Home Sections Archive by category Construction (Page 2)

Construction

Construction Sections

Happy Returns

President Joe Marois (left) and Vice President Carl Mercieri

President Joe Marois (left) and Vice President Carl Mercieri

A construction company doesn’t grow and thrive for almost a half-century — through some dramatic economic ups and downs — without the kind of client loyalty that makes it a go-to option for any number of job types. For Marois Construction, those include educational facilities, public buildings, medical offices, bank branches, and more. The firm has certainly left its mark on the Valley — with no signs of slowing down.

There are advantages to being in business for 45 years. One is that it’s plenty of time to build a reputation.

“People are looking for quality work — people they know they can trust,” said Joe Marois, president of Marois Construction in South Hadley, a business he built from the ground up — literally and figuratively — starting in 1972. “We’ve established that trust. We’ve made a lot of friends on our projects.”

A lot of friends means plenty of repeat business, and that has been a key component of the success of one of the region’s iconic names in construction, an entity that quickly grew beyond its roots building cabinets and restoring furniture from a small shed. Five years after that humble beginning, Marois boasted seven employees and five trucks. Today, headquartered in a large building on Old Lyman Road, the company currently employs about 45 people.

The repeat business has long been buoyed by the firm’s close relationships with area colleges and universities and expertise in niches as diverse as bank branches and medical offices. Current projects have the company busy at UMass Amherst, Elms College, a new Polish National Credit Union branch in Chicopee, the new state office building in Springfield, Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam, and Central High School in Springfield, to put up a new press box and scoreboard.

The company also has a standing contract with the city of Springfield to perform needed maintenance and renovation jobs on public schools. “We’re all over the place there,” Marois said. “We never know what the needs will be.”

Carl Mercieri, Marois’ long-time vice president, said those assignments can be for just about anything. “They’re more maintenance-type things, on-call services, everything from changing a window to replacing ceilings in the classrooms over the summer, or repair old plaster. It’s pretty interesting. It’s more service work, but it’s good for the guys; they go to a job for two or three days, then move on to another for some change of scenery.”

Marois Construction workers prepare to install equipment on the roof of John Adams Hall at UMass Amherst.

Marois Construction workers prepare to install equipment on the roof of John Adams Hall at UMass Amherst.

In short, times are better for Marois — and for the industry as a whole, of course — than they were a few years ago, in the shadow of the Great Recession, when all firms were scrambling just to keep their crews reasonably busy.

“We were really coming off a bad time during the recession, where it was all about survival,” Marois said. “A few of our contemporaries did not make it. It was a culling of the industry, I guess you’d say. And it was further complicated by an influx of outside contractors into our area from New York and Boston; they were hungry too. Right now, we’re turning the corner and staying busy.”

Getting Around

A quick rundown of some of the firm’s recent project reflects its diversity. To wit:

• An upgrade of the electrical and fire-pump systems at John Adams Hall at UMass, a residential tower, included installation of twin emergency generators on the roof of the 22-story building, placed on a new structural steel frame.

• Also at UMass, a renovation of the Amherst Student Affairs Suite in the Whitmore Administration Building included the demolition of a 4,000-square-foot space, rebuilding of interior partitions, and finishes including porcelain tile flooring, recessed light fixtures, and a bamboo slat ceiling.

• A project at Veritas Preparatory Charter School included more than 22,000 square feet of demolition and renovated spaces, including new classrooms, a science lab, a music room, a reception area, and office space.

• The Keating Quadrangle at Elms College features the inlaid college logo and a large firepit that’s popular with students and staff. The project consisted of new drainage systems, underground electrical work, and multiple landscaping features including concrete, pavers, stone, and plantings.

• On the medical side, the Raymond Center at Baystate Health – South Hadley Adult Medicine consisted of developing 14,000 square feet of primary-care space within an existing building.

• At the Lee Hutt Gallery at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, the existing building was converted into a working sculpture studio, as Marois worked closely with the owner on all aspects of the design-build project.

• The company also built a single-story addition to Plainfield Congregational Church to provide new bathrooms and meeting space. Site improvements included a new well, septic tank, and grading. Repairs and improvements to the existing structure included replacement of piers supporting the existing timber-framed floor, thermal improvements to walls, and more.

• Marois also designed and constructed a facility to house supplies and equipment required to maintain the runways and grounds at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee.

These cupolas are being designed for a project in Amherst.

These cupolas are being designed for a project in Amherst.

The jobs are still coming, but a new obstacle looms, he said. “Now we’re being faced with a labor shortage, which is always a challenge. That’s the nature of construction — it’s never perfect. I don’t know to what extent the casino is affecting that, but basically, the labor pool for tradespeople is very small.”

National data bear that challenge out. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, construction employment increased by 28,000 jobs in August, yet contractors still face a lack of experienced workers. Association officials say construction job growth would have been even higher had a majority of firms not reported having a hard time finding qualified staff.

“Construction firms have stayed busy, adding employees in the past year at nearly twice the rate of employers throughout the economy, but more than two-thirds of contractors report difficulty finding craft workers as the number of unemployed, experienced construction workers hit a 17-year low in August,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Although construction spending has fluctuated recently, many contractors are still looking for qualified craft workers and project managers.”

More than half of the survey’s respondents said they were having trouble finding carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, concrete workers, or plumbers, while some salaried positions, such as project managers and supervisors, are also hard to fill, Simonson added, noting that federal, state, and local leaders should act on measures aimed at recruiting and preparing more young adults for high-paying construction careers. “Exposing students to construction as a career path will encourage more of them to pursue these high-paying careers,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s CEO.

Marois would welcome that development. “I just don’t see a lot of evidence of new tradespeople or young people who are enthusiastic about learning a trade.”

Brave New World

Marois and Mercieri have an old-school ethos when it comes to quality work, but recognize that the way jobs are processed today is different than it used to be.

“It has gotten to be technically advanced as far as the computer systems we are using at the insistence, many times, of our clients,” Marois said. “For a dinosaur like me, that’s a challenge.”

Added Mercieri, “sometimes we run into a situation where a project requires specific software, either scheduling or reporting, and some are good, some are bad. It takes away from the normal, day-to-day business, and it’s something we do more to satisfy others than ourselves.”

Green building, however, is a building trend that has grown well past trendiness in recent years; instead, it’s standard operating procedure for many clients. Marois has worked on multiple LEED-certified structures, but even those that don’t reach for those goals are subject to a new world of sustainability.

“There are always new heating and cooling standards, new insulation values on buildings — seismic standards are another thing that’s a great concern for people — to the detriment of renovating older facilities that are non-correctable, for lack of a better word,” Marois said. “With these 100-year-old mill buildings they want to converting to loft apartments, none comply with the basic structural requirements in place today, and they either get variances on them, or it’s not affordable, with the money it takes to bring it to the standard they expect.”

The business has changed in other ways, too, such as Marois’ increased reliance on outsourcing some of the framing and demolition work than in the past, but he’s still keeping his crews active, after 45 years of loyal clients, technological advances, and economic ups and downs.

“I couldn’t even count how many repeat customers we have,” Mercieri said. “The past 18 months have been busier than we’ve been in a long time.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

Green Goals

Thanks in part to the U.N.’s “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” ‘green’ building projects are increasing worldwide. From 2015 to 2018, the percentage of global builders with at least 60% of their projects certified green will double, according to the “World Green Building Trends” report.

One of the main motivations driving green construction is to reduce carbon emissions, reports Interesting Engineering. And successful ways to do that revolve around energy usage — namely, to decrease energy consumption and increase energy efficiency in homes and buildings around the world.

Here’s how those goals break down into the top five global green-building trends this year.

Solar Panels of All Sizes

The worldwide acceptance of solar as the energy of the future is causing solar technology to get better and cheaper — quickly.

In 2016, India set aside $3 billion in state funding to ensure its capacity for solar power reaches 100 gigawatts by 2022. In May, the United Kingdom generated nearly one-quarter of its power needs from solar panels. And China is currently in the middle of creating the largest solar-thermal farm in the world.

Huge, heavy panels with bulky grids are no longer the only options for a solar-roof install. In the U.S., Tesla has already rolled out its new solar shingles, while Forward Labs’ standing seam metal solar roofing is set to be released in 2018.

In Australia, Professor Paul Dastoor of the University of Newcastle is performing the final trials on lightweight solar panels made by printing electronic ink onto plastic sheets. These solar panels are cheap to produce and ship and could potentially be a game changer for the solar-panel industry.

Home Energy Storage

“Batteries capable of storing power at utility scale will be as widespread in 12 years as rooftop solar panels are now,” estimates Bloomberg New Energy Finance. And that makes sense, considering the same type of lithium-ion battery used to power an electric vehicle can also be used to store power in the home. This double demand enables manufacturers to increase battery production, which drives down prices. And lower prices mean home batteries will be within reach of more people.

Some major players have already jumped in on the home-battery-manufacturing opportunity. Mercedes-Benz has produced suitcase-sized at-home energy storage for Germany since 2015, but it plans to expand internationally and has recently made the product available to California residents in the U.S. Meanwhile, Powervault is the number-one at-home battery manufacturer in the UK, and ElectrIQ is one of the newest home-energy-storage manufacturers in the U.S., with a home battery that stores 10 kWh of energy.

Energy-management Systems

To get the most out of solar panels and batteries, energy-management systems (EMSs) are often installed in green homes and businesses. EMSs monitor how much energy a building uses and can automate lighting, power, and HVAC systems to ensure optimal energy savings.

For example, the Edge, a building in Amsterdam that won the BREEAM award for offices in 2016, has 30,000 sensors that connect to a smartphone app. This app collects data from office employees and adjusts temperature and lighting according to how many people are inside the building and even keeps track of individual employee’s air and lighting preferences.

Another example is Honda’s smart home in the U.S., which has an experimental home EMS that communicates with the electrical grid to create optimal energy performance.

Passive Building Design

Passive building designs help minimize energy consumption by reducing the need for electrical lighting and temperature control in the first place. How? By using advanced design techniques that allow for maximum amounts of natural daylight to come in, while restricting heat loss in the winter and reducing heat gain in the summer.

And one element of passive design that has a big impact in temperature control is what goes on the roof.

Green roofs play an important part in helping regulate the temperature inside and outside of many passive buildings and homes. The plants and soil systems put in place help insulate the building in the winter and shade it in the summer.

Sustainable Building Materials

Reclaimed wood and recycled materials are high on the list of sustainable building supplies. But there’s also a lot of innovation happening in the world of eco-friendly concrete.

Why is making concrete green so important? Because it’s the world’s most used construction material, and it’s responsible for producing copious amounts of CO2.

There are several concrete alternatives, such as AshCrete, Ferrock, and HempCrete — but the most recent buzz is self-healing concrete. This concrete is supplemented with bacteria that, when exposed to moisture, will become active and grow limestone that will fill any cracks that happen over time. This is a big deal since no added concrete is needed to maintain it.

Luckily for us, this worldwide trend of creating green building solutions will grow along with the burgeoning demand for better ways to sustain our planet.

Maybe soon, the term ‘green building’ won’t be needed because all building practices will be sustainable.

This article first appeared in Proud Green Building.

Construction Sections

Driving Force

As federal and state lawmakers continue to search for solutions to fund and finance critically needed transportation infrastructure, the latest America THINKS national public opinion survey by infrastructure-solutions firm HNTB Corp. finds Americans with definitive views on how that funding should be generated and who should be responsible for maintaining and building the nation’s transportation network.

According to the survey, “Paying for Infrastructure – 2017,” 70% of respondents expressed their willingness to pay higher taxes and tolls to maintain existing as well as build new infrastructure. That number jumps to 84% if those revenues are guaranteed by law to exclusively fund transportation infrastructure needs.

“Americans value mobility and are willing to pay more to maintain and grow transportation infrastructure, especially if they know how their money will be used,” said Kevin Hoeflich, HNTB Toll Services chairman and senior vice president.

The HNTB survey also found nearly three in four Americans (73%) support public-private partnerships as a way to maintain existing and build new transportation infrastructure. Fifty-two percent believe the responsibility for funding maintenance and building new transportation infrastructure should be shared by the government and private sector.

“P3s are in the news as an increasingly popular option for funding new projects,” said Hoeflich. “However, the deals must be structured properly so the public gets the best return on its investment in infrastructure. We can expect to see more of them as the sources of traditional funding are under pressure.”

The desire to avoid congestion and save time is behind the willingness of almost six in 10 Americans (59%) to pay a toll, even when a free alternative is available, according to the HNTB survey. Of these respondents, 57% are willing to pay an average of $1.70 to use a priced managed lane, also called express lanes, if that would save 15 to 30 minutes of time, avoid congestion, and provide a predictable travel time.

The conversion of general-purpose interstate lanes to priced managed lanes is supported by 77% of survey respondents. Among this group, 50% believe reducing congestion is the most important reason for this conversion, an increase from 43% from the same question asked in a 2016 HNTB survey.

“People are frustrated spending time stuck in traffic, and they want solutions. They are concerned about how congestion contributes to traffic fatalities,” Hoeflich said. “Priced managed lanes offer a promising solution to both congestion and funding by providing a choice to get out of traffic. The public has demonstrated a willingness to pay to use them in many urban areas.”

HNTB’s survey found 80% of respondents support adding tolls to existing highways and interstates. When asked how those toll revenues should be used, reducing congestion was cited by 41% of respondents; improving safety, 40%; adding vehicle capacity, 34%; and adding transit capacity, 21%. Twenty percent of respondents would never support tolls on existing highways or interstates.

The survey also found two-thirds of respondents (66%) support tolls to fund critical infrastructure projects if there are insufficient funds from other sources. Meanwhile, the concept of reduced toll rates for low-income users is supported by more than three in four Americans (76%).

“Most importantly, there is growing recognition of tolls as a source of revenue that can help fund decades of neglect of maintenance and operations, system improvements, and other critical transportation needs,” said Hoeflich.

HNTB’s America THINKS “Paying for Infrastructure – 2017” survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,027 Americans, ages 18 and older, between July 14 and July 16, 2017.

HNTB Corp. is an employee-owned infrastructure-solutions firm serving public and private owners and contractors. HNTB professionals nationwide deliver a full range of infrastructure-related services, including award-winning planning, design, program management, and construction management; www.hntb.com

Construction Sections

In the Pipeline

Company principals Laurie and John Raymaakers

Company principals Laurie and John Raymaakers

John and Laurie Raymaakers had a decision to make after the early-’90s recession torpedoed their property-management business — try to rebuild that enterprise, or go in a different direction. They chose, of all things, asphalt seal-coating, but that was only the beginning. Over the years, their company grew, added equipment and services, and is now a heavy civil-engineering firm and general contractor boasting 26 employees, with an intriguing side business in materials recycling — a true, under-the-radar success story in the local construction world.

John and Laurie Raymaakers knew when to shift gears, even if they didn’t always know how.

As the 1990s dawned, the couple ran a successful property-management operation, with 14 employees and some 900 units in seven apartment complexes.

But, due to the recession that struck the nation’s economy at the turn of the decade, the owners the couple worked for started bleeding properties at a startling rate. “We lost 73% of our business within six months,” Laurie told BusinessWest.

With prospects bleak — Laurie went to work at a local police department and a Boys & Girls Club to help make ends meet — the pair looked for another opportunity to strike out on their own, and they found one in seal-coating asphalt driveways and parking lots.

“When we started the seal-coating business, our kids were young, and we would sit around the table and fold brochures into trifolds, then drive around in the station wagon, putting them in newspaper boxes. That’s why we say the kids have been in this business since they were little — it was cheap labor.”

Today, however, ‘this business’ has moved far away from its roots fixing driveway cracks. J.L. Raymaakers & Sons — the couple’s two boys, John Jr. and Joshua, grew up to become partners in the company — is a general contractor and heavy civil-engineering firm employing 26 people and maintaining a fleet of 17 trucks.

The progression between the two points is a lesson in identifying opportunities and working hard to grab them, with the goal of growing a modest, Westfield-based family business into a multi-faceted operation.

Exhibit A is the seal-coating idea itself, one John came up with while researching what types of businesses he might be suited for, and which of those weren’t suffering from an overcrowded market.

This culvert installation in Blandford

This culvert installation in Blandford is an example of J.L. Raymaakers & Sons’ civil-engineering work.

“I saw a need for it; there weren’t many people at the time doing it,” he explained. “It was mostly crack filling, and it wasn’t too expensive to get into. But it started mushrooming; we were doing asphalt work, but then doing little paving jobs.”

For instance, some parking lots couldn’t be seal-coated until a broken catch basin was fixed. So they learned how to fix catch basins, which became a lucrative part of the business. Then they added small excavating projects to their roster.

‘We can do that’ became the couple’s motto, Laurie said. “If someone needed work done, we’d say, ‘we can do that’; then we’d look it up on the computer or ask somebody.”

From a couple of employees and one dumptruck, J.L. Raymaakers & Sons expanded further, getting into some pipe work, which led to the company’s most significant niche to date, heavy civil engineering.

“We’ve always been a general contractor, even from the property-management days, when we’d do carpentry and electrical,” John said, but the firm would, indeed, find its most profitable growth from the ground — or beneath it, actually — up.

Big Digs

Today, John told BusinessWest, the firm regularly takes on $2 million to $3 million jobs, with work ranging from storm-basin cleaning and repair to storm-drain installation and repair; from water and sewer-line installation to concrete work and retaining walls — a step up, certainly, from seal-coating driveways.

Recently, these jobs include a pump station handling sewage for three Southwick schools, a fuel-containment center at Bradley International Airport that involved moving million-gallon tanks, a new water-distribution line for the Thorndike section of Palmer, and, on the general-contracting side, a new security building at Savage Arms, a company for which Raymaakers has completed several projects.

We’re trying to build in as much diversity as we can. We’re trying to stay well-rounded, so that, if the city and state work slows down, the private sector might pick up, and vice versa. The newest thing for us is buildouts on commercial property, additions and that type of thing.”

“We’re trying to build in as much diversity as we can,” he said. “We’re trying to stay well-rounded, so that, if the city and state work slows down, the private sector might pick up, and vice versa. The newest thing for us is buildouts on commercial property, additions and that type of thing.”

That’s being accomplished partly through a recent foray into a steel-building division that promises to keep crews busy in the colder months, when civil-engineering projects tend to shut down. In many instances, Raymaakers is working at the subcontracting level, with an eye on positioning itself as the lead contractor — controlling projects and hiring subcontractors — on an increasing number of jobs.

“The main focus of our business has been this heavy civil construction, but it’s seasonal,” Laurie said. “We’re trying to find ways to expand our season year-round. We’re not just outdoor people.”

That said, the flow of work on the civil-engineering side is strong, even though the firm is typically competing with 15 others to, say, install a water line.

“What we’re not seeing,” Laurie said, “is qualified or experienced people to hire to grow with us. The need for skilled tradespeople is not going away, and it’s not just us — everyone we talk to within the industry says the same thing. And it’s a field where you can make a very good wage.”

Still, the company has hired at a consistent pace over the years, and expansion has taken several shapes recently, from new equipment purchases to the hiring of a second project manager. Meanwhile, John Jr., whose main role is project manager and estimator, and Joshua, a site supervisor, are slowly transitioning into greater leadership roles with the intention of someday running the company on their own.

“They’ve grown with us and learned with us, and they excel in their areas,” Laurie said. “John Jr. is involved in the steel buildings, and Joshua takes the biggest, hardest jobs and is always encouraging us to look at purchasing some properties and renovating them and putting them up for resale. They have their own ideas within the company.”

General-contracting work, like this warehouse

General-contracting work, like this warehouse, helps the firm stay diverse and busy throughout the year.

But the family didn’t stop there. Through their civil engineering and construction work, J.L. Raymaakers & Sons digs up a lot of dirt. So instead of piling it up and letting it go to waste on their 10-acre property, they began cleaning it and separating usable product to sell. That side company, called ROAR (Raymaakers Onsite Aggregate Recycling), employs four of the Raymaakers’ total team of 26.

“We were seeing a need for people wanting loam or trap rock, so we set up an area where smaller construction companies, landscapers, and homeowners can come and buy it,” John said. “We’ve grown that to where we’re selling bark mulch, colored rock, processed gravel, and all kinds of trap rock.”

ROAR simply makes sense, from both a financial and environmental perspective, Laurie added. “We’d rather utilize the land we have and make money off it, while recycling these products from our own jobs.”

Growing Together

Co-owner of a certified women-owned business enterprise (WBE), Laurie is gratified that perceptions about women in construction have come a long way.

She recalls, early in the seal-coating days, that John burned himself badly when a block filled with crack filler splashed him, and for four months, it was just Laurie and her sister-in-law working the driveways and parking lots. After one job, the property owner wouldn’t even answer the door to pay them, having trouble accepting the fact that women were doing the work.

Today, that’s just a humorous story in the history of a true regional success story. John is the first to admit that maintaining a strong family business is a tough road, but repeatedly praised the company’s dedicated crews and long-time employees for their role in growing the firm.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve worked hard to get here,” Laurie added. “It’s a constant in your life. There’s been some sacrifice at times, but I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”

John noted that not only their sons have grown up with the company, but so have many of their teenage friends, who now work there.

“All these friends of our kids, they’ve been here 10, 15 years. We don’t tend to lose people,” he said.

That’s a plus for this family that just keeps digging for more opportunities — literally and figuratively.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

On the Rise

Andy (left) and A.J. Crane

Andy (left) and A.J. Crane stand before a recent project, Arrha Credit Union’s new West Springfield branch.

When BusinessWest sat down in 2008 with the principals at A. Crane Construction, company founder Andrew Crane noted a motto he adhered to, reflecting the scope of projects his firm was willing to take on: “picnic tables or bridges — it doesn’t matter.”

“Well, we finally did a bridge,” his son, A.J. Crane, happily told BusinessWest recently, showing off some pictures of a small span over a culvert, connecting the former Chap de Laine’s Furniture site in South Hadley — incidentally, one of Crane’s first clients almost three decades ago — to Newton Street.

It’s just one example, said the younger Crane — who runs the company alongside his father — of how A. Crane has expanded its scope over the past decade, assembling a broader book of business in the commercial-building world and branching out into new realms.

“We’ve opened divisions in property management, condominium management, and we’re running more crews over the past four or five years,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ve taken on many more commercial jobs — larger-scale commercial work. We now have the office staff and field crews to handle those types of jobs.”

For example, the company is in the process of completing a remodel of the Sunshine Village offices in Chicopee; other recent projects range from Arrha Credit Union’s new West Springfield branch to a Dairy Queen renovation; from a new office for Ameriprise Financial in South Hadley to a major renovation for Oasis Shower Doors, as well as ongoing work for Ondrick Natural Earth and AM Lithography.

“My dad’s skill set was more residential,” Crane said. “I went to school to do different types of things; I have a degree in civil engineering. We’ve tailored our system and processes in the office to accommodate larger jobs, dealing with architects and engineers — that’s right in our wheelhouse.”

As it approaches its 30th anniversary next year, the firm has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Chicopee in 1988, when it relied mainly on word of mouth, reputation, and loyalty — and that willingness to tackle any type and size of job — to build a healthy clientele.

From the Ground Up

Andrew Crane started in the construction world working for Daniel O’Connell, and from there spent eight years with a family business that built post-and-beam homes before striking out on his own.

For the better part of two decades, he conducted business out of a house in Chicopee, doing jobs only for people he knew personally. A little over a decade ago, he moved to Grattan Street, but has outgrown that space as well and has begun looking for a larger headquarters in the same city.

In a fiercely competitive industry, the father-and-son principals say they have avoided the low-bid trap by cultivating a reputation for attentive service and quality control — and a stable of loyal clients — allowing them to earn realistic profits and grow the business without cutting corners.

A. Crane Construction recently tackled a major renovation form Oasis Shower Doors.

A. Crane Construction recently tackled a major renovation from Oasis Shower Doors.

No contractor was unscathed by the Great Recession, which impacted construction, particularly residential work, as hard as any industry. But A.J. Crane said the firm’s reputation and relationships kept it afloat.

“Residential construction took a huge hit,” he said. “But we were always busy because our crews are talented, and we’ve taken the same personal approach, whether dealing with homeowners or private, family-owned businesses. We’ll never give up residential — we’re building a 3,600-square-foot house in Longmeadow right now — because that’s where our roots are.”

We want to work for people who have privately owned, family-owned businesses and plan on being here for generations, which means they have buildings and facilities that will be here for generations, and would rather not build them more than once.”

While seeking a diverse roster of work to keep crews busy, Crane says the company’s relationship-based style of doing business is especially appreciated by local clients, as opposed to national chains.

“We want to work for people who have privately owned, family-owned businesses and plan on being here for generations,” he said, “which means they have buildings and facilities that will be here for generations, and would rather not build them more than once.”

Design preferences are constantly changing, he added, not only in elements like a home’s floors, cabinetry, and trimwork, but in commercial building as well. For instance, EIFS, short for exterior insulation and finish system — a stucco-like, insulated, water-resistant finished surface, is becoming more popular. “We just put a bunch of it on AM Lithography. It’s a great-looking project, and improves the insulation value.”

Indeed, quality and sustainability are important to the Cranes; Andrew has been heavily involved with the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Mass., including a stint as president, during which time he advocated at the state level for continuing-education requirements for construction supervisors, as well as more stringent building codes requirements aimed at weeding out small, renegade contractors who use shoddy materials or fail to secure proper insurance.

The rise of ‘green’ construction brings its own set of high standards, and A. Crane has done plenty of that type of work as well.

“The codes are stringent now, not just HVAC and insulation, but occupancy-sensing lighting in office buildings, no more switches, things like that,” A.J. said. “It makes it more complicated to build, more complicated to fix or make repairs, and they drive the cost up.”

New Territory

Through the years, A. Crane has seen a roughly even split between homebuilding and commercial work, but its experience with multi-family residential work — for instance, it recently won a contract from a condominium association to build 60 decks — was one of the factors in the firm’s move into property and condominium management.

“We were asked to work for a local association down the street in Chicopee, then asked by another one in South Hadley,” A.J. Crane said. “We manage the finances, insurance, snowplowing — we don’t necessarily do it in-house, but we execute what the board of trustees decides, and make recommendations. We’re certified to do it, and we manage about 200 units now.”

The service is a valuable one for smaller companies — say, with a footprint of 6,000 to 7,000 square feet — that don’t have their own maintenance department, and don’t do much long-term facilities planning.

“Take a dental office. What does that guy know about buildings? But if you have 10 years left on the roof, and it’ll cost $12,000 to replace, you should start planning for that now. Or maybe there’s a $30,000 siding job coming up five years from now. Or you want to get on a maintenance schedule for HVAC and irrigation. You go to work every day, and you don’t want to think about that.”

A. Crane employs 11 people full-time, but on any given day, there may be 65 in the field, he noted. In addition, the firm supports and sponsors dozens of area organizations, from Sunshine Village to local high schools to the Springfield Thunderbirds. Andrew continues to pursue state-level advocacy with organizations like the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Massachusetts, while A.J. serves on the boards of the Western Mass. chapter of the American Red Cross, the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, the Westmass Area Development Corp., and several other entities.

In that latter role, he has seen interest rise the Chicopee River Business Park, “and that’s great for economic development,” he told BusinessWest. “Everyone knows we need business to drive housing, and housing drives the economy.”

A. Crane Construction plans to be around well past its 30th anniversary, building many of those homes and businesses so crucial to a growing Pioneer Valley.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

Home Makers

An example of Laplante Construction’s work

An example of Laplante Construction’s work creating both indoor and outdoor spaces.

When it comes to custom homes, trends come and go, but buyers are always looking for the next big thing — or, to be more accurate, the next not-so-big thing, as one of those trends favors downsizing in favor of easier maintenance and more energy-efficient touches. But high-end homebuyers aren’t shorting themselves on the interior; they still want the best floors, trims, and technology money can buy. And many are turning to Laplante Construction to get the job done.

Ray and Bill Laplante both grew up around the construction business, so it’s not surprising they’ve made a name among the region’s top luxury home builders.

“My dad was a builder, and my older brother was a builder,” said Ray Laplante, who launched East Longmeadow-based R.E. Laplante Construction — since shortened to Laplante Construction — in the early 1970s. “I started out doing a lot of work for them, and after a few years, there wasn’t enough for me, so I went out on my own, doing remodeling and framing and building.”

At the time, duplexes were in vogue in Springfield, and he cut his teeth there, but soon started building custom homes in Longmeadow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow, and surrounding towns. “Business just took off from there,” he said, and soon he was developing entire subdivisions of high-end residences in those communities.

His son, Bill, grew up in the business too, helping on job sites when he was only 13 years old.


SEE: List of Home Builders


“I would clean out houses, do final cleanings upon completion of houses,” he told BusinessWest. “Then I started in the framing crew, working as a mason tender and doing some finish work. I basically worked through all the way through high school and college, through the summer breaks and vacations.”

He graduated from Trinity College in 1992 with a degree in economics, but a few days after graduation, he was back out on job sites, where he worked for about five years, framing houses and performing myriad other tasks. But, though the experience was invaluable, his heart wasn’t in the field.

“So I started working in the office,” he said, “in project management and then in financial management and sales and marketing, touching virtually all aspects of contruction and understanding how everything goes together — all facets of building.”

Company founder Ray Laplante (left) and President Bill Laplante

Company founder Ray Laplante (left) and President Bill Laplante say a healthy mix of residential and commercial building and remodeling keeps their business thriving.

That’s the part of the business he enjoyed most, Bill said — working with clients on the big picture, and shepherding their vision to reality.

“Growing up, I always liked the idea of seeing something built,” he continued, “but I knew pretty early on, after getting out of college, that I didn’t want to stay in the field; I wanted to work with people, helping design and build what is, in many cases, their largest investment: a new home. That’s really what I’ve enjoyed. My passion is in working with the people and selling our services.”

Today, Bill Laplante serves as the company’s president, working alongside its founder to bring those visions to life — including, in 2014, a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s famed Monticello estate in Somers, Conn.

But luxury homes are only one staple of this family business, as it expands its reach in commercial construction as well, delivering a range of building and remodeling services with the diversity to weather economic cycles and record continued growth.

Estate of Mind

In fact, Ray said, Laplante takes on many different types of jobs, from single bathroom remodels up to large commercial buildings. “And every once in a while, you get a Monticello thrown in there.”

That’s not quite true, of course, as both he and Bill acknowledged that Monticello Somers, built at the behest of Friendly’s co-founder S. Prestley Blake, was a once-in-a-generation project. Ray and Bill Laplante designed the project themselves based on copious research into the original Virginia estate, creating a ‘modernized replica’ that’s historically accurate in the façade, yet decked out in 21st-century amenities inside.

“It was extremely interesting trying to recreate a building like that,” Bill said. “One of the most challenging aspects was trying to create a modernized interior within a very old exterior. And there were code issues that didn’t exist in the original Monticello.”

To be sure, custom finishes, modern touches, and code compliance have long been facets of Laplante Construction’s work building and renovating high-end homes in the Greater Springfield region. But, contrary to a Monticello-scale project, Bill said the trend in luxury homes today is moving away from massive floor plans and toward spaces that are smaller, but still pack all the bells and whistles.

While many homeowners are looking to downsize, Bill Laplante says, the company still puts up plenty of large homes.

While many homeowners are looking to downsize, Bill Laplante says, the company still puts up plenty of large homes.

“We’re seeing people generally downsize. There has been an increased demand for single-family living, low maintenance, and high energy efficiency. Many people are selling their 4,000-square-foot, two-story, inefficient colonial and want a 2,500-square-foot, very well-appointed, single-family house that’s very low-maintenance, which they can shut down and head to Florida over the winter and really reduce their operating expenses.”

He credits a desire for a simpler lifestyle; people are staying home more and enjoying the space they have, but don’t necessarily want to maintain a sprawling estate.

“It’s amazing — 15 years ago, we built one or two ranches. Nowadays, we’re building, six, eight, 10 ranches a year,” he went on. “That’s because of downsizing. Everyone used to want a colonial, but now focus on ranches and other things. It’s becoming desirable to buy those smaller homes and put money into them.”

And they are investing plenty of money into them, he added. “They want all the amenities — granite countertops, expensive finishes, Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances. They want those outdoor spaces, the screen porches, the outdoor kitchens, all very well-appointed.”

That goes for remodeling as well, Bill added, which has long been a critical part of the business — which was fortuitous when the market for custom homes dried up in the years following the financial crash in 2008.

“People weren’t building homes, but they were still trying to renovate their homes,” he noted. “What served us well was, we never abandoned the remodeling. Other builders at the time wouldn’t take on smaller remodeling projects; they were busy with bigger housing projects. We always maintained smaller remodeling jobs. Then, when the new-construction market dried up, we were well-positioned to respond to demand for remodeling as well.”

Those home remodels, which are often aimed at creating a getaway without actually having to get away, often include outdoor elements, particularly features that blur the lines between inside and outside living, Ray noted. “We’re starting to see a lot of outdoor-living projects — carriage houses, pool cabanas, outdoor kitchens, things of that sort.”

These can all carry hefty price tags, but, interestingly, other home costs have come down in recent years, notably whole-home technology — the devices that control heat, cooling, lights, security cameras, and irrigation remotely.

“The old ‘smart house’ was very expensive, but nowadays, with technology and with the iPhones and apps available, virtually every manufacturer has a product or an app that can be controlled on a cell phone from anywhere in the United States,” Bill explained. “That goes for heating, lighting, security cameras, you name it — and people are really embracing that. I mentioned people closing up the house and going down to Florida for the winter; they can check in with their phones, see what the temperature reading is in the house, or turn the lights on and off.”

clients want the interior well-appointed with high-end flooring, tile, trims, and technology.

No matter the size of the home, Bill and Ray Laplante say, clients want the interior well-appointed with high-end flooring, tile, trims, and technology.

Homeowners appreciate the cost reductions in that area, as they do the savings they realize from energy-efficient investments.

“Because of the spike in energy costs a few years ago, everyone became much more concerned with energy efficiency,” Bill said. “When people move from 4,000-square-foot homes into smaller, higher-energy-efficiency houses, they’re shocked by the savings in operating costs. We’re doing a lot with spray-foam insulation, energy-efficient windows, air sealing, and super-energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment. Then there are people who want to go even further, into geothermal heating as well as photovoltaic and solar.

“Some of these technologies, there’s not a great payback on, but there are some tax credits available to explore alternative energies,” he added. “And it makes people feel good to reduce their carbon footprint and be energy-conscious.”

Down to Business

Laplante Construction is widely recognized as a custom home builder, but its commercial roster is deep and far-reaching — and has been expanding over the past decade.

“Going back to the ’80s, when my father did a lot of Jiffy Lubes in the area, that type of work has always been there,” Bill said, “but I would say there’s been a resurgence over the past eight to 10 years in commercial. We’ve done a wide range of things, from banks to an eye-care office to a behavioral health clinic to Kringle Candle Country Barn in Bernardston to a school in West Springfield. We have a pretty good diversity of commercial construction.”

That mix of expertise promises to keep Laplante growing as it moves forward with what has been one of its best years in the past decade.

“Maintaining that diversity, and keeping the commercial work going as we do our residential new construction and remodeling, allows us to be flexible and weather turns in one or two sectors,” he told BusinessWest. “With the increase in commercial work, we feel very comfortable and confident moving forward.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

Blueprint for Growth

From left, the principals at Caolo & Bieniek Associates, James Hanifan, Bert Gardner, Curtis Edgin, and John MacMillan.

From left, the principals at Caolo & Bieniek Associates, James Hanifan, Bert Gardner, Curtis Edgin, and John MacMillan.

“More horsepower.”

That’s the phrase summoned by Curtis Edgin when he was asked to identify the primary advantage gained through the union of two architecture firms, Caolo & Bieniek Associates (CBA), which he serves as a principal, and Reinhardt Associates, a long-time competitor.

He would go on at length in his answer and use a number of different words and phrases, but the term ‘horsepower’ probably summed it up best.

He used it to describe everything the union brings to the table: experience, client bases, contacts within both the public and private sectors, and simple know-how — about this business, this market, and much more.

It’s a case of simple addition by … addition, said Edgin, noting that this new, larger firm has a bigger engine, if you will, one capable of fueling additional growth.

And by engine, he meant people in particular.

“In a service business, and especially architecture, it’s about the people; it’s not about tables and chairs and computers,” he explained. “Your main resource is the intelligence you bring to the table; architecture is about designs, but it’s really about relationships.”

John MacMillan, formerly president at Reinhardt Associates and now a partner with Caolo & Bieniek, agreed. With a larger team, he noted, the firm brings more experience to the forefront, especially in several specialty areas shared by CBA and Reinhardt, including schools, public-safety complexes, senior centers, and others.

“The competition is getting tougher, and you have to be able to show people more of what you can do,” he explained, touching on a theme he would return to often as he spoke with BusinessWest. “This union certainly strengthens the résumé; we can show 30 or 40 examples of past projects.”

Both MacMillan and Edgin agreed that, because of these shared specialities, talents, and especially relationships forged through decades of work with common institutions, cities, and towns, the union of the companies made sense on a number of levels.

“John and Reinhardt have a good, established client base, and CBA has a good, established client base,” Edgin explained. “And we thought that joining together those assets would be beneficial as we continue to serve those past clients and also pursue future clients.”

For this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the union of the two firms and what this additional horsepower means in terms of growth potential.

Progress — by Design

The walls of an architecture firm’s lobby — and this case, the conference room as well — usually tell a story.

It’s told through photographs and renderings of projects that have made it from the drawing board to reality — and the firm’s portfolio as well.

The walls within Caolo & Bieniek’s offices in Chicopee relate such a story, with images of schools, public-safety complexes, senior centers, bank branches, municipal offices, libraries, and more.

Actually, the walls and the images tell two stories — well, sort of. Caolo & Bieniek’s deep portfolio and wide diversity of projects mirror the body of work assembled by Reinhardt Associates.

The new Easthampton High School

The new Easthampton High School is one of many education-sector projects in the Caolo & Bieniek portfolio.

Indeed, both firms focused on both private and public-sector work, and especially the latter. In fact, they competed against each other for probably hundreds of individual projects for the better part of 60 years. (Caolo & Bieniek was founded in 1955, and the Reinhardt firm in 1957.)

These common specialties were among the most common-sense reasons for the firms coming together in what the principals prefer to call a “strategic alliance.”

Talks began sometime last fall, and they culminated in an agreement earlier this year that saw MacMillan and another architect join the Caolo & Bieniek firm.

As noted, the union gives the firm more horsepower at a time when it is certainly needed. Indeed, while the economy is relatively strong and work somewhat plentiful — in both the public and private sectors — competition for that work is as keen as ever.

And it’s coming from all points on the compass, especially the east, said MacMillan, where a number of Boston-area firms are becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of work in the 413 area code.

“We’re getting more competition from the east, including some of the larger firms, which have set up satellite offices in this area,” he explained. “And everyone is looking for specialists these days, so it’s harder to be a general practitioner.”

Overall, the firm intends to use its additional horsepower and existing strengths and contacts to generate more growth, said Edgin.

One of these strengths is simple diversity, a trait that helps keep operations afloat when one segment of the industry falls off, as school construction did years ago when the state cut back on funding. But it also helps when times are better and there are a number of projects to bid on.

And the company’s portfolio — not to mention those walls in the lobby and conference room — reveal that it has undertaken everything from restoration work on the clock tower of the Old Chapel at UMass Amherst to the new transit center in downtown Westfield; from a host of police and fire stations to school projects across the region and well outside it.

Roughly 75% of the joined firms’ portfolios fall in the public-sector realm, said Edgin, adding that schools are a big component of this work, and projects run the gamut from preschool to colleges and universities.

umasspolicefacility

Among the many projects in the Caolo & Bieniek portfolio are the new UMass Police facility, top, and the new Arrha Credit Union branch in West Springfield.

Among the many projects in the Caolo & Bieniek portfolio are the new UMass Police facility, top, and the new Arrha Credit Union branch in West Springfield.

The firms have collectively done a considerable amount of work for UMass Amherst, for example — the new police headquarters there is another example — and Westfield State University, where projects include a residence hall, classroom spaces, and the Eli Campus Center.

Public-safety complexes have become another strong niche, said MacMillan, noting that experience with such structures certainly helps in the highly competitive bidding process, and it has helped the firm amass nearly a dozen such projects over the years.

And he believes the combined experience of the firms helped CBA as it won the contract to build a new public-safety complex for the town of Westhampton.

Other specialties include libraries and senior centers, he went on, adding, again, that the firms have been very similar in the composition of their portfolios, although Reinhardt would often venture out of the 413 area code — it did a lot of work on both the North and South Shores of the Bay State — while CBA stayed closer to home.

The union of the companies also allows CBA to be more responsive because it can bring more resources to bear, said Edgin, adding that this is another important trait within a market that has become, in a word, more demanding.

“People want things faster, they wants things to be less expensive — they want it all,” he said. “By joining together, we can be responsive to clients.”

Building Momentum

Architects use numbers and images in their work, but, as Edgin noted, this is a relationship-driven business, where people make all the difference.

But ‘horsepower’ is a term that works, well, because it has a number of definitions, in this case the ability to offer valuable resources and experiences in efforts to serve the client.

And through this union of two former competitors, a larger firm can bring considerably more horsepower to bear.

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

Construction Sections

Driving Forces

An overhead view of work on the inner lanes of I-91’s Springfield viaduct.

An overhead view of work on the inner lanes of I-91’s Springfield viaduct.

In May 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation signed a $148 million contract with the Joint Venture of JF White-Schiavone to overhaul the 1-91 viaduct in Springfield. The project is immense in scope, and although it has inconvenienced drivers, especially during peak hours, it is ahead of schedule and brings concrete benefits for the local economy and area businesses that manufacture or provide products needed for the repair and reconstruction of the 45-year-old section of highway.

Richard Masse says that, when the state Department of Transportation (or MassDOT, as it’s called) developed plans for reconstructing the 1-91 viaduct that runs through Springfield, it was well aware of the impact and inconvenience the project would have on drivers traveling north and south.

Indeed, state officials felt that completing the $148 million project on time or ahead of schedule was so critical that they built an attractive bonus into the contract to keep work moving along as quickly as possible.

“We established an incentive of $50,000 a day for up to 180 days to finish earlier than the contract specified,” said Masse, district project development engineer for MassDOT Highway Division District 2.

This equates to a potential bonus of $9 million for the Joint Venture of JF White-Schiavone if specific conditions are met. And those conditions are clearly outlined: the entire project does not have to be complete, but the ‘full beneficial use’ milestone has to be met, which means work on all lanes and ramps must be finished, and they must be open and functioning, before Aug. 6, 2018. This constitutes the majority of the work.

Such incentives are rare, and this is the largest ever offered by District 2, but it is tempered by a disincentive: There will be a penalty of $50,000 for every day the contractor is late in meeting the milestone.

But that’s not likely to happen. In fact, JF White-Schiavone, benefiting from mostly benign weather (the recent storm was a definite exception), is three months ahead of schedule, and workers continue to labor around the clock to get the project done.

The roadway under reconstruction is only eight-tenths of a mile in length, but the work involves far more than simply removing the old decking on the six traffic lanes and repaving them. There are 96 separate spans of bridge between the south abutment on State Street and the north abutment near the I-291 exit, and each span is supported by a pier that needs to be repaired.

Officials say the viaduct project is proceeding ahead of schedule

Officials say the viaduct project is proceeding ahead of schedule, thanks to relatively mild winters and some attractive incentives.

In fact, the $148 million contract holds enormous weight — literally and figuratively — and area businesses are benefiting due to the materials that are needed and will be used by the time the project is complete.

Specifically, crews will replace 44,000 tons of concrete with the new bridge deck and barriers, use 7.2 million pounds (3,600 tons) of steel reinforcement, install 134 drainage inlets on the bridge, erect 2.5 miles of snow fence on the barriers, and paint 28 acres, or 1.2 million square feet, of steel.

Concrete is being purchased from Construction Service in Wilbraham, asphalt paving comes from Lane Construction Corp. in Springfield, the 600-plus feet of noise-control curtains mounted in front of downtown hotels were purchased from Sound Seal in Agawam, and gravel and stone is being provided by Ginmar Enterprises in Ludlow.

In addition, Commonwealth Guardrail in Westfield is furnishing that product, all catch basins and manhole castings will be purchased from E.J. Prescott Inc. in West Springfield, and CJ’s Towing Unlimited Inc. in Springfield is part of the safety plan to remove vehicles involved in crashes as quickly as possible, which is important because traffic is already squeezed between the barriers on the viaduct.

The project has also had a positive effect on employment. The Federal Highway Administration has done studies on the impact of major undertakings and reports that every $1 billion in spending supports 13,000 jobs for a year. “Since this project will cost $148 million, that translates to more than 1,900 job years of employment that are either created or supported,” Masse said.

For this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the I-91 project — what’s been completed, what’s still to come, and what the long-term benefits will be for Springfield and the region.

Route Geometry

Although some people think the $950 million MGM Springfield resort casino has affected work that is being done on the viaduct or the way the on and off ramps will be configured in the future, it’s not true and simply a coincidence that construction on both projects is taking place simultaneously.

“We identified the need for the viaduct project late in 2011 before expanded gaming was even signed into law, and the project was approved and initiated prior to any casino proposals,” said Masse.

The viaduct was constructed and opened in 1971, and no improvements were made to it other than a few limited repairs that took place between 1999 and the early 2000s. As a result, the decking deteriorated as millions of vehicles passed over it and chemicals, salt, and sand were used to combat ice and snow during frigid winter months.

“It had reached the point where emergency repairs of potholes were becoming routine. We had to go out on the road in the middle of commuter traffic without warning, and it became clear that it was time for a long-term fix,” Masse said.

MassDOT did its best to identify challenges that might occur as it developed a plan for the project. The agency determined it was critical to keep the public informed about what was happening on a daily basis, so the contract contained language that mandated hiring a public-relations firm for that purpose.

Regina Villa Associates in Boston was chosen, and the company issues frequent notices and updates about the work in progress to all local media outlines. There is also a project webpage (www.massdot.state.ma.us/i91viaductrehab/home.aspx) where people can sign up to get e-mail alerts about daily or weekly changes.

In addition, work on the project is discussed at biweekly meetings that include officials from MassDOT, the Springfield Department of Public Works, the Springfield Parking Authority (two of its main facilities are under the viaduct), and MGM Springfield.

Masse noted that the casino has initiated its own street closings and plans to install a detection system at the end of the exit 6 ramp to facilitate traffic flow and help prevent accidents; if traffic starts to back up toward the highway, the stoplight will change to allow vehicles to move off the ramp. Other work is also being done on streets around the casino, but that has no bearing on the 1-91 viaduct project.

However, MGM’s presence at the meetings is important. “It gives us an opportunity to coordinate work and exchange schedule updates,” Masse said. “Their cooperation has been an important part of the project and helped to limit disruption.”

Although some media outlets have reported that a number of drivers have avoided the viaduct and will continue to do so until the project is complete, Masse said everything possible is being done to reduce the impact on local businesses.

“We understand that our projects are generally an inconvenience, and we certainly appreciate that there can be some negative impact on local businesses. But we haven’t had any feedback of that nature,” he told BusinessWest, adding that business owners as well as the general public are invited to send comments, suggestions, or inquiries to MassDOT via the project website, and feedback has already resulted in things such as adjustments to signage.

the reconstructed viaduct will help make Springfield an attractive destination

Richard Masse says that, when it’s completed, the reconstructed viaduct will help make Springfield an attractive destination.

Another change that went live Feb. 1 was made in response to input from drivers who expressed concern about safety where lanes on I-91 South are reduced from two down to one.

The feedback led MassDOT to implement a pilot program for a ‘dynamic lane merge system,’ which is designed to make merging safer and alleviate congestion.

It’s the first time this system has been used in the Commonwealth, and it will help to ensure that vehicles familiar with the lane closure don’t bypass others and cause them to wait for a longer period of time than those who use the roadway on a frequent basis. The system works by using computer sensors to monitor traffic and letting drivers know what the best merge strategy is via electronic signage.

Paving the Way

The viaduct project has many goals, including replacement of the reinforced concrete bridge deck, painting of all structural steel, replacing the bridge bearings, improving bridge drainage and highway lighting on and under the structure, miscellaneous structural steel repairs, improving traffic signage on the structure, and other safety improvements in the immediate vicinity, such as installing new sprinkler systems and LED lighting on the upper levels of the 1-91 North and South parking garages, which are run by the Springfield Parking Authority in space leased from the state.

Masse said the project was divided into two main phases so half the decks could be replaced at a time. Last year, work was concentrated on the inside decks, and traffic was moved to the outside, and now that phase I is complete, the process has been reversed, and construction is taking place in the low-speed travel lane and shoulder portions of the viaduct, and on the I-91 northbound on-ramp to I-291 East.

The same ramps that were closed during phase I will remain closed, and the only change is that the exit 9 off-ramp from I-91 North to Route 20 West/Route 20A East will be closed until phase II is complete.

About 100 people show up to work at the site every day, and in addition to day and evening shifts, construction efforts often continue throughout the night. The noisy work of demolishing the existing decks is done during the day, and debris is carried away after dark.

“The crews use very large jackhammers mounted to excavating equipment to break up the deck,” Masse said, noting that saws are also used to cut portions of the material.

Workers recently began painting the steel girders, which is no small task — again, there are 1.2 million square feet of steel to repaint. But when the job is complete, it will help enhance the perception of that section of the highway.

“The beige paint that had reached the end of its useful life is being covered with a blue-green hue that will be much more attractive visually,” Masse said.

In addition to aesthetics, safety will be improved. “When we finish the deck replacement, the shoulder on the median side in the high-speed lane will be wider,” he continued, explaining that, in the past, there were two feet between the guardrail and the edge of the road, but a narrower concrete barrier will allow the inside shoulder to expand to four feet in width.

Other safety improvements include the construction of a barrier to stop I-291 traffic from shooting across several lanes on I-91 South to exit 7 at the Memorial Bridge.

When the project was in the development stage, Masse noted, input about this dangerous maneuver led MassDOT to make plans to install the new jersey barrier.

The number of drainage inlets will also be increased, which will reduce the amount of water that collects along the shoulder of the roadway.

Passing Thoughts

After the roadways are fully open, the remaining work will commence, and by the time the project is finished, the structural steel will be painted, municipal street lights will be installed, all final paving and traffic markings on local streets will be finished, temporary traffic signals will be replaced with permanent ones, and the temporary off-ramp from I-91 South to Birnie Avenue will be removed.

There is no doubt that the project is an inconvenience to drivers who have to schedule additional time to get to their destinations. But the benefits will be concrete: sales of products used in construction will help local companies to flourish, and drivers will have a safer and more appealing roadway to travel on between downtown Springfield and the Connecticut River.

“When everything is newly paved and painted and a modern lighting system is installed, the viaduct should help to make Springfield a more attractive destination,” Masse said. “When people see a highway that is well-cared-for, it will provide a welcoming gateway not only to Springfield, but to Western Mass.”

Construction Sections

Building on the Past

Chris Jacobs

Chris Jacobs took the reins at Barron & Jacobs last year after more than 31 years with the company.

Chris Jacobs has construction in his blood.

“I’ve been with the company since it opened in 1986,” said Jacobs, who succeeded his father, Cecil Jacobs, last year as president of Barron & Jacobs Associates Inc. “I was 15 then, working summers, and I kept working summers through college.”

After graduation, he came on board full-time and worked his way up the chain, serving long stints as general manager of construction, then general manager of the whole company, before taking the reins from his father.

Growing up, he doesn’t recall a time when he didn’t want to work in the family business. “What young kid doesn’t like construction?”

But he also has an appreciation of history and tradition, and Barron & Jacobs is steeped in both, starting with its offices in an 1895 Victorian home in downtown Northampton, purchased from the city’s historical society and restored to its original look.

Behind that home sits a carriage house that once sheltered the first car-repair garage in Northampton — a garage visited frequently by Amelia Earhart early in her flight career, to learn about reciprocating engines.

That sort of history reflects the value that Cecil Jacobs, who’s known as “Jake,” places on the historical and architectural integrity of a building — a quality that has informed his company’s work and helped him forge a pioneering name in design-build construction — a tradition Chris Jacobs is excited to continue.

“We invented design-build back in the ’80s; previous to that, it was all general contractors,” he told BusinessWest. “Then everyone became design-build companies, even if they didn’t have designers and drafting people on their staff.”


Chart of General Contractors


His father established a philosophy at the company that whatever enhances a home should not take away from it — to have alterations and additions look like they’ve been there from day one, and to duplicate existing architecture and at the same time bring in modern conveniences.

“We’re doing a lot of the same: kitchens, additions, bathrooms, whole-house renovations,” the new president said. “The recession put a little slowdown on the bigger residential projects, but they are definitely coming back.”

Reconstructing History

Cecil Jacobs began laying the foundation for his future company in 1963 when he completed his tour of duty in Vietnam with the 6143rd Engineering Group, and went to work as a  designer for the Architectural Building Products Division of Reynolds Metals Co. (also known as Reynolds Aluminum). In the mid-’70s, he was appointed vice president of the division, overseeing the development, sales, and marketing of energy-conserving building products.

He loved working there. But his future started to shift when, in the early 1980s, David Reynolds, the company’s president, asked a question: is there another market for us other than remodeling and building new homes? In other words, is there something remodelers weren’t doing because it was too big, and that homebuilders didn’t want to do because it involved existing structures?

whole-house remodel in Longmeadow

This whole-house remodel in Longmeadow is an example of the way Barron & Jacobs updates homes while retaining their original character.

That was the birth of design-build. Jacobs was tasked with investigating the feasibility of a third major market that would encompass whole-home renovations and other major projects beyond the scope of smaller-scale remodeling. Over a two-year period, he conducted that study for Reynolds, establishing test locations in Springfield, Boston, and California, and became convinced there was a significant market.

However, Reynolds retired soon after, and the new president had virtually no interest in the project. Then, In 1986, the head of Jacobs’ division, Jim Barron, retired, and Jacobs, at age 45, felt that was a good time for him to leave as well. So after the company agreed that he could pursue and develop his design-build research on his own, Jake launched his own firm with his wife, Kathleen, putting Barron’s name on the door symbolically, to honor his mentor.

The company has benefited from the fact that Western Mass. isn’t a hotbed of new building, but there are plenty of older homes in need of renovation, meaning existing structures take on a higher value than they would in a more booming region for new construction.

As for individual projects, Chris Jacobs said, “it’s really up to the individual whether they want a European style or a traditional style. As full-service design-builders, we go shopping with them.”

That’s when many decisions are made, he went on. “The shopping is a crucial piece. Many homeowners don’t know a good cabinet from a bad cabinet, so the shopping is a crucial key to making sure the project goes correctly. We make sure they’re getting good appliances; the industry is plagued with bad appliances. We have people that we trust, that we’ve been shopping with for years.”

It takes not only skill to tackle whole-home remodels, he said, but also the personal touch and flexibility to interact with the homeowner, who may change their minds several times during a project. But, generally, detailed planning and productive shopping create a strong foundation for a successful remodel.

Steady Growth

In addition to home remodeling and whole-house renovations, Barron & Jacobs’ portfolio includes additions, add-a-levels, kitchen and bathroom remodels, screened porches and porch enclosures, three-season rooms, sunrooms and conservatories, garages and carriage houses, attic and basement conversions, as well as business renovations and expansions.

In the commercial realm, the firm recently did a rec-room project for Coca-Cola in Northampton, and is currently working on a financial building in West Springfield. While commercial building rebounded from the Great Recession quicker than residential construction, and most of Barron & Jacobs’ work is residential, the company managed to ride out those years successfully, thriving on its reputation. “It’s a tradition of building satisfaction,” Chris Jacobs said. “We’ve been doing it for over 30 years.”

In fact, the recession didn’t really hit the company until three or four years after it began in 2007,” he added. “We had a little bump in the road — as it turned out, bigger than a bump — but we could see it coming back last year, and this year is already looking good.”

As for new building, it’s not something the company pursues, although it recently built a house in New Hampshire for a past customer. “It’s usually a past customer who requests it. We don’t have our own building lots.”

Meanwhile, the firm has strived to develop a reputation as an environmentally friendly builder, both in its emphasis on energy-efficient insulation, windows, and other materials, and through an extensive focus on recycling building materials.

Through all of this, the company, which boasts 15 employees, continues to grow, with Jacobs and co-designer Adam Skiba — who comes from an architectural background and has been on board for a year and a half — looking to add another designer this year.

And, of course, the new president is already eyeing the third generation of leadership at the company, although that transition is far off — specifically, his 5-year-old adopted son.

“He’s already banged his first nail, and he’s good at it,” Jacobs said. “No pressure, though.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

Building Expectations

constructiondpartThe construction sector has always been a good barometer when it comes to the economy and what may happen with it in the foreseeable future. And this historical trend is one of many reasons why cautious optimism abounds in the region. Indeed, many firms report that they have a number of projects on the books for the year ahead and beyond, and that these projects involve a number of economic sectors.

 

Gagliarducci Construction in Springfield has been in business since 1916, and the fourth-generation, family-owned company has had to switch its focus many times over the years to keep pace with change. It specializes in excavation, earth moving, site work, and mobile crushing of stone, concrete, and asphalt, and the majority of its current projects are centered in educational and healthcare settings.

And it is extremely busy, reflective of a trend involving many players within the broad construction sector — one that is generating a good deal of optimism within the industry, and probably outside as well, because the sector has historically been a good barometer regarding the economy and what will happen with it.

“We have jobs on the books that extend well into 2018,” said Jerome Gagliarducci as he and his son Jay talked about their business history and projections for the future. “Most of the jobs are in the private sector and involve hospitals and schools. Between 2000 and 2006, we did a lot of work for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, but education and healthcare are a big part of the Western Mass. economy, and this is where the money is being spent now. There are a lot of colleges in the Pioneer Valley, and we’re glad to be involved in their ongoing projects.”

Still, having jobs booked this far in advance of a new year is not something they take for granted. “There have been times when all of our projects were completed by the end of the fall or winter and we had nothing scheduled for the upcoming year,” said Jay Gagliarducci. “We have been lucky: it’s unusual to have so many new jobs lined up this early that will continue into the future.”

Eric Forish, president of Forish Construction Inc. in Westfield, said his firm has also fared well.

“We’re celebrating our 70th year in business, and the last few years have been good ones; I credit that to our staff and expect that work in the commercial construction industry will continue to move in a positive direction,” he told BusinessWest, noting that the company typically has six or seven major projects taking place simultaneously.

Holyoke-based Daniel O’Connell’s Sons Inc. also reports that 2016 has been a good year. The company also has offices in Franklin, New Haven, Conn., and Kingston, N.Y., and President Jeff Bardell is often on the road. He told BusinessWest that entirely different dynamics exist in Eastern and Western Mass.

“Things are booming in the Boston area inside of Route 128. It’s obvious to drivers because there are so many cranes up,” Bardell said. Construction is also taking place in Western Mass., but not at the same level, and work in the public sector has declined.

“Work has been pretty steady here for the past few years, but the amount of roadwork, wastewater-treatment work, and public infrastructure spending has decreased over the past 12 months,” Bardell went on, noting that work in that sector was much more prevalent four or five years ago.

However, institutional jobs have filled the gap. “Colleges are still spending money, and we have done some nice projects,” he said.

Bardell believes some people are waiting for the work on Interstate 91 and the MGM casino in Springfield to be complete before launching new projects.

“A lot of people are looking at Springfield and hoping redevelopment will occur when the casino is finished,” he said, adding that one of O’Connell’s largest jobs in Springfield is the $60 million Union Station intermodal transportation center.

Eric Forish

Eric Forish says the $4 million, LEED-certified Westfield Transit Pavilion at Elm and Arnold streets is one of many projects his firm is working on at present.

It includes a 120,000-square-foot historical renovation to the old station in the downtown Railroad Historic District. The project has been complex and includes construction of a new, 24-bay bus terminal; a 480-car parking facility; and upgrades to the landscaping and hardscapes around the area.

Before the work began, Union Station consisted of two vacant buildings: a three-story terminal and a two-story baggage building that were both constructed in 1926.

“We’ve been working vigorously to wrap up the project and are very close to being done,” Bardell said, adding that he expects that to happen in the first quarter of 2017.

For this edition and its focus on construction, BusinessWest looks at a host of projects keeping commercial builders busy, as well as what they have lined up for the future.

Going Up

Bardell said O’Connell recently completed new residence halls at Amherst College. Four new dorms were erected as part of a greenway campus project, which will include demolishing the old dorms and building a 250,000-square-foot science center and expansive greenway along the full length of the landscape that can be used for recreation and relaxation.

Jerome and Jay Gagliarducci

Jerome and Jay Gagliarducci say they have work booked into 2018 and expect to be very busy in the coming year.

Another project at UMass Amherst will be completed in January, but right now work is still underway on its historic South College building. It includes a renovation of 30,000 square feet in the structure, built in 1886, and a four-story, 67,500-square-foot addition that will provide new common areas, faculty offices, classrooms, and an auditorium.

“The new building will be LEED-certified,” Bardell said. “It will be used next semester, and furniture is being moved into it now.”

The company has other ongoing projects in the educational sector. It just finished a $110 million job at Vassar College centered around an 80,000-square-foot Bridge Building that spans two sections of campus terrain and connects to the school’s Olmsted Hall via a two-level skywalk.

In addition, a $2 million renovation and addition to Philips Exeter Academy Center’s theater in Exeter, N.H. is underway. The job started two months ago and will expand the space to 63,000 square feet.

Four months ago, O’Connell began working on the $9 million Dartmouth College Hood Museum expansion and renovation project, which involves a restoration and addition to the existing gallery space. When it is finished by the end of next year, there will be five new galleries and advanced technology classrooms.

The company also has a few smaller jobs, including a renovation project at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Another project in that state is at the Trinity-Pawling School, where O’Connell began working on a 27,000-square-foot addition to the Smith Field House about a month ago that will be complete sometime next year. “It will be used for basketball, lacrosse, and other sports,” Bardell said.

In addition to jobs in the educational sector, O’Connell has projects in other realms. Six months ago, it began a $29 million dollar upgrade to an existing wastewater-treatment plant that serves Mansfield, Foxborough, and Norton in the eastern part of the state.

Work on the MFN Regional Treatment Plant entails installing new aeration facilities, chemical facilities, and electrical upgrades as well as concrete work, and is expected to take another two years.

O’Connell is also doing a $17 million project in Providence, R.I. on the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge that connects two sides of the city and includes sections of a riverfront park.

“We’re optimistic as we look ahead at the coming year,” said Bardell. “We have some backlog, which we like, and are always looking for new work.”

Varied Portfolios

The majority of Gagliarducci’s projects take two to three years to complete.

“We’re usually the first on a site and the last to leave it. But it is a challenge to predict a year ahead of time exactly when we will be needed,” Jay said, explaining that schedules change from one month to the next, and although the end date is usually firm, weather and production by other trades affect the timetable.

Right now, all of the company’s work is institutional, and there has been plenty of it.

It just finished an addition at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield and started one at Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer that will open in 2018.

“We dig the foundations and put in sewer, water, and drainage systems, which is work that people don’t see,” Jerome explained, adding that such work takes place at the start of a project, while work at the end of a project involves paving, curbing, sidewalks, and more.

Galiarducci has also broken ground at the site of the new Pope Francis High School in Springfield, which is slated to open in the fall of 2018. This school is being built on 40 acres of open space, which is unusual in this area; most of the company’s projects involve working in or around existing structures.


List of General Contractors in Western Mass.


The company was just hired to undertake work in a massive renovation of what’s known as Building 19 at Springfield Technical Community College, and that job will carry over into 2018.

Gagliarducci worked with O’Connell on the Amherst College greenway residence project, and will complete phase 1 of another large project at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst this month, which involves relocating water, sewer, and drainage lines in the footprint and moving them to allow for new construction.

Although the work may not sound complex, renovations and additions in tight spots can be quite challenging. “UMass presented real challenges because we had to work around the student traffic,” Jay told BusinessWest.

Deerfield Academy has also hired the firm to do site work for a new hockey arena. The project began in March and will be completed in 2018.

“It involves a lot of digging inside the foundation to support the renovation,” Jerome said, explaining that the firm will put in new sewer lines, curbing, and a parking lot.

Later this winter, it will begin a drainage project at Springfield Armory Museum.

This is a federal project, as the museum is owned by the government, and will include new sewer lines and curbing, sidewalks, and pavement. The work should be finished by the end of next year. “We’re also starting phase 2 of an over-55 community in Hadley,” he noted.

The first phase consisted of building seven or eight units, most of which have been spoken for, and the second phase will commence next spring when Gagliarducci will do site work to allow additional housing units to be built.

The company is also involved with the new South End Community Center in Springfield. Jay noted that Fontaine Brothers is building the new center on Marble Street and his firm is doing the sitework, which began in September.

Westfield’s Gaslight District Improvement Project is also on Gagliarducci’s roster. “It was our job to put in the water, sewer and drainage lines, as well as the sidewalks, curbs, and two parking lots, in addition to reconstructing several streets,” Jerome said, explaining that the project began two and a half years ago and involves major reconstruction in the area.

Future Endeavors

Forish Construction has a mix of ongoing projects that include the new $4 million Westfield Transit Pavilion at Elm and Arnold streets. The glass and steel building will have five bus berths, a shelter for passengers, a coffee shop, and administrative offices, and will be surrounded by brick walkways. Parking will be available in an adjacent facility, and there will be repair stations and racks for bicycles.

“It is the first major piece of the city’s long-term downtown redevelopment plan that will be completed,” Forish said, noting that the pavilion will be LEED-certified.

Several buildings were knocked down to make way for the new pavilion, which will make it more convenient for Westfield State students to travel to and from the university via a shuttle that runs between them.

The company has also several projects underway or that have been recently completed at UMass Amherst, including a roughly $4 million renovation to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. “It is our third major project in this library, which they are redoing floor by floor,” Forish said.

Auto dealerships rank high on the company’s list of projects, and include work for Sarat Ford, Curry Nissan, and Sarat-Lincoln.

“We’re just wrapping up a renovation and addition to Lia Chrysler on King Street in Northampton,” Forish said, noting it is adjacent to Lia’s Honda store.

No one can predict the future, but work has been steady for Forish and other commercial contractors.

“We have a number of projects already under contract for 2017,” Forish said, noting that they include auto dealerships as well as private industrial buildings and the company is always active in the public sector and plans to bid on some local projects.

He told BusinessWest his optimism stems in part from the fact that Donald Trump is the new president-elect.

“It appears he is business-friendly and wants to see growth in U.S. and an increase in jobs here as opposed to abroad. We are already seeing a rise in the stock market, and people are optimistic about the direction the country is headed in, so we are hopeful that good things will come to fruition,” Forish said.

In the meantime, commercial contractors will continue to work hard to complete current projects, bid on new jobs, and rely on the stellar reputations that have kept them busy for generations as they plan for the New Year and beyond.