, with Delta airlines as a significant client. He is pleased to see things start to improve for the airlines. “From the second quarter of this year into 2023, we will be doing a massive amount of work at Logan and other New England airports for Delta.”

He also appreciates working with clients who understand the current climate and are moving ahead with their projects despite supply and labor challenges.


Nailing It Down

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the current pricing, supply-chain, and workforce issues is the unpredictability surrounding them and an inability to project when or even if matters will improve, said those we spoke with.

In that respect, the construction industry is like every other business sector.

“Product shortages and price hikes are not unique to us or our industry,” Perrier said. “Most folks are experiencing them at the grocery store or just trying to find car parts.”

This shared pain doesn’t make the situation any more tolerable, said Perrier and others, adding that all they can really do is hope the economy continues to improve, the pandemic continues to recede, and the current ‘new norm’ will revert to a pre-pandemic norm.

In the meantime, life for contractors will continue to be like a trip to the grocery store. They just don’t know what will be on the shelves and when.

Construction Special Coverage

More Demand Than Supply

Keiter recently completed a 14,000-square-foot addition to VCA Inc. in Northampton.

Keiter recently completed a 14,000-square-foot addition to VCA Inc. in Northampton. (Photo by Leigh Chodos)

By now, the phrase ‘supply chain’ has become one of the economic buzzwords of our time, as global shortages and slowdowns of goods, not to mention staffing crunches, have impacted industries ranging from food service and retail to manufacturing and auto sales. The construction industry has been particularly vulnerable to those trends, which is especially unfortunate considering that most builders say the work is there — they just can’t tackle it all until these broader issues begin to stabilize. When they will is anyone’s guess.


Most people have heard about the challenges facing the construction industry these days, Scott Keiter said — workforce shortages and supply-chain issues foremost among them — but it’s helpful, he noted, to understand how they’re really part of one large issue.

“Part of the supply-chain issue is the workforce,” said the president of Keiter, the new name for his company, which now encompasses four divisions: commercial and industrial, residential, site work, and real estate. “But the pandemic affects people, and people are the ones who produce products. I think the demand is out there, but those other things out there are causing a little bit of a bog on the system. This is something I hear from others in construction as well.”

It’s what BusinessWest is hearing, too — that there’s plenty of demand for work, but no one is in a place to take on all they could were the workforce and supply outlooks more stable.

“Demand is a great thing,” Keiter added, “but if the supply chain is already compromised, those things can really put a strain on the system … and we have to work harder to achieve the same results.”

Carol Campbell agreed. “It’s been a year like no other,” the president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors (CIC) said. “I think I’ve said that before, but this time is very different.”

“Demand is a great thing. but if the supply chain is already compromised, those things can really put a strain on the system … and we have to work harder to achieve the same results.”

Indeed, “we are certainly affected by the labor force, or the lack thereof,” she went on. “So when you evaluate your sales or how busy you are, well, if we were at full complement, it would be a different story. We’re at reduced labor teams, so we are busy, but it’s hard to serve all our customers at the level we’re at right now.”

From a supply-chain perspective, CIC is a contractor based in the manufacturing world. “Where we have issues with the supply chain is, if we have a team scheduled to do a project, the installation may take a week or two, then, with 48-hours notice or less, we get a phone call saying the machine hasn’t even hit the dock.

Scott Keiter says the industry is busy

Scott Keiter says the industry is busy, but new challenges make it a different kind of busy than before.

“It’s a scheduling nightmare,” she went on. “I tip my hat to our schedulers, how they keep all the balls in the air and keep all the employees working and customers happy, with all the changes that happen on very quick notice.”

The supply crunch affects both availability and cost, said Craig Sweitzer, co-owner of Sweitzer Construction. “I just got off the phone with someone who needs 12 weeks lead for replacement windows. I’ve never heard of that before. And a lot of materials are unavailable, so we have to search for substitutes.”

Co-owner Pat Sweitzer said she was bidding a project, and a plumber advised her to order a certain piece of equipment needed for the job immediately. “So you ask yourself the question, ‘do we take a chance and order it and expect to get the job?’ These kinds of questions are coming up as well.”

These challenges tend to put contractors in a tough spot, stuck in the middle between customer demands and supply realities.

“Those are real concerns,” Craig said. “At first it sounded like a lot of people complaining, but it truly is an issue. Availability, the cost of materials and shipping, getting stuff shipped to sites … it’s all tricky.”


Links in the Chain

One aspect of the supply-chain issue is trucking, Campbell said, which has impacted her firm on two levels.

“It’s been a nightmare to hire drivers to join our team, then trying to get machines delivered to our facility or to our customer’s facility. They’ll say they’ll be there at noon and may show up at 4 o’clock. So it’s hard because you have to pass some of the cost off, but who’s at fault in all this? It’s a scheduling nightmare, a financial nightmare for customers and vendors. It’s been … quite an interesting year.”

She gave an example of a hard deadline of Dec. 31 to get a machine up and running on a customer’s plant floor. “We’re at the bottom of that chain. It has to come through customs — most are made outside the U.S. — then it has to be piped by the piper, the electrician does his work, then you bring the rigger in, all those dovetail together.”

Keiter said supply shortages and delays are causing some price escalation with materials.

“It’s really causing us to have to look ahead and think about how the disruption and supply chain will affect schedules, and then, of course, the ever-moving pricing with materials is a challenge for not only us as contractors, but for clients and their budgeting. It’s very difficult — the days of just showing up and going at it are gone. We’re having to really get ahead of procurement and also securing tradesman and subcontractors. The industry is busy, but it’s a lot different than it was before.”

Windows and kitchen cabinetry have been especially problematic when it comes to significant timeline increases, Keiter noted. “That said, anything special-order, anything that’s not run-of-the-mill, anything made to order, anything not on a shelf, those seem to be taking longer on average.”

The Construction Products Assoc. (CPA) recently downgraded its forecast for construction growth in 2022 from 6.3% to 4.8% amid what it called a “perfect storm” in the supply chain, Construction Manager magazine reported.

“It’s a scheduling nightmare. I tip my hat to our schedulers, how they keep all the balls in the air and keep all the employees working and customers happy, with all the changes that happen on very quick notice.”

The association warned that supply-chain constraints are now expected to hinder growth well into next year, citing a combination of talent shortages, product availability and cost inflation, driver shortages, the impact of energy-cost increases, and delays at ports as factors in that storm.

“The biggest impacts of the supply constraints are on the small construction firms,” CPA Economics Director Noble Francis said. “Large contractors and major house builders have a greater certainty of demand over the 12- to 18-month horizon and are better able to plan and purchase in advance as well as adjust to changing economic situations. Small firms, however, are more focused on flexibility and have less visibility over demand going forward. Plus, they have less ability and resource to plan and purchase in advance.”

But the workforce issues remain problematic as well.

Pat and Craig Sweitzer

Pat and Craig Sweitzer say supply-chain issues affect both availability and cost of materials, and, therefore, both project scheduling and budgeting.

“We were fortunate in that regard,” Keiter said. “We have a very strong, committed team of employees. However, you can see in the workforce in general, whether it’s vendors, subcontractors, or others, I think the pandemic has really shaken things up.”

It’s an issue that worries Campbell moving forward.

“I feel optimistic in our conversations with customers, and we’re booking into 2022, but I have great concerns about the labor force,” she told BusinessWest. “We pay well, and our benefits compare with a state or municipality. And we can’t attract a skilled workforce.

“We’ve always had issues hiring skilled labor just because, coming out of high school, it requires quite a few years of apprenticing. But nothing like we have right now. Over COVID, we had a few people age out, who said, ‘that’s what it took for me to hang it up’ — some people, quite honestly, I just didn’t expect. I understand why they retired, but I think COVID gave them that push.”

Craig Sweitzer said his firm has been navigating workforce issues well, although that did necessitate a lot of personal time to deal with COVID-related issues. “All in all, we survived intact.”

However, the industry’s worker crunch has made clearer the importance of keeping workers happy. “We’ve rolled quite a bit of our profits out of our pockets and put them to use to help our employees and subs. We stress that above and beyond profitability,” he said. “It’s easier to run a business when everybody’s on the same team, pushing in the same direction. So we’re happy to forgo a little profit to have that.”

Pat Sweitzer said she understands the strain workers in all industries have felt over the past two years.

“We have been really fortunate to have our employees and our subcontracting team with us for many, many years. In terms of our employees, they have had family obligations they had to meet during COVID, such as homeschooling and schools being closed down, kids at home. So we have accommodated their needs, and they have stayed with us through the whole year and a half, and we are really fortunate and glad that they have stayed with us all this time; they bring a level of knowledge and skill to our projects that really serve our company and our customers well.”


Optimism Ahead

As noted earlier, despite the industry-wide, often global challenges, area firms have stayed busy.

“For us, this year has been a really good year,” Pat said. “Part of that is thanks to Adaptas Solutions in Palmer, which is a manufacturer in the Palmer Industrial Park that had renovations of five high-tech buildings.

“We were building a clean room and upgrading their facilities,” she added. “It really sustained us and positioned them well as a company. It was a good, steady year for us.”

Carol Campbell

Carol Campbell

“It’s been a nightmare to hire drivers to join our team, then trying to get machines delivered to our facility or to our customer’s facility. They’ll say they’ll be there at noon and may show up at 4 o’clock. So it’s hard because you have to pass some of the cost off, but who’s at fault in all this?”

The firm’s niches in medical and dental facilities continue top be strong as well, she added, and it’s starting to edge into an area with significant growth potential: cannabis.

“One thing I’m grateful about is that we have our bread and butter, our dental and medical work, and now that technical capability and knowledge we’ve developed in those industries is transferring over to the cannabis industry,” she told BusinessWest. “So we have a lot of work coming up, including projects that we hope will be coming through in the cannabis industry.”

Keiter is similarly pleased with his firm’s pipeline.

“We work with a lot of the institutions of higher learning, and those projects continue. We’re also working with a number of nonprofit organizations. We had a pretty good run in 2021. We built a number of new homes, got a lot of residential construction. All the various parts of our business are moving in the right direction.”

In other words, business is booming. That’s the big, positive takeaway amid all the industry concerns about workforce and supply — and how they are, in many ways, the same issue.

“It’s busy, and things are moving. Demand is there,” Keiter said. “We’re here and working hard, and we’re going to get through it. Everyone in construction is hopeful that we’ll start to work our way out of the pandemic and maybe stabilize a little bit.”

Craig Sweitzer agreed. “We’re bidding like mad, and I’m assuming there’s still a lot of optimism out there, so we can only hope to stay as busy as we’ve been. In spite of all the craziness, there does seem to be a lot of optimism out there.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]



Steady On

Thomas Crochiere

Thomas Crochiere at the Chicopee property he purchased, renovated, and tenanted up almost two decades ago.


Thomas Crochiere had a modest vision for his construction company a quarter-century ago — and, as it turned out, a successful one.

“Having worked for a company with up to 100 employees in the past, I knew I didn’t want to have a large company,” he told BusinessWest. “I was happy with a small company where I could know my employees very well and work with them and manage one or two projects at a time. I didn’t want to have a large plate of projects. So we’ve just continued in that direction for 26 years.”

Crochiere entered the construction world out of college and, as he said, worked for a large company that performed a lot of state and municipal work.

“I was working as a project manager for that company for about 10 years. But I got a little itchy; I wanted to become an owner. So my wife and I started this business back in 1995, and since I’d been doing mostly municipal and state work, and had pretty decent familiarity with that process, we stayed with commercial construction as our primary focus, and we have just picked away at jobs over the years.”

Tom Crochiere and Ann Collins-Crochiere launched Collins-Crochiere Construction Services Inc. in Palmer and rented shop space in Ludlow for a few years. Then, 18 years ago, they came across an eight-acre parcel on McKinstry Avenue in Chicopee, on which sat a large, long building in need of rehabilitation. They saw potential, not only as the company’s headquarters, but as a rental property for service businesses, under the name of Main Street Property Management.

“I was happy with a small company where I could know my employees very well and work with them and manage one or two projects at a time.”

“When we bought this, it was bankrupt, abandoned, contaminated, and pretty much in nasty shape,” he said of the property, which used to be the home of Jahn Foundry in Chicopee, the sister foundry to the Springfield site that suffered a fateful explosion in 1999. “When we bought this, we cleaned it environmentally and then started building it out for modern business space. It’s been hunky dory. But early on, it was a little sketchy.”

It has also helped him keep his employees busy during slow weeks. “We can always find something to improve here, whether it’s painting a hallway or doing some other repair that makes life better for the tenants. That’s been our filler.”

But the day-to-day business has been consistent over the past 26 years. “We have some busy years, some not-so-busy years, and our staffing ranges from around five to 10 employees. The high point was 10, but that was short-lived. It wasn’t as productive or effective as having four, five, or six.

“So we’ve stayed with that, and all of our work generally has been word of mouth,” Crochiere continued. “We don’t do a whole lot of marketing, and work just seems to come to the surface. When we’re finishing a job, someone else calls and has bought a building or is looking at a building or is planning a major renovation. That’s how work seems to fill our schedules. That’s how we got to this point. It’s worked out reasonably well.”


Work to Be Done

Crochiere noted several jobs from recent years to give an idea of the company’s work, including a renovation and addition to Ralph’s Blacksmith Shop in Northampton, similar work on a building purchased by Fire Detection Systems in Chicopee, and a renovation and upgrades to an older building purchased by Fire Service Group in Palmer. At Multicultural Community Services in Springfield, Collins-Crochiere tackled an office renovation two years ago and is currently working on a group home for the organization.

“A typical job is, somebody buys a building or is about to purchase a building, and they think they got a great deal on it, and then they invite me to do a walk-through, and I start to think about building codes, ADA codes, energy codes, and I inform my potential client that their budget is about a third of what it should be because the building codes require a certain amount of updating,” he explained.

“In a perfect world, property owners would have a contractor or architect or engineer walk through their building every five years just to give them insight into how far behind the 8-ball they are.”

“They look at me initially with ‘this isn’t part of my financial plan this year,’” he went on. “But we work through it. I work with local architects and engineers to do a full code review and come up with design requirements and upgrade requirements, and then we typically work with the owner to put together a team of subcontractors and suppliers to complete the project.”

In addition, Collins-Crochiere has been a subcontractor to some large electrical and mechanical contractors on state and federal jobs, Crochiere said. “We act as support; sometimes a large mechanical job requires two months of carpentry spread over six months. So we might be that supportive subcontractor to a larger mechanical contractor.”

Over the years, plenty of business has been of the repeat variety, he noted — maybe a former customer is growing and is buying a second or third building, or a first renovation was good for 10 years, and now they call looking for more upgrades or a new addition.

“That’s been nice. And our relationships in Western Mass. have been helpful. We often find that a new customer will call and say he’s spoken to two close friends, looking for a contractor, and our name comes up in both conversations. So he says, ‘I guess you’re someone I should talk to.’ That has led to a few jobs over the years.”

Springfield Technical Community College

One of the company’s recent projects involved repairs to this building at Springfield Technical Community College.

Consistency has been king when it comes to the company’s core of subcontractors and suppliers as well, many of which have been the same for decades.

“It’s been an asset for our business to be able to rely on our relationships with these local subcontractors who bring extra expertise in each of the trades, whether it’s electrical, mechanical, or plumbing. That means fewer surprises. That’s one factor that’s helped us with our consistent delivery of jobs.”

Even at the Chicopee property, the company has done plenty of tenant buildouts and renovations over the years. Crochiere knows properties everywhere are crying out for upgrades, but business owners often don’t realize it.

“In a perfect world, property owners would have a contractor or architect or engineer walk through their building every five years just to give them insight into how far behind the 8-ball they are, because codes change, technology changes, things wear out,” he explained. “And yet, when someone goes to sell their building or someone buys a building or someone plans an upgrade, the owner is frequently shocked at how much they have to do and how expensive a project might be — they only wanted to do a conference room and a bathroom, and it turns out to be a whole lot more.

“After so many years in the business, we’ve come to expect it, but unlike getting your car inspected each year, no one inspects their own building each year. And it would be helpful, I think, for owners to do that,” he went on. “Even with efficiencies, there are some products out there that have a short payback time, but they’re never considered until someone considers a major renovation or is purchasing a building.”


New Normal

While, as Crochiere noted earlier, some years have been stronger than others, no one was prepared for the chaos of the early days of COVID-19, and its lingering economic effects.

“When COVID hit, we were here for probably four months during that initial shutdown period, where we have some essential businesses that manufacture products here, so it was nice to be able to do some things to support them and keep our employees busy,” he said.

That was especially fortuitous because the firm had an office renovation in the planning stages, and the client — another essential service — called and decided they didn’t want anyone working in the building for a few months.

While work eventually restarted for contractors during the pandemic, this past year has seen a global supply-chain crunch impact firms of all sizes, and that remains a serious concern (see story on page 15).

“It’s hour to hour — it’s no longer planning for the week, it’s ‘what happened last night? What product isn’t going to get to the job this week that was supposed to be delivered, and it’s now six weeks out?’ It throws a wrench into everything,” Crochiere said.

“But it’s a nationwide issue, and everyone’s aware of it, so customers have been understanding when I send them an e-mail indicating we’ve had a wrinkle in this week’s plan or this month’s plan,” he went on. “Fortunately, our subcontractors are looking forward and trying to purchase long-lead items as early as possible to try to avoid significant effects on jobs. It’s a weekly — no, it’s a daily inconvenience, but everyone is trying to work through it.”

Like other contractors BusinessWest spoke with for this issue, Crochiere said demand for work is plentiful, and once the global issues clear, the future seems bright.

“I think people will continue to want to improve their buildings and make capital improvements to facilitate the changing business environment. Manufacturing has changed a bit over the last two years, and certainly office usage has changed the way we use our spaces. So I expect there will be continued work in the pipeline as a result of people adjusting their business needs.”

The other hindrance to taking on that work is, of course, persistent workforce shortages in construction — an issue that long predates COVID.

“The labor shortage is certainly an issue,” he said. “It does affect us. It would be nice to find another experienced, capable carpenter or laborer or employee, but I’d say those that respond to ads aren’t really employable for the work we do. They either don’t have the skills, don’t have the experience, or they don’t have the driver’s license that’s necessary. The labor shortage is affecting all of our subcontractors and everyone we speak to.”

Crochiere is a believer in construction as a career, though, and would like to see more young people catch the same vision.

“Very few young people are showing interest in the physical labor, but one has to be not just physically capable, but smart — technology is changing in every trade, every business, so it’s a great opportunity for young people who are motivated and want to work, with their hands and with their brain. There’s a lot to learn, but the opportunities are limitless. The lifestyle is good, the income level is good, they’re physically active during the day … it could be a good thing.”

It certainly has been at Collins-Crochiere Construction Services, for 26 years and counting.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]



Continued Momentum


The engineering and construction industry has made a significant recovery from the 2020 recession, but it has also experienced multiple headwinds that are expected to persist. According to a report by Deloitte, 2022 should be another rewarding — but challenging — year, and the industry looks to be poised to capture growth opportunities.

The 2020 recession was among the shortest ever, but its impact continues to be observed across both the larger U.S. economy and the engineering and construction (E&C) industry.

In 2022, as we move into the second year of recovery, the industry has a big role in supporting the nation’s growth plan. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), with investments across healthcare, public safety, and other public infrastructure, is expected to bode well for E&C firms and is likely to accelerate recovery across the non-residential segment. The residential segment is expected to stay strong and exhibit similar activity as it did in 2021.

“The 2020 recession was among the shortest ever, but its impact continues to be observed across both the larger U.S. economy and the engineering and construction industry.”

The industry has increased its investments in digital, including through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), as it prepares to shift toward connected construction capabilities. These technologies can help E&C firms support initiatives such as smart cities, urban air mobility, and climate-change programs, while helping to enhance internal operational efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve margins. Thus, 2022 is likely to be an exciting year for the engineering and construction industry, and Deloitte’s annual outlook explores five key themes to watch closely.


1. Several factors position the industry for strong growth amid the headwinds. The industry responded very well during the pandemic and has come out strong in the recovery period. Total construction spending recovered and peaked at $1.57 trillion in July 2021, 12% higher than 2019 average levels. In a recent survey, 91% of E&C respondents characterize the business outlook for their industry as somewhat or very positive, 23% higher than last year. Driving this business confidence is the expected strong performance of the residential segment and growth from the non-residential segment due to the $1 trillion IIJA.

Looking into the two segments in more detail, residential activities continued to stay strong despite rising material prices and the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant. In contrast, non-residential segment spending growth remained weak for much of 2021. Spending across educational, office, transportation, healthcare, and commercial facilities observed the largest year-over-year decline in July 2021.


2. Supply-chain disruption and sourcing challenges will likely affect project delivery and margins. During the second half of 2020, the pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains. Supply issues were expected to stabilize moving into 2021 as both global production resumed and supplies normalized. However, pandemic-induced supply shortages persist, affecting key materials such as lumber, paint and coatings, aluminum, steel, and cement, among others.

The impact of this crisis is twofold. The first challenge is the lack of materials; per an Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) survey, 75% of E&C firms indicated project delays due to longer lead times or shortage of materials. Furthermore, 57% reported delivery delays, indicating that the industry has difficulty predicting when materials would arrive.

The second impact is sharply increased costs; during the first seven months of 2021, the prices of critical construction materials observed double-digit increases every month. Overall, supply-chain disruptions and volatility are expected to be among the biggest challenges in 2022, and the firms that can navigate through them will likely emerge as winners.


3. Connected construction will help the industry unlock new value streams. The industry landscape is rapidly evolving as engineering firms, contractors, and participants across the value chain realize the benefits of, and increasingly deploy, connected construction technologies. These technologies can help bring assets, people, processes, and job sites onto one platform, making everyone work smarter, reduce downtime, optimize asset utilization and efficiency, and gain greater visibility into operations.

At the core of connected construction are emerging technologies and the data and advanced analytics that these new capabilities can enable. As the industry moves toward connected construction, developing data, analytics, and user-based insights capabilities could be critical. In 2022, connected construction will likely be a catch-all for major digital investments to connect, integrate, and automate operations and bring the entire value chain onto a secure, intelligent infrastructure.


4. M&A will help build broad-based capabilities. In 2020, most E&C firms were focused on being risk-averse and conserving cash to maintain liquidity. However, 2021 provides a stark contrast, as transaction levels for the first nine months were already 152% higher than the full year 2020 and 10% higher than all activity in 2019. The U.S. E&C industry ramped up M&A activity, registering $16 billion in deal value, during the first eight months of 2021. At this pace, the industry is likely to exceed the $20 billion deal value mark by the end of the year.

E&C companies have also shown renewed interest in technology and telecom targets to gain faster access to new digital capabilities and solutions. Between August 2020 and August 2021, U.S. E&C firms acquired as many as 27 targets across the software, electronics, technology consulting and services, and motion-picture fields. A move in the right direction, this is further anticipated to pick up pace in 2022 as E&C firms work toward acquiring technologies to help develop a connected, integrated, and automated operations foundation.


5. Firms will continue to grapple with labor shortages as the workforce landscape evolves. Emerging from the pandemic, the biggest question on the minds of most E&C firms was how to restart work at job sites safely. Surprisingly, while the industry quickly implemented the required safety standards, it is still trying to overcome the challenge of attracting workers. The impact of not filling job openings can negatively affect E&C firms in more ways than one, including project delays and cancellations, projects being scaled back, inability to respond to market needs, losing project bids, and failing to innovate, among others.

Another factor compounding labor shortages is a lack of qualified candidates. This skills gap is partly driven by industry advances into integrating digital technologies with key workstreams to further enhance productivity, efficiency, and worker safety. As we move into 2022, adapting existing talent strategies and forming new talent-management and workforce-experience strategies could be critical to navigating workforce challenges.


Glass Half Full

The latest issue of the Civil Quarterly (CQ) from Dodge Data & Analytics reveals a dramatic increase in supply-chain challenges faced by civil contractors. However, contractors remain optimistic about the state of their industry in the near future despite adversity.

The report, based on a quarterly survey of civil contractors, engineers, and owners, shows that the vast majority of civil contractors (92%) have had projects impacted by fluctuations in the cost of construction materials in 2021. The latest report also found that 89% expressed concerns about cost increases for materials over the next six months, including prices for steel, piping, paving materials, lumber, and aggregates.

Despite these concerns, more than half (53%) expect to see increases in revenue, and nearly two-thirds (63%) expect to see their profit margins hold steady or grow in the next year. This is likely due to the fact that nearly three-quarters (71%) are highly optimistic about the volume of work they expect in the next year.

The report also features new data from the survey about cybersecurity and reality capture.

The current TCQ finds that civil construction project owners are more likely to consider a cyberattack possible or likely than civil contractors or engineers. Among civil contractors, only large firms frequently consider the risk of cyberattacks a likely possibility. In fact, nearly half (43%) of small contractors with revenues under $10 million believe such an attack is unlikely to hit their firms.

Not surprisingly, there is also a direct correlation between those who consider an attack more likely and the degree to which they are prepared for such an attack. For example, owners and large companies are far more likely to have documented cybersecurity policies, engage in cybersecurity training, and employ numerous other means of protecting themselves against cyberattacks, including having a mobile device plan, protecting IoT devices, or creating an incident-response playbook.

With the overall increase in cybersecurity attacks, the leading obstacle among contractors to widen investment in cybersecurity is that they do not think the level of risk for their companies warrants further investment.

On the topic of reality capture, the findings reveal there are a wide range of reality-capture tools employed on civil job sites. Use of drones, aerial mapping, and digital cameras are widespread, but a range of other tools are also emerging in use, including project-site webcams, laser scanners, and GPS rovers, among others.

Civil contractors who use these reality-capture tools are finding wide applications for the data they gather from them, with earthwork calculations, quality-control verification, and progress documentation being the most common. Not surprisingly, these numerous applications lead to some critical project benefits, with more than half of those who use these reality-capture tools reporting improved ability to track work progress, improved ability to manage schedules and budget, and improved quality on their projects.


Greener Days

MassDevelopment announced that Abercrombie Greenfield, LLC will receive $450,000 in financing for energy improvements to its office building at 56 Bank Row in Greenfield, the first project financed under the agency’s new Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Massachusetts program.

Through PACE Massachusetts, capital provider Greenworks Lending from Nuveen will provide financing for a range of energy upgrades that were installed to the building, including  efficient electrification of space heating, energy-recovery ventilation, LED lighting and controls, improvements to windows and insulation, and a solar photovoltaic system on the roof. This financing will be repaid via a betterment assessment on the property.

“PACE Massachusetts stands to be a key financing tool for making commercial properties more energy-efficient,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as chair of MassDevelopment’s board of directors. “These efforts will benefit the Commonwealth and its communities by creating jobs, reducing energy consumption, and making progress towards Massachusetts’ clean-energy goals.”

MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera noted that energy upgrades at 56 Bank Row are the first to be financed under PACE Massachusetts. “We encourage property owners throughout the Commonwealth to consider how this flexible, long-term financing tool can help them tackle an energy-improvement project.”

Launched in July 2020, PACE Massachusetts is a new long-term option for financing energy improvements to commercial and industrial buildings, multi-family properties with five or more units, and buildings owned by nonprofits. The program enables commercial property owners to fund energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects by agreeing to a betterment assessment on their property, which repays the financing.

“The renovation of the Abercrombie Building rescued a blighted historic property that was structurally failing.”

Offering more flexibility than a direct loan, PACE Massachusetts allows property owners to undertake comprehensive energy upgrades without adding new debt to their balance sheet and through longer financing terms of up to 20 years. MassDevelopment administers PACE Massachusetts in consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER).

“DOER commends PACE’s first approved project for its commitment to comprehensive energy improvements and building electrification using heat pumps,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said. “As the number of municipalities opting into PACE grows, we look forward to having more commercial properties take advantage of this program to finance renovations and retrofits to help meet the Commonwealth’s ambitious greenhouse-gas emission-reduction goals.”

Massachusetts cities and towns are required to opt into PACE Massachusetts by a majority vote of the city or town council or the board of selectmen, as appropriate, in order for a property within that municipality to be eligible for the program. Forty-seven cities and towns have opted in; the city of Greenfield was one of the earliest to do so in April 2018.

“This historic PACE financing for the complete energy-efficiency renovation of an underutilized building on Bank Row joins many energy-efficiency ‘first’ accomplishments in our city since we became the first green community in Massachusetts in 2010,” Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said. “It’s a legacy we should all take pride in and continue to support.”

Built in 1896, 56 Bank Row is a 12,696-square-foot office building. The energy improvements are projected to save 189,000 kilowatt hours from the grid annually compared to a building built to current Massachusetts energy-efficiency code, which equates to a 28% overall reduction.

“Greenworks Lending from Nuveen is very proud to have worked with MassDevelopment to bring financing for Massachusetts’s first C-PACE project at 56 Bank Row,” said Greenworks Lending from Nuveen CEO and President Jessica Bailey. “We hope that this is the first of many C-PACE projects to come with MassDevelopment as we work together to bring financial and environmental benefits to local businesses and communities in Massachusetts.”

Bradley McCallum, owner of 56 Bank Row, added that “the renovation of the Abercrombie Building rescued a blighted historic property that was structurally failing. The project combines factors including a long-term lease with the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, state and federal historic tax credits, an innovative design by Tom Douglas Architects, and a committed contractor, Mowery & Schmidt, and their team of subcontractors. Thanks to this team, we were able to transform the bones of this historic structure into a vibrant resource for the city of Greenfield.

“As with projects of this ambition and scale,” he went on, “we faced cost overruns, and one of the positive contributions that PACE Massachusetts provides Abercrombie Greenfield is the ability to retroactively refinance key energy-efficiency investments that we made and consolidate the outstanding bridge financing and private loans into a fixed 20-year repayment structure, providing credit beyond the 80% LTV, which our primary mortgage with Berkshire Bank is capped at. Berkshire Bank, which is our tax-credit investor and lender, has worked in partnership with Abercrombie Greenfield to secure our PACE Massachusetts financing.”


From Parking Lot to Plaza

MassDevelopment has awarded a $10,000 grant to the North Adams Chamber of Commerce to transform the Center Street parking lot at 55 Veterans Memorial Dr. in North Adams into a seasonal public dining corridor dubbed Mohawk Plaza.

The organization will use funds to add outdoor seating, a sidewalk surface mural, wayfinding signage, ambience lighting, and landscape work. The chamber will also crowdfund this summer and fall; if the organization reaches its $7,850 goal, it will receive an additional $7,850 matching grant from MassDevelopment.

The funds are awarded through MassDevelopment’s special Commonwealth Places COVID-19 Response Round: Resurgent Places, which was made available specifically to assist local economic-recovery efforts as community partners prepare public spaces and commercial districts to serve residents and visitors.

“Before this pandemic, the vibrant centers of our cities and towns were not only a driving force behind the strength of local economies, they were the places where we gathered to dine, to shop, and to be entertained, and the Commonwealth Places program is one way that we can help these areas bounce back stronger than ever,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as chair of MassDevelopment’s board of directors.

“The Baker-Polito administration continues to support downtowns and town centers through various economic-recovery programs,” he added, “and these Resurgent Places grants are providing nonprofit community organizations with the resources to activate public spaces, boost economic activity, and support an equitable recovery.”

Created in 2016, Commonwealth Places aims to engage and mobilize community members to make individual contributions to placemaking projects, with the incentive of a funding match from MassDevelopment if the crowdfunding goal is reached. In response to the pandemic, MassDevelopment announced the opening of the first Commonwealth Places COVID-19 Response Round: Resurgent Places in June 2020, and from August through October 2020, $224,965 in funding was awarded for 21 placemaking projects across Massachusetts.

In December 2020, MassDevelopment announced the availability of $390,000 in funding for a second Commonwealth Places COVID-19 Response Round: Resurgent Places. Nonprofits and other community groups can apply to MassDevelopment for seed grants of between $250 to $7,500 to fund inclusive community engagement, visioning, and local capacity building that will support future placemaking efforts, or implementation grants of up to $50,000 to execute a placemaking project. For implementation grants, up to $10,000 per project may be awarded as an unmatched grant; awards greater than $10,000 must be matched with crowdfunding donations.

“Amazing things can happen when communities reimagine underutilized public spaces, such as North Adams Chamber of Commerce’s vision for a parking lot steps away from the city’s Main Street,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera said. “MassDevelopment is pleased to help the organization create Mohawk Plaza, a space that will increase foot traffic downtown, provide additional outdoor dining, and reinvigorate a prime public way.”

Construction Special Coverage

Framing the Issue

Few industries have been immune to the supply shortages and rising costs that have plagued the world economy over the past few months, but construction is especially vulnerable, relying heavily on materials — most notably lumber and steel, but dozens more as well — riddled by soaring prices. The good news is that demand for work is high, but many still worry about the long-term implications of a cost problem with no end in sight.


By Mark Morris

Early in 2020, several lumber mills and steel plants expected demand for their products to take a nosedive once the pandemic hit, so they slowed down or closed some of their operating plants. Instead, after only a brief hiatus in March, home and commercial construction resumed — and then significantly increased.

For Bob Boilard, vice president of Boilard Lumber, the decreased supply of lumber and growing demand have created multiple challenges. Orders for lumber that once took a week for delivery now have vague timetables and constantly changing prices.

“Pricing right now is set at the time of shipment, so we don’t know exactly what it’s going to cost us until it’s on the back of a truck,” Boilard said.

Because lumber prices change so often, Boilard and dealers like him study the commodity market every day to make sure they stay current. At press time, an eight-foot 2-by-4, used primarily to frame houses and certain commercial buildings, had increased to $11, up from $4 several months ago, a price hike of 175%.

Nick Riley

Nick Riley says shortages are nothing new in construction, but so many types of materials being in short supply at one time is very uncommon.

Construction professionals have called this an unprecedented time. Price hikes and shortages of certain building materials are nothing new to the construction industry, but no one has seen inflation and scarcity of so many supplies that go into building a house or a business.

BusinessWest spoke with several construction managers who said we are currently in a perfect storm of greatly increased demand, COVID-related manufacturing slowdowns, and, literally, storms.

For instance, back in February, ice storms knocked out the power grid in Texas, shutting down several resin plants there and in neighboring Louisiana for several weeks. The resins from these plants are used in a broad range of building products, from adhesives to make plywood to the plastic that insulates electric cables. The resins are also used in many paints and primers.

“This is the first time I’ve seen drastic increases and shortages affect this many products. In the past, we’ve seen oil prices drive up the cost of roofing shingles, but never across the board with nearly every building material.”

Dan Bradbury, director of Sales and Marketing for Associated Builders, said the commodity price he follows closely is cold rolled steel. Most of the structures his company builds are pre-engineered metal buildings for commercial and industrial use.

“Cold rolled steel prices have increased 225% since last August,” Bradbury said. Due to shortages in getting the steel, he tells customers the building they order today will be delivered in about 20 weeks. Before COVID-19, that same project would take 10 to 12 weeks.

Increases and shortages don’t end with commodities, but also affect other materials involved in construction. Craig Sweitzer, co-owner of Sweitzer Construction, said an electrical contractor told him about the price instability of a heavy-duty cable used in commercial applications.

“His supplier would only hold the price for one day,” Sweitzer said. “Usually, our material prices are good for 15 days, so we’re not used to seeing this.”

What makes this time different is the broad array of materials impacted, said Nick Riley, owner of N. Riley Construction.

The price of a basic 2-by-4 has risen by 175% in recent months.

The price of a basic 2-by-4 has risen by 175% in recent months.

“This is the first time I’ve seen drastic increases and shortages affect this many products,” he noted. “In the past, we’ve seen oil prices drive up the cost of roofing shingles, but never across the board with nearly every building material.”

As someone who builds medical and dental offices, Sweitzer uses steel studs in place of 2-by-4 wood studs for interior wall partitions. At one time, the two products were close in price. While prices for both have increased, a steel stud is now far less expensive than wood.

“While the price of a steel stud has increased about 30%, it’s well below the double and triple price hikes we’ve seen with wood,” he said, adding that he’s also experienced shortages in random materials such as joint compound to finish walls, acoustical insulation, and interior doors. “There’s a particular style of door we use that once took a week to get. Now it can take eight weeks, and the price has increased.”


Steady On

Despite shortages and price hikes, the construction managers we spoke with are all grateful to have plenty of work scheduled.

“I’m fortunate to be busy, and at the same time, it’s incredibly stressful to keep everyone happy and meet deadlines,” Riley said. “It’s a crazy time right now.”

To manage some of that craziness, he has invested in a new tool, a CRM (customer relationship management) system.

“Through our system, we can keep everyone on the same page, and it allows customers to check in on their project,” Riley said. “By staying in closer contact with our customers, they’ll know immediately about any issues that might slow down a project.”

Managing expectations becomes essential when prices and timelines are uncertain. When someone wants a fast turnaround on a project, Bradbury gives them straight talk. “We’re honest and upfront with our customers as to what’s realistic,” he said.

Some customers have chosen to delay their projects, anticipating that prices may come down. Bradbury said that may work for some, but when a company needs a building to grow their business, they can’t always wait it out.

“My advice is to build it sooner rather than later because we are more likely to see further price increases,” he said. “Also, with lead times so long, the sooner you get in the queue for your project, the better off you’ll be.”

Beyond materials, shortages have also extended to the human element. Riley said finding laborers for home building has always been challenging, and the increased demand for new homes only exacerbates an already-tough situation.

One of the thorniest challenges to solving supply shortages, Boilard noted, involves finding truckers to move the goods. “You can’t get drivers to get behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer. There are lots of trucking jobs open right now, but few people to fill them.”

Construction workers were deemed essential during the pandemic, so their time off the job was brief. Bradbury said the short shutdown allowed his company to retain most of its workers. “Some of our subcontractors have felt labor shortages, but we are grateful that has not had a significant impact on our business.”

When COVID first hit, Sweitzer gave all his employees a raise to make sure they were compensated well enough to stay with his company. “We’ve been lucky because we have an extremely good and loyal crew. I’ve found that good labor is worth the investment.”


Looking Ahead

Predictions on when prices and supplies might stabilize is anyone’s guess. Boilard explained that his company determines its lumber-buying needs early in the year, which these days is a real challenge. If a dealer stocks up heavily now only to see prices eventually crash, they are stuck with expensive inventory in a market that no longer supports those higher prices.

This building under construction shows how much cold rolled steel Associated Builders uses in a project.

This building under construction shows how much cold rolled steel Associated Builders uses in a project.

“It’s not a fun time because we have to do a balancing act of meeting our customers’ needs without having too much inventory on hand,” he said.

Riley has seen conflicting predictions about lumber prices dropping either at the end of 2021 or sometime in 2022. He’s seen lumber and electrical wire come down before, but he’s more concerned about other materials that go into building a house.

“In my years in business, when windows, siding, and roofing shingles increase in price, I’ve never seen them come back down,” he said. “I think increases like that are here to stay.”

Bradbury said he can’t predict what will happen in his industry, but he hopes to see the supply of steel catch up to demand by the end of this year. “My best guess is supply will get better and lead times will improve before we see prices start to stabilize.”

Sweitzer noted that he has a degree in management, while his two sons have degrees in economics and business administration, so they often discuss what may lie ahead. And their conversations have been optimistic.

“Markets always find some level of equilibrium, and I believe that will happen in this market,” he said. “Market equilibrium may take a temporary vacation, but it has always returned, and I think it will again.”


Air Apparent

Scott Cernak’s expertise and development of the residential division at M.J. Moran

Scott Cernak’s expertise and development of the residential division at M.J. Moran are serving him well today as the head of his own venture.

Never underestimate the influence of a teacher.

Or, in Scott Cernak’s case, two of them, who taught plumbing when he was a student at Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School, and proved engaging enough in the subject to capture his attention.

“I wasn’t sure which trade I wanted to take,” he said. “The plumbing teachers there were really good — I never thought I would have chosen plumbing, but I ended up liking it quite a bit.”

He likes the trajectory of his career as well. Today, Cernak is the owner of a company — Western Mass Heating, Cooling & Plumbing — that recently spun off M.J. Moran Inc., the only company he’d ever worked for, and where he latched on as an intern early in his junior year at Smith.

“I started on my 16th birthday and started liking it more and more,” he recalled. “I got into more and more things; I started doing sprinkler fitting, all kinds of pipe fitting, welding and plumbing and HVAC.”

“It was a really good, mutually beneficial decision to have us part ways and for me to buy the division.”

All of that appealed to him, but he was especially interested in the residential division, which hadn’t been a significant part of Moran’s business, but which he and two other employees started growing steadily. “At this point, I was in my early 20s and running a lot of large residential and small commercial jobs, new-construction service calls — anything from packing a faucet to doing a whole new house and everything in between.”

His success in that division led to a promotion to general manager of the company in 2016, and something bigger four years later. “I got the opportunity to buy the division that I helped build,” he told BusinessWest, “and here we are.”

The reason for the spinoff company is that Jim Moran, who launched his enterprise 42 years ago, is heading — slowly — toward retirement, Cernak explained.

“He’ll never fully retire, but he wanted to take a little off his plate right now. His sons, Chad and Kyle, who run the commercial-industrial division, don’t have any interest in the residential divison — they relied on me for that anyway — so it just made sense for Jim and myself and our departments.

“It was a really good, mutually beneficial decision to have us part ways and for me to buy the division; it worked really well for them, and it’s worked really well for us,” he went on. “We still communicate frequently, and we still collaborate; I hire them as a sub when we need extra manpower, or they hire us as a sub on some jobs. So it works out pretty well.”

Roughly eight months into his new enterprise, Cernak said his work is well-balanced, split fairly evenly between service work, major renovations for general contractors, and installing and replacing heating and cooling systems. “It’s a pretty good mix, and some of that is commercial, too — service work and small installation work.”

Western Mass Heating, Cooling & Plumbing is more departmentalized than most similar firms, he added, with a full service department.

“Most companies around us don’t have a service department; they just throw in a service call here and there. We actually have a service department that’s dedicated to service work, then we have a new-construction installation department that’s dedicated to the bigger work. That works well for our dispatching and keeping things organized and keeping the right guys on the right jobs. It’s one reason we’re able to stay efficient and continue to grow.”


Into the Pipeline

What first drew Cernak into the plumbing field at Smith Voke was, simply, realizing for the first time the breadth of what tradespeople in that field do.

“As a teenager, I didn’t realize that plumbing was more than just cleaning a drain or fixing a toilet. A lot of people — not just young teenagers — think plumbing is just fixing plumbing; they think it’s just dirty work. But I got to see a different side of it — learning how the pipefitting works, doing some welding and some soldering.”

“Even before 2020, new houses were getting a lot tighter, and indoor air quality was becoming a much higher priority for people.”

He also quickly learned, by researching the field, that it’s a trade with stability and good job security. “It’s one of the higher-paid trades, so there were a lot of factors. But before that, it had never clicked to me that, hey, plumbers actually install the plumbing in a new house, too, not just fix the plumbing in an old house.”

The science of plumbing hasn’t changed much during his career, but HVAC is a different story.

“Indoor air quality has been a big factor,” he said. “Coronavirus certainly helped with that — or hurt with that, however you want to put it. But coronavirus certainly put a new spin on it. But even before 2020, new houses were getting a lot tighter, and indoor air quality was becoming a much higher priority for people, so we sell a lot of products that help with filtration and literally zap bacteria and viruses out of the air; there are all kinds of air-cleaning products that we’re selling as part of our systems, part of our installations, part of our services. It’s not the core of our business, but it certainly is a pretty big part of our business.”

Businesses in Massachusetts took the lead on emphasizing air-quality measures indoors, much of it driven by regulations. But in the era of COVID-19, people increasingly demand high-tech air-purifying systems in their homes.

“We’d never had people asking for indoor air-quality measures — or very rarely; maybe 1% of people would ask for something like that back before coronavirus. And now, probably close to 20% to 30% ask for it specifically.”

Scott Cernak said his company is growing and hiring

Scott Cernak said his company is growing and hiring, even though his industry is challenged by a slow pipeline of young talent entering the field.

Clearly, there will always be a market for plumbing and HVAC work — as Cernak said, this is a stable field — and he can see his fledgling company growing, but one challenge will be attracting talent as it does. Right now, nationwide, roughly three workers are aging out and retiring from these disciplines for every two young people who come in.

“And out of those two, probably only one to one and a half are going to make it past five years,” he went on. “So there’s a big-time shortage, and it’s going to get worse and worse.”

As one way to counter that trend, “I have longer-term goals of creating more education within our company,” he explained. “I’d like to bring a sheet-metal school in house, not necessarily from us, but probably third-party, using our facility; that’s going to help attract some people.”

Meanwhile, “we have ads out on different internet platforms, and we’re trying to recruit internally too. Everyone who works with us knows we’re looking for at least one or two more service techs on top of other positions as well. We have been hiring — four people in the past month and a half — so we’re definitely growing, and we’re on a trajectory of more growth as well.”


Investments in the Future

One key to achieving that growth, Cernak said, is not being afraid to invest in the kinds of things that will attract top talent.

“I’ve got an eye for talent — and I’m not afraid to hire the best and pay for the best, that’s for sure,” he told BusinessWest. “I provide the best tools, the best training, we have new, well-equipped trucks, and we’re working on getting even more trucks. So all our people have the right tools, the right trucks, and the right infrastructure to do their jobs.”

In addition, “I’ve invested heavily into software and IT systems to organize how we do our work and how we bill for our work and how we store data and how we access data, which is a huge part of the industry that people generally overlook,” he went on. “We’re not fumbling through file cabinets to find the customer’s history. With a couple clicks, we’re there. Same thing with our guys in the field — they have access via tablet or smartphone to access any of our customers’ history. When a customer calls, we know what they have already, and we know the right tech to send to the right job.”

What it adds up to is efficiency, which both employees and customers appreciate, Cernak said. “We’re very good in the service department, dispatching, getting people there. We have quite a backlog sometimes, but we’re also very good at prioritizing emergencies.”

Creating efficient systems and investing in better resources may not bring an immediate payback, he added, but he’s looking long-term — at the kind of success his mentor, Jim Moran, enjoyed for more than four decades. It’s why, when he saw an opportunity to build upon his experience and set out on his own, he took it.

“Sometimes,” he said, “you’ve got to go with your gut and know what’s right and do it.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]


Soaring Again


MassDevelopment has provided an $800,000 loan to Eagle Mill Redevelopment, LLC, which is using the proceeds to redevelop the former Eagle Mill and surrounding parcels in Lee into a mixed-use complex featuring 128 residential housing units and 14,000 square feet of retail and office space.

The developer used loan proceeds and additional financing from Adams Community Bank to buy 10 adjacent properties that will be combined and subdivided into six separate parcels for future redevelopment. Construction on the project, which is expected to cost approximately $55 million, is slated to begin in the fourth quarter of 2021, with its first phase completed within 14 to 18 months.

“A priority of the Baker-Polito administration is to breathe life back into underutilized factory and mill buildings that were once integral to the Commonwealth’s industrial success,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as chair of MassDevelopment’s board of directors. “These properties are uniquely situated for redevelopment into mixed-use communities that accelerate economic growth and expand housing opportunities, and we were proud to deliver a $4.9 million MassWorks award to facilitate needed infrastructure work at Eagle Mill. MassDevelopment’s contribution of loan financing advances the transformation of the site and complements the other state, local, and private investments.”

“Bringing additional housing, businesses, and jobs back to Eagle Mill, a defining site in Lee’s industrial history, will be an important part of the community’s next chapter.”

Built in 1808, Eagle Mill is located along the Housatonic River in Lee. In the later part of that century, Lee was the national leader in papermaking and home to 25 paper mills. As operations dwindled, Eagle Mill closed in 2008 — resulting in the loss of 165 factory jobs — and has remained vacant since. The town received a $4.9 million MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant in 2018 to upgrade the water main in the town and install 9,000 linear feet of new water main to the development site, allowing the Eagle Mill project to move forward. The project is also supported with both state and federal historic tax credits.

“Bringing additional housing, businesses, and jobs back to Eagle Mill, a defining site in Lee’s industrial history, will be an important part of the community’s next chapter,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera said. “MassDevelopment is proud to be a financial partner in Eagle Mill Redevelopment, LLC’s plans to unlock the economic potential of this property.”

Jeffrey Cohen, the lead developer in the Eagle Mill redevelopment, has been involved in the project since 2012. He has done similar, large-scale historic restoration and redevelopment projects in Washington, D.C.; Portland, Maine; and St. Paul, Minn. DEW Construction, another partner and the project’s general contractor, brings similar experience and expertise to the effort, with projects of more than $150 million each year.

“It is incredibly fortunate that MassDevelopment has so many tools by which they are able to enhance the likelihood of our project’s success,” Cohen said. “They provide financing for predevelopment, amongst other things, which is otherwise so difficult to obtain, making their support invaluable to our project. The essential turning point that will lead to the project’s ultimate success was, and is, the approval by then-Secretary [Jay] Ash and MassWorks of the $4.9 million grant to the town of Lee, enabling the replacement of the water line to the mill, without which we would not have been able to move forward.”

MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, works with businesses, nonprofits, banks, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth. During FY 2020, MassDevelopment financed or managed 341 projects generating investment of more than $2.69 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are estimated to create or support 10,871 jobs and build or preserve 1,787 housing units.

Construction Special Coverage

Building Momentum

The past year has been an unusual time for the construction industry — one marked by project postponements, soaring prices for materials, and the establishment of strict COVID safety protocols on job sites. But for most builders, it wasn’t a devastating year, and, in many cases, it led to a surprisingly promising 2021. After all, the need for projects to be completed hasn’t gone away, and the backlog is actually creating a surplus of projects to bid on. The aforementioned challenges still remain, contractors say, but the work rolls on.

Laurie and John Raymaakers

Laurie and John Raymaakers say there’s plenty of infrastructure work available — and that trend should continue in the coming years.


By Mark Morris


For Dan Bradbury, 2020 was “a year of pivoting and finding new ways to get the job done.”

As director of sales and marketing for Associated Builders, Bradbury saw a slowdown at this time last year as several projects that were scheduled to break ground were instead postponed indefinitely.

By including construction as an essential industry, Gov. Charlie Baker allowed job sites to stay open and keep workers employed while following pandemic protocols. While Bradbury appreciated the ability to keep projects moving, other slowdowns were out of his control.

“There are a lot of hurdles to get over in a large industrial or commercial project, and COVID hit the brakes on all of them,” he said, noting in particular the new challenges surrounding what in the past had been routine business with municipal governments.

“We already had some projects scheduled to start this spring, but, more importantly, we’re starting to fill our pipeline again with projects that will take us well into the fall of this year and potentially into 2022 as well.”

“Because municipalities had to move to fully remote meetings, they occurred less often, which made it difficult to get building permits, zoning-board approvals, and the other essential documents we need to start and finish a building project,” Bradbury said, adding that Associated has projects in the works in a number of different sectors. One example is a 30,000-square-foot building in Bloomfield, Conn., where a local chemical company will occupy part of the building and lease the remaining space.

His company’s experience isn’t unique. BusinessWest spoke with several area construction managers to discuss how their industry looks this spring compared to a year ago, when COVID-19 suddenly changed the world — and the main takeaway is one of optimism and promise.

A significant part of Houle Construction’s business involves interior renovations for medical facilities. Company President Tim Pelletier noted that, when COVID first struck, business came to a complete halt as medical professionals were dealing with rapidly increasing numbers of COVID patients. One year later, he’s optimistic about the increase in construction activity.

“It’s absolutely busier than last year,” he said. “We’re seeing more projects taking shape, especially with our hospital clients.” In the meantime, Pelletier has picked up renovation projects at organizations that offer hall rentals, such as the Masonic Temple in East Longmeadow.

“The temple has not been able to host gatherings for the past year, so they are using the downtime to make renovations for when they can open again,” Pelletier said, adding that it’s a way to take advantage of what everyone has gone through and find a positive side.

An aerial view of Worcester South Community High School

An aerial view of Worcester South Community High School, one of the many recent school projects undertaken by Fontaine Brothers.

Bradbury credits pent-up demand for the increase in projects his company has been taking on this year.

“As soon as the calendar page turned to 2021, our phones started ringing,” he said. “We already had some projects scheduled to start this spring, but, more importantly, we’re starting to fill our pipeline again with projects that will take us well into the fall of this year and potentially into 2022 as well.”

Dave Fontaine Jr., vice president of Fontaine Brothers, said his company has been fortunate to have several projects ongoing since before the pandemic hit. Many of his largest projects involve building schools, for which budgets are approved long before breaking ground, so funding for them was not affected by COVID concerns. Since the pandemic hit, Fontaine said some towns have delayed public funding approvals, but not as many as he had anticipated.

“In the last six to eight months, we’ve picked up more than $400 million in new work,” he noted. “Some of these projects are in pre-construction now and will start this summer.”

Among the projects scheduled to begin in June are the $75 million DeBerry-Homer School in Springfield and the $240 million Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester.

Infrastructure construction also experienced steady business last year. J.L. Raymaakers and Sons Construction specializes in installing water and sewer lines as well as site excavation for municipalities, airports, and private companies. After a busy 2019, co-owner John Raymaakers said 2020 was nearly a record year for his company, and he’s on pace to fill up the project list for 2021.

Associated Builders project in Bloomfield, Conn

In this Associated Builders project in Bloomfield, Conn., a local chemical company will occupy part of the building and lease the remaining space.

“It’s amazing the amount of infrastructure work that is out there for bid,” Raymaakers said, explaining that his company subscribes to a register that lists all the new public and private projects available for bid. Since the middle of last year, he has seen no slowdown in the volume of bidding opportunities. “Looking only at our category of construction, there were five to six new projects announced just last week.”

Raymaakers predicted bridge construction, another area of expertise for his company, will also see increased activity.

“In the next few years, I think we are going to see a lot of work on replacing aging bridges in New England,” he said, adding that this should happen even without a federal government infrastructure bill, citing two recent bridge-replacement projects his crews are working on in Stockbridge and Pittsfield. Still, he’s hopeful that some kind of infrastructure legislation passes, saying it would be “a huge boost to us and others in our industry.”


Help Wanted

While business activity is brisk for everyone BusinessWest spoke with, they’ve all faced recent challenges; some are unique to doing business in the COVID environment, and others are chronic problems made worse by the virus. The issue of having enough workers was a challenge on both fronts.

“We’ve definitely lost people from the workforce due to COVID concerns,” Fontaine said. “They might be taking care of a family member, or they might be in a group that has underlying health concerns.”

He added that managing COVID on the job site is also difficult. “Anytime someone tests positive for COVID, that individual and anyone in close contact with them has to go home and quarantine for the time period,” he explained. “That can result in a lot of labor disruption on a daily basis.”

COVID also exacerbated the long-running problem of fewer workers in skilled-trade and general-labor jobs. Raymaakers said finding help in construction is a constant challenge. Co-owner Laurie Raymaakers pointed out that heavy-equipment operators and construction laborers can make a good living.

“There’s a misconception that laborers aren’t paid well,” she said. “The pay and benefits at our company are pretty good; the reality is there are just fewer people who want to do this type of work.”

She added that it’s also misleading to suggest laborers are not skilled, pointing out that her company’s laborers are highly skilled at making sure pipes are situated properly and secured to withstand years of service.

“Our workers also put together fire hydrants, which require about 50 bolts that have to be tightened in a certain pattern. Hydrants are under constant water pressure, so if it’s not built correctly, parts of the hydrant will go flying in the air.”

As older craftsmen such as plumbers and electricians continue to retire, their ranks are not being filled by enough younger workers. With projects increasing, Bradbury said an already-competitive labor market gets squeezed even further.

Tim Pelletier, president of Houle Constrution

Tim Pelletier, president of Houle Constrution, at the Masonic Temple in East Longmeadow.

“Between the demand for commercial/industrial as well as residential, everyone in the trades is busy, and they can’t find enough workers,” Bradbury said. “On top of that, solar companies are hiring all the electricians they can find at a time when electricians were already in short supply.”

The biggest hurdle to doing business right now, according to Bradbury, involves managing enormous price increases for materials, in some cases rising by more than 100% compared to this time last year.

“Over a period of months, we’ve seen multiple price increases in steel and lumber products,” he said. “Those two create a trickle up that affects prices for every other building material.”

Bradbury noted that steel manufacturing has been affected by labor outages due to COVID, leading to product-supply shortages. He also pointed to increased demand for lumber, especially on the residential side, where housing starts are booming. In addition, his company and many others receive a great deal of lumber from Canada, where the U.S. still has tariffs in place on lumber.

Bradbury said COVID issues are not affecting project schedules because his firm will not start a job until it has a guarantee that materials are available. “We are also adding cost protections in our contracts as a way to guard against the constant increases in materials.”

It’s too early to determine what immediate impact the pandemic will have on building design, but Bradbury said clients from current and future projects have begun asking about air handling and filtration.

“For sure, air handling and using UV light to sanitize a space are areas where people have been putting more focus,” he said. “I think these requests will continue as there is an increased emphasis on clean air and other ways to keep facilities sanitized.”

At Worcester South Community High School, workers installed air-handling units that use bipolar ionization, or, as Fontaine described it, a system that cleans the air and removes many of the germs and bacteria from the building.

“The motivation to install this system was driven by COVID, but there are other benefits, too,” he said. “Systems like this provide a better environment for people with asthma and other health concerns.”


Spring of Hope

The arrival of spring and increased numbers of people receiving COVID vaccines gives all the construction managers we spoke to a sense of optimism about life and getting their projects done.

At press time, asphalt plants in the area had begun to open. Because the plants close for the winter, municipalities will not allow road construction because there is no access to repave the roads. So the plant openings are great news for companies like Raymaakers, which plans its water- and sewer-line projects around those openings.

Other managers look forward to a time when they do not have to socially distance their crews and wear masks all day.

“Masks are another nuisance to deal with,” Pelletier said. “If we can start to get distancing and masks behind us, it will speed things up on the job site.”

As part of planning for future business, Bradbury has begun to ask some fundamental questions about what lies beyond the horizon. “Where is the growth potential going to be as we come out of COVID, and which industries will still want to build and have the money to build?”

As he considers the types of industries that are prevalent in Western Mass. and Northern Conn., such as aerospace and manufacturing, he wonders if government spending will still drive those industries. He has also given some thought to the insurance industry.

“Typically, there has been a huge demand for office space for the insurance industry, and how they address that moving forward is a big question mark coming out of COVID.”

As the insurance industry reconsiders its needs, Bradbury added, there has been a sharp decline in demand for all office space. “We are definitely not building more office space anytime soon.”

But his and other firms are building — and that’s good news after a year of uncertainty and a pandemic that hasn’t yet gone away.


Firm Foundation

Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan says public work — his firm’s main niche — slowed down in 2020, but activity looks strong for the coming year.

Mark Sullivan wasn’t unlike countless other business owners, watching the COVID-19 story develop last February and March and wondering how his construction firm, D.A. Sullivan & Sons Inc., would fare.

While no one knew early on what the pandemic’s impact would be, the general consensus was “this isn’t going to go well at all,” he said. But the company, like all others, managed to keep moving forward, with office staff working from home and Zoom meetings a new fact of life.

“Ultimately, we were able to keep people working in whatever format worked best for the individual, and we’re thankful we didn’t have any layoffs in the field,” he went on. “We were able to employ everyone through 2020.”

What makes that notable is that this fourth-generation family business, which opened its doors in Northampton in 1897 and has been headquartered in that city ever since, relies heavily on public work, including some of the highest-profile municipal and collegiate projects in the region at any given time.

“Now it’s to the point where projects we built 30 or 40 years ago are being renovated or being torn down and replaced. It’s all cyclical.”

“We’ve always had a heavy mix of public work — probably half to 60% of what we do has been public work,” said Sullivan, who is the firm’s fifth president, while his brother, Dennis, is chief executive operator. “We certainly have private clients we do a lot of work for, and we look for that private work, but public work over the years has been the most consistent.”

When Gov. Charlie Baker shut down large swaths of the economy just over a year ago, “we were certainly fortunate we were deemed critical, or essential, and we were able to keep some projects going,” Sullivan recalled. “When COVID hit, we did lose some work; some projects were paused and some outright canceled as people tried to figure out what the pandemic was and what it meant in the near-term future.”

Some of the projects the firm completed in 2020 included a fitness center transformation at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, a new administration building at Harriman & West Airport in that city, a renovation of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority para-transit maintenance and storage facilities in Springfield, and the renovation of a mill building in Easthampton into apartments and office spaces.

“We rely on public work, and the state froze most public work after the first quarter. UMass did, too,” Sullivan said. “We had a backlog going into the year, and we finished up that work, but it was difficult getting new work toward the end of the year because everything had been frozen.”

renovation on Ferry Street in Easthampton

This mill renovation on Ferry Street in Easthampton features a mix of office space and apartments. (Photo by Leigh Chodos)

However, after the firm’s work volume in 2020 totaled about 20% from the year before, things are looking up. “What we’re seeing now is that, as the vaccine rolls out and people see the light at the end of the tunnel, those projects paused last year are coming back online.”

Considering that, he said, and the fact that new municipal projects are starting to emerge from the drawing board, “it looks to be a busy year.”


Plenty to Build On

Indeed, the projects currently underway — the firm typically manages 10 to 15 each year — speak to the breadth of the opportunities available in the municipal, academic, and other realms. They include:

• General-contracting services for the construction of the Newman Catholic Center at UMass Amherst, the UMass Fine Arts Center bridge renovation, a renovation and expansion of the Worcester Public Library, and the Chicopee City Hall renovation;

• Construction-management services for a renovation of Mount Holyoke College’s Gamble Auditorium and the construction of 38 cottage-style homes at Lathrop Community; and

• Owner’s project-management services for the renovation of the Westhampton Public Safety Complex and a renovation of the historic Grafton Public Library.

“It’s cyclical,” Sullivan said of public work. “You might be doing elementary schools for a decade, then find yourself doing middle schools after that. Now it’s to the point where projects we built 30 or 40 years ago are being renovated or being torn down and replaced. It’s all cyclical. We do a lot of work for the Five Colleges, UMass especially. It’s always varied, and it’s always interesting.”

The mill renovation in Easthampton was a fun challenge because of the condition of the building when the project began, he noted, while the Worcester library project is fun in other ways.

“Our partners got a kick out of the high-end millwork installation,” he said, noting details in the children’s room like a rocket ship and an eight-foot-tall book. “Most projects are budget-driven from a carpentry standpoint and may not get a millwork package that’s particularly interesting, so to speak. But every now and then, we get a library project or private-client work — we do a lot of private work for prep schools in the area — and those are projects carpenters can really sink their teeth into; they’re a lot of fun.”

Sullivan noted that construction management is becoming more the norm in the firm’s projects than straight general contracting. What hasn’t changed, however, is a reliance on cultivating relationships with municipalities, colleges, and other types of clients over time.

“It can be difficult to be a contractor of our size in the area we’re in and sustain longevity,” he said. “Every project is different, every client has a different process, and the relationships are unique, too; we value those relationships and rely on those relationships to keep work coming.”

That stability was in direct contrast to the upheaval of COVID-19, and how that affected the way workers were able to do their jobs.

“Initially, everyone was trying to figure it out,” he said. “There was no guidebook to follow; it was being established as we went along. That was true for everyone in our industry and in other industries deemed essential, and we were able to keep some projects moving forward in the field.

“Certainly, productivity took a hit, when we were sanitizing projects twice a day, taking temperatures, and keeping logs,” he went on, noting that, when a delivery person was found to have COVID, a whole job site shut down for a few days.

“In the big picture, we got through the whole year without too many issues,” he added. “It’s literally been a year since this thing hit; everyone has the protocols down pat.”


Getting to Work

Now that things seem to be looking up — both in the public-sector construction world and in general, with vaccines generating positive news on the COVID front — Sullivan is ready to tackle what he sees as pent-up demand.

“The need for work didn’t go away,” he told BusinessWest. “I think there’s a lot of liquidity in the market; last year, people held on to figure out a way through the pandemic, and now that they see an end in sight, things are starting to loosen up, and we’re very busy on the building side of things.”

As his family’s business has been for more than 120 years.

“We’ve been around a long time in Western Mass. We work roughly from Pittsfield to Worcester — that’s our zone — and there aren’t many mid-size contractors of our size left in Western Mass.,” he said, noting that the firm generates about $40 million in sales each year. “There are a few bigger firms and several smaller firms out there, but we’re happy with the size we are; it’s a good size. And we’re thankful just to be able to be working every day and be around as long as we have.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]


Starts and Stops

Total construction starts fell 2% nationally in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $797.3 billion, according to the latest report from Dodge Data & Analytics. Non-building construction starts posted a solid gain after rebounding from a weak January; however, residential and non-residential building starts declined, leading to a pullback in overall activity.

“With spring just around the corner, hope is building for a strong economic recovery fueled by the growing number of vaccinated Americans,” said Richard Branch, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “But the construction sector will be hard-pressed to take advantage of this resurgence as rapidly escalating materials prices and a supply overhang across many building sectors weighs on starts through the first half of the year.”

Non-building construction starts gained a robust 20% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $200.3 billion. The miscellaneous non-building sector (largely pipelines and site work) surged 76%, while environmental public works increased 26%, and highway and bridge starts moved 11% higher. By contrast, utility and gas plant starts lost 17% in February.

For the 12 months ending February 2021, total non-building starts were 13% lower than the 12 months ending February 2020. Highway and bridge starts were 4% higher on a 12-month rolling-sum basis, while environmental public works were up 1%. Miscellaneous non-building fell 26%, and utility and gas plant starts were down 37% for the 12 months ending February 2021.

The largest non-building projects to break ground in February were the $2.1 billion Line 3 Replacement Program, a 337-mile pipeline in Minnesota; the $1.2 billion Red River Water Supply Project in North Dakota, and the $950 million New England Clean Energy Connect Power Line in Maine.

Non-residential building starts fell 7% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $208.1 billion. Institutional starts dropped 8% during the month despite a strong pickup in healthcare. Warehouse starts fell back during the month following a robust January, offsetting gains in office and hotel starts, and dragging down the overall commercial sector by 8%.

For the 12 months ending February 2021, non-residential building starts dropped 28% compared to the 12 months ending February 2020. Commercial starts declined 30%, institutional starts were down 19%, and manufacturing starts slid 58% in the 12 months ending February 2021.

The largest non-residential building projects to break ground in February were Ohio State University’s $1.2 billion Wexner Inpatient Hospital Tower in Columbus; ApiJect Systems’ $785 million Gigafactory in Durham, N.C.; and Sterling EdgeCore’s $450 million data center in Sterling, Va.

Residential building starts slipped 7% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $388.9 billion. Both single-family and multi-family starts fell during the month, with each losing 7%.

For the 12 months ending February 2021, total residential starts were 4% higher than the 12 months ending February 2020. Single-family starts gained 12%, while multi-family starts were down 15% on a 12-month sum basis.

The largest multi-family structures to break ground in February were Bronx Point’s $349 million mixed-use development in the Bronx, N.Y.; the $215 million Broadway Block mixed-use building in Long Beach, Calif.; and the $200 million GoBroome mixed-use building in Manhattan, N.Y.

Regionally, February’s starts fell lower in the South Central and West regions but moved higher in the Midwest, Northeast, and South Atlantic Regions.

Earlier this month, Dodge Data & Analytics released its Dodge Momentum Index, which rose 7.1% in February. The Momentum Index is a monthly measure of the first (or initial) report for non-residential building projects in planning, which have been shown to lead construction spending for non-residential buildings by a full year. The institutional component of the Momentum Index jumped 26.3% during the month, while the commercial component was essentially flat.

February’s Momentum Index marked the highest levels in nearly three years as a result of a surge in large projects that entered planning. It remains to be seen if this level of activity, especially in the institutional sector, is sustainable given the tenuous economic recovery and rising material prices. Institutional planning projects in February were concentrated in large hospitals and labs, while commercial planning projects primarily included data centers, warehouses, and office projects. Compared to a year ago, the overall Momentum Index was up 9.2%; the commercial component was 15.2% higher, while the institutional component was down 3.3%.