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Building Momentum

construction-2018artdpAfter years of slow recovery after the recession that struck almost a decade ago, area construction firms are reporting strong volume in 2017 and predicting the same, if not better, in 2018. Whether relying on diverse expertise, a widening geographic footprint, or repeat business from loyal customers, there are plenty of ways to grow in the current economic environment, and contractors are optimistic they will do just that.

Even during good times for the construction industry — which 2017 certainly was, to hear area contractors tell it — everyone still has to keep on their toes.

“We’re optimistic for next year, but there are a lot of smart people working in New England, and everyone’s trying to get their fair share of the pie,” said Jeff Bardell, president of Daniel O’Connell’s Sons. “It’s still very competitive, and it’s been that way for a long time.”

While O’Connell is based in Holyoke, the firm has branched out over the years to develop a significant presence in Eastern Mass., Connecticut, and Rhode Island, particularly with large utility projects, while closer to home, it has maintained strong activity at area colleges and universities, including work at Amherst College and UMass, not to mention Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Marist College in New York.

We’re optimistic for next year, but there are a lot of smart people working in New England, and everyone’s trying to get their fair share of the pie.”

“We’re busy, but not out-of-control busy, in Western Mass. The projects we’re doing now aren’t as big as they were for awhile, but we’re still fairly busy.”

However, the heavy civil side has been a different story, featuring projects like upgrades to the Uxbridge Wastewater Treatment Facility, a runway rehabilitation at Hanscom Airfield in Bedford (one of many projects for MassPort), and a biogas co-generation facility at the Bucklin Point Wastewater Treatment Facility in Rhode Island — not to mention some MassDOT highway work in Worcester and a pedestrian bridge over the Providence River.

“Things are going fairly well for us,” Bardell said. “Everyone is working.”

Kevin Perrier, president of Five Star Building Corp. in Easthampton, had a similar outlook, noting that “2017 has proven to be one of our busiest years, with work from one end of the state to the other. Both public and private work has certainly kept our guys busy, and it looks like next year will be more of the same.”

While margins are still tight, workload has remained busy, including two large mechanical upgrade projects for MassPort and increasing work at Logan International Airport over the past several years.

While those two firms have broadened their reach, Chicopee-based A. Crane Construction recorded a strong 2017 mostly close to home, said partner A.J. Crane. “We do a lot of local, private commercial work, and it seems that sector is booming, with a lot of small to medium-sized businesses either building new facilities or renovating their existing facilities. It’s nice to see. And we’re helping as much as we can with that, which we really like to see.”

Recent projects include a remodel of the Sunshine Village offices in Chicopee, Arrha Credit Union’s new West Springfield branch, a new office for Ameriprise Financial in South Hadley, two renovations for Oasis Shower Doors, an office renovation for Noonan Energy, and ongoing work for Ondrick Natural Earth and AM Lithography.

Five Star Building Corp

Five Star Building Corp. opened its Boston office to handle a growing volume of business from the eastern part of the state.

“We’re in that sweet spot between small firms and huge commercial industrial contractors,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re a good size where we can serve a lot of those people that are upgrading and building new, local businesses. We’ve recently serviced quite a few financial-services offices, some retail, and, obviously, the whole legalization of medical and recreational marijuana is going bananas, and we’re doing quite a bit of that, too.”

Clearly, these are high times for area builders, and they expect to keep rolling in 2018.

Branching Out

Bardell said O’Connell’s broad geographic footprint — and its expertise in many different types of work — are both hedges against shifting economic tides.

“We see it rotate from place to place. I would say from ’09 to ’12 or ’13, we were really busy in Rhode Island, hundreds of millions of work there. Now we have maybe $20 million in work there. When we’re not busy in the Eastern Mass. region, we’re doing a lot of work for MDC in Hartford, redoing their treatment plant. It just rolls from one area to the other.”

As a result, he went on, “we pursue a lot of college work, and then we pursue heavy civil work. We do bridges, water and wastewater plants, drinking-water facilities — those have kind of become the bread and butter of our company.”

From a backlog standpoint, O’Connell is in pretty good shape, he told BusinessWest, but firms need to stay aggressive. “Talk to any contractor, and they’ll say they’re looking for more work; you burn it off quickly. But we’re here working through the holiday, with a lot of projects coming out in all kinds of places. There are projects in the Hudson Valley in New York out to bid right now, projects with Connecticut treatment plants, a very large university job in upstate New York, and some treatment-plant projects in Rhode Island.

Now boasting 50 employees, Five Star has developed a strong presence out east as well, opening a Boston office to support the “booming” seaport and commercial construction happening there. Long-term relationships with airlines like Southwest and Jet Blue have kept the firm busy at Logan, while projects like a new Westborough Town Hall, a library in Sherborn, a new charter school in Plymouth, and the Uxbridge fire station attests to the company’s diversity. Closer to home, major projects have included new life sciences laboratories at Holyoke Communtiy College and an ongoing upgrade of the entry at Noble Hospital in Westfield.

“Between healthcare and the airport and transportation sector, we’ve found ourselves all over, with a lot of long-time clients keeping us very busy this year,” Perrier said. “We’re fortunate enough to have another $30 million on the books for next year, so we’re happy about that.”

One goal has not to become too focused on one particular niche or industry, like some companies that focus almost all their energy on, say, healthcare or auto dealerships, he went on. “We’ve always been somewhat reluctant to do that, because it makes you more susceptible to shifts in the economy. We’ve been lucky to have some diversity and to be spread out across the state.”

That said, he added, “we’ve seen our fair share of the work. It’s safe to say the bad economy is behind us. Everyone has a pretty full plate.”

Crane has diversified in other ways, opening divisions in property management and condominium management, and taking on more and larger commercial jobs. And customer loyalty is important, because a construction job might lead to other jobs down the line. “We’re not just building someone a new, 5,000-square-foot facility. They’ll call us for everything else, which is nice.”

The benefits of a strong local construction market are twofold, Crane went on. “Businesses are spending money on their real estate here, which brings everybody’s property values up, and second, if they’re investing in property here, that means they’re not moving their business anywhere else, which is huge. Everyone knows construction drives the economy.”

Help Wanted

Perrier says contractors remember what the recent recession years were like — and how many years it took to return to something resembling normalcy — so everyone is a little gunshy, but they’re also optimistic that a strong 2017 will spill over into an even better 2018.

“The last two or three years, the economy has been strong,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re fortunate to stay busy. During the recession, most general contractors just wanted to keep people busy, try to see some growth and not lose their key players, and weather the storm. We made it out of that, and we continue to see growth. Last year was one of our best years.”

Bardell added that most operations professionals in construction will say they don’t have enough good, quality workers.

“It seems like things are picking up a little with availability of work to pursue, so we’re pretty optimistic, to be perfectly honest with you,” he said. “The biggest problem is finding people to do the work. That’s not getting any easier, and it’s going to be the biggest issue for us. We actively recruit at a lot of colleges; we’re trying to build a little farm team of guys and gals who can move up the ranks. We’ve been pretty successful doing that, but sometimes you can’t keep up with the volume.”

Not that high volume is a bad thing, of course.

“Things were good last year, and next year is looking great, too,” Crane concluded. “Hopefully it keeps rolling.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

A Matter of Resiliency

union-station-before

The Grand Concourse at Union Station before (top) and after.

The Grand Concourse at Union Station before (top) and after.

Springfield’s Union Station — and the project to bring it back to productive life after more than 40 years of dormancy — have both been described using a whole host of words and phrases.

But ‘a bureaucrat’s delight?’

That was a new one, and one that most people probably wouldn’t expect to see the light of day. But Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief Development officer, summoned it as he talked about the latest additions to what is becoming known as the Union Station trophy case — only there is no such thing. Yet.

These would be two awards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)— one for the best environmental rehabilitation project in New England region, and the second, announced after all the regional awards, is the so-called Phoenix Award, for the best brownfield redevelopment project in the country.

This was the first such honor for the Western Mass. region, and to earn it, the Springfield project prevailed over a wide range of impressive initiatives, from transformation of 14 acres of former rail yards, junk yards, and auto-repair shops into a recreational center in New Jersey, to a stunning metamorphosis for the so-called ‘Big Marsh’ in Chicago.

The award — and the efforts that made it possible — are significant on many levels, said Kennedy, because this was the work that went on behind the scenes, in every sense of that phrase. And this is what he meant by ‘bureaucrat’s delight.’

“From a professional basis, this is what we do in the background to make these projects happen,” he explained. “Everyone focuses on the public side of things, the up-front things that you see. But when you develop a project, you have to be able to work within the bureaucracy to satisfy all the regulatory issues and help with some of the funding.”

Indeed, while much of the focus on the station project has been on high-profile, highly visible initiatives, such as the façade, the parking garage, the new bus terminal, and the stunning transformation of the main concourse, all that wouldn’t have been possible without the environmental remediation work that came before it.

This environmental cleanup involved the former baggage-building property adjacent to the terminal, which was demolished, and the former site of the Hotel Charles, said Kennedy, noting that the property had petroleum, metals, and asbestos contamination. Meanwhile, the project — creation of a new and expanded intermodal transportation facility — also addressed air quality and congestion mitigation.

The Springfield Redevelopment Authority, owners of the building and managers of the redevelopment project, and lead contractor Daniel O’Connell’s Sons worked with a number of vendors to handle the remediation. The Westfield-based environmental engineering firm Tighe & Bond handled the analysis, specifications, and oversight of the work, while T&M Equipment Corp. in Springfield, LVI Environmental Services in Everett, American Environmental in Holyoke, and NCM Contracting Group in Weston handled various aspects of the cleanup and demolition work.

But when Kennedy says the $95 million could not have come to its successful conclusion without that remediation, he really means it, and on many levels, from not only a construction standpoint, but also what would have to be called a momentum standpoint.

Indeed, there were several times over the past few decades when the Union Station project was stalled, even dead in the water. But it was progress with the environmental issues that kept the project relevant and put it, well, back on track.

“Back around the turn of this century, there was a start to this project, and then it stopped,” Kennedy recalled. “We had to figure out in 2007 and 2008 how to restart the project, and there were two very important funding sources that enabled us to get things restarted.”

The first was a $350,000 planning grant awarded by then-Gov. Deval Patrick that enabled the city to hire an architect to start the process of organizing the project, and the second was a roughly $250,000 EPA assessment grant to be used to identify to scope of the environmental issues at the site, including the baggage building and Hotel Charles footprint.

Lauren Liss, president and CEO of MassDevelopment, addresses those assembled at a press conference on Dec. 11

Lauren Liss, president and CEO of MassDevelopment, addresses those assembled at a press conference on Dec. 11 to announce that the Union Station project had won the Phoenix Award.

“Those were the two items that kick-started the project again,” Kennedy told BusinessWest. “They allowed us to scope out how to do this, and without them, I don’t know how we would have been able to start.”

In essence, the initial environmental work enabled planners to “get our arms around the project,” as Kennedy put it, enabling them to go back to the major funders, including the Federal Transit Authority and the Mass. Department of Transportation with a far sharper picture of what needed to be done at the site and what could be done with it.

“There were so many of those boring things that those of us in the inside of the government had to put together,” he went on, adding that these boring, behind-the-scenes efforts, spearheaded by SRA director Chris Moskal and consultant Maureen Hayes, eventually made those stunning ‘after’ shots in the before-and-after scenarios possible.

The environmental-cleanup efforts, and the project as a whole, were effectively summed up in the application for the brownfield awards, where Springfield officials listed the key project lessons as ‘resiliency.’  “A long-vacant train-station redevelopment project that had many starts and stops was restored to a state-of-the-art intermodal transit center thanks to the resiliency of its people and leaders,” the application reads.

As for that reference to a trophy case, there really is one, as noted. But the Union Station project has collected a number of awards, including the two EPA prizes, the Paul and Niki Tsongas Awards from Preservation Massachusetts in the category called ‘Best Now and Then,’ the Springfield Preservation Trust’s 2017 Project Rehabilitation Award, and the Honow Award from the Assoc. of General Contractors of Massachusetts.

Collectively, they speak to the enormity of the project and the significance of resurrecting a huge piece of Springfield’s past and making it a significant part of its future.

As for it being a ‘bureaucrat’s delight,’ only the bureaucrats can truly say.

— George O’Brien

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.

Construction Sections

Centuries in the Making

Rendering of the library in the renovated Building 19.

Rendering of the library in the renovated Building 19. (Ann Beha Architects)

As Springfield Technical Community College commences a year-long 50th-anniversary celebration, a landmark historic restoration project is taking shape — with the accent on ‘landmark.’ So-called Building 19, a 700-foot-long warehouse that predates the Civil War, is being converted into a campus center, a project that will enable the past and present to co-exist in a powerful fashion.

Tom Duszlak says he’s heard all the rumors.

Actually, they’re more like legends. And some of them are fact.

Like the story related to him about the construction crews that, while working to set oil tanks at what is known as Building 32 on the campus of the Springfield Armory more than a half-century ago, unearthed bones belonging to soldiers from the War of 1812.

“They were digging out the floors to put in these storage tanks when they came across some skeletons,” said Alex Mac-Kenzie, curator at the Armory, noting that, in the early 19th century, Building 32 was a barracks. An influenza outbreak swept the region, killing several soldiers, and they were buried right on site.

There are many other stories concerning people finding bones, uniform fragments, tools, and other items on the grounds during various building projects, and the validity of some tales is a matter of conjecture. But Duszlak says there is absolutely no debating the underlying (pun intended) sentiment regarding this historic site, chosen more than two centuries ago by George Washington: that one never really knows what might be found in the ground there.

Tom Duszlak

Tom Duszlak says the Building 19 projects comes with a healthy list of challenges, including uncertainty about what crews may unearth at this historic site.

And that’s just one of the many challenges confronting Hartford, Conn.-based Consigli Construction, which Duszlak serves as project superintendent, as it takes the lead role in an ambitious, $50 million project to convert the cavernous structure known as Building 19 (right next door to Building 32) into a new campus center for Springfield Technical Community College.

Actually, crews have already unearthed some “artifacts” (Duszlak’s word) while undertaking some extensive infrastructure work at the site.

“We found some cow bones and a few pieces of metal that might be part of an old piece of manufacturing equipment,” he said, adding that the ‘we,’ in this case, is mostly a reference to the full-time archeologist — hired by the National Park Service, which manages the Armory site — who is on hand whenever crews dig deeper than four inches.

And there’s been a lot of digging to date, with most of it still to come — this building is 700 feet long, said Duszlak, adding quickly that, while a small part of him wants to unearth something intriguing — “I’d love to find an old cannonball or something like that” — the project superintendent in him is more pragmatic and fully understands that finding ordnance, let alone old soldiers’ bones, would mean potentially lengthy delays in an already-demanding project.

As mentioned, the fact that the Armory grounds could be described collectively as an archeological site is just one of the challenges facing Consigli, Ann Beha Architects, the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), and STCC administrators as they proceed with this project. Others include the reality that this mammoth initiative must play itself out on a crowded college campus populated by 8,000 students and another 1,000 faculty and staff; that the site’s infrastructure, complete with some brick water lines, is quite old and mostly in need of replacement; that the work is taking place, in part, on a road system designed for horses and buggies; and that, with every bit of digging or restoration work, unforeseen problems may arise.

But the challenges ever-present in this project to convert what amounts to a 19th-century warehouse for walnut gun stocks into a thoroughly wired, 21st-century community-college nerve center, are also what make it so intriguing, and so rewarding.

“There’s history all around you here,” Duszlak noted. “Working in an environment like this — a functioning college campus — is logistically difficult, and this is demanding work. But it’s fun to blend the past with the present.”

Architect George Faber

Architect George Faber stands in the center of historic Building 19 as a multi-faceted restoration effort takes place around him

George Faber, project designer with Boston-based Ann Beha working on the Building 19 project, agreed.

“One of the main design goals here is respecting the building as it is, and as it was, while making it modern for contemporary use,” he said. “We’re obviously not trying to replicate the old; we’re trying to complement it in a way that might even teach someone about the history of this campus.”

For this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest talked with Duszlak, Faber, and others involved with this project — which is historic in every sense of that word — to get a sense for all that’s involved with an endeavor that has been centuries in the making — quite literally.

History Lessons

As he and others gave BusinessWest a quick tour of the Building 19 construction site, Faber stopped to point out a few of the original wooden shutters, or louvers, that graced the dozens of arches and curved windows that give the structure its unique identity.

Crews will replicate those features, and be meticulous in their efforts to match the material, look, and original color — something that was difficult to determine, Faber explained, adding that some of the originals that are in good shape will be restored and put back in place.

Thus, there will be an effective blend, or co-existence, if you will, of old and new, which, in a nutshell, is what this project is all about.

In construction circles, this kind work is considered a specialty, both for the architects and the contractors. And both Consigli and Ann Beha Architects have deep portfolios of similar projects.

Consigli, for example, has handled a number of projects in the category it calls ‘landmark restoration,’ including one unfolding just a mile or so, as the crow flies, from the STCC campus. This would be work on the headquarters building of the former Westinghouse complex on Springfield’s east side, now the home of the massive assembly plant being built by Chinese rail car maker CRRC MA.

Other projects in the portfolio include an elaborate restoration of New York’s historic Capitol Building, which dates back to 1867; restoration of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s 19th-century Renwick Gallery; renovation of three historic buildings on the Trinity College campus in Hartford; and work to restore the exterior envelope of Maine Medical Center in Portland, opened in 1874.

Ann Beha Architects, meanwhile, has undertaken many historic preservation and restoration initiatives on college campuses, including MIT, the University of Chicago, Yale, Bates, and others.

“Ann Beha started her career doing historic-preservation work, so it’s always been a big focus for us,” said Faber, referring to the company’s founder. “We’ve done work in museums, colleges, and other institutions.”

This is the first project for both firms on the STCC campus, which means crews have undoubtedly absorbed a number of history lessons — and heard a number of stories, like the one about soldiers’ skeletons being unearthed — while taking on this ambitious undertaking.

They know, for example, that the buildings they’re using to stage and manage this project (as opposed to the traditional trailers that dot most construction sites) were once officers’ quarters dating back to the Civil War.

By then, of course, the Armory had accumulated almost a century of history, having opened its doors in 1777. Chosen by Washington in part because the site would be safe from naval bombardment — Springfield is located just north of a waterfall in Enfield that cannot be navigated by ocean-going vessels — the Armory did, nonetheless, come under attack. Sort of.

This was Shays’ Rebellion in 1787, a quickly crushed insurrection — one that nonetheless helped inspire the Federal Constitutional Convention — led by Pelham farmer Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War solider who had gathered a number of rebels who, like him, were upset with their financial plight and thus the state’s government, and decided that seizing the arsenal in Springfield would certainly get someone’s attention.

Since arriving on site several months ago, crews might also have been learned about John Garand, the legendary Canadian-born firearms designer employed by the Armory who created the famous M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle, which Gen. George Patton would call “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

building-19

Building 19,

Above, Building 19, as seen in the early 1930s; below, a rendering of what will be called the Learning Commons. (Ann Beha Architects)

At its height, during World War II, the Armory would employ more than 14,000 people making M1s and a host of other weapons, but two decades after that conflict ended, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara — earning himself an ignominious place in Springfield history — determined that private defense contractors could manufacture the nation’s weapons. He ordered the decommissioning of the Armory, putting more than 2,000 people out of work, a decision that would damage the local economy but also pave the way for the site’s next life.

Indeed, a group of area leaders, including then- (and also future) Springfield Mayor Charlie Ryan; Edmund Garvey, then-director of the Springfield Technical Institute; state Rep. Anthony Scibelli; and Springfield industrialist Joseph Deliso Sr. pushed for legislation that would create a “two-year college of technology.” (Their efforts, and their legacy, will be celebrated at STCC’s Founders Day festivities on Sept. 9, the first in a year-long series of events to mark the college’s 50th anniversary.)

Blueprint for the Future

The Founders Day speeches will be delivered in the gym in Building 2 on the STCC campus (a.k.a. Scibelli Hall). Those taking them in will need to look only a few dozen yards to the north to see the beehive of activity at ‘19,’ as it’s known colloquially.

Unlike other Armory structures, especially its main administration building, now named after Garvey, 19 has not had any significant role with the college since it was formed, other than as a warehouse for equipment that was no longer needed but couldn’t be discarded.

All that is about to change, though, and in a big way.

Indeed, the renovated structure, due to open in the fall of 2018, will be home to a wide array of offices and facilities now scattered across the campus, including the library, admissions, registration, financial aid, the bookstore, the welcome center, student government, the parking office, health services, student activities, a café, the IT help desk, meeting and conference space, and much more.

This collection of facilities will be called the Learning Commons, and if that sounds like a lot to put under one roof, remember that the roof of 19 covers a building longer than two football fields, complete with the end zones, and there are two full floors and a loft third floor.

As noted, converting a structure that large, built a century and a half before the Internet was conceived, 40 years before the lightbulb, 35 years before the telephone, and 80 years before air conditioning (and thus not designed for any of the above) — all while maintaining its original architectural elements and being on the cutting edge of energy efficiency (LEED Silver designation) — will be a stern challenge.

This will require, as Faber noted earlier, coexistence of the old and the new, because they’re both vital, but for different reasons.

“From a design standpoint, it’s really about respecting the tradition of the building,” he explained, adding that this can and will be done, while also making the facility ‘green’ and state-of-the-art with regard to information technology.

Duszlak said there are a number of stages to the project, many of which will be carried out concurrently.

Late this spring, work began in earnest on infrastructure, what he called the “enabling phase,” including water, sewer, and electrical lines. He added that crews made the very most of the three months when the student population is greatly diminished, with the goal of minimizing disruption when they return this week.

Maureen Socha, director of Facilities for STCC, said the project represented an opportunity for the college and DCAMM to greatly improve an aging, and often failing, infrastructure system, one that has been seized.

“A lot of our infrastructure is original to the Armory — we still have brick pipes and clay pipes everywhere,” she explained. “This was a huge opportunity to upgrade that system.”

renovated ‘19

An architect’s rendering of the forum section of the renovated ‘19.’ (Ann Beha Architects)

While infrastructure work continues on a smaller scale, restoration work on both the exterior and interior of the building have commenced, with the goal of preparing the structure for the extensive build-out work that will follow to create offices, a library, a café, and gathering spaces out of what was a cavernous warehouse.

“The roof gets brought up to current code, the second floor gets brought up to code, a lot of the existing joists get reinforced with structural steel,” Duszlak said. “There’s new elevators to be put in, new mechanical shafts to get cut through the building … a lot of it is just upgrading the skeleton of the building to get it ready for the tradespeople to create the spaces.”

There are many elements to this blend of restoration and renovation work, ranging from cleaning and repointing the hundreds of thousands of bricks to matching (after first determining) the original color of those louvers.

And in a way, the louvers are a microcosm of the project’s many challenges and the huge amount of research and even lab work that goes into such preservation and restoration efforts.

“We had a consultant who took paint chips off the building, took them to a lab, and, through use of a high-powered microscope, was able to pick out the different layers that had been painted over time,” he said. “We found four or five different colors layered on top of one another.” (A darker brown has been declared ‘original.’)

Research has involved poring over hundreds of old photos from not only the Armory but the Library of Congress, he went on, adding, again, the goal is a modern, energy-efficient facility that nonetheless pays respect to the building’s historic look and role.

Soon, work will commence on a 3D coordination of the space, said Duszlak, adding that this will enable crews to make sure all the mechanicals — plumbing, electrical, and HVAC services — are properly coordinated and there are no conflicts.

“There are a number of architectural elements that Ann Beha is concerned about,” he explained. “They want to keep a lot of the timbers exposed to give it some of the old-feel look, but keeping that much square footage exposed, and the ceiling, it limits where you can put duct work and electrical, which adds to the challenges and emphasizes the importance of the 3D coordination.”

Past is Prologue

Looking ahead, Duszlak noted that there is considerable digging (maybe 75% of the total for the project) still to be undertaken at 19 and its larger footprint.

“We have new structural upgrades that we have to dig foundations for,” he explained, “and we have electrical utilities that run the complete 715-foot length of the foundation. There’s new under-slab plumbing and drainage that services new bathrooms … we’ll be doing a lot of digging four to seven feet down.

“So there’s the potential for finding a lot of really cool artifacts,” he went on, adding that, while he doesn’t want to encounter anything that might hinder progress, he wouldn’t mind creating some new stories — or legends.

That’s what can happen when the past, present, and future come together in such dramatic, and historic, fashion.

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

Construction Sections

Raising the Bar

Roy family: Keith, his son Josh, his wife Jamie

From left to right, three generations of the Roy family: Keith, his son Josh, his wife Jamie, and their son Bentley.

The motto for the Keith G. Roy Construction Company is “When You Want It Done RIGHT.”

And those words are far more than a catchy phrase to Roy; they form the basis of a value system that pervades his company and leads to attention to detail that customers never know about because many of the things they do cannot be seen.

But the pride and satisfaction that Roy takes in “doing things the right way” has helped the company thrive during its 60-year history.

The business focuses on residential work that includes a handyman repair service; installing windows; installing and repairing roofing and siding; basement conversions; attic remodeling; home additions, remodels, and renovations; and other major projects.

“We work closely with each homeowner, and are willing to make changes at the drop of a hat,” Roy said, explaining that, after a project has started, people sometimes decide they want something different than they initially agreed upon or planned.

Such changes are not problematic, because one thing that sets the company apart from many of its competitors is that Roy does not use subcontractors, with the exception of licensed plumbers, electricians, and excavators.

His employees are paid by the hour, and since they remain at the job site until the project is done and meets his exacting standards, they don’t rush and never have to wait for a subcontractor to show up. Again, because Roy is focused on “doing it right,” his employees go above and beyond what is required or mandated by the building code.

For example, when they build a deck, which comprises a healthy share of their business, Roy insists on using ceramic-coated nails because he says new decking materials are corrosive to metal and the more-expensive nails prevent them from popping up later on. In addition, he uses copper flashing instead of using aluminum flashing where the deck meets the house because it doesn’t corrode.

“The building code doesn’t require it, but it’s the right thing to do,” Roy said, as he used the phrase that would occur repeatedly throughout the interview.

In addition, stainless-steel nails are used on cedar products instead of galvanized ones, as the latter can lead to black streaks as the wood weathers.

“The stainless-steel nails are four times more expensive, but we do things correctly with quality products while keeping the cost as reasonable as possible. It’s what people expect, but not what they always get, and it not only prevents future complaints, it satisfies the customer’s vision,” Roy told BusinessWest, adding that the company does a lot of repeat business and recently got a call from a customer he worked for 15 years ago who kept his contact information for more than a decade.

“You can’t please everyone, but I can’t sleep at night if I don’t do my best to make people happy,” he said. “I’ve stayed up many nights thinking about problem situations and the right thing to do to resolve them.”

Every employee must meet expectations, and although they must be qualified and experienced to be hired, Roy puts them through more training before they are sent to a job site.

His son, Josh Roy, is vice president of the company, and had to work his way up the ladder before he was put in charge of overseeing jobs. But he shares the same belief system.

“I like the satisfaction I get from making people happy,” Josh said. “We take pride in what we do, and many newly hired people have told me they are impressed by the quality of work we expect from them.

For this issue, BusinessWest takes a look at the history of this Westfield construction company, why it continues to grow, and how it has weathered several recessions and come out on top.

Changing Times

John L. Roy Construction was born in 1946 when Keith’s father returned home from the Navy after the end of World War II. He set up shop on Main Street in Springfield with his brother and began doing residential and commercial projects.

Keith’s mother, Elaine Roy, served as office manager, and although his uncle left the business after the first few years, his parents did well, and the construction firm thrived.

Keith began working at age 12, and already knew so much he was able to install a composite ceiling in his uncle’s home by himself.

The following summer, he built a treehouse that featured a Dutch door, paneling on the walls, and a linoleum floor, and continued helping his father with the business.

After graduating from high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting, became interested in marketing, and in 1980 was given the title of vice president of the company.

Three years later, John retired, and Keith changed the name of the business from John L. Roy Construction to Keith G. Roy Construction and took over for his father.

three-season room with a 12-foot knotty-pine ceiling

Keith G. Roy Construction created this three-season room with a 12-foot knotty-pine ceiling for a homeowner in Suffield, Conn.

When the recession of the late ’80s hit, Keith downsized in many respects, moved the office into his Southwick home, and began working as a sole proprietor.

Things improved considerably during the ’90s, and in 2008 Keith moved his business to its current location on Mainline Drive in Westfield. The Great Recession hit at about the same time, but he took the opposite strategy from most of his competitors and increased his advertising when others were cutting back, which not only worked but solidified his brand.

“We’ve been growing steadily since that time,” Roy said.

Josh Roy also began working in the family business at age 12 and joined the business in 2010.

“I take pride in the work that we do and the fact that we get it right the first time,” he said, echoing his father’s long-standing work ethic and adding that job sites are kept clean, and when a project is finished, the employees get on their hands and knees to make sure everything is immaculate so the homeowner has nothing to do but move their furniture into the space and enjoy it.

Part of the praise they frequently receive may be due to the fact that people understand what is taking place in their home, because sales manager Ken Faulker devotes time to educating each customer when he visits them to estimate a job or create a design plan.

“Our employees are motivated by quality, rather than speed, because they are paid by the hour,” Faulker noted, adding that, although this is a small company, it operates like a large one. All employees are certified in their trade and adhere to best practices, the company provides in-house training to supplement skill sets, it has its own warehouse, and is a distributor of the American-made Starmark cabinets, which it uses almost exclusively in its custom-designed kitchens and bathrooms.

Keith G. Roy Construction is also a dealer for Onyx countertops, which are made to order and look like marble or granite.

Additions are a big part of the firm’s business, and Keith takes pride in making them look like the rest of the house. The crew just finished a 22-by-22 addition with a breezeway-style area that will be used as an in-law suite. It includes a kitchenette, living room, full bathroom, bedroom, and deck.

However, the majority of the company’s recent work has been focused on remodeling kitchens and bathrooms and building decks.

Many of the decks are on local lakes with sweeping views and are multi-story structures with hidden or grand staircases that contain landings and seating.

For example, the company just finished a 700-square-foot deck over a walk-out basement that overlooks a lake and has a rain-removal system beneath it.

Josh Roy says that using their own crew rather than subcontractors allows them to address problems or concerns a homeowner may have immediately.

“They can talk directly to us instead of having to talk to a subcontractor who is only responsible for a specific part of the job,” he explained.

Continuing History

Keith G. Roy Construction was named “Best Contractor” and “Best Bathroom Remodeler” in the Republican’s 2015 Reader Raves, and has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

The Roys are proud of these ratings, like the challenge of knowing every job will be different, and enjoy giving customers more than they expect.

“There are many little things they never know about because a lot of what we do can’t be seen, such as gluing down subflooring,” Keith said. “But it’s important to us; we do things the right way and try to exceed our customers’ expectations.”

To that end, the company offers the Keith Roy Guarantee, which ensures on-schedule completion, a cost-effective process from beginning to end, a final product that exceeds expectations, and honesty, integrity, and great value.

“We want to form good relationships and are proud that our business is in its third generation, which helps us guarantee our work long into the future,” Keith said.

Josh agrees and says the company plans to keep growing. “We’ve met or exceeded our goals for the last four years and will continue to increase them.”

Construction Sections

Varied Landscape

David Fontaine Jr

David Fontaine Jr. says Fontaine Bros. has a good mix of new construction and historic renovation work lined up.

The building industry has travelled a tough road in its efforts to recover from the Great Recession, with mostly modest improvements in business volume amid ever-mounting competition for available work. But in recent months, the skies have become brighter, and most builders are expressing real optimism that the better times are real and have some staying power.

It’s easy to notice major commercial construction projects underway during the summer, and this year is no exception. Business is booming, and local companies say they are doing well — one is actually having a record year — but competition is stiff, and it takes a good track record to get hired in today’s market.

“Business has been very good,” said David Fontaine Jr., vice president of Fontaine Bros. Inc. in Springfield. “The market is very competitive, but we have gotten our fair share of business over the last few years. We’ve been consistently busy and have work lined up on the books that is a good mix of new construction and historic renovation.”

Eric Forish, president of Forish Construction Co. Inc. in Westfield, said his company has also been fortunate. “The past two years have been our best out of 70 years in business, and the forward momentum is continuing,” he told BusinessWest.

But he says it takes a lot to win a bid. “A company has to have a multitude of strengths and share the customer’s expectations; they want a safe job site, quality, and performance, and these things, coupled with excellent customer service, have been our priorities.”

Although Keiter Builders Inc. in Florence has been very busy and has a number of projects underway, it is also aware of the high level of competition and what it takes to prevail in a contest for a job.

“The bids have been very close on the last half-dozen jobs we won; we were within a few percentage points of our competitors,” said company President Scott Keiter. “The owners are creating their short lists of candidates based on reputation; then it’s all about the numbers.”

However, the firm deliberately searches for challenging and complex projects.

“We truly enjoy them, whether they involve creating an observatory or a new restaurant. We’re good at complex undertakings; they keep us on our toes,” Keiter said, adding that he started his business eight years ago in the depths of the recession, but has done well. “Everything keeps going in the right direction, we are proud of our work, and we’re growing.”

Stephen Greenwald, president of Renaissance Builders in Gill, says there is considerable work available across the board in residential, industrial, and commercial sectors.

“We’re busier than we were last year and have work through the beginning of next year,” he said, noting that it used to be like that 10 years ago, but hasn’t been that way for a long time.

The type of work the company handles varies; about 50% to 60% is commercial, 30% is residential, and 10% to 15% is industrial, although the numbers change from one year to the next, and Greenwald agreed that landing jobs is highly competitive and a number of factors enter into the equation.

“Margins are still slim, but one of the reasons is that materials continue to go up in price,” he told BusinessWest. “But since the recession ended, business has steadily gotten better.”

However, Forish networks with many local, regional, and national firms and noted this year is unusual: some contractors are busy, while others are not. He doesn’t know why, but noted that, “historically, election years create a degree of angst.”

Different Landscapes

Fontaine said his company is frequently hired to do construction management.

“We help throughout the design process and are involved long before the actual construction work begins,” he said, explaining that the firm works in conjunction with the architect and owners, helps with the budget, and makes sure the job starts on time and stays on budget.

Most projects are several years in duration, and landing them is no easy feat.

“There are a lot of really qualified large and small companies bidding on projects, and we’re definitely seeing more companies with a national reach coming into the area,” Fontaine said. “We focus on our relationships with our clients, and the success of our projects keeps us busy. But we live and die based on our reputation and our continuing results. In our business, you can’t take a day off. You have to consistently do your best to get and keep clients.”

Eric Forish

Eric Forish (standing) spends a moment with Michael Oakes at Super Brush in Springfield, where Forish Construction Co. is putting on a 12,000-square-foot addition.

Forish agrees. “We’re always looking to take on new work. You can’t sit on your laurels; we’re constantly challenged to find new opportunities and markets,” he said. “If you’re good at what you do, every day you’re completing work, so you need to find new jobs. You have to keep going; you can’t assume that things will stay steady in any industry.”

Fontaine Bros. has a number of projects that were recently completed as well as ones that are underway or in the planning stages. It recently finished a historic renovation of the 100,000-square-foot, $33 million Shrewsbury Public Library that involved keeping the front of the building and adding 40,000 square feet, and it’s finishing a new elementary school in Athol.

Local work includes the $55 million Pope Francis High School being built by the Diocese of Springfield on the grounds of the former Cathedral High School on Surrey Road in Springfield that suffered extensive damage during the 2011 tornado.

“The project is in the final design stages, and we expect to break ground in September,” Fontaine said, adding that many people have wondered when the work will begin and don’t understand how much has to be done behind the scenes before construction can start.

“It’s a great project for us, and will put a lot of local people to work. I’m happy to see the school being rebuilt,” he added. The undertaking will take two years from start to finish, and the school is expected to open in September 2018.

Fontaine Bros. is also working on the MGM casino parking garage in Springfield; construction is underway, and concrete was being poured at the time of the BusinessWest interview.

“We partnered with Tishman Construction, and it’s great to be included in the project,” Fontaine said. “We’re excited about being part of the revitalization of the city and appreciate the fact that Tishman and MGM sought participation from local contractors and tradespeople.”

The majority of work Fontaine Bros. handles involves ‘green’ building, and many of its projects are LEED- or Massachusetts CHPS-certified. The company has been ranked as one of the Top 100 Green Contractors by the Engineering News-Record for the past few years.

Forish has also been busy. Over the past year, the company completed the new Sarat Ford and Sarat Lincoln auto dealerships in Agawam and the Marcotte Commercial Truck Center in Holyoke, put on a large addition at Astro Chemicals in Springfield, and most recently completed the Curry Nissan dealership in Chicopee and a new $6.5 million senior center in Westfield.

Projects underway include the $3.5 million PVTA Pavilion in Westfield, a 30,000-square-foot addition to Hillside Plastics in Turners Falls, a 12,000-square-foot addition at Super Brush in Springfield, and a multitude of jobs at UMass Amherst.

Keiter has a varied portfolio that includes a number of residential construction projects, and the firm is putting additions on a number of homes and building a few new ones in the Northampton area. However, about 80% of its work is commercial, and the roster includes a number of jobs at Smith College. The work includes a large window-and-door installation on the president’s house, a large dormer addition on a classroom building, and a renovation to another building to accommodate a gluten-free kitchen.

The firm is also handling a major renovation of the Alumni Gym at Amherst College, which houses its athletic operations.

“We’re very diverse, and also have a site division that does a lot of earthwork, which is a fast-growing part of our business,” Keiter said, adding that the firm began doing excavation and site work about three years ago.

Last year the company also completed a number of jobs at Smith College. It finished a telescope observatory in McConnell Hall, put a new roof on the building, and made mechanical upgrades; repurposed space to create a scientific drone research room in Bass Hall for the Science Department; and did a good deal of office-renovation work. Is also handled a buildout for an attorney’s office in Northampton and created a new restaurant (ConVino) in the basement of Thornes Marketplace in Northampton, which required completely changing the layout of the space.

Renaissance Builders also has a large, diverse portfolio. Last year, the company completed a major church renovation in Greenfield, a significant renovation of an apartment building in Northampton, another major renovation of a food-distribution company’s warehouse in Hatfield, and an addition for a commercial cabinet maker in Northfield. And on the residential side, it built two new homes in Chesterfield and Montague.

“Earlier this year, we did a large historical renovation in downtown Turner’s Falls, and right now we’re doing a renovation in Gardner for a service company,” said Greenwald. “We’re also building a day-care center and doing renovations at a private school in Northfield, and renovating a chain of tire stores in multiple locations.”

Future Forecast

Forish attributes his company’s success to the dedication of his employees, but said the company’s longevity poses its own set of challenges.

“We have a supervisor and general manager who both have 30 years of experience who are retiring, a tradesman with 25 years who is retiring, and two others who were recently recognized for 40 years of service who could retire,” he said. “Being a strong, mature company has its advantages, but it also creates challenges when you need to replace people. We’re always looking for motivated individuals to join our Forish family.”

Although it’s impossible for commercial construction companies to predict what the future will hold, Forish and other company spokesmen say this year looks like it will be a good one.

“But it’s always difficult to tell how much is due to the economy versus the typical busy summer, so we’re always looking ahead,” Keiter said.

Still, Greenwald noted that the economy in Western Mass. seems to be holding its own. “Businesses are putting money into expansion and infrastructure improvements, which I interpret to mean they are doing well; we see it as a positive sign.”

One that should contribute to a stellar season as local commercial construction companies not only hold their own, but thrive in a competitive environment where attention to detail and reputation makes a world of difference.

Construction Sections

Finishing Work

Union Station’s Grand Hall

Union Station’s Grand Hall awaits the final touches to its restoration.

As he talked about the massive, $88.5 million Union Station redevelopment project, Richard Fairbanks made early and frequent references to its many stages, the critical sequencing of its various components, and the formidable challenge of handling this work while partnering with — and dealing with — a veritable alphabet soup of agencies and stakeholders.

They range from CSX, the transportation giant that runs trains through the facility, to the SRA (Springfield Redevelopment Authority), which owns the property, to MassDOT (Mass. Department of Transportation), which is essentially calling most of the shots.

“With most projects, you have a few agencies to deal with, but mostly it’s the customer, and things are much simpler,” said Fairbanks, project manager with Holyoke-based Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, which is handling the project, citing, as one example, the expansion of the Sr. Mary Caritas Cancer Center, which O’Connell built for the Sisters of Providence Health System. “Here, it gets really, really complicated with all those entities.”

‘Complicated’ is probably the best adjective to describe this project, which has been, in some respects, three or even four decades in the making — that’s how long the 90-year-old station, built by the Boston & Albany Railroad, has been mostly vacant — but is now approaching the proverbial end of the line.

Well, in most respects, as we’ll see.

Indeed, the 377-space parking garage has taken shape with interior infrastructure work still to complete; the bus-berth area (there will be 27 bays for inter-city and intra-city buses) is nearing completion; and the long-anticipated work to return the interior of the station, and especially the so-called Grand Hall, to its former glory is entering its final stages, with framing completed and work on the finishes set to start.

Richard Fairbanks

Richard Fairbanks says the Union Station project is complicated by its many stages and myriad stakeholders.

Meanwhile, work on the large commercial spaces above and around the Grand Hall is continuing, said Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer and long-time driver of the project, adding that these areas are approaching the ‘white-box’ stage, from which it can build out to suit tenants’ needs and desires.

“Everything is pretty much on track,” he said, borrowing terminology from the industry to describe the pace of progress. “Things are taking shape on schedule.”

But some of the work will not be done on schedule, due in large part to two more of those seemingly endless acronyms — in this case the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration).

The former requires six feet of space on either side of the so-called headhouse on a rail platform (the structure at the top of the stairway to the platform and the elevator), and the latter recently refused to grant a waiver for the renovated Union Station and its planned five and a half feet of space.

So it’s back to the drawing board in the real sense of that phrase, Kennedy said, adding that new designs, funded by MassDOT, will be drafted, and the platform should be completed about a year from now.

But the station itself and the complex’s many components, from the parking garage to the bus berths, will be completed on schedule by the end of this year, with the landmark due to celebrate what should be a grand opening — or reopening, to be more precise — next January.

Fairbanks, who succeeded Bob Aquadro as project manager earlier this year, has been with O’Connell for nearly 30 years, and has a number of large projects on his résumé, including the new courthouse in Taunton and work at Yale University, including a renovation of a music facility that is in many ways similar to the Union Station endeavor, right down to the terrazzo floor.

Most of his recent work has been in the 413 area code, including the cancer center expansion and an addition to the women’s correctional facility in Chicopee.

While he’s only been project manager on Frank B. Murray Way for several months, he knows the full history of the project, and said this initiative, which started more than four years ago, has been more complex than most because of its many stages, intertwined players at the local, state, and federal levels, and the unforeseen problems that come with working on a building opened a year before Charles Lindberg flew across the Atlantic.

“You try to capture everything on the drawings before the project is bid,” he explained, “but when you get on the job, you find things that weren’t on the drawings, and that leads to change orders.”

An architect’s rendering of the renovated Union Station.

An architect’s rendering of the renovated Union Station.

The primary challenge, though, is coordinating all the various steps in this project so that the work can proceed smoothly and without interruption, efforts that were helped by a mild, relatively snowless winter that enabled the parking garage to go up seemingly overnight.

“This is essentially five projects in one — there are a lot of steps,” he said, listing the terminal, platform, parking garage, bus berths, and the extremely complicated process of waterproofing the terminal and tunnel that connects it to the platforms.

“This is a difficult process because it all has to be sequenced,” he said of the waterproofing work, which began months ago and is ongoing. “The trains can never stop, so you can’t take all the tracks out at once.”

But there is light at the end of that tunnel — figuratively, but also literally — and light in the tunnel as well.

Indeed, as he walked and talked with BusinessWest while giving a tour of the construction site, Fairbanks pointed to the terrazzo floor in the terminal — perhaps the most celebrated original surviving element of the station (most of the original wooden benches that were due to be part of the restoration were reported stolen under mysterious circumstances).

“This will be the last stage,” he said, noting that a firm that specializes in the restoration of such floors will start its work when virtually everything else is done.

And it will be a fitting finishing touch, he said, noting that it will represent the capstone (at least when it comes to the terminal) of a project that has been historic in every sense of that word.

— George O’Brien

Construction Sections

Work in Progress

American Environmental’s Tom MacQueen

American Environmental’s Tom MacQueen says employees of construction-related companies appreciate having steady work close to home.

With construction on the MGM Springfield casino underway, plenty of local businesses — 40 to 50 over the next six to nine months — will have worked on the project in its first phase. But that’s just the beginning, say city and regional business leaders, who say MGM has forged a number of strategic partnerships to ensure that even more area companies — those in construction, but also providers of myriad other services — benefit from this $900 million effort.

Construction is moving forward on the 14.5-acre MGM Springfield site between Union and State streets and Columbus Avenue and Main Street.

About 70% of the footprint for the garage, casino, hotel, and outdoor space has been cleared, and about 45 local and non-regional companies have been employed during the process.

Work to compact the ground and get it ready for the garage, which will be the first structure built, is taking place now. Demolition is also still occurring in the area where the casino and hotel will be built, and on April 19 the First Spiritualist Church was moved 600 feet from its former home on 33-37 Bliss St. in preparation for placing it on a new foundation.

Brian Packer, MGM’s vice president of construction, told BusinessWest that one building and the rear portion of the State Armory still need to be knocked down. In addition, the rear of two structures, 73 State St. and the Union Chandler Hotel, whose historic front facades will be preserved, also still need to be demolished once the facades are secured and braced.

“We are encouraged by the tremendous progress MGM Springfield has made over the last several months. As we begin the next phase of construction, our outreach efforts will focus on electrical, mechanical, and drywall,” he said. “We anticipate announcing dates for information sessions soon for union companies interested in these jobs. MGM Springfield continues to support the involvement of local businesses — and minority-, woman-, and veteran-owned businesses — and we encourage these companies to participate in the process.”

Eric Nelson, vice president and project executive for Tishman Construction Corp., the general contractor overseeing the MGM build, said a concerted effort has been made to hire as many local subcontractors as possible in keeping with the project labor agreement, and they will continue to hire firms over the next 12 months.

“A significant amount of the work has gone to firms in Springfield and the surrounding communities,” he said.

Local businesses benefiting from the trickle-down effect include American Environmental Inc., a minority-owned Holyoke business which did a significant amount of abatement and some demolition; Ultimate Abatement, a woman-owned firm in Springfield, which received a large contract to do abatement on the former YWCA building; Gagliarducci Construction Inc., which handled site work; and New England Blue Print Paper in Springfield, which has contributed printing and copying services.

Within the next six to nine months, Packer said, 40 to 50 local companies will have worked on the project, and the majority are in Springfield.

Gerry Gagliarducci, owner of Gagliarducci Construction Inc., said he has had a crew on site since last year. The company has done exploratory work for underground utilities, screened excavated materials for reuse on the site, and, most recently, conducted preparations needed to move the church.

“We’ve enjoyed our relationship with MGM and Tishman Construction. This project is a big boost to the local economy and carries down to all areas of business, including fuel for vehicles, lunches, and major expenditures,” he noted, adding that workers with good-paying jobs may buy new automobiles or make other major purchases.

Work for local firms has come about in part because MGM has been reaching out to the business community for several years to initiate strategic partnerships and discussions. They also participate in events such as the annual Western Mass. Business Expo, staged by BusinessWest, and have held informational sessions for contractors, which will continue before substantial work comes up for bid.

Brian Packer

Brian Packer, pictured in front of the First Spiritualist Church during its 600-foot relocation, says MGM expects to reach out soon to local firms for electrical, mechanical, drywall, and other types of work.

Local providers have also benefited. They include Caring Health in Springfield, which won the bid for the drug-testing portion of the contract and has tested every construction employee on the site, as well as Arrow Security Co. Inc., which has provided security services for the property since the construction began.

“The project has definitely been beneficial to us,” said Arrow CEO John DeBarge. “Prior to the recession, 10% of our business was new construction. It went to 0%, and MGM is the first substantial project we’ve obtained, which helps our business and our employees. We’ve hired a number of new employees who are Springfield residents.”

At this point, the abatement and demolition is almost complete, site work is starting, and construction of the framework is expected to begin in the fall.

Outreach Efforts

Jeffrey Ciuffreda, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber, said his organization has an excellent relationship with MGM, and is working closely with the company to make sure local businesses benefit not only during the building process, but once the casino is operational.

He noted that MGM’s agreement with the city of Springfield includes spending $50 million annually on local goods and services after it opens, but said the word ‘local’ is relative, and includes Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties.

So far, MGM has carried out its end of the contract and joined with the Springfield Regional Chamber to host two supplier and vendor fairs attended by its former vice president of global procurement, who came from Las Vegas to highlight opportunities for local businesses and provide strategies and insights for doing business with the casino. A vendor fair was also staged in Holyoke in conjunction with the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses doing construction work have to be unionized, but suppliers and service providers do not when the project opens. However, they do have to be registered with the Mass. Gaming Commission.


Click HERE to download a chart of the region’s General Contractors


Companies hired so far tout the benefits of the project to the regional economy. They include American Environmental Inc., which has done a significant amount of work on the project. It won the first abatement contract, has been working for MGM since last March, and since that time has been awarded a half-dozen additional abatement contracts and an equal number of structural take-down contracts that have included demolishing the former YWCA on Howard Street, which dated back to the 1900s and most recently housed the Western Massachusetts Alcohol Treatment Center; the former St. Joseph Rectory on Howard Street; and the Springfield Rescue Mission on Bliss Street, which relocated to the former Orr Cadillac building on Mill Street, which the casino resort provided in exchange for the mission’s former property.

“It’s been a wonderful foundation project for the entire calendar year,” said Tom MacQueen, American Environmental’s general manager, adding that area employees appreciate having steady work close to home and MGM has done a great job identifying qualified, local contractors.

In addition, American Environmental has been introduced to new contractors on the site and made arrangements to work with them in the future, which is an extra benefit of working on the project.

T&M Equipment Corp. in Springfield is another local company benefiting from the ripple effect. The union-affiliated contractor was hired to do excavation work for the garage and hotel and has been on site for about a month.

“This is great for local companies, and we are excited to work with MGM and be part of history in Springfield,” said Project Manager Taylor Wright. “This site is really large and will not only bring more work to area companies, but will allow more people to be employed from local unions.”

MGM is working to increase union construction workforce opportunities, and has convened a Community Partners Network, which has grown from nine to 21 members. The network holds biweekly meetings to identify ways to recruit diverse populations that meet union requirements and are ready to join a union or a union joint apprenticeship and training committee, and also recruit people who may not meet union requirements and need supportive services and soft-skills training.

MGM has also met with a number of trade unions to share construction timelines, potential partnerships, and other issues pertinent to hiring. They include the Carpenters Union #108; the Painters & Allied Traders Council #35; Ironworkers Local #7; and a bevy of other groups. In addition, a construction diversity task force has been formed.

Outreach continues, and MGM Springfield and Tishman are exploring the possibility of developing an ongoing partnership with Putnam Vocational Academy students interested in joining unions and working on the Springfield job site.

The Springfield Regional Chamber created a list of members for MGM that could do construction-related work, and goals have been established by the Mass. Gaming Commission for doing business with certified minority-, woman-, and veteran-owned companies.

Ciuffreda has also told MGM about local companies that manufacture windows and other supplies that will be needed during construction, and said officials have expressed real interest in them.

900 million project

With the $900 million project only in its early stages, MGM expects to involve many more local workers.

“The door was open early on, and although we can’t offer our members any guarantees, as the construction unfolds we will make sure that MGM’s list continues to be updated,” he told BusinessWest, adding that MGM has divided chamber members into categories and given the list to contractors, who are encouraged to use local suppliers.

“We’ve told our members that MGM is a world-class organization and is big on quality, quantity, and cost,” Ciuffreda noted, adding that some local firms may be too small to be competitive in terms of pricing or unable to produce the large number of items needed.

However, the chamber has filed a grant request with the Gaming Commission that would allow it to provide technical assistance to businesses. Funds will be targeted toward minority-, woman-, and veteran-owned firms that wish to do business with the casino.

MGM’s future needs will be seemingly endless, and goods and services needed will range from security to special hardware, signage, exterminators, alcoholic beverages — the casino has already agreed to work with local craft-beer producers — to food, which Ciuffreda said could be supplied by farmers in the Pioneer Valley. Other non-gaming vendors will include linen suppliers, garbage handlers, and limousine service companies. However, the majority of those firms won’t be hired for more than a year from now, when advertisements and meetings will provide interested businesses with the information they need.

“We are on track for the September 2018 opening and are excited to share in the economic growth,” said Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel for MGM Springfield. “The silver lining is that there is still plenty of time for businesses to ramp up or start with us, and as we get closer to the opening, we will step up our own processes and procedures to formally do outreach with the business community so we can spend the amount of money we have agreed to in our contract.”

Keeping Pace

Ciuffreda said MGM will do well because it is a behemoth with an established history, but its future success will be measured by the impact it has on local companies. At this point, MGM is doing everything it promised, he noted, but the chamber will continue its quest to make sure its members benefit from the spinoff.

For example, the chamber has a 100-page document listing items that MGM Detroit purchases, and Ciuffreda intends to sit down with officials and find out what is procured from national companies and what could be supplied locally to fulfill the $50 million annual agreement as things move forward.

“We won’t leave any rocks unturned,” he told BusinessWest. “The trickle-down effect is not only going to happen, it’s happening right now and will continue to grow.”

Construction Sections

Fertile Environment

GreenUrban-519278869Companies involved in U.S. construction plan on intensifying their involvement in green building over the next three years, according to the new World Green Building Trends Study from Dodge Data & Analytics, conducted with support from United Technologies Corp. and its UTC Climate, Controls & Security business. The U.S. is also one of the global leaders in the percentage of firms expecting to construct new green institutional projects and green retrofits of existing buildings.

The global study, which received additional support from Saint-Gobain, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Regenerative Network, positions the U.S. as a strong participant in the global green movement. Responses from more than 1,000 building professionals from 60 countries place the U.S. green industry in context. The study also provides specific comparisons with 12 other countries from which a sufficient response was gained to allow for statistical analysis: Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Mexico, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

According to the report, U.S. construction should see an increase in the share of green work in the next few years, largely as a result of companies intensifying their involvement in the green-building industry. An increasing percentage of respondents projected that more than 60% of their projects would be green projects — from 24% of respondents in 2015 to 39% in 2018. Respondents projecting that fewer than 15% of their projects would be certified green plummeted from 41% in 2015 to 27% by 2018.

Worldwide Trend

While this increased share of green building is impressive, it is significantly less than many developing countries included in the survey. For example, Brazil expects six-fold growth (from 6% to 36%) in the percentage of companies conducting a majority of their projects green, five-fold growth is expected in China (from 5% to 28%), and fourfold growth is expected in Saudi Arabia (from 8% to 32%).

“The strong U.S. industry for green-building projects is clearly an opportunity for U.S. firms, but so is the rapid rise of green in many of the developing countries,” said Stephen Jones, senior director of Industry Insights, Dodge Data & Analytics. “Expertise from experienced green designers, builders, and manufacturers from the U.S. is likely to be essential to support the aggressive green-building expectations revealed by the study respondents.”

In the U.S., the highest percentage of respondents report that they expect to work on new green institutional projects (such as schools, hospitals, and public buildings), green retrofits of existing buildings, and new green commercial construction (such as office and retail buildings) in the next three years. When compared with global averages, it becomes clear that the U.S. is a leader in new green institutional construction and green retrofits of existing buildings. For example:

• 46% of U.S. respondents expect to work on new green institutional buildings, compared to 38% globally; and

• 43% of U.S. respondents plan to work on green retrofits of existing buildings, again well above the global average of 37%.

The U.S. is also distinguished from the global findings in terms of the importance it places on reducing energy consumption as an environmental reason for building green. Over three-quarters (76%) of U.S. respondents consider this important, nearly double the percentage of the next most important environmental factor, which is reducing water consumption. While the other 12 countries in the study prioritize the reduction of energy consumption, only Germany, Poland, and Singapore do so to the same extent.

“The survey shows that global green building activity continues to double every three years,” said United Technologies Chief Sustainability Officer John Mandyck. “More people recognize the economic and productivity value that green buildings bring to property owners and tenants, along with the energy and water benefits to the environment, which is driving the green-building industry’s growth. It’s a win-win for people, planet, and the economy.”

Cost and Value

The study demonstrates the benefits of building green, with median operating cost decreases for green buildings of 9% expected in just one year globally. Building owners also report seeing a median increase of 7% in the value of their green buildings compared to traditional buildings, an increase that is consistent between newly built green buildings and those that are renovated green. These business benefits are a critical driver for the growth of green building anticipated globally.

The U.S. is also notable for having the lowest percentage of respondents who report that their company uses metrics to track green-building performance. Only 57% of U.S. respondents report using metrics, compared to a 75% average globally. This may be linked to the fact that the U.S. is also the country with the highest level of concern reported about higher perceived first costs for green building, notably more than the percentage who consider this an important challenge to building green in other developed countries with active construction markets, like Germany and the U.K. u

Dodge Data & Analytics, which prepared this article, is a leading provider of data, analytics, news, and intelligence serving the North American construction industry.

Construction Sections

Driving Force

The new Balise Hyundai in Springfield.

The new Balise Hyundai in Springfield.

Contractors who have made inroads in auto-dealership construction are finding these to be good times indeed, as area dealers, from solo stores to large chains, engage in what can only be described as a building boom. The reasons are myriad, from an improving economy to demands from car makers that showrooms have a consistent look, to changes in the way cars are purchased and serviced today, and how 21st-century dealership design reflects those shifts.

If there’s one driving force behind all the auto-dealership construction and expansion over the past few years, Bill Peffer noted, it is, quite simply, a growing economy.

“The reason you’re seeing dealerships around the country refurbish is because the economy is really good, and a good economy drives good sales of new cars, trucks, and SUVs,” said Peffer, president and chief operating officer of the multi-state Balise Auto Group, which boasts several dealerships, focusing on different brands, in the Greater Springfield region. “More dealerships mean more points to sell the products — although dealers are finding the competition is pretty strong as well.”

Balise has been renovating and expanding in the area, most recently with a new Hyundai dealership on Columbus Avenue in Springfield, but with several new facilities over the past decade. Meanwhile, the Lia Auto Group has built and renovated new stores across the Pioneer Valley, as have TommyCar Auto Group in Hampshire and Franklin counties, Sarat Ford Lincoln in Agawam, Marcotte Ford in Holyoke, and Fathers & Sons in West Springfield, just to name a few.

“Part of it is the growth of the industry,” added Eric Forish, president of Forish Construction in Westfield, one of the region’s leading builders of auto dealerships, a tradition that started with his father in the 1940s. “Most dealers in our area have multiple locations, multiple brands, multiple facilities. That’s the nature of how they operate in their industry. And the volume of activity at each location often requires growth in the size of the facility.”

Indeed, according to MiBiz, a Michigan-based business website, the facility, training, and technology expenses required to run a modern dealership favor larger dealer groups that can share back-office resources and spread out narrow margins over higher sales volumes.

Balise — which contracts with South Hadley-based Associated Builders on its Western Mass. construction and renovation — is certainly one of those large players. But more dealerships also means more challenges to stay on top of current trends.


Click HERE to download a chart of the region’s general contractors


“They want to have more inventory, so parking areas get larger,” Forish said. “They want to be green-friendly, so they update their lighting fixtures in the parking lots; LED fixtures return tremendous savings from conserving energy. Then there’s the energy efficiency of the buildings themselves. There are a multitude of ways dealers try to stay current. Their products are new, and they want their facilities to be new facilities.

“Even on the service side,” he went on, “the technicians’ tools are way beyond anything they used to have. In the repair area, it’s all computerized. Their equipment is state of the art. Even the lifts themselves are very much different than the lifts of years ago. The whole operation is much more modern. Many types of businesses have to keep up with technology, and it’s no different in auto dealerships.”

But while area dealers focus on drawing in new business, manufacturers have their own ideas about what constitutes an ideal showroom and service center — and those changes are also helping to drive the current building boom.

Consistent Look

The trend among car makers is to standardize, to some degree, the look and feel of showrooms that sell their brands, and they are in some cases providing incentives — and in others, simply issuing mandates — to renovate and modernize their showrooms.

“Most brands in the U.S. are well-established brands, with few new players over the past 25 or 30 years,” Peffer said. “As those brands mature, they develop touch points unique to the brand to differentiate from the next brand.”

These mandates can encompass everything from the exterior façade to the colors of the interior walls to the furniture where customers wait for service.

“What’s driving the process now is that manufacturers are requiring their dealers to upgrade to a new image,” Forish said. “These design programs are similar to chain restaurants, where you have to have a consistent national image. Car dealerships need to do the same in terms of exterior exposure and interior finishes.”

Forish should know, having tackled dozens of projects for auto dealers — most recently multiple projects for Curry in Chicopee, Sarat in Agawam, and the New York-based Lia Auto Group. “We’ve done probably a dozen facilities for them,” he said of Lia. “We must be doing something right because they keep bringing us back.”

Other dealers have tapped Forish’s niche experience as well, from Marcotte Ford, which chose the company to build its new truck center in Holyoke, the only one of its kind in the region, to facilities for Steve Lewis Subaru in Hadley and Cernak Buick in Easthampton. “The names go on and on. We certainly have deep roots with the auto dealerships.”

Marcotte Ford

Marcotte Ford’s new commercial truck center in Holyoke.

As a partner with many different manufacturers, Peffer said, Balise is well aware of the demands they’re placing on dealers. For instance, the chain’s new Hyundai dealership on Columbus Avenue in Springfield boasts a six-bay express service element for customers who want to get in and out quickly, a separate cash-wash facility, and a ready-credit used-car space, all in separate buildings on the same grounds.

“That illustrates the Hyundai global brand identity,” he told BusinessWest. “This is the direction you’ll see Hyundai dealerships around the country move to.”

Meanwhile, Fathers & Sons is currently building a dedicated showroom in West Springfield for Audi because that maker, like others, wants dealers to move away from the old ‘auto mall’ facility that sells many different nameplates under one roof, to reduce the chance of a customer driving away with another maker’s product. Audi has also provided direction on the new facility’s design, what it calls a ‘terminal’ concept with an aesthetic dominated by glass and metal.

Although car makers are increasingly asking for specific design elements, Peffer said, dealer groups can bring consistency as well. “Balise Toyota, Honda, and Ford all have a well-lit, spacious, drive-up service lane where you’re met by the assistant service manager.”

These areas are typically marked with signage explaining the pricing for a range of basic services, another attempt to be transparent with customers who have likely already done their homework on the Internet.

“The nature of doing business as an auto dealer has changed, as well as the type of service they offer and the nature of customer-service relationships,” Forish added. “If you’ve taken your vehicle in for service at a newer dealership recently, you realize that, at most of these places, you drive into a building and are greeted by the service writer that reviews the scope of repairs or maintenance you’re going to receive. Then you go relax in these wonderful customer lounges, which have high-definition TV, wireless access for your devices, and play areas for the kids.

“It’s all about the experience for the customer,” he went on. “And the dealerships — especially if they have some age to them — need to get to these current standards to be part of a brand.”

Shifting Tides

As manufacturers ramp up mandates for standardization in their showrooms, MiBiz notes, some dealer groups have resisted the change. A 2013 study by auto-industry consultant Glen Mercer found that, while expansion of showrooms and service departments can pay off on the bottom line, other modernization efforts bring little return on investment.

Still, customers appreciate changes aimed at improving their experience, Peffer said.

“More and more people start shopping for prices online, and by the time they get to the dealership to make the purchase, they’re there to buy, as opposed to just kicking the tires,” he told BusinessWest. “They get all their information online, and by the time they hit the showroom floor, they’re looking for a good experience.

“That’s what differentiates a dealer from another dealer,” he went on. “And the facility makes the experience. How convenient is it? How inviting is it? Is there ample parking? Is there a delivery area for new cars? The footprint for dealerships has really changed to amplify the experience. They’re not just big boxes with a bunch of inventory.”

In short, he said, the modern dealership reflects what customers want, and the list is a simple one. “They want greater transparency with the advent of the Internet. And you have to provide convenience and a logical flow to how their car is serviced.”

On those points and others, too many dealerships built decades ago simply fall short. That, in turn, should continue to provide plenty of opportunity for contractors looking for a hot niche to drive new business.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Construction Sections

Slowdown on I-91

I-91 viaduct

After 45 years, the I-91 viaduct needs much more than a series of patches.

At a recent public meeting about the massive, ongoing I-91 viaduct project, attendees were able to view a yellowed page from the Springfield Daily News featuring an aerial shot of the viaduct slicing through the downtown in 1970. The headline: “I-91 Linkup Provides Access to a Bright City Future.”

That was a long time ago, said Richard Masse, acting director for Mass. Department of Transportation (DOT) Region 2.

“It’s been 45 years,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re way beyond the road being reliable. We shouldn’t have to come out and patch holes, but we’ve been doing that on a regular basis.”

The original construction of Springfield’s portion of I-91, including the raised viaduct, cost just north of $50 million, while the current project — which, over the next three-plus years, will replace the viaduct deck, repair and replace the structural steel, and include other improvements — will cost $148 million, the bid submitted by Framingham-based JF White-Schiavone.

It will also be a significant inconvenience to commuters and businesses traveling to, from, and through Springfield’s downtown.

“There’s no way we can do this project on I-91 without causing some traffic congestion and delay, but we do want to provide information so people know what’s going on,” Masse said, explaining that the recent installation of cameras, sensors, and message boards along the mile-long stretch of raised highway to help motorists deal with the long-term effects of the lane and ramp closures beginning this month. Information will also be posted online for those who want to check out conditions before leaving home.

The elevated viaduct through Springfield carries about 75,000 vehicles per day. Essentially a concrete deck slab supported by steel girders — which are in turn supported by steel pier caps, column piers, and footings with pile foundations — the structure has undergone several rehabilitation projects over the past quarter-century, but nothing approaching a total deck replacement.

“The viaduct deck is in horrible condition, and we’re here to fix it, to give it life for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Ralph Romano, a MassDOT engineer, by way of explaining what the project — which stretches from the Interstate 291 interchange to around State Street — entails.

Now and Later

The first stage of the project, known as stage 1A, is coming to a close, and included pre-emptive repairs to the bridge deck to prepare the two outer lanes of I-91 to handle traffic while rehabilitation of the inner lanes is taking place.

In addition, some local roads were reconfigured to prepare for increased traffic volume due to upcoming detours, including construction of the West Columbus Avenue Extension to help improve traffic flow, and construction of a temporary off-ramp from I-91 south at Birnie Avenue (to be called exit 6-7) to carry traffic onto downtown streets.

Stage 1B, beginning this month and lasting through next fall, will see the inner lanes of I-91 north and south along the median closed for deck reconstruction. All traffic will be shifted to the right, using the shoulder and breakdown lanes. Speed limits have been reduced through the work area and will be enforced with doubled fines, Romano said.

During this phase, JF White-Schiavone will demolish and replace the deck along the median and high-speed lanes of I-91, along with the I-291 on-ramp to I-91 south and the left side of the I-291 off-ramp from I-91 north, in phases. Access to I-291 will be maintained at all times, with the possible exception of overnight closures where detours will be implemented.

The DOT has been testing ramp closures and detours over the past few months while crews performed preliminary deck work, mostly at night. The Birnie Avenue connector onto the interstate has been closed since October, and this month will see the closing of southbound exits 6 and 7, on-ramps from Union and State streets onto I-91 north, and the Route 20 connector into I-91 south.

Detours involving East and West Columbus Avenue, Hall of Fame Avenue, and other roads — details and maps are available online at www.massdot.state.ma.us/i91viaductrehab/traffic.aspx — will be well-marked, Romano said, while I-291 will be accessible through downtown using Liberty and Dwight streets.

“A lot of thought went into this,” Romano said of the traffic-management plan, “but traffic engineering is not an exact science. It relies on human behavior sometimes, so there’s only so much we can do. But we do try to respond to anything that’s not quite right, and we will be doing that throughout the project.”

Stage 2 of the project, slated for late fall 2016 through late fall 2017, won’t see any ramp reopenings, but traffic in both directions will shift to the center, newly constructed lanes, while construction shifts to the low-speed travel lanes and the shoulders, along with the I-91 northbound on-ramp to I-291 east, which will be constructed in two phases.

Additionally, the exit 9 off-ramp from I-91 north to Route 20 will be closed for the first part of stage 2. Again, access from I-91 north to I-291 east will be maintained at all times, except for possible overnight closures. By late fall 2017, commuters will have full use of I-91 in both directions. The temporary exist 6-7 will be removed, along with the West Columbus Avenue Extension.

Then the project moves to a punch-list phase, as workers paint the structural steel, install municipal street lighting where necessary, complete final paving and traffic markings on local streets, and restore all disturbed areas. By the time the contract ends in February 2019, the completed viaduct will feature slightly wider shoulders, new lighting, and stormwater improvements to help protect local water quality.

Throughout the project, the contractors are responsible for controlling construction-related dust emissions, using a combination of sprinklers and sprayers, wind screens, and wind barriers will also be used to control the spread of dust between sidewalks and the work zone.

Bracing for Impact

For most Springfield workers and commuters, though, dust is far down the list of concerns. Traffic is typically at the top.

Taylor Rock, a worksite outreach coordinator with MassRides, was on hand at the public meeting to encourage the public to carpool, either on their own or with the help of a ‘matching program’ they can access online through her agency. MassRides also provides emergency rides home for people whose carpool partners have to leave work early.

Rock cited a study noting that 96% of people driving to work downtown do so alone. Meanwhile, 40% of them have access to flexible work hours. By carpooling and avoiding using the highway during peak rush hours, she said, motorists can make a dent in the traffic hassles that are bound to come.

“We’re not telling people to take their cars off the road, but just look at some alternate ways of traveling,” she said. “You may be able to counter some of the effects of the traffic congestion that will come with this project.”

Masse agreed.

“There will be only one lane open in each direction, and during peak commuting hours, early morning and late afternoon, these lanes will be pushed to their capacity, so the more vehicles we can get off that path by carpooling, vanpooling, and shifting work hours, the better,” he said. “The more people that take advantage of those solutions, the more we can help the situation up on the highway.”

A second ‘bright future’ for I-91 in Springfield, to quote that old newspaper headline, may seem far away once traffic slows to a crawl. But, as Masse noted, the days of patching are over as a more permanent fix begins.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Construction Sections

Afterschool Special

Kevin Perrier

Kevin Perrier, on the roof of Parsons Place.

When Easthampton officials sought to repurpose a 113-year-old elementary-school building, they issued a request for proposals, but received only one response. Fortunately, they liked what they heard, and after an accelerated construction schedule that saw the building gutted and renovated in four months, the former Parsons Street School is now a high-end, 15-unit apartment complex called Parsons Place, and the “calculated risk” its developer took has paid off with full occupancy, from its bottom floor to its striking penthouse roof.

Kevin Perrier called it a “calculated risk” — but he liked the odds of success.

He was standing in the 5,200-square-foot penthouse of Parsons Place, a high-end apartment complex that opened earlier this month inside the former Parsons Street School in Easthampton. That penthouse — considerably larger than the building’s other 14 units — recently became the final space leased.

In other words, the risk paid off.

“I don’t think there’s anything like it in the area,” said Perrier, president of Easthampton-based Five Star Building Corp., which gutted the school and converted it to living space in just four months. Perrier’s other company, Norwich Properties, purchased the property from the city in late 2014 for $10,000.

“It was certainly a calculated risk. It hadn’t been done, but we felt strongly it could be done,” he told BusinessWest. “Based on the feedback we heard, what people were looking for, we were confident we could find 15 families willing to pay a little more in rent to get an awful lot more in amenities. So we were very confident it would be leased in a timely manner.”

Part of the property’s appeal, Perrier said, is a regional dearth of high-end apartments such as these. “It’s more like what you might find in Boston — all high-end cabinets, mahogany floors throughout most of the units, 12-foot ceilings, central air, all-tile bathrooms, high-end appliances … even little touches, like fridges with ice makers and mosaic tile backsplashes.”

Within four weeks of availability, the 14 regular units, measuring 950 square feet, had been leased, while the penthouse was claimed a few days after a recent open house, and residents started moving in at the start of September.

Parsons Place

From the front, Parsons Place still looks like a century-old schoolhouse, complete with a false door that’s actually now someone’s bedroom wall.

Neighborhood response in the New City neighborhood of Easthampton has been decidedly different from the ire that has greeted Parsons Village, a 38-unit, low-income housing complex a few hundred feet down the road; that complex also opened this month.

“We are very pleased with the amazing renovation of this school building that sat vacant and unused for several years,” Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux told BusinessWest, adding that the city is pleased the property is back on the tax roll, while the renovated building and grounds will enhance the neighborhood values and esthetics.

That’s something neighbors were not saying about the development of Parsons Village. But Perrier said a much more positive vibe surrounded Parsons Place, lending a sense of fun to what was a very ambitious schedule. “We had a great crew. We started April 6 and finished August 6. That’s for a complete gut and 25,000 square feet. That’s an aggressive timeline. Everyone stepped up to the plate for us. The original goal was occupancy by November; we beat that by two months.”

Sole Response

When the city issued an RFP last fall for the former Parsons Street School, potential developers were charged with preserving the historic character of the building, along with the usual compliance with land-use boards and commissions, Cadieux said.

“Additional considerations were given to proposals that offered to provide barrier-free handicapped-accessible and/or adaptable residential units,” she added. “We received only one proposal.”

That was Perrier, who saw no hurdles meeting the goals of historical preservation and accessibility. In its finished state, Parsons Place includes one ADA-compliant unit, but all apartments may easily be adapted as such, having been designed with wide hallways and interior spaces.

“The city had quite a few … not restrictions, but strong suggestions about what they wanted and didn’t want,” he said. “One mandatory one was that the building be saved. We tried to meet as many requirements as possible when we put in a proposal, and as it turned out, we were the only bidder on the project.”

Still, “the City Council and the mayor seemed excited about what we wanted to do,” he went on. “No one wanted an affordable-housing project, which this neighborhood just endured; that project wasn’t received favorably by the neighbors. This neighborhood was looking for something other than affordable housing, and we saw an opportunity for a high-end project.”

The idea, he said, was to tap into the segment of renters who might consider Northampton, by offering units comparable to what might be found there, but with more amenities for the price. The penthouse costs $3,500 a month, while the other 14 units are being leased at $1,400.

“It was clear there was a need and a demand for high-end products, things you can’t find in any units around here — dishwashers, central air, stainless appliances, high-end cabinetry, that kind of thing,” Perrier said. “You might hit one or two of those points in rental properties here, but you usually won’t get all of them.”

When tackling the conversion of the school, Perrier said, it helped that it isn’t technically a historic building, and isn’t subject to the restrictions of being placed on such a registry. The elementary school was built in 1902 and expanded in 1908; it closed in 2011.

“We tried to maintain it as much as possible,” Perrier said of the character of the red-brick building, which still looks very much like a century-old school at first glance. “It had storefront glass doors, and we took those out and replaced them with historically accurate doors. In the elevator shaft, we could have gone the less expensive route with cement siding, but we did it with brick instead.

20-foot spiral staircase

This 20-foot spiral staircase connects the penthouse living room with a roof deck.

“We were able to maintain the exterior look of the building,” he added, “but in the interior, there wasn’t as much to be salvaged. With the asbestos and lead paint, it was almost a complete gut. But we kept many of the original wooden beams in the penthouse, and overall, there’s a happy medium between modern touches and a ’20s vibe. We kept some of the schoolhouse fixtures in the common areas, and certainly tried to keep it as historically accurate as possible in many areas.”

View to a Hill

Those amenities and the quirky aesthetics of the school drew renters from well outside the region, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Eastern Mass., some of whom work in the Valley and sought a shorter commute.

The penthouse — which has direct elevator access with a key card — is especially striking, with its 32 skylights, three bedrooms (the other units feature one or two), two and a half bathrooms, 17-foot ceilings, a large tub and walk-in shower, higher-end appliances and light fixtures, and in-suite laundry (other renters share a laundry room on the lower level). Then there are dramatic touches like the dark exposed beams and a dramatic, 20-foot spiral staircase connecting the living room with a rooftop deck, offering views of Mount Tom and well beyond.

The project stands in stark contrast to Parsons Village, a project originally rejected by the Planning Board in 2011 after objections from neighbors, but eventually approved in 2012. But city officials have long emphasized the need for all types of housing in a city that has seen incomes and property values rise in recent years but has retained an eclectic, arts-driven vibe as well.

“There’s nothing like this around here,” Perrier reiterated, standing in the kitchen of Parsons Place’s recently leased penthouse. “I’m not even sure you can get something like this in Northampton right now.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

Space Race

The MassMutual Center garage

The MassMutual Center garage is critical to parking capacity downtown, but was in dire need of repairs.

At a time when parking is at a premium in downtown Springfield, the central district’s largest parking garage, serving the MassMutual Center and numerous local businesses, plays an important role for workers and event-goers alike. But the five-story structure has long fallen into disrepair.

“We’ve had problems with drainage and water leaking from the roof through the various levels and damaging property and people’s cars,” said Mary McNally, executive director of the Springfield Parking Authority. “Then all that stuff accumulates on the iron, so that’s rusted; we’ve had a significant amount of property-damage claims.

“Overall, we just wanted to maintain the structural integrity of the building,” she went on, “because it’s the main garage in the city, and there’s no plan at present to replace it, so we needed to do somewhat of an intermediate level of repair.”

For the past several weeks, Marois Construction has set up shop in the garage, barricading off large swaths of parking spaces as workers perform a number of repairs aimed at keeping the structure serviceable for the near future. The job is expected to be finished in mid-November.

Marois submitted a bid of $889,940, the lowest of three bids received. The others were Contracting Specialists Inc. of Attleboro for $1,099,750, and P.J. Spillane of Everett for $1,463,890.

Renovations include a host of needed upgrades, McNally said. “They’ll fix the drainage and fix the waterproofing, restore the roof integrity, and install new drains. There will be some painting, some remortaring of the exits, some of the cinderblock needs to be restored, and many of the bar joists, which support the deck structure on each floor, need to be replaced. They’re also resurfacing some of the concrete on the lower levels that get the most traffic.”

Joe Marois, president of the South Hadley-based contractor, said the goal is to complete an intermediate repair that will hold up for the foreseeable future whether or not the garage is eventually rebuilt.

“We’ve recently finished up all the concrete, masonry, and block repairs that had to be done. We’re changing out some of the plumbing, drainage, and so forth, and doing some miscellaneous concrete repair and reinforcing some of the existing steel,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re addressing the concerns in the city’s engineering report.”

Shuffling the Decks

Garage Beam

rusted ironwork in the garage

Top: some of the rusted ironwork in the garage. Bottom: one of many areas off-limits to parkers until issues with drainage and loose debris can be remedied.

The 44-year-old MassMutual Center garage — which borders Harrison Avenue, Dwight Street, and Falcons Way — is the oldest and highest-volume garage in Springfield’s central business district, with a maximum capacity of 1,232 vehicles.

But the structure has been problematic for users for some time, with certain areas roped off on occasion to protect vehicles from debris. Preserving its functionality is critical at a time when the city will lose close to 500 spaces from two downtown parking garages under the I-91 viaduct.

That viaduct is undergoing a massive reconstruction that will close down a mile-long stretch of the interstate for at least two years starting this fall, making hundreds of parking spaces off limits. But McNally, who meets with state Department of Transportation officials every three weeks to review the upcoming construction schedule, is convinced the central district will have enough parking.

“I was worried a year ago, but not currently,” she said. “The contractor [Framingham-based J.F. White Contracting Co.] is very cognizant of the impact on both garages, north and south. I’ve been assured repeatedly at these meetings that they will do what they say they’ll do — and the contract they have with the state requires that they take no more than 450 spaces from the second levels on both garages. With the current occupancy and capacity, I don’t expect any problems at all. That’s very good news.”

One reason for reassurance is the fact that the repair work on the nearby MassMutual Center garage promises to recapture about 100 spaces perennially lost, especially in the winter, to leakage and drainage problems. “If those issues are remedied, those spaces come back,” she said.

In addition, McNally noted, the fifth-level roof deck, which is typically chained off, may also be available for use soon, bringing all 1,232 spaces in the garage back into play.

“There have been considerable engineering studies assuring us the roof deck is safe for parking, and that’s 200 spaces,” she explained. “The roof was never declared unsafe, but there wasn’t demand for it. We anticipated there would be demand, though, which is why we went ahead and did those tests, giving us the comfort that it’s safe.”

Looking Forward

The Springfield Parking Authority, which is funded by parking revenues, oversees on-street and off-street parking in Springfield, including the downtown parking garages. The Marois project is part of a $4 million capital plan for improvements to city garages.

The Parking Authority has also been working with MGM Springfield on a long-term commuter-parking arrangement during construction of the $800 million casino in Springfield’s South End — necessary, because the project footprint will eliminate several parking areas in the district.

Marois said both major construction projects downtown — the viaduct restoration and the casino — are going to strain parking options to some degree, making his company’s repair work on the MassMutual Center garage that much more important.

“I totally think that’s going to be a big deal,” he said. “We’re going to lose a lot of spaces underneath the viaduct while they’re doing that work. I think the city has taken the right steps here in anticipation of that shortage.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

Staying Plugged in to Opportunity

David Mitowski and Tim Hodnicki

David Mitowski and Tim Hodnicki stand near a van for Generator Boss, a new division created by Easthampton Electrical Services.

Easthampton Electrical Services, launched 60 years ago by Henry Mitowski, has always been entrepreneurial in nature, expanding from its roots in residential work to commercial customers, especially large apartment complexes. Today, this entrepreneurial bent continues with two new divisions, one focused on sales and service of home generators, and the other on a unique model for residential service. Overall, the company is keeping up with current trends — literally and figuratively.

Easthampton Electrical Services has been successful in a challenging niche market, and this track record is something President David Mitowski is quite proud of.

The company specializes in major apartment renovations, which is difficult work, because the units are usually occupied, and, unlike working in a new-construction setting, where electricians do their work and leave, they not only have to interact with residents, they also work alongside plumbers, carpenters, and other professionals who are doing renovations in the same unit at the same time.

“It takes a lot of teamwork and complex coordination, and can be slow and tedious,” said Mitowski. “We have to schedule things with the contractor and take part in daily and weekly meetings.”

The personality of their electricians factors heavily into the work because they need to be friendly and personable as the job may require moving tenants’ furniture, interacting with them, and explaining what they are doing.

“They need to put the tenant at ease, diffuse any animosity before it happens and do a really good job cleaning up. We leave a place in better shape than when we get there,” Mitowksi said.

But while the company has thrived on this demanding playing field, it has by no means been limited to it.

Indeed, as the firm started 60 years ago by Mitkowski’s father, Henry, soon after he finished his tour of duty with the Marine Corps, marks that milestone, it can also celebrate business diversity and an entrepreneurial spirit.

One could say that Easthampton Electrical has remained plugged in — figuratively speaking in this case — to changes within the industry and new and potentially lucrative opportunities.

The company has created two new divisions over the past few years, both of which are in the process of being trademarked.

The first, called Generator Boss, was born in response to recognized need after several recent weather calamities that created sizable and prolonged power outages, including the 2011 tornado and October nor’easter the same year.

As the names suggests, this venture involves the sale, installation, and service of home generators, and to date it has proven a sound addition to the company’s portfolio of services.

As has the other new division, called Electrical Experts, which is limited strictly to residential work, which runs the gamut from replacing an electrical outlet to resetting a circuit breaker or changing all of the wiring in a house.

What makes this service different from the way other contractors work is that everything has a pre-set price listed on a menu, and their trucks carry thousands of parts, making it highly unusual for an electrician to have to leave a job and return, which saves the homeowner and the company time and money.

Together, these various business divisions have made Easthampton Electrical a powerful player in the highly competitive local market, one with strong growth potential.

For this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest looks at the company’s first 60 years of keeping the lights on, and how the future looks even brighter.

Watt’s Happening

David Mitkowski said he started working with and beside his father when he was roughly 10 years old.

He told BusinessWest that all through high school and college, the plan was not to get involved with the family business. However, after graduating from college in 1973 with a degree in psychology, he realized he didn’t want to continue his schooling, which was necessary to pursue a job in that field.

“I was at a crossroads,” he said, while explaining why he decided to go join his father and eventually succeed him as president.

“My father had four employees at the time and did mostly small commercial and residential jobs, but I went to an estimating school and started bidding on big projects, such as schools and fire stations,” he went on, adding that his father handled the smaller jobs as he transitioned the company into the commercial, industrial, and bid market.

Since that time, Easthampton Electric has renovated more than 2,000 apartments and approximately 2 million square feet of commercial and industrial space. It has also completed more than 100 new residential projects and an equal number of new commercial and industrial jobs.

“At one point in the 80s, we had 35 employees. But then the economy took a downturn and we had to scale back,” Mitowski said, as he outlined the firm’s history and its tradition of doing quality work.

David Mitowski

David Mitowski says electricians at Easthampton Electrical Services are carefully chosen not only for their technical skills, but their ability to relate well to people.

Today, 75% of the company’s work involves renovating apartments, and Mitowski said it has become known for its ability to excel in this area. And due to its long history, in some cases it is returning to places it has worked at in the past; for example, it handled the original electric work when Heritage Green in Sturbridge was built 25 years ago, and went back for a second time as it helped rehab the apartment complex and bring it up to current standards.

Personality and the willingness to help others also comes into play in this niche, because the tradespeople working in an apartment must be willing to help each other.

“We might need to help a plumber lift a sink into place, but they will turn around and help us later,” Mitowski explained. “You can teach someone to do electrical work, but you can’t teach them respect for others and give them a likeable attitude, and we put as much emphasis on that when we hire someone as we do on their skills.”

The company recently finished rehabbing Colonial Estates in Springfield, and, overall, the work included installing new kitchens, bathrooms, lighting, smoke detectors, and safety upgrades in the 500-unit complex. “Right now, we’re working on an apartment complex in Pittsfield and also just finished 100 units in Pittsfield,” Mitowski said.

Although the atmosphere is not for everyone, Tim Hodnicki, who has been with the firm for 14 years and was recently named vice president, enjoys working in a team environment.

“We all come together to get a job done and try to complete it as quickly as possible. For example, everyone needed to revamp a kitchen goes in the same time and we may be able to install a brand new one in a day or two because we help each other,” he said. “The tradespeople work as a unit, which helps to forge strong relationships and leads to repeat business. It’s very different than working in new construction because everyone has to get along.”

Amping Up

In many ways, though, the second generation of the company has been as entrepreneurial as the first, especially in recent years and with the addition of new business ventures.

These expansion efforts have involved seizing opportunites as they have presented themselves, said Mitowski, and this was especially true with Generator Boss.

He said the idea was formulated after he received a call from General Electric and Briggs and Stratton asking if he wanted to sell generators.

“We had installed commercial models, but realized no one in the area was installing whole home automatic generators,” he noted, adding that although people were buying them from local stores, they had to hire a plumber and electrician to install them, and if something went wrong, they had no way to know which professional to contact.

Hodnicki agreed, and said people appreciate not having to call different professionals.

“We do the entire installation and all the maintenance, which includes yearly oil changes,” he explained. “The generators have been really popular; they kick on as soon as the power goes off and keep the heat on in the winter and the air conditioning going in the summer.

“They’re especially important if people have a well or have medical issues,” he went on, adding that price varies depending on the size of the home and how much the homeowner wants to operate, but the cost typically ranges from $5,000 to $10,000.

“They give people independence and security during a storm,” Mitowski said. “We installed one in Chester and the homeowner called us later and told us he lost power the next day.”

Meanwhile, the decision to launch Electrical Experts was made last September after Mitowski once again received a call.

It came from Success Group International in Florida, which asked if he was interested in joining a network of providers that use the same small business plan, which includes a pre-set price system, and is based on a model that was created after defining best practices for plumbers, roofers, heating and air conditioning specialists, and electricians.

Mitowski said the concept appealed to him, because the company hadn’t done much residential work after he transitioned it into the commercial/industrial sector.

The new venture involved a tremendous amount of training, and prices had to be adjusted to fit the Western Mass. geographic area, but the new branch of the company opened in March and has done very well.

“We’re very responsive, and schedule specific service times so customers don’t have to wait for someone to show up,” Hodnicki said.

He spent an enormous amount of time and energy training the electricians assigned to the new division and new method of pricing, but says it eliminates inefficiencies and is more cost effective than the usual way of doing business.

Mitowski concurs. “In the past, people would call us with a problem and we would send an electrician to their home who might have to go to the store and get a part. After they returned to the office, we would price the visit and send the person a bill,” he said, adding that one of customers’ biggest complaints has always been that a job takes too long. “We realize some people work faster than others, but this doesn’t affect the customer now because we charge a uniform price and they know what the work will cost right down to the penny before we start.

“Payments are made immediately after we finish, and we can get people approved for financing if they need it,” he went on. “No one else in the area has a system like this.”

Customers can also elect to sign up for a yearly plan, which costs $9.95 a month and gives them a discounted price on all services, a free annual inspection of their home’s electrical service, and waives any dispatch fees. “It includes checking every smoke detector and installing new batteries,” Mitowski said. “The yearly plan is especially good for people in older homes with aging electrical systems because we can keep an eye on things.”

Every electrician assigned to the division has been carefully screened and must undergo regular drug testing. “We believe it will help eliminate any doubts a homeowner might have about letting someone into their home,” Hodnicki said, adding that yearly background checks are also planned.

In addition, the company began installing EZ Breathe Ventilation Systems in people’s basements a year ago, a type of exhaust fan that can cover up to 7,000 square feet and maintain healthy humidity levels for $2 to $4 per month, eliminating the need for a dehumidifier.

“Before we decided to install the units we put one in the basement here. This building is about 100 years old and it got rid of the musty odor and all of the moisture,” Mitowski said, adding that the units cost $1,500 to $1,700 and bring fresh dry air into a basement while expelling odors, mold spores and contaminated air.

Wired for Growth

Mitowski is enthusiastic about the company’s new ventures, and says Easthampton Electrical’s future is bright.

“We have a lot of good things going on,” he said. “Our new divisions have exceeded our expectations and we’re very excited about their potential for success. We’re looking to grow, and this gives us a better chance to serve the local community. Rehabilitation work is great, but we want to serve more homeowners and make sure they get the value for their dollar that they expect.”

He added that Hodnicki wants to continue to expand the business, which is another bright spot for the company as it seeks out new ways to serve the residents of Western Mass. and Connecticut.

Construction Sections
Union Station Project Moves to Critical Next Phase

Bob Aquadro

Bob Aquadro stands inside the gutted central concourse at Union Station. Inset: an architect’s rendering of the planned new concourse.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno had probably been inside the old terminal building at Union Station a few dozen times since he was elected in November 2007, for press conferences, meetings with state officials, and assorted other gatherings staged to inform the public about its pending revitalization.

He had become quite familiar with the dark, dank interior of the old station, which has sat vacant and unused for more than 35 years, and many of its features, such as the terrazzo floor, some relics from the golden age of rail, the central concourse, and the famous clock stationed at its south end, its hands seemingly frozen in time.

So the mayor was somewhat taken aback when he walked in the 89-year-old building earlier this month as BusinessWest was offered a tour and update on the ongoing construction there.

He barely recognized the place, and for good reason.

The interior had been gutted right down to the brick walls and the structural steel support beams. The skeletal steel frame of the concourse, with its various-sized arches, was all that was left of the once-proud centerpiece. The clock was gone, and the tunnel that connected the terminal with Lyman Street and the rail platforms above was open for the first time in what is believed to be three decades. The mezzanine and third floors, also gutted to the walls, were inaccessible because the stairways to them had been torn down.

“Wow … this is really opened up,” said Sarno as he walked in the front entrance with Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief development officer. “This place is huge.”

The work to gut the interior, revealing just how massive the landmark on Frank B. Murray Way is, represents some of the still-early-stage work in a massive, long-awaited, $76 million project to convert the long-dormant station into an intermodal transportation center and, hopefully, revitalize the area surrounding Springfield’s famous Arch. For Sarno and Kennedy, this is a multi-faceted economic-development initiative, one designed to restore a landmark but also create momentum and spur additional activity.

But for Bob Aquadro, senior project manager with Holyoke-based Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, it’s merely the latest — and also one of the largest, most challenging, and most complex — projects in a long career in construction.

Indeed, this multi-phase endeavor entails both new construction — especially a six-level parking garage and adjacent bus terminal — and historic renovation of both the station’s interior and exterior. Meanwhile, it also involves a host of constituencies, especially the two railroads — Amtrak and CSXT — that own the rails above the station and run several trains over them each day at speeds sometimes exceeding 40 miles per hour.

This project also features some rather tight deadlines and extremely difficult work — with both of those elements in evidence with efforts to waterproof that aforementioned tunnel area, one of the next steps in this intricate process.

“This is one of the most complex processes that I have seen in many years — there are a lot of players, and there’s a lot to put together to make this come off properly,” Aquadro said, referring to the tunnel work specifically, but also the project as a whole. “And once we get the railroads on board, we have a detailed phase-in plan for going through their yard and digging up that tunnel.”

There will be many other challenges involved with this endeavor, and for this issue and its focus on construction, BusinessWest looks at how, collectively, they will make this project as intriguing as it is historic.

UnionStationOldDays

Union Station

At top, Union Station not long after it opened in 1926. Above, an architect’s rendering of the renovated station, bus depot, and parking garage.


Platform Issues

Union Station wouldn’t be the first Springfield landmark that Daniel O’Connell’s Sons has constructed — or reconstructed, as the case may be.

Indeed, the company handled the massive rehabilitation of the of the Memorial Bridge in the early ’90s, and it also handled the $60 million initiative to build a new federal courthouse on State Street, a three-year project that was completed in 2008.

Aquadro served as project manager for the federal courthouse work, as he did for construction of the new, $80 million Taunton Trial Court, his most recent major assignment, and another endeavor that stretched through three building seasons.

“Projects I tend to get involved with are generally very lengthy,” said Aquadro with a laugh, adding that work to revitalize Union Station and build its related components will certainly continue that trend. By the time a ceremonial ribbon is cut in 2017, he will have spent close to four years on this assignment.

As he talked about the project, he and Clerk of the Works Leroy Clink stressed that there are many moving parts and a number of intriguing elements — starting with the station itself.

It is coming up on its 90th birthday, said Aquadro, and it is certainly showing its age — not to mention the fact that it has spent more than half its lifetime is serious decline or complete dormancy.

Indeed, like most all of the grand rail facilities, many of them called Union Station, built in the first two decades of the 20th century — many conceived to replace earlier structures that ushered in the era of rail travel — Springfield’s landmark fell victim to the rise of air travel and the nation’s interstate highway system, both of which began altering the landscape in the 1950s.

Changes in how Americans got from one place to another eventually led to the destruction of many of those stations, including, famously (or infamously as the case may be), New York’s Pennsylvania Station, torn down in the early ’60s. Others fell into serious decline and were eventually revitalized and often repurposed. That list includes Washington D.C.’s Union Station, New York’s Grand Central Terminal, Boston’s North Station, Worcester’s Union Station, and many others.

Springfield’s Union Station had to wait much longer than those facilities, but perseverance, especially on the part of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and Kennedy, who once served as Neal’s senior aide, finally paid off.

Plans to convert the station into an intermodal transit center and mixed-use facility, which have been on the drawing board for more than 20 years, are finally becoming reality, although most of those mixed uses proposed over the years — everything from an IMAX theater to a day-care facility to various forms of retail — have been shelved or scrapped altogether.

What survived were plans to restore the station to something approaching its former glory — at least in terms of aesthetics — and outfit it to accommodate expanded rail service within the region, and also build a new facility that would handle intercity, and perhaps intracity, bus travel.

Work at the station has actually been underway for well over a year now, with much of it focused on asbestos removal — an intricate and time-consuming effort — and then demolition of the station’s former baggage area to make way for the new bus facilities.

Given the station’s advanced age and decades of dormancy, crews spent considerable time assessing its condition and looking for possible surprises, said Aquadro, adding that designers and engineers needed to know what they were up against moving forward.

“That’s one of the reasons we did all this work early, to help the designers see what’s here, because it is very difficult,” he told BusinessWest. “We had to remove a lot of asbestos, and just removing the roof gave us an awful lot of information. There were some surprises, but it goes along with the investigation; this structure was built under different building standards than what we use today, and all of that had to be looked at.”

The $76 million Union Station project

The $76 million Union Station project is a mix of new construction and historic renovation.

Dry Subject Matter

Until recently, most of the work at Union Station was conducted out of the public’s view, with asbestos removal and other steps inside the terminal, said Aquadro, adding that the physical landscape started changing with the demolition of the baggage building, which is not complete.

And it will continue to change in a number of ways over the next several months with the start of construction of the parking garage, the bus depot, and a new road that will connect Frank B. Murray Way with Liberty Street.

Still, much of the work will go on behind the scenes, said Clink, including the upcoming work to waterproof the tunnel area and safeguard the complex from rain water.

“The waterproofing that the original builders put on this facility has failed; for this to become a working train station, that water has to be stopped,” he explained, adding that decades ago there were efforts to restore the tunnel without dealing with the water problems, and they met with disastrous results.

“This passenger tunnel is such a challenging piece because there are so many parties involved,” he went on, listing Amtrak, CSXT, and the Mass. Department of Transportation as just a few.

Dealing with these parties has been time-consuming, frustrating, and, yes, expensive, he added, noting that rail officials charge the city (and therefore those budgeting this project) for the time and effort negotiating how the trains will continue running throughout this process.

But all that has occurred to date will likely be a relative walk in the park compared with what’s to come, said Clink, adding that the waterproofing work on the track level must be carefully orchestrated so as not to seriously disrupt rail service, while also keeping construction workers safe.

Elaborating, he noted, as Aquadro did, that all rail service cannot be halted while crews for the railroads essentially remove or raise track, and the construction company that wins the bid for this stage of the project builds what amounts to a waterproof membrane around the nearly century-old tunnel. Instead, the work will be done in five stages, one set of tracks at a time, with CSXT actually laying some new, temporary track — known as a shoo-fly track — so trains can effectively travel around the work in progress.

This work is called positive-side waterproofing, said Aquadro, and it cannot be done in cold weather, which means the clock is ticking. Winter is eight months away, but that time will go by quickly, and Aquadro estimates it will take perhaps five or six weeks to complete each of the five phases.

“It’s a very tight timetable — there is very little margin for error,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the original starting date was April 1, which is now well in the rear-view mirror.

On the Right Track

Making the terminal building itself more weathertight will be much easier, said Aquadro, adding that water problems there were caused by leaks in the roof which will soon be addressed.

“And once it’s watertight, it’s sheetrock and studs, and off we go,” he said, referring to work to build out the old train station and its central concourse, which will have new and appropriate finishes and of obviously a more modern look.

The exterior of the building, while it still appears solid, needs some work as well, he said, adding that, when this project is completed, Springfield will have a unique and functional blend of old and new.

Like the trains that run above it, this project is all about moving parts, he noted in conclusion, and making everything run on time.

It’s a challenge — actually, a series of them — that he’s attacking head on.


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

Construction Sections
Safco Foam Insulation Helps Homeowners Fill In the Gaps

Stuart Fearn (center, with certified sprayers Todd Kinney, left, and Tyler Jenson)

Stuart Fearn (center, with certified sprayers Todd Kinney, left, and Tyler Jenson) says customers see spray-foam insulation as an investment that pays off in lower heating and cooling bills.

Stuart Fearn was a mechanical engineer by trade, but when the plant where he worked closed 12 years ago, he decided to switch gears and try his hand at entrepreneurship, figuring the sky was the limit.

Well, the roof, anyway.

“I looked at a bunch of different fields I might get into, and I came across spray-foam insulation,” he told BusinessWest. “I had never heard of it before, and I looked into it and studied it for months. I talked to people in the industry — suppliers and contractors from other areas, all over the United States — and I found out this was the real deal. So I decided to start my own business.”

He launched his Hampden-based company, Safco Foam Insulation, in 2003, touting the product’s ability to seal buildings more tightly than with fiberglass insulation, thereby reducing customers’ costs for heating and cooling. The timing, as it turned out, was ideal because of what was happening with energy prices at the time.

“When I started, those prices had started to rise. So my first five or six years in business, I saw 30% growth every year. Now I have multiple trucks and full-time crews, certified sprayers who have been working with me for more than eight years. All we do is spray-foam insulation.”

The upside for customers, Fearn noted, is the quality of the product. “The only downside is that it costs more money — initially.”

However, he said, “we did a cost analysis, and the average payback time is three years. It’s a no-brainer; it’s money in the bank. I ask people, ‘what else are you going to spend money on in your house that’s going to pay for itself? Nothing.’”

About 75% of Safco’s business comes through building and remodeling contractors — with about a 50-50 split between commercial and residential jobs — and the rest of the Fearn’s clients are homeowners.

“I’ve insulated hospitals; last year, we did a brand-new hotel,” he said. “We did the Pine Point Library renovation on Boston Road in Springfield. And we’ve done five or six jobs for Kringle Candle, which is a super-green company.”

Fearn recently sat down with BusinessWest to explain how spray foam is creating more energy-efficient new homes — and perhaps extending the lives of some older ones.

Expansion Mode

Spray-foam insulation, he explained, is sprayed onto any open surface or studded wall after electrical and plumbing services are in place. In seconds, the product expands to 100 times its initial liquid volume, permanently adhering to the surfaces of the surrounding building materials and sealing all gaps. The foam takes less than one minute to cure, and can be covered with sheetrock boards within a few minutes.

Icynene, the specific spray-foam brand Safco uses, is ‘hydrophobic,’ drying quickly after contact with water and losing none of its insulating properties. But it’s also breathable, so any moisture in the building’s concrete or lumber escapes through the foam, thus eliminating any risk of mildew or mold.

“It’s a solid, so it controls air movement, and condensation is eliminated,” he explained. “When that happens, it prevents rot, mold, mildew, all kinds of bad things. And the building life is a lot longer.”

For those reasons and others, “it’s becoming more and more popular, not only here in Western Mass., but all over the country,” Fearn said. “In Eastern Mass., around the Boston area, inside of 495, spray-foam insulation is the rule right now. It has the majority of the market share in certain pockets of the country.”

He noted that, across the country, insulation sales overall went up 6% last year, reflecting an uptick in construction following several lean or middling years. “But Icynene sales and market share went up double that,” he said. “The spray-foam business is growing throughout the country, along with awareness of the product.”

That awareness is being driven partly by popular home-improvement shows on the HGTV and DIY networks, he said. “About 50 people at the Home and Garden Show told me they saw this on Holmes on Homes, which uses it almost every week. They’ve used spray foam on This Old House. It’s becoming mainstream, and building codes are now encouraging it.”

When Fearn launched his enterprise, there were spray-foam insulators in Pittsfield and Charlton, but the field has since become far more crowded as the product becomes more popular with contractors and homeowners.

“We’re in a good place right now, but it is a very competitive environment. That means everyone has to be cost-competitive — and I haven’t raised my prices in probably seven or eight years,” he told BusinessWest. “At the same time, we’ve invested in the best equipment so my guys can work more efficiently, so we don’t have to raise prices.”

That’s the same kind of long-term cost analysis that consumers and contractors bring to the spray-foam decision, he noted, understanding that the initial cost up front is eventually surpassed by lower heating and cooling costs.


Keeping Cool

The proof, to Fearn, is in satisfied clients, noting that his company has completed more than 2,000 jobs. He ran into many of them at the recent Western Mass. Home & Garden Show at the Eastern States Exposition, and counted at least 24 fellow vendors through which his company had obtained work.

Indeed, spray foam saw an explosion in popularity over the past decade; in 2008, it represented about 3% of all new-home insulation but rose to 11% in 2012, riding a tide of stricter home-energy codes, according to a report by Home Innovation Research Labs.

But that figure fell back to 8% in 2013, and it may have to do with cost, the report noted. “Home builders are economizing across multiple product categories, using fewer and less expensive materials. This was seen in porches, decks, windows, flooring, and other product categories.” Meanwhile, with spray foam more common in higher-end homes, the market shift toward multi-family homes, currently accounting for one-third of all new home starts, might be keeping spray-foam sales down.

Still, Fearn continues to make inroads with the product, recounting a customer he saw at the show, a homeowner from Enfield. “He said, ‘thank you, thank you … you insulated my Cape, and it’s unbelievable; it’s super warm up there. I don’t even run the heat on the second floor anymore; I just heat it from the first floor, and the second floor stays warm, within two degrees of the first floor.’

“He was ecstatic,” Fearn went on, “but I said, ‘if you think you’re happy now, wait until the summer.’ Customers notice an even greater improvement in the summer, especially in a two-story house. Because of the foam insulation against the roof, it stops heat from coming in in the first place.

“Most people in our neck of the woods, when they think about insulation, they think of the terrible winter that just ended, and everyone thinks about heating,” he added. “But when are all the electrical brownouts? In the summer.”

Simply put, he argued, a product like spray-foam insulation reduces dependence on air conditioning, which reduces the load on the entire electrical grid. “The peak load on the grid comes during the summer. If we want to lower electrical demand in the summer, most of it comes in the form of AC. If we could minimize that, it would go a long way toward helping out our entire electrical infrastructure.”

Fearn noted that homes don’t have to be small or aesthetically dull to save on energy.

“These buildings insulated with foam are super-efficient, and they’re going to be affordable to keep around,” he said. “There are large, Victorian houses in Forest Park and Hill-McKnight in Springfield, and they’re beautiful. But if there’s a little more price increase in energy, those may be extinct because people just cannot afford to live in them and heat them.

“A large portion of the existing housing stock that is like that,” he went on. “That’s very worrisome to me. But it’s also market possibility for me.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections
Recreation of Monticello Was A Project for the Ages

S. Prestley Blake takes a photo of the replica of Monticello he had built in Somers.

S. Prestley Blake takes a photo of the replica of Monticello he had built in Somers.

Bill Laplante remembers the phone call like it was yesterday.

That’s because it seemingly came out of nowhere, and also because it marked the unofficial start of easily the most intriguing — and also one of the more challenging — endeavors in his long career as a home builder, and what he would repeatedly call “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

On the other end of the line was S. Prestley Blake, the then-98-year-old co-founder of Friendly Ice Cream and admirer of both Jefferson and the Laplante company’s work — it built the home his daughter and son in law now reside in, and also the new residence for the president of Springfield College (erected a dozen years ago), for which Blake developed a deep appreciation regarding both its design and workmanship.

“He said ‘Bill … I’m thinking about building a replica of Monticello in Somers,’” said Laplante, president of the East Longmeadow-based firm launched by his father, Ray. “He said he wanted me to come over and assess the property, take a look at things, review the site plans … that’s how it all started.”

It all ended just a few months ago, with a black-tie party that was combination early 100th birthday bash and open house attended by more than 250 people at what would have to be called ‘Blake’s Monticello,’ although it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever spend a night in it.

This Monticello, slightly smaller than the original, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Va., is what Blake, reached by BusinessWest in Florida, called, alternately, a “gift to the community,” his “swan song,” and “something I’m doing for posterity, not profit.”

Indeed, he expects to certainly lose money on the home currently on the market with a sticker price of $6.5 million, roughly $1 million less than what it cost to buy the land, raze what was on it, and build the landmark. There have been a few inquiries, and those interested will have to eventually impress Blake, who has the final say on this sale and insists he’ll only sell to someone who has both the requisite financial wherewithal and the same commitment to the community that he does.

As for Laplante, his crews, and lead design consultant Jennifer Champigny (not to mention Prestley Blake and his wife Helen) the endeavor quickly became a labor of love, a project no one really wanted to see end, although everyone involved was firmly committed to getting things done before Blake became a centenarian last November. Overall, the huge undertaking was completed in an impressive 14 months, more than three decades less than it took Jefferson to complete the original.

“The whole project, from start to finish, was a lot of fun … everyone who worked on it, from day one, thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Laplante. “It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The building process, began in the spring of 2013, soon after Blake closed on the nine acres of land off Hall Hill Road, just a few hundred yards from the Massachusetts border, and the structures built on it (owned then by the estate of the late Big Y co-founder Gerry D’Amour and his wife Jeanne). It was preceded by a visit to the original Monticello by Laplante and his father.

They took hundreds of photographs, made volumes of notes, and purchased the book Monticello in Measured Drawings, which soon became invaluable.

Bill Laplante

Bill Laplante, standing in the foyer at the
Somers Monticello, called the project the “opportunity
of a lifetime.”

Using these resources, the Laplante company built an almost exact replica of the exterior of Jefferson’s home, and an ultra-modern, luxurious — and ‘green’ —interior. Both elements can certainly turn heads.

“I think this is the most prominent private house in the country,” Blake told BusinessWest in reference to his creation, noting that this assessment is based on aesthetics and the model that inspired it, not sheer size or features. “The White House is the most prominent house in the country, but that’s owned by the government. This is a private house I built on my own.”

For this issue and its focus on contruction, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at why Blake’s Monticello came to be built and how. In the course of doing so, it became clear why those who view the house use the same word to describe it as those called upon to recount the building process: memorable

Landmark Decisions

They eventually dubbed it ‘Monticello Highway.’

That was the name given to the path that Blake had carved between the site of the Somers Monticello and his own home, just a few hundred yards away (the properties abut).

Blake would take that path on his small, four-wheel-drive motorized vehicle called a ‘Gator,’ said Laplante, adding that he was at the construction site by 7:30 a.m. almost every day he was in this region to observe, take photos, and offer both suggestions and commentary — mostly the latter, because he gave great latitude to the builders.

What the Blakes saw emerge on the gently rolling parcel is one of the few replicas of Monticello in this country — there’s a bank modeled after it in Monticello, Ind., and a chiropractor’s office in Paducah, Ky., for example — and certainly the most extensive and expensive.

The Monticello in Somers has a number of things the one in Charlottesville doesn’t, including:

• A three-car garage;
• A tiled patio atop the three-car garage, which was a very popular gathering spot during the party in October;
• An elevator;
• Laundry rooms on the first and second floors;
• A wine chiller;
• Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances;
• A pantry with floor-to-ceiling cabinets, a so-called library ladder to reach those heights, and leathered granite counter tops;
• Five full baths complete with walk-in showers, towel warmers, and other amenities;
• Coffee stations in most of the rooms and a second-floor kitchenette; and
• Geothermal heating and cooling.

It does, however, have many of the same exterior features, including the white columns, roof ballustrades, and signature dome at the front of the structure (or the back at the original Monticello; the back entrance was the main entrance in Jefferson’s time), and some interior elements as well, including a tea room, a lavish foyer (although the one in Somers has a double staircase), ornate hard-wood floors, and so-called great room.

DownHallRooms

At top, the dining room in the Somers Monticello, and above, the bathroom off the master bedroom.

At top, the dining room in the Somers Monticello, and above, the bathroom off the master bedroom.

Retelling the story of how it all came about, Laplante said Blake was never particularly fond of the large estate built by the D’Amours, and has always been enamored with Monticello, architecturally and otherwise, and conceived a project to replace one with the other and, in the process, build something memorable and lasting.

As Blake was finalizing his purchase of the site, he was also engaging Laplante on the undertaking to come.

The trip to Charlottesville was educational and therefore quite helpful, said Laplante, adding that this was his first visit to the landmark.

“We met with the people giving the tours of Monticello, we toured the entire facility, and took a number of photographs, including many detailed photographs,” he explained. “We were focusing on the exterior of the building, because the original plan called for building a replica of Monticello, especially with regard to the exterior façade, but make it into a modernized single-family home on the inside — something that someone would be interested in purchasing and living in.”

Monticello in Measured Drawings became a valuable resource, he went on, adding that it was assembled by an architectural group that recreated scaled drawings of the original.

“It was very difficult, because there were areas that were 1:32 scale, because of the size of the house and obviously the size of the book,” Laplante explained. “We were dealing with very, very small scale, but it was very helpful having that, as well as the photos we took of the original and the tours we took.”

Glory Details

Beyond the basic mission of reproducing the original Monticello’s exterior, the Blakes’ only real instructions to the builders were simple, said Laplante, adding that he was told not to spare any expense, to build a replica as exacting as possible, and, inside “to make every room spectacular.”

And by all accounts, he and his crews followed those instructions to the letter.

Attention to detail can be seen in many aspects of the recreation work, including the brick used. Bricks in the original were hand-made made on-site in Virginia, said Laplante, adding that those used in Somers were also hand-made and cast to look like what was used in the early 19th century.

The decision was made early on to place the dome at the front of the house, the side facing Hall Hill Road, said Laplante, adding that the ‘front’ façade of the replica is, by his estimation, 98% accurate to scale.

One of the main differences between the two Monticellos is that the one in Virginia has an open porch, complete with arched-brick openings, on the left side, while the one in Somers has an enclosed hearth room, located just off the kitchen, in that location.

Also, Jefferson’s Monticello had a room inside the dome, while the one in Somers does not, and the second-floor windows in the replica are larger than those in the original to meet modern building codes.

“Working around the windows was perhaps the biggest challenge in designing this, because we were designing an interior around an exterior that was built 200 years ago,” he said, adding that both the original and replica (at least from the ‘front’ view) are two-story homes that don’t look like two-story homes.

The kitchen in the Somers Monticello is certainly different than the one in Thomas Jefferson’s original in Charlottesville, Va.

The kitchen in the Somers Monticello is certainly different than the one in Thomas Jefferson’s original in Charlottesville, Va.

And while creating a modern interior within a two-century-old shell came complete with many challenges, that assignment gave the builders and designer plenty of opportunities to stretch their collective imaginations.

“From the beginning, the Blakes said, ‘we want every room we walk into to be spectacular,’” said Laplante. “But they didn’t micro-manage the design and the details; they let us come up with what we thought should be done.”

Some of the details were taken from the original, he went on, citing such things as floor patterns (although slightly different wood species were used), but the interior obviously bears little resemblance to the one in Charlottesville.

The kitchen in Jefferson’s Monticello was a simple facility in the basement. The kitchen in Somers is massive, with the most modern appliances and quartz countertops. The Monticello in Virginia had five outdoor privvys; the one in Somers has nine baths, many of then featuring Carrara marble.

The biggest difference between the two landmarks, however, is the ‘green’ nature of the replica. Jefferson heated with wood. The Somers home features geothermal heating and cooling equipment (which Laplante said is becoming increasingly popular due to attractive tax credits). It also has LED lighting, energy-efficient windows and doors, and icynene spray foam insulation. Meanwhile, raw materials from the site, including oak and cedar trees and red stone harvested from the parcel were used in the construction.

Overall, the buildings are worlds apart in terms of building materials and processes and creature comforts, but they look remarkably similar in large, framed photographs hanging side by side in the wood-paneled garage.

History in the Remaking

In addition to the party in October, the Blakes had a small gathering in the Somers landmark just before the holidays.

For the event, dubbed ‘Christmas at Monticello,’ the Blakes actually borrowed a few pieces of furniture and had some tables placed in the great room, said Laplante, who was among those invited.

The scene was a little strange, he recalled, but understandable because while the Blakes built the home, technically, it’s not theirs.

Soon, if the right buyer and right price come together, it will belong to someone. But it many respects, it will always belong to the community, said Blake, adding that, like the original, it was built to last and built to inspire.

And it is already doing just that.

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

Construction Sections
Outlook Improves for Commercial Builders, Despite Stiff Competition

Fred Snyder, left, and Eric Forish

Fred Snyder, left, and Eric Forish spend a moment outside the new Westfield Senior Center, one of many projects keeping Westfield-based Forish Construction busy.

It’s only January, but Keiter Builders Inc. in Florence already has challenging projects on its roster for spring and summer.

“We’re seeing signs that 2015 will be busy, and the year is shaping up to be a good one,” said company President Scott Keiter, as he went through a list of contracts the firm was recently awarded. “We don’t have all the work we need yet, but we’re looking forward to getting more in the spring. This time of year is always slow for us, but the jobs we have are multi-dimensional and we’re excited about what we have lined up.”

Dave Fontaine Jr. said Fontaine Brothers, Inc. in Springfield is also doing quite well and has enough to work to last through the end of the year.

In fact, he expects 2015 to be better than 2014, which was solid.

“Public projects slowed down last year compared to what we saw immediately following the recession. It wasn’t dramatic, but there was a little less work,” said the company’s vice president. “We do a lot for the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and they didn’t have as many jobs. But things seem to be normalizing and we have a lot of good opportunities for 2016; a decent amount of large-scale public work and private clients who want projects done; things seem to finally be settling into a relatively normal economic climate.”

Eric Forish agrees. “The recession has passed,” said the president of Forish Construction in Westfield as he explained that private projects diminished significantly for a few years during the downturn in the economy, but are on the rise again. “Last year was our best year ever and I believe that 2015 will be a very good one.”

Renaissance Builders in Turners Falls has also had plenty of work. “We were extremely busy last year. We hired four new field personnel and one new office worker,” said President Stephen Greenwald, adding that most of the company’s commercial projects were privately funded. “While they haven’t been large in volume, they were extremely steady throughout the year.”

Still, commercial builders agree that competition is stiff, particularly for public jobs, which requires meticulous attention to detail and an ability to bid low, but not too low.

“The economy has stabilized, but it’s a new reality; we’re still adjusting to it and don’t know whether we can trust it,” said Greenwald. “The margins are better, but they will never go back to what they were before the recession. If you want to stay competitive, and busy, you have to be extremely accurate in your bidding. There is no room for mistakes.”

Keiter concurred, and said his company works very hard to estimate projects appropriately, and more importantly, execute them. “Margins are lean, but we are bidding to be successful. We win some and lose some, but we believe our systems are efficient, which helps us stay more cost effective than some of our competitors,” he explained. “We put a lot of energy into developing systems across the board from sales and estimating to production.”

Local companies say that downsizing their expectations helped some of them weather the recession. “Things got tight for a few years and a lot of companies dove after work and lost money. But we knew what we needed to do; we were cautious and realistic and did not try to maintain the same volume,” Fontaine said.

Forish Builders took a similar approach. “One of the keys to our success is that we have always been a very lean and aggressive company,” said its president. “This was not the first recession our company has gone through, and because we have learned from our experience, we made adjustments quickly.”

Competitive Arena

Although the economy is improving, the landscape has changed for commercial builders, as national companies are now competing for local projects.

“Firms are setting up offices in Springfield,” Fontaine said, adding that there are two ways that commercial builders get public jobs. The first is by prequalifying as a general contractor and bidding competitively; and the second is to be selected as a construction manager at risk. In this scenario, the property owner or agency chooses a contractor based on its experience and fees, and they join the project team during the design phase.

Dave Fontaine Jr.

Dave Fontaine Jr. says the volume of both public and private construction projects has increased in recent months, and the trend should continue into 2015.

“It’s a fee-based system and that’s the market where a lot of larger companies are competing with us,” said Fontaine, adding that very large firms typically have sophisticated sales and marketing departments. “But we have been relatively successful. We have hard bid cost-efficiency experience as well as the expertise it takes to be a construction manager, which sometimes works to our advantage, especially with clients we’ve worked for in the past.”

Greenwald also noted an influx of competition.

“We showed up to walk through a simple job priced at $50,000, and there were 16 builders there, so we didn’t bother to bid on it,” he said. “In the last two years, we have seen more and more builders from out of the area bidding on public-works jobs that range from $50,000 to $2 million, so if we think we will be outbid, we don’t follow through.”

Renaissance Vice President Tricia Perham added that it takes time and money to put together a bid, and in the current market, the investment is not always worthwhile. “As a result, we’re focusing our energy on referrals and past clients. But ironically, sometimes a municipality wants to hire us but has to hire someone else, because they are mandated to take the lowest bid,” she said, adding that this happened recently in the town of Montague.

Forish recalled a recent public job that he believes might have drawn four to six bids prior to the recession. “There were 12 companies bidding for it,” he told BusinessWest. “There is less opportunity right now in the public sector than in the private sector. But I don’t worry about what other companies are selling. We are selling ourselves and our product is very strong.”

Some local contractors speculate that the national companies opening offices in the area are doing so because of the $800 million MGM Resorts International Casino that will be built in Springfield’s South End.

However, area commercial builders don’t expect to be hired to build the casino and although it is far too early to tell who will get the job, they believe it will go to a massive national or international company.

“But there may be other opportunities as companies relocate or find they need to expand when they begin providing services to the casino, so, it may indirectly help area contractors,” Forish said, adding that suppliers and subcontractors are likely to benefit from the casino complex.

Plentitude of Work

The firms BusinessWest interviewed say they are doing well, however, despite fierce competition and other factors.

Fontaine Brothers recently finished a new $85 million high school in West Springfield and is close to finishing work on the new, $33 million Auburn High School, which was done under construction management at risk.

In addition, the firm recently completed a new junior/senior high school in East Bridgewater as well as Monomoy Regional High School in Chatham.

“Worcester has also been a very strong market for us for the past 15 years, and we have a presence in Eastern Mass.,” said Fontaine. “But Western Mass is our home market.”

His company will continue to be busy throughout the winter as it begins work on a new elementary school in Athol and ground is broken for a library renovation in Shrewsbury. “We are also finishing up the renovation of the old Chicopee High School,” Fontaine said, adding that the entire interior was gutted.

Other projects include demolishing the Plains Elementary School in South Hadley and building a new one, as well as additions to Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter Immersion School in Hadley and Southwick High School.

“Our work through 2015 is solid, so we are focusing on picking up projects late in the year that will carry us through 2016-17,” Fontaine said.

Keiter Builders does some residential work and has contracts to build a few new homes this year. But it has also landed a significant number of commercial jobs, and recently finished the Convino Restaurant in the basement of Thornes Market in Northampton, which opened several weeks ago.

“The work was very involved, because the space had never been used for a restaurant before,” Keiter explained.

The builder also completed demolition and reconstruction of the entryway to the Smith College Conference Center last summer, and is wrapping up work on the Carroll Room in the Campus Center at the college, where it installed maple paneling.

Other projects include shoring up a number of large granite stairways for a private client on an historic, commercial building in Northampton and a residential housing upgrades project at Smith College.

“It’s multifaceted, involves multiple buildings, and will include roofing, new windows, paint, and upgrades to their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems,” Keiter said of the work at Smith. “The work will be done during an eight-week period over the summer when students are on break.”

In addition, Smith hired the firm to handle the McConnell Hall Observatory project, which includes removing a flat roof and putting a domed ceiling on the structure.

“We’re also working for Western Builders on a commercial project in Holyoke,” Keiter said, noting that it’s not uncommon for his company to subcontract with other area builders on large projects.

Forish said his firm is also busy. “We’re finishing a fire-protection system at the UMass Dubois Library as well as a wastewater treatment plant for Kanzaki Specialty Papers in Ware. And last summer we completed a highway department complex in Deerfield and a large addition to Holyoke Charter School,” he said, adding that work on the new Westfield Senior Center and a new facility for Sarat Ford Lincoln in Agawam is underway, as are large additions to Pioneer Valley Christian School and Astro Chemicals Inc.

Renaissance Builders also has its share of contracts. It is upgrading a manufacturing facility, renovating a multi-family apartment building for a commercial landlord in Northampton, and will replace a condominium complex in the spring in Gill that burned to the ground.

Paradigm Shift

Greenwald said the margins on private work have improved compared to what they were a few years ago. But improvement is relative, he added, because five to seven years ago, the numbers were a lot better. “We bid on projects if we think we have a good chance of getting the work, especially if it is a unique job with difficult logistics or circumstances and we have a good idea of how to solve the problem,” he told BusinessWest.

Indeed, the ability to do specialized work helps local commercial contractors. Fontaine said 90% of its work involves green building, and last year the firm was named as one of the “Top 100 Green Building Contractors” by the Engineering News Record.

Renaissance Builders also does its share of green building, and Perham said that has given the company an edge over other commercial builders. “We’ve put a lot of energy into training our employees in green-building techniques and energy efficiency. We have also done work for chemically sensitive clients,” she said.

Since the economy has improved, contractors agree that the forecast appears bright for the coming year. “Things in our network are slowly progressing in the right direction, and the year ahead in the Pioneer Valley looks good,” Keiter said.

Fontaine agreed. “The landscape has changed as larger firms have entered our market. But we are also competing with local firms that have been in the valley for decades,” he said. “Overall, we’re excited to see what 2015 will bring, and we certainly hope other local contractors do well, as it helps the local economy to have work stay here.”

Forish concurred. “Everyone had at least one tough year during the recession,” he said. “But we adjusted quickly, and things look better, at least for the short term. We hope it continues in the long term.”

Construction Sections
Houle Builds on Its Expertise in Healthcare Contracting

By KEVIN FLANDERS

Houle Construction President Tim Pelletier, left, and Vice President Bob Langevin

Houle Construction President Tim Pelletier, left, and Vice President Bob Langevin, with a ‘baffle box’ used to keep air free of dangerous particulates.

As a contractor specializing in projects at medical facilities, Raymond R. Houle Construction has seen the industry evolve dramatically since opening in 1977. Practices have changed. Regulations have tightened. Competition has increased.

But Ludlow-based Houle hasn’t been daunted by change, instead employing innovation and reinvention to succeed in a challenging business where plenty of other enterprises have failed.

Leading the way have been President Timothy Pelletier and Vice President Robert Langevin Jr., with more than 40 years combined at the company.

“We are healthcare-contractor-certified and have a tremendous amount of experience working in hospitals,” Pelletier said. “Our staff is up to date on all of the latest infection-control procedures.”

That’s critical in an age when construction at medical facilities has been far more closely scrutinized and regulated than in past decades. With the emergence, over the past 15 years, of new policies and protocols governing every project — from emergency departments to patient rooms — contractors must be certified before they can even consider working inside a hospital. Houle, boasting a staff of around 30 employees, is one of a few commercial builders in the area with experience in all aspects of healthcare construction.

Simply put, Pelletier said, his staff knows how to get the job done in situations where planning and execution are crucial. Hospitals are among the most challenging construction venues, partly because they can’t be shut down for weeks or months at a time to facilitate site work. As such, every member of the construction team must be adept at working seamlessly in an active medical environment, with minimal disruption to patients and staff.

For instance, “when you’re renovating an emergency department, you have to create a construction environment within the existing environment. The ER isn’t going to close so you can work,” he explained. And with hospital patients often resting in close proximity to where the work is being completed, he added, every procedure must be completed with an emphasis on safety and efficiency.

History in Healthcare

Operating in the beginning out of founder Raymond Houle’s garage in South Hadley, Houle Construction has evolved and grown to become one of the region’s noted contractors, particularly in the realm of medical facilities. The company’s clients have included Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Baystate Medical Center, Baystate Wing Hospital, Holyoke Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, the Sisters of Providence Health System, and Genesis Health Ventures, among others.

Tim Pelletier

Tim Pelletier says working on medical facilities means completing projects efficiently while keeping patients safe.

But becoming a leading area name in healthcare construction has been far from easy. For example, each time a new infection-control procedure is introduced, the company must adapt accordingly, and each time a new healthcare mandate is instituted, the staff must align its practices to the fresh industry standard. In some instances, uncertainty over new regulations required the Houle team to rely on innovation.

“We were told to figure it out and come up with a solution,” Pelletier said, recounting a situation about eight years ago when hospital infection-control departments began to implement new asbestos-abatement regulations in windowless areas of facilities.

In response to the changes, the staff invented what is now known in the industry as a ‘baffle box’ — a device used to diffuse torrents of air generated by negative air machines during asbestos-removal projects. Now made of plexiglass, the first such devices made by Houle were constructed of plywood and helped to safely exhaust dust and particles.

Not long after the creation of baffle boxes, Pelletier and Langevin recalled, hospitals were requiring the use of similar devices, and the competition was mimicking Houle’s design. Today the staff continues to search for new strategies to maximize safety and efficiency on the job site, well aware that they can’t afford to be complacent in a rapidly changing, increasingly policed industry.

The reasons for tighter controls are numerous. First, patient privacy laws have been tightened under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As for the renewed emphasis on infection control, there’s good reason for that. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine dropped a bombshell of a report called “To Err Is Human — to Delay Is Deadly,” claiming that up to 98,000 people were dying needlessly each year because of preventable medical harm, including hospital-acquired infections.

Since that time, hospitals have aggressively ramped up their infection-control protocols, and contractors that want a piece of the lucrative medical-facility construction niche have done the same. In fact, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters has created a training program for members who perform work in a clinical environment. The curriculum covers everything from controlling airborne contaminants to mold remediation to routing materials and personnel around patients and staff.

Bob Langevin

Bob Langevin says Ray Houle, the company’s founder, was a believer in figuring things out for himself, a trait he passed on to the current leadership.

“Hospital construction is a whole different animal,” Pelletier said. “It really isn’t like any other kind of construction. We are always looking for new ways to improve infection-control equipment. As we continue to do more projects, we learn better and faster ways to achieve results. You have to continually research the latest products so you can stay ahead of the curve and provide the best possible service to customers.”

Demonstrating the breadth of the firm’s work, he cited renovations to the fourth and fifth floors at Mercy Medical Center as one of the company’s largest recent projects, as well as a $10 million project for Specialized Technology Resources in Enfield, Conn., that converted a mushroom plant to a solar manufacturing facility. Houle also led a recent laboratory renovation at the John W. Lederle Graduate Research Center on the campus of UMass Amherst.

Drawing on Experience

Pelletier and Langevin ascribe their company’s sustained success to not only the staff’s commitment and hard work, but also the experience of each member. From the management team to those leading work in the field, Langevin said, everyone is on the same page and works collaboratively during each project.

“The core of the staff has been here for a minimum of 10 years. We all work really well together,” he noted.

Neither Pelletier nor Langevin went to college, instead receiving education in construction from hundreds of projects over the years. Starting off as carpenters, they slowly progressed through the ranks — every jobsite their classroom, every supervisor a de facto professor in a different subject.

“There is no replacement for being out in the trenches and doing it yourself,” Pelletier said. “We have a tight group here — it’s like a family environment.”

Both men learned much of what they know from Raymond Houle himself, who has now been retired for 15 years after handing the reigns to Pelletier.

“He worked his way up through the trade just like us and eventually started his own business,” said Langevin, who works closely with owners, project managers, and architects on a daily basis — all skills he learned from Houle and others. “He really wanted you to get out there and figure things out for yourself, but he was always there if you had a problem.”

He and Pelletier agree that taking time to appreciate all aspects of the job is integral, especially the lighter moments. In a business that often abounds with stress — particularly when deadlines near — the staff does its best to keep the atmosphere loose and upbeat. “I think it’s important to keep a good sense of humor,” Langevin said.

It’s far more important, of course, to ensure that each project stays on time and within its budget, which is often made even more difficult by tight parameters. For hospital leaders, the goal is to get work done as quickly as possible to reduce disruptions to staff and patients, although speed and attention to detail can be a tricky blend unless a company has many years of experience balancing those needs.

Sometimes, Pelletier told BusinessWest, meeting a condensed deadline can feel like achieving the impossible, even for veterans who have been in the industry for decades. But those who dedicate their careers to the industry learn to embrace the innate challenges of deadlines.

“It’s rewarding,” Pelletier said of finishing ahead of a difficult deadline, especially for jobs in medical settings. “Everyone has to work together, from the hospital staff to all of the contractors involved. It’s always a team effort, and we try to keep everything coordinated so it gels like it’s supposed to.”

Pelletier said business has taken a slight dip this year for Houle, with an array of smaller projects dominating the 2014 schedule. The staff has high hopes for a solid 2015, though. Overall, the local industry has been trending in a positive direction, and with such recent announcements as Holyoke Medical Center renovating its Emergency Department to include a behavioral-health component, contractors working in the medical niche hope construction opportunities will be available at area hospitals in 2015.

Then it’s up to Pelletier and his staff to decide which projects they will pursue.

“Things have been really busy over the last five years,” he noted. “It’s tailed off a little, but the drop hasn’t been significant, just a little downturn this year. I am optimistic that things will pick up. It all depends on what our customers are doing.”

Construction Sections
Construction Unemployment Hits Eight-year Low, but Challenges Remain

The construction industry, both nationally and in Massachusetts, seems to be emerging from several years of sluggish growth, as unemployment in the field has fallen to an eight-year low across the U.S.

Specifically, construction companies added 12,000 jobs nationally in October, pushing the sector’s unemployment rate to 6.4%, the lowest mark since 2006, according to Associated General Contractors of America.

“For the past several months, the construction industry has added jobs at double the all-industry rate of 1.9%,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Construction wages, which were already higher than the private-sector average, rose 2.6% in the last year — the fastest rate since early 2010 — as contractors ramped up their search for qualified workers. There were fewer unemployed, experienced construction workers [in October] than at any time in the past eight years.”

The trend is occurring fairly uniformly across America, with 28 states adding construction jobs between September and October, and 37 adding jobs over the past 12 months, in both cases including Massachusetts.

Indeed, over the past 12 months, the Commonwealth has added 2,400 construction jobs, a 2.0% increase that ranks 29th among all U.S. states. However, the Bay State added 1,300 jobs between September and October alone, a 1.1% increase that ranked 13th in the U.S. That performance coincides with a quarterly report from the Mass. Assoc. of Commercial & Institutional Builders that casts a cautiously positive eye on the landscape, while lamenting the rising costs of materials and labor.

“In the near term, higher costs of production don’t help contractors repair their recession-weakened bottom lines,” the report states. “However, these components are also signs of a growing economy as manufacturers see higher utilization rates and unemployment drops closer to full employment levels, thus pushing wages up.”

Back to Work

Nationally, construction employees worked an average of 39.2 hours per week, tying the highest mark in almost nine years. “Together,” Simonson said, “these indicators — high weekly hours, low unemployment, and accelerating wage gains — point to an industry that may be on the verge of acute difficulty filling key positions.”

Association officials said the construction-employment gains, along with rising wages and weekly hours, are consistent with survey results showing more firms having a hard time finding enough qualified workers to fill available positions. Construction employment totaled 6,095,000 in October, the highest total since May 2009, with a 12-month gain of 231,000 jobs, or 3.9%, Simonson said.

Over the past year, Florida added the most construction jobs of any state (38,900 jobs, or 10.2%), trailed closely by Texas (38,500 jobs, 6.2%), California (34,300 jobs, 5.3%), Illinois (14,800 jobs, 7.8%), and Utah (11,000 jobs, 14.9%). Meanwhile, Texas, Florida, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho posted the highest one-month jumps between September and October.

Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, noted that job growth remains inconsistent in some states because many firms are struggling to cope with growing worker shortages, new regulatory burdens, and flat, or declining, public-sector investments in infrastructure and construction. “Many firms are having a hard time expanding their payrolls as wages rise, costs grow, and market demand varies greatly from one segment to the next.”

Added Simonson, “these year-over-year and one-month changes show that construction is doing well in most of the country. Yet, the list of states that have added construction jobs varies from month to month, showing that the industry’s recovery remains vulnerable to worker shortages and unfavorable governmental actions.”

The latter is also a worry for the Mass. Assoc. of Commercial & Institutional Builders, which notes that the federal government continues to stall on a comprehensive highway bill, while private investors follow the government’s lead and sit on their hands.

“The good news is that, in general, we are now at a point in the recovery where we can focus more on thriving than surviving,” the group notes, “but thriving in the new economic climate will require not just being the strongest or biggest, but also the most adept at dealing with economic climate change.” n

Construction Sections
Lull in New-home Construction Leads Builders to Diversify

RemodellingDPartSeveral months ago, Jos. Chapdelaine & Sons broke ground on the first new subdivision the company has built since 1998. The site has 10 lots, but, in keeping with a changing trend, the homes that will be built on Pondview Drive in East Longmeadow are expected to be much smaller than the McMansion-style structures people clamored for a decade ago.

“Initially, we were apprehensive about the project, as we were not sure what the economy was doing,” R.J. Chapdelaine, the company’s president. “But we have already sold two houses and have a list of seven additional people who are interested. In the last two years, we have definitely seen an increase in business, which is refreshing.”

Todd Cellura agrees. “Things are definitely getting better. Every year, it seems like there is more activity, and there is a lot more interest in new homes than there was in the past,” said the president of Sovereign Builders in Westhampton.

Still, most local companies have put up only one or two houses in the last two years, so although the market is showing signs of improvement, the majority of local builders no longer depend on new-home sales as their primary source of income.

More specifically, when the economy crashed in 2008 and the housing market collapsed, they were forced to diversify into different aspects of their business. Since that time, many have come to rely on additions, renovations, and commercial and institutional work as their primary source of income. And although work has been steady for the past few years, margins are tighter, and bidding is more competitive than ever.

R.J. Chapdelaine

R.J. Chapdelaine stands outside the entrance of a new subdivision his company is building in East Longmeadow.

“Before 2007, our primary market was new mid- to high-end homes built on raw land we purchased and developed,” Cellura said. “But things changed dramatically when the banking crisis hit, and when the market for new homes all but disappeared, we transitioned into commercial work, which has become our main staple.”

Jerry Bolduc’s business also underwent significant change. Prior to the economic downturn, he built several custom homes in the $700,000 to $1 million range each year, along with a few spec houses, which are homes built prior to finding a buyer.

“The years between 1995 and 2005 were really great,” said the owner and president of Bolduc Construction in Ludlow. “But when the bubble started twisting, I began doing a lot more remodeling and additions and more commercial work. A lot of other homebuilders did the same thing, although some specialized in one market.”

Today, one of Bolduc’s specialties is power washing and removing black algae from homes, which is something he never dreamed of doing when the economy was flush. In 2010, he started a second business called Pro Aqua Clean, which has snowballed into a significant source of income (more about that later), although he is still in the construction industry. “I went from building million-dollar custom homes to cleaning them. But I am also saving them,” he said, as he spoke about homes where algae had eaten through the roof and gotten into the attic.

Tomlinson Builders in Greenfield, a third-generation family business, also switched its focus from the custom and spec homes that had been its signature offering to additions and renovations. In fact, when the banking crisis hit, Tomlinson had to call a complete halt to a project. The company had purchased a parcel of land in 2007 in Hadley and planned to develop it, but by 2008, it became clear that it was too risky to build. So the build was tabled, and although Tomlinson held onto the lots, it finally put them up for sale last year.

“We have really had to change. Prior to the crash, we did some large-scale renovations and built 2,800- to 6,500-square-foot homes, and now we are doing 700-square-foot additions. But it has been a little easier for us to weather the storm, as we are a small company,” said owner Tyler Tomlinson, adding he has done a lot of work for local banks, along with a variety of commercial jobs throughout the state. But the majority of the company’s income is dependent on home remodeling.

Although Chapdelaine is putting up a new subdivision, its work has been split between home building and home renovations since the ’60s, when the company was forced to diversify due to an economic downturn.

However, builders agree that past recessions were short-lived occurrences. “But this has been a very long and involved process, and as times became more lean, we had to work smarter and get more in tune with the economy and what people want,” Chapdelaine said. “But the outlook seems to have gotten more positive in the past few years, and we are hoping the calls and influx of work we are getting is something that has some legs, some momentum, and will keep things moving along.”

Paradigm Shift

Mark Ludwell, executive vice president of Wright Builders in Northampton, said the company hasn’t seen a dramatic change in its volume of work, but it has more of a backlog than it enjoyed over the past four or five years.

“People are planning ahead in terms of projects and life decisions, and there has been an upswing in the last year or two,” Ludwell said. “But everyone took a big hit when the economy soured, and we were no exception, even though our business has been based on multiple disciplines for 20 years.

Jerry Bolduc

Jerry Bolduc says many people are remodeling their kitchens and baths or putting on additions, which has helped builders stay busy.

“We have always had multiple legs on our stool, which is not by accident, and we have been doing work for colleges for more than 25 years, along with work for the medical community,” he added, citing a number of recent projects, including the majority of residences built at Village Hill on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital. “Diversification helped us, but we have had our struggles, and our goal today is movement toward more commercial and institutional work.”

Local construction companies say they have continued building new homes, although most have averaged only one or two a year since the recession began.

However, the majority are smaller than they were in the past, and energy efficiency has become a top priority in every arena. “People don’t want to maintain large homes and are learning to live with less space. But they want their homes be much more energy-efficient,” Cellura said, adding that he recently built a new house in Williamsburg that costs only $1,000 a year to heat.

Tomlinson agreed. “The cost of heating and cooling a home is driving the trend toward smaller homes. People are thinking more long-term than they did before and feel their money is better spent on insulation and air sealing as opposed to crown molding and fancy refrigerators,” he said, adding that his company built one new home last year, which was under 2,000 square feet.

Baby Boomers have had a role in the downsizing trend, as approximately 35% of new homes built today are purchased by empty nesters. “They are building ‘forever homes’ that are their final destination,” Cellura said. “The last two I have built and a new home I am about to start are for empty nesters, and each one was a downsize.”

Chapdelaine said he expects the majority of homes in the new subdivision to be about 2,300 square feet, but the company will build 1,800-square-foot structures if people want them. “Baby Boomers seem to want to downsize, and we are seeing clients move from homes that ranged between 3,500 to 4,000 square feet to homes in the 2,000- to 2,200-square-foot range. They want first-floor master bedrooms with an overall reduction in size.”

The company has also heard from people who have purchased small houses, but want to upgrade them with new windows, front entryways, kitchens, and baths, which Chapdelaine says can be cost-effective if they are on streets with larger, more updated homes. “We are starting to get a lot of phone calls for remodeling that range from the whole house to kitchens and bathrooms. The economy slowed the process, but the trend has been fairly steady for the last two years.”

Bolduc expects the demand for renovations to continue. “Business has been steady for the last four or five years, even during the winter, due to remodeling and additions,” he said. “And as long as interest rates stay low, people will continue to refinance their homes and spend money on them.”

Builders agree that the economy will continue to play a significant role in the amount and type of business they do, but they say return on investment impacts homeowners’ decisions. “Clients are staying away from trends, as they don’t want to date their house,” Chapdelaine said. “During the boom, homeowners did whatever they wanted. But today, budgets are tighter than they used to be. People want to increase the resale value of their homes, but also want to enjoy what the remodeling or addition will add to their lives.”

Different Tacks

Wright Builders was one of the few companies that continued to build homes when the market dried up. However, the majority were at Village Hill in Northampton, which is an ongoing project. “It made quite a difference, but it hasn’t been an easy road,” Ludwell said, adding that the property is controlled by the state, so the parcels were subject to publication of requests for proposals from builders. “While we have always been competitive, things got even more competitive.”

Bolduc’s new venture began after tornadoes struck Western Mass. in June 2011, and he started getting requests to power-wash people’s homes and remove windswept debris. The jobs were a far cry from the custom home building that had been his mainstay since 1980, and he was less than enthusiastic about the work, but he soon discovered a type of black stain on the northern side of homes that was difficult to remove.

Although many people thought the stains were from trees, Bolduc discovered it was a type of black algae that arrives as spores or clumps of cells. If they land on the north side of a roof, where there isn’t much sun and moisture is plentiful, the algae begins to multiply. It also feeds on the powdered limestone filler often added to the liquid asphalt in shingles during the production process.

After experimenting, Bolduc found an environmentally friendly chemical that would remove the algae, which he applied before power-washing and allowed him to remove stains that people had never been able to get rid of.

As word spread about his service, he got so many referrals, he put a truck on the road and opened a business called Pro Aqua Wash.

The enterprise has surpassed anything he could have imagined, and this summer business was so brisk that he employed five people. However, Bolduc has not lost his love for building and told BusinessWest that he still does his share of home renovations. “We often get requests to expand kitchens as well as create open floor plans in homes, which can mean knocking down walls and even additions. And I also do some light commercial work.”

Cellura performs all types of work, but takes real pride in doing modern European design renovations, a minimalist trend becoming popular in metropolitan areas. “It’s almost stark in design, but it’s stunning how striking it is,” he said.

Overall, local builders are glad to see the economy improving. But diversification has become the new norm, and there are no signs of that changing.

Although Chapdelaine is building a new subdivision, other builders don’t feel the time is right. “There are some towns where building lots still sell, but it’s a much greater gamble today,” Cellura said. “So we will remain conservative until there is more activity.”

Tomlinson has similar feelings. The company had a profitable year and is building an estate with a two-bedroom guesthouse, which will be done in phases. “But the housing market hasn’t completely turned around, and buying land and developing it has become very costly, due to changes in regulations and the fact that towns and cities are trying to preserve it, so we are a lot more conservative than we used to be when it comes to doing anything of size, like a subdivision,” he said. “We don’t feel things will ever go back to the way they were before the housing crash.”

But business is steady for those nimble enough to find it, and builders have learned to compensate and sniff out new ways to make money, even though profit margins are tighter.

“When the economy soured, we learned to work harder and smarter, and we made adjustments,” Ludwell said. “We keep reaching out, moving forward, and refocusing. And it’s worked out.”

Construction Sections
Brian Gibbons Transitions from Military to Successful Building Career

By KEVIN FLANDERS

Brian Gibbons

Brian Gibbons is gratified that his growing construction company does plenty of work that benefits fellow veterans.

Brian Gibbons is not your typical entrepreneur, nor did he follow the conventional routes to becoming a business owner. But success, his staff has learned, isn’t contingent upon adhering to a specific formula. It’s all about being creative and making the most of every opportunity.

Gibbons, president of Springfield-based Brican Inc., opened his construction business in 2007 after a 24-year career as a Seabee engineer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Utilizing the Service-disabled Veteran-owned Business Program of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), he was able to get his business off the ground at a time when the economic climate was about to become much more challenging. Looking back now, he knows he couldn’t have done it without assistance from the program instituted by the SBA in 2003 to help veteran-owned businesses succeed.

“In my case, it [the SBA program] did exactly what it is intended to do,” said Gibbons, who joined the Navy Reserve following his freshman year in college. “I never would have been a business owner without that program.”

Seven years later, Brican is thriving at the corner of State and Dwight streets, specializing in commercial, industrial, and institutional building systems. Its staff of just over 20 is expected to grow, and its project list continues to expand each year. Well-versed in federal contracts, the majority of the company’s projects have been completed for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with the average job coming in between $2 million and $5 million.

“We have had projects throughout the East, from Ohio up to Maine,” Gibbons said. “We are always checking on different opportunities and bidding them.”

Veterans Helping Veterans

Gibbons, who took an early interest in construction as a teenager cleaning up job sites for his neighbor during high-school summer vacations, never imagined what doors the Navy Reserve would open for him. The experiences accrued during his nearly quarter-century tenure have helped him long after his transition back to civilian life, and he is always eager to take on projects that assist others who served their nation.

As a veteran-owned business, Gibbons isn’t surprised that the VA is Brican’s best client, as the agency routinely sets aside projects to be bid exclusively by small firms led by vets. But for Gibbons, construction for the VA is about far more than erecting structures — it’s about making a difference in the lives of those who served. As such, Gibbons says his most rewarding project to date was the construction of a building for the Northampton VA Medical Center’s acute psychiatric ward. Completed in 2013, the prototype project set new standards for the construction of such facilities, specifically those designed to prevent suicide and injury, with specialists from throughout the nation traveling to Northampton to offer input.

“In the past, they often used many of the techniques you see in prisons, but lately they have realized that the people in these facilities are sick, not prisoners,” Gibbons said. “We approached the job very empathetically. The goal was to help the VA come up with ideas to minimize the dangers to patients and staff. As a veteran, it’s always rewarding to work on projects that help other veterans.”

Brican has also immersed itself in the energy side of construction over the last few years, recently taking on several boiler-plant safety projects. Ground was broken on one such job last month, a combined heat and power plant at a VA-owned facility in Newington, Conn, which Gibbons expects to be finished by the end of next year.

New Growth

While statistics are always valuable, a quick glimpse at the whiteboard in Brican’s conference room sufficiently indicates the direction of the business. Filled from end to end with project information, the board keeps Gibbons’s bustling staff constantly updated on what needs to be done. And they certainly prefer to be busy, especially in an industry that has seen its share of challenges statewide in recent years.

But no matter how one looks at it — project totals, staff size, buildings acquired — Brican is a rapidly expanding company, its reputation building along with its structures. Whenever a project is erased from the whiteboard upon completion, another one quickly replaces it.

Gibbons hopes that his staff, which currently includes about 20 people, will grow to nearly 30 as more work comes in from the private end of the construction spectrum. “Our largest job so far was just under $16 million, and we are definitely looking to increase our work on the private side,” he added.

General contractors go only as far as their staffs take them, though, which is yet another reason for Brican’s success. Gibbons said each of his project managers handles up to three projects at a time — including Gibbons himself, who has focused on everything from management to estimating. He wears many hats as the owner of a small business, but he has also been impressed by his employees’ ability to multitask and split time between multiple projects.

In particular, Gibbons praised engineer Mike Belanger, who brings more than 20 years of experience to Brican, as well as project manager Todd Spooner and his 30-year career in the industry.

But along with more projects comes a need for more employees who can handle an array of assignments, a need Gibbons recognizes. “As we continue to grow, we will probably hire another project manager who can assist with estimating.”

Of course, as a military veteran who takes pride in his years of service and how they helped prepare him for life as a small-business owner, Gibbons is always on the lookout for veterans searching for work. His staff already includes a few vets, and he enjoys providing them with opportunities following their service. As veterans conclude their service in the Middle East, SBA officials have attempted to open as many avenues as possible for job creation and entrepreneurship. One such avenue is the Service-disabled Veteran-owned Business Program that Gibbons qualified for, and now he’s completing the cycle by hiring veterans.

“I try to give as much preference as possible to veterans,” he told BusinessWest. “I am always looking for good people to work here.”

Next-door Options

Brican is also expanding from an acquisition perspective. In March, Gibbons purchased the building adjacent to his State Street office at a tax title auction. He is keeping his options open for the purpose of the 1890s-era building, but he mentioned several possibilities, including using it for additional office space.

“We have done a lot of work to clean it up; it was a real mess before,” he said. “I think it would make a great office for a contractor, and I would love to see it rehabbed. There are a lot of opportunities we are considering right now for the building.”

Gibbons said he likely won’t make a final decision on the building until he learns whether or not the nearby MGM casino project will proceed, a development that would create jobs and drive up demand for rental spaces throughout Springfield and neighboring towns. If the right opportunity were to present itself, a rental or lease situation might prove to be the most beneficial purpose for the building, but no decisions have been made yet.

In addition to the State Street acquisition, Gibbons has a full plate, with 18 active projects and expected staff increases. It’s all part of leading a small business on the rise, a business built by a veteran whose employees and clients are also veterans. But while Brican specializes in federal contracts and institutional construction, what sets it apart from other businesses, he said, is its ability to handle private construction as well.

“We have a great staff,” he said. “Everyone comes from a different background in terms of experiences and education levels, and we work well together as a team.”

Construction Sections
N. Riley Construction Builds on Its Early Success

Company President Nick Riley

Company President Nick Riley

Nick Riley had never been one to turn down challenges, and he wasn’t about to turn down this one.

It was the summer of 2011, and he had opened his own construction business five years earlier. It was mainly repairs and remodeling work at first, but the goal was always to get into new-home construction. So he accepted a big request — to build a house in the Upper Hill neighborhood of Springfield.

Oh, and it would have to be done in a week.

Almost three years after accepting that challenge from the producers of TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, his company, N. Riley Construction, has managed to procure more new-construction jobs, in addition to expanding the remodeling — especially kitchens and bathrooms — that have always been his bread and butter. And he sees that crazy week in 2011, and the preparation that led up to it, as a net positive when it came to taking his business to the next level.

“We ended up turning a lot of work away for that project,” he told BusinessWest. “Initially, going into it, we had many reservations about taking on a project of that size with a company my size. We certainly had never built a house in a week. But looking back at it, accepting that project was probably the best move I have made. It was gratifying personally to be able to help a family out on that scale, and as a business owner, the contacts that I made throughout that project — and the experience we gained from that project overnight — helped our business grow.”

Today, Riley is preparing to tackle three or four new-home builds this year, with one already under construction, and a slowly improving economy is bringing more remodeling business to his door as well.

“Our goal going forward is to build more new homes, but I think the market will dictate how that grows,” he said. “We’ve been busy, though. We’re pretty fortunate that we do all types of services, from small repairs right up to new construction and light commercial. That way, we’re able to adapt to different changes in the economy; if commercial is doing a little bit better, we do more commercial. We’re trying to stay flexible, not be bound to one thing.”

For this issue’s focus on construction, Riley talks about how his eight-year-old company has continued to evolve, the lessons he learned from the Extreme Makeover project, and how he’s giving back to the community — and helping to raise up the next generation of builders — in some unique ways.

One Big Week

Riley started out in the construction business working for his uncle, Andrew Crane, president of A. Crane Construction in Chicopee.

“My family has always been around construction, and I’d been around it all my life,” he said, adding that, with Crane, “I learned a lot of hands-on parts of the job. I found I really enjoyed this business, this industry. Then I started a family and decided to start my own business.”

That was a challenge, he said, but he intentionally started small, focusing on home repairs and gradually ramping up to larger remodeling projects and whole-home renovations. When the Great Recession began, construction was among the hardest-hit industries, but home remodeling took less of a dip, and Riley stayed busy.

And then ABC came calling, just four weeks before the planned blitz build in Springfield. Riley was recommended to Extreme Makeover producers by the Home Builders Assoc. of Western Mass. and other contractors, including Crane — even though he had never actually built an entire house.

The homeowner was Sirdeaner Walker, a single mother who lived on Northampton Avenue with two daughters, a sister, her mother, and her grandmother. A seventh person used to live there — her son, Carl Walker-Hoover, who took his own life in 2009 after being incessantly bullied by peers at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield.

Nick Riley

Nick Riley on site at the one-week Extreme Makeover project in September 2011.

In the months following the tragedy, Walker became a strong advocate against school bullying, successfully pushing for anti-bullying legislation in Massachusetts, meeting with federal lawmakers and President Obama, and establishing a foundation in her son’s name that raises awareness of the bullying issue and scholarships for area students. But her house, in the Upper Hill neighborhood close to Springfield College, was run down and riddled with plumbing and electrical issues — in short, the kind of need, coupled with an emotional story, that the show specialized in.

“The family was amazing — and they’ve really maintained the house,” Riley said, noting that not every Extreme Makeover beneficiary has done so. “They’re amazing owners, with the things they’ve done and continue to do. It was well worth our time. Everyone involved agreed that the project went extremely well.”

Riley was starting work on another new-home build at the time, and since then, he’s expanded into other such projects, he said. “We’ve been adding more and more new construction as the economy gets a little better and the housing market starts to regain a little strength. But we haven’t gotten away from what we started out doing, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. That’s what we most enjoy doing. We like working on people’s houses and making them into homes.”

The recession did scale back some homeowners’ plans, he noted. “It was smaller repairs and remodeling. People weren’t spending money on big-ticket items — kitchens, really ornate bathrooms — but they were still remodeling their homes. Fortunately, insurance work propped that up.”

He referred specifically to the freak weather year that was 2011, which started with an epidemic of ice dams and leaking roofs, included the June tornadoes and the August tropical storm and flooding, and concluded with a freak snowstorm two days before Halloween. BusinessWest has spoken with many contractors who said insurance work stemming from those events carried them through a rough year or two, and Riley was no exception.

Today, though, he sees an improving economy starting to make a positive difference in home building and remodeling.

“It’s far better than five years ago. I think the housing market has a lot of hurdles to overcome, but it’s definitely improving,” he said. “I’m not an economist, but I see very slow improvement over the next 10 years. In my opinion, we’ve still got a lot of negatives to overcome. Regulations, material prices, and land costs are really three keys slowing things down. I think the demand for new housing is there; the challenge is building it at prices someone can afford.”

Next Generation

With his company’s success, Riley said, has come an increased civic involvement, efforts that go far beyond financially supporting community organizations and getting involved with Rebuilding Together Springfield, which was formed in the wake of the tornadoes.

It also extends to Student Builders, an effort N. Riley launched to help young people gain experience in the building trades.

“It’s something we set up to help out vocational kids at Chicopee Comp,” he explained. “Two years ago, we built a house on McKinstry Avenue. Well, we didn’t build it — we just facilitated the financing and worked out the logistics and coordination, so students at Chicopee Comp were able to have a real hands-on project, able to build a house from start to finish.

“It was a great project to help the students figure out if that’s what they want to do for a living,” he continued. “It was a good project to train the kids and develop a better workforce, because in this industry, it’s hard to find quality employees. It’s so hard to find the workforce for what we do.”

A second build is scheduled for 2015, and he’d like to see a project begin every two years. “Whatever proceeds come from the house, if it ends up making money, goes right back to the kids in the form of tools or scholarships or into the next project. The idea of doing it every other year or so is that, over four years, the kids are able to at least see part of a project.”

As for his own business development, Riley has seen an evolution in the way customers approach projects, and said the change has probably been more dramatic for contractors who have been in the game a lot longer. In short, it has to do with the expectations of clients and the ideas they come with.

“With social media and things like Pinterest, people are able to find ideas and pictures and things like that,” he said. “Years ago, it was, ‘it’s a bathroom; can you put in a toilet and sink?’ Now, there are hundreds, thousands of sinks, bathtubs, and tile configurations they can visualize on sites like Pinterest.”

Personally, he doesn’t mind the more detailed input. “It certainly helps with the design aspect. A lot more creativity is going into these projects,” he said, whether it’s a client seeking an ultra-modern look or the recent customer in Chicopee who wanted the bathroom design to reflect the 1880s when the house was built, complete with a claw-foot tub and hardwood floors instead of tile.

“The best part about this job is being able to have a customer say, ‘this what I want; this is my vision,’ and you’re able to put it together for them,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re doing something different every day in this industry. That’s one of the main reasons why I love doing what I do — it’s something different every day.”

Of course, it’s still a challenging profession, one still crawling slowly from the tough years of the recession. Even so, Riley said, he managed to avoid the lows some builders experienced and keep making families happy — although it usually takes more than a week to do so. “We’ve been able to grow consistently every year. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

 

Construction Sections
Northern Construction Builds Bridges to Success

Shawn Clark

Shawn Clark, project manager and operations coordinator at Northern Construction Service

Pressure is replacing two well-traveled highway bridges in one weekend — or losing $1 million for missing the deadline.

But that’s exactly what Northern Construction Service, based in Palmer, is taking on this summer in Southington, Conn., when it lifts the existing bridges off their supports this July and replaces them with new bridges it has been fabricating at the scene for the better part of a year — all within a 56-hour weekend window aimed at minimizing impact on commuters.

“We’ve had this job since last June, and after almost a year of prep, we’re only going to disrupt the public for a weekend,” said Shawn Clark, Northern’s project manager and operations coordinator. “And if it’s not done by Monday, there’s a million-dollar penalty.”

The bridges, which carry eastbound and westbound traffic on Interstate 84 over Marion Avenue in Southington, are 51 years old and in need of replacement, Clark said. Northern won the contract for the $6 million project last spring, and excavation, tree-clearing, and utility work began in November.

The technique being utilized is new to the Conn. Department of Transportation. The new spans are being fabricated on site in staging areas adjacent to the bridges. Interstate 84 and Marion Avenue traffic will remain open during the entire fabrication period, with occasional, temporary lane closures for other work associated with the project.

On the big weekend in July, the pre-fabricated structures will be moved from the staging areas using massive machines called self-propelled modular transporters. The existing bridges will be removed, and the new spans set into place on the existing abutments, which are in good condition.

Easthampton’s Manhan Bridge

Northern replaced Easthampton’s Manhan Bridge five weeks ahead of schedule.

In addition to the $1 million penalty if the project extends into Monday’s morning commute, ConnDOT has included a $250,000 incentive if the new bridges are open before 10 a.m. Sunday. Don’t put it past Northern to make that goal.

“We like to push,” Clark told BusinessWest. “Our company is not afraid to work overtime, generally at our own expense.”

Take the Davitt Memorial Bridge in Chicopee. Northern replaced that span, which connects Route 116 with Springfield Street — an $8.2 million project — 14 months ahead of schedule. The bridge was closed for just over a year and reopened last July.

“In Chicopee, the DOT offered incentives to work through the winter, to work overtime to meet the deadline,” he said, noting that overtime is already common at Northern during good weather.

“It took us seven or eight months to get going on the Davitt Bridge, and we still finished more than a year early,” Clark said, telling a similar story about the $3.7 million project to replace Easthampton’s Manhan Bridge, which closed last June and reopened in October, five weeks ahead of schedule.

“We had that job for probably eight or nine months before we closed the road, making sure everything was in order, utilities relocated,” he noted. “Then we worked overtime, Saturdays, Sundays — and, again, it went well.”

Clearly, Northern Construction specializes in bridges — as well as road and highway construction; concrete construction, including dams, seawalls, and foundations; excavating and grading; water, sewer, and drainage systems; building construction and relocation; and a host of other projects.

The company — owned by John Rahkonen and John Divito, who work out of offices in Palmer and Weymouth, respectively — has grown significantly in its 19 years of existence, employing up to 150 personnel at peak times and boasting about $45 million in projects annually.

“We’ve been growing or at least maintaining, luckily,” Clark said. “The recession was tough on us, but we’ve had work.”

Getting Around

Chicopee-(2)

Success stories like the Davitt Memorial Bridge in Chicopee — which was closed just over a year and reopened more than a year ahead of schedule — are due to the exhaustive work Northern does long before a bridge closes to traffic.

Success stories like the Davitt Memorial Bridge in Chicopee — which was closed just over a year and reopened more than a year ahead of schedule — are due to the exhaustive work Northern does long before a bridge closes to traffic.

As he noted, that work begins long before a road or bridge closes. “From the time you’re the low bidder, you have to sign contracts, which takes a couple of months,” Clark said. That’s followed by research, dealing with utilities, and a host of other administrative tasks before work can even begin.

Northern works for public and private entities in the six New England states and New York, and that diversity is key to its continued success, he added. “Private work has been slow, with the recession, so public work is all we have right now. But Massachusetts is having budget problems, and work has been sporadic. So, last year, we did five jobs in Connecticut; before that, we’d had only one in the company’s history.”

Bridge work is a big issue across New England, with thousands of aging spans in need of repair or replacement. In Massachusetts, the Accelerated Bridge Program, a $3 billion commitment to repair or replace 259 bridges, was launched in 2008.

“There’s plenty of disrepair. That’s why we have the Accelerated Bridge Program,” Clark said. “This is one of the worst states in terms of infrastructure, and you have to do something.”

He added that the state has moved toward more rapid bridge replacements, pre-fabricated structures, and financial incentives for contractors, all aimed at reducing inconvenience to the public.

“It’s a tough field. Bridges are demanding, and you need skilled personnel to do the work,” he noted, adding that companies need significant administrative expertise as well. “Compared to 30 or 40 years ago, there are more rules, regulations, liability — every ‘i’ has to be dotted. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; it definitely discourages competition to a certain degree. But it also makes it more challenging.”

To perform such work on accelerated schedules, Clark noted, requires a high level of teamwork with each state’s DOT. “We get in people’s good graces by getting it done quickly. Not only does that require the cooperation of everyone involved, the DOT has to be on board with it. We can’t do it without them, and they can’t do it without us; it’s a team effort.”

Northern recently won a 2013 Design Award from the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute for Best Rehabilitated Bridge, a $9.4 million project in Smithfield, R.I. that the company completed — of course — six weeks early.

The Stillwater Viaduct over the Woonasquatucket River is a landmark of sorts, eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, both for its association with a massive bridge-building campaign in the 1920s and 1930s and for serving as an example of an open spandrel arch bridge.

When it was rehabilitated in 2012, designers had to be careful to maintain the original design aesthetics. The use of pre-cast concrete not only allowed workers to replicate the original features of the bridge with modern performance, but it was critical to completing the project within a seven-month window. The existing arch rings and pier columns were also restored during construction.

“Maintaining the look of the old bridge was very important to the owner,” said Bharat Patel of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, engineer of record for the project. “We were able to stay way ahead of schedule without compromising quality, and everyone in the community was pleased with the results.”

And, of course, much of that success came from the work completed long before the bridge closed. “We took six months before we closed that road,” Clark said, noting, however, that accelerated schedules aren’t always possible, especially when a bridge remains open during the entire project. “Some projects have to be done in phases. You do part of the bridge, part of the bridge, part of the bridge, to keep traffic flowing.”

From the Ground Up

Northern Construction keeps people moving in quite a different way when it comes to its long-standing relationship with Six Flags New England.

No, it doesn’t actually build new rides, but it has handled concrete, earth, site, and utility work for a number of new attractions, including this year’s major addition, the Sky Screamer, a swing ride that will tower 400 feet above the park — twice as high as the current tallest ride.

Meanwhile, Northern is versatile enough to have been called upon for emergency road work along the Mohawk Trail in 2011 after Hurricane Irene washed out stretches of the roadway. Following the immediate repair, it won bids for a $6.7 million repair of Route 2 in Florida and a $3.3 million job in North Adams.

“As soon as it hit, we were summoned to go up there,” Clark said. “We have the resources and organization to do it. We know what equipment is needed, and what work can be done without sacrificing other projects.”

It also takes a company that knows how to juggle the bureaucratic demands of both the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was involved in funding the road repairs. “That’s when you get into submitting invoices; every load of gravel has to be documented,” he explained, adding that the end result was a 700-page document. “You’ve got to coordinate it, do the paperwork, and administer it to get paid in an effortless manner. This was a big event.”

After all, who doesn’t want to be paid?

“Our owners have always insisted that our workers get paid every week for what they do,” Clark said. “And as a contractor, we need to get paid to be able to do that — to recover our money, keep the cash flowing, make sure everyone is getting paid. It allows us to take care of our personnel.

“You hear stories of contractors who don’t pay their wages,” he continued. “There are plenty of great contractors out there, but also companies that have issues. Our employees are our most valuable resource, and we want them to get paid.”

It’s all about strong relationships — between project owners and contractors and employees. After all, Northern Construction knows how to build bridges.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections
Economy Improves, but Challenges Remain for Builders, Consumers

Brad Campbell

As the economy ramps up, Brad Campbell says, so does the number of shady contractors looking to take advantage of eager consumers.

Brad Campbell calls it the “black-box effect.”

That’s the phrase the executive director of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass. (HBRAWM) contrived to reference the action of any consumer using their computer, tablet, or smartphone when selecting a professional home builder or remodeler.

“I think people have become way too dependent and trusting of the computer,” said Campbell, calling the phenomenon a faulty mindset, because glossy websites with carefully worded testimonials and paid reference sites like Angie’s List don’t always tell the full story. “And if consumers took the same amount of time to research the contractor as they do the product, they’d be much better off.

“As the economy gets better, we want consumers to know that there are risks and dangers out there,” Campbell continued. “There are more people out there who will take advantage of you.”

It’s a sign of the times, he told BusinessWest, adding that, just as contractors start coming out of the woodwork when there are weather-induced surges in construction-related work, as this region has seen recently, they also come out when consumers are ready to open their wallets and start catching up on deferred maintenance and expansion projects. And some of these contractors have less-than-stellar track records.

As she heard these remarks, Marybeth Bergeron of Charista Construction in East Longmeadow started nodding her head emphatically. “He’s absolutely right,” she said, adding that the conditions are now approaching perfect for disreputable builders to take advantage of consumers who are completely uneducated about how to find a contractor for repair or new construction, but want one because they’re in a mood to spend.

Because of the improving economy, and this black-box effect, Campbell said the focus of this year’s Western Mass. Home and Garden Show will shift from “come and see the products” to “come and learn about the people that install the products.”

Celebrating its 60th year, the show, produced by the HBRAWM, will run March 27-30 on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield.

The show will feature hundreds of contractors and those who support the home-building and remodeling industry, Campbell explained, but more importantly, professionals to help educate attendees who are finally ready and able to spend money on home improvements or build new houses.

On the commercial side, business has definitely picked up, but education is necessary in that area of the building industry as well, due to heightened processes involving commercial and residential contractors’ licensing requirements, the Bay State’s increasingly strict energy-saving codes, and for the commercial consumer, a reality check about what is necessary and what isn’t for efficiency processes and new high-tech building products.

Town by town, Massachusetts is becoming the strictest state in the nation for energy-saving codes, said both Campbell and Seth Crocker, vice president and co-owner of Crocker Building Co. in Springfield. This development coincides with a desire among commercial and residential clients to be more ‘green’ in their building and perhaps pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation. What’s needed, they said, are detailed conversations between builders and their clients about what is necessary and what makes sense from the standpoint of return on investment.

For this issue’s focus on construction, BusinessWest spoke with professionals from both the residential and commercial sides of the building and remodeling industry just as the annual Home Show is about to begin, and winter exits stage left — finally. The consensus is that, while the economy is improving — and everyone has been waiting impatiently for that to happen — challenges remain.

Shades of Recovery

Seth Crocker

Seth Crocker says building codes are becoming more stringent, raising costs for contractors and homeowners.

Founded in 1939, the Springfield-based HBRAWM, a nonprofit trade association affiliated with the National Home Builders Assoc. (HBA), has nearly 350 members operating in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and promotes the best interests of home ownership, home buyers, and the building industry.

That mission is ongoing, but it takes on more emphasis at times like these, said Campbell, when there are more business relationships being made between consumers and contractors. He compared choosing a contractor to the dating process.

“You just can’t sit down with the first guy and say, ‘I trust him,’” said Campbell. “And when it comes to making a business relationship official, consumers are definitely afraid of something called a contract, and they have to change that mentality.”

Elaborating, Campbell said that consumers seem to feel that a contract is bad for them and good for the contractor, when in fact, it’s good for the contractor, and better for the consumer.  “It’s not restrictive, but a way to hold everybody accountable for what they said they were going to do.”

His example of a good contract is one that doesn’t have a line item stating that all the windows will be replaced in the home, but that a specific brand, style, and size of window will be used in all windows in question. Spending $300 to have an attorney look over a contract is also a good idea, Campbell added, given the much larger sum that could be lost if someone doesn’t exercise due diligence.

Additionally, he said, if the contractor doesn’t pull a permit, the consumer becomes 100% responsible for an entire project; if the project isn’t done the right way, the consumer can’t file a claim with the state’s repair fund.  “And if a contract doesn’t have certain things in it, it’s not a real contract.”

On the flip side, Campbell doesn’t want to see contractors themselves make mistakes. “They can hurt themselves by not having that same contract; it’s part of their licensing requirement, and they’re told they must have contracts for projects over $1,000, which these days could be just a storm door.”

Walt Tomala, president of TNT General Contracting, Home Show deputy chairman, former president of the HBRAWM, and past president of the statewide HBA, agreed.

Walt Tomala

Walt Tomala says a contract is critical to protecting the interests of both the builder and the consumer.

“There are so many different licensing qualifications that need to be met now, it’s hard enough for the contractor to keep up with it, never mind the consumer,” he said, adding that a contract protects both parties’ interests.

In order to get Home Show attendees to the HBRAWM booth to learn about such matters, agency officials are giving visitors a chance to register to win $160,000 cash. Upon entering, attendees will be given a card asking what they have planned for the next 12 to 18 months. Those who check off ‘building’ or ‘remodeling’ will be invited to speak one-on-one with HBRAWM professionals about what consumers need to know about hiring for these needs.

“We want you to talk to builders that have gone through a formal process to be approved in our association,” Campbell continued. “That’s not to say we’ve never had an issue with one of our builders, but at least if that happens, we have a policy and a process to help you get through this situation.”

LEED by Example

Contractors, homeowners, and business owners should have a lot to talk about at this year’s show.

Indeed, many consumers have put off repairs or remodeling while waiting for the economy to improve, and over the past few years, new products have been introduced, building codes have become more strict, and the world, in general, has become more green-focused.

Brothers Seth and Bill Crocker — co-owners of Crocker Building Co., which offers full-service general contracting solutions in commercial construction and renovation — have witnessed all of this. They say they often face a situation of balancing a desire to be environmentally friendly with what makes sense economically and what also meets state regulations.

Currently, there is heightened interest in efficiency in heating, air conditioning, and the thermal performance of the building envelope, but Seth Crocker sees the expense of higher-technology products as a hurdle that many clients are not willing to jump over, especially if they don’t have to.

The philosophy, Crocker said, is to advise clients on what are ultimately the best products to use, as far as efficiency and ROI.

“But what’s driving a lot of it is that the building codes are so stringent,” he told BusinessWest. “And all signs say that will continue to get more strict, which will drive more people to things like foam insulation, which is a lot more expensive.”

Campbell agreed, citing a survey by the NHAB suggesting that stricter codes are likely, and the Commonwealth has a mindset to be a clear leader in energy conservation, which has resulted in already-demanding regulations compared to most other states.

The 2012 Stretch Energy Code, which does what it says — stretches that base code by another 20% efficiency — and is adopted on a town-by-town basis, is making it financially difficult to build in Massachusetts, Campbell said, estimating that these codes add $16,000 to the cost of a 2,200-square-foot home.

Because of those strict Massachusetts codes, said Tomala — one of the first green professionals certified by the NAHB — he and most other contractors are already building to that highly efficient level, even though doing so does not necessarily designate a building as LEED-certified.

And this has prompted questions among some builders about whether LEED is worth pursuing.

“The actual LEED certification process is very time-consuming, and you really just get a plaque for the wall,” said Crocker. “In some cases, there’s a huge upfront cost, and the payback is all in feeling good about it.”

The plaque on the wall tells a story, for sure, Tomala added, but the Energy Star efficiency rating of the high-tech products he uses tells the same story, with a lot less time and formality.

“Don’t get me wrong — we’ll do whatever the customer wants, but we’d rather be out on the site, not have more office time doing paperwork,” which always means more expense to the customer, he said.

Sustainable Future

Weather extremes, a healthier economy, and the return of the popular outdoor modular home are expected to hike attendance at this year’s Home Show.

“I think the show is going to be a huge hit because people can only sit on their hands for so long, and it’s the year they feel like it’s OK to do something,” Tomala said.

Added Crocker, “I think there’s pent-up demand because people didn’t do anything for quite a few years and interest rates bottomed, but now they’re coming back up.” He noted that those climbing rates are causing people with residential and commercial building needs to move more quickly.

But as consumers make up for lost time, different levels of education about the right way to go about a project and the best return on investment will be the key to commercial and residential projects coming to fruition.

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