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Growth by Design

Tighe & Bond President and CEO Robert Belitz

Tighe & Bond President and CEO Robert Belitz

To say Tighe & Bond is a growing company would be an understatement.

From 2006 to 2016, the Westfield-based engineering firm increased its workforce from 170 to 270, but since then, the tally has expanded to 450, due to a combination of geographic expansion across the Northeast, enhancements to specialized services, and organic growth.

“We like to say it’s still manageable growth — robust, but manageable for us,” said Robert Belitz, who was hired by Tighe & Bond as chief financial officer in 2014 and took the reins as president and CEO three years later. “Our strategic planning process, which we go through every year, says it would be nice to grow between 5% and 10%. So you can see we’re on the higher end of that range.”

Among the recent footprint-expanding additions include an office in Portland, Maine, and two strategic acquisitions. One is a landscape-architecture and urban-planning firm in Boston called Halvorson Design (now Halvorson | Tighe & Bond Studio), which is part of the firm’s continuing strategy in Eastern Mass. and its first office presence in the Hub.

“The work they do is a terrific complement to our existing sites and brings more capabilities to our clients; they also did a lot of coastal-resiliency work as well, and that will continue to be in high demand for us.”

“We like to say it’s still manageable growth — robust, but manageable for us.”

The other recent acquisition was joining forces with RT Group, which expanded the firm’s waterfront and coastal-engineering capabilities in Rhode Island.

“Given where our offices are, there is a tremendous amount of coastline where we have opportunities to support our clients,” Belitz said. “There’s an awful lot of funding that’s being directed toward seawall construction, which is part of our coastal practice. The RT Group does a lot of work around port areas.”

River Valley Co-op in Easthampton

River Valley Co-op in Easthampton is one of the first net-zero-energy grocery stores in Massachusetts.
(Photo by Tighe & Bond)

With offices in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, it’s a natural fit for Tighe & Bond to tackle more coastline work, he added. “There have been a number of natural-disaster events that have raised the awareness of the need for coastal resilience.”

Clippership Wharf in East Boston is a good example. The waterfront residential complex was developed by Lendlease with landscape design by Tighe & Bond and Halvorson, and building design by the Architectural Team. The tiered site includes a harbor walk at the lower level, public access and open spaces at mid-level, and residences and a courtyard above. A ‘living shoreline,’ the first in Boston’s urban harbor, recreates the coastal habitat through the introduction of native plantings and wave-dissipating features to accommodate future sea-level rise, creating a natural flood barrier protecting tenants and other inland properties.

“Our challenge is prioritizing how we can capitalize on all these opportunities in the market.”

Tighe & Bond has also significantly expanded its capabilities in the MEP — mechanical, electrical, and plumbing — area, Belitz said. “We’ve added a significant number of resources there. That’s to serve our existing client base, but it’s also in response to the pandemic, when we were asked to do a fair amount of air-quality work.”

Other growth areas have included traffic and roadway projects as well as asset management, he added. Meanwhile, the firm’s traditional niches in water, wastewater, and other types of projects remain strong.

“We’re still really well-diversified in terms of the services that we can provide to our clients,” he went on. “We’ve trademarked a terminology we call the whole-asset approach, which says we can support a client’s needs on whatever their assets are, from the outset of a project all the way to completion, and that’s because we provide such a broad array of services to our clients.”

At the same time, “I think the stimulus money that’s coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aligns really well with the services that we provide as an organization, including our core water and wastewater services and our environmental work related to brownfield remediation. Our challenge is prioritizing how we can capitalize on all these opportunities in the market.”

 

System Expansion

Founded in 1911 to consult on broad-based civil-engineering projects, Tighe & Bond eventually came to specialize in environmental engineering, focusing on water, wastewater, solid-waste, and hazardous-waste issues, and its growing diversity of expertise has been a buffer against economic downturns in any one area.

Currently, 60% to 65% of its projects are public contracts with municipalities and state government agencies throughout New England and New York, and 35% to 40% are private work for a diverse group of industries.

Clippership Wharf in East Boston

Clippership Wharf in East Boston is an example of a project that includes elements of coastal resiliency.
(Photo by Ed Wonsek)

“It’s a great thing to be diversified during an economic slowdown,” Belitz said. “The diversity of the services we provide has always been beneficial for us.”

That’s particularly important during times of unusual economic disruption, like the current environment.

“We’re always trying to keep an eye on the economic conditions,” he told BusinessWest. “We are partnering very closely with our clients on any supply-chain issues that might cause delays in their projects or extensions of their projects. We’ve been trying to keep a very close eye on that and work closely internally to make sure our people understand how best to communicate with a client. That’s what it comes down to; it’s primarily communication around schedule and timing and making sure that all of that is coordinated.”

The firm has expanded its presence in renewable-energy projects over the past 15 years or so. For example, River Valley Co-op in Easthampton is one of the first net-zero-energy grocery stores in Massachusetts. Tighe’s engineers provided energy-modeling services to evaluate various design alternatives, including HVAC systems, building envelope, and lighting systems. In addition, it designed an array of electric-vehicle charging stations in the co-op parking lot.

Tighe & Bond, like all such firms, has faced an increasingly complex regulatory and permitting landscape, one where environmental concerns once considered minor are now paramount. But Belitz considers these issues not hurdles, but opportunities.

For example, “nitrogen and phosphorous removal for wastewater treatment plants has been a pretty big driver of some of our growth over the last few years,” he explained.

In that vein, the firm recently worked with the town of Southington, Conn. to upgrade its water-pollution control facility. Tighe & Bond developed a phased plan for addressing the town’s wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. Recent improvements included phosphorus removal, odor control, and UV disinfection.

The upgrades helped the town meet new phosphorus discharge limits that protect the Quinnipiac River, and odor-control measures have helped residents in nearby neighborhoods and those using abutting sports fields. The American Council of Engineering Companies of Connecticut honored the project team’s designs with the 2022 Grand Award for Engineering Excellence.

“We are partnering very closely with our clients on any supply-chain issues that might cause delays in their projects or extensions of their projects.”

Meanwhile, Belitz said, “one of the emerging regulatory drivers is what’s called lead service line replacements, which are requirements for communities to do inventories and replacement plans for the lead service lines. We also do a lot of brownfields cleanup, and that’s been a very significant piece of our growth over the past two to three years, and another example of our well-rounded services.”

 

Working on the Pipeline

Asked how Tighe & Bond continues to grow its workforce at a time when companies of all kinds are struggling with finding and retaining talent, Belitz said it’s a multi-layered strategy.

“I’m not sure a day goes by when we don’t talk about our hiring and attraction of talent. We’ve beefed up our talent-acquisition function here at the firm to continue to identify and attract candidates to the firm. And once we get candidates to join us, we’ve always done a really good job of investing in their development, in order to retain our latest employees.”

He said the firm’s “very robust” onboarding and training program consists of not only leadership training, but anything people need to do their jobs: project management, quality management, safety and health principles, and more. “We’ve made a very big investment in that area just because we’ve had to, given our growth. We’ve kind of branded it internally as Tighe & Bond University, where new folks come in and meet with their supervisor and figure out what sorts of training they need to be effective in their jobs, and we think that’s key to a successful onboarding.”

Tighe & Bond has purposefully cultivated a culture of mentorship and teamwork as well, particularly between the older and younger generations of engineers.

“One of the nice things that we hear all the time from people in our organization is they get to work on all different kinds of projects,” Belitz said. “The other thing we’ve always done, but have made further investments in, is the ability to work seamlessly across all of our offices. All our offices are fitted with collaboration tools and the technology that people need to work together, and to complement that, we assign new hires to current employees when they join the firm so they can get that initial mentoring and that on-the-job training that is so important to their success.”

The firm adopted a hybrid work model during the pandemic that has continued to be effective, he added. “We think that allows our people not only to have some of the work-life balance and work-life integration objectives they’ve always had, but it still affords us ample opportunities to collaborate on projects and have that on-the-job mentoring and training. That’s how we’ve approached the pandemic, with a pretty big investment in technology to make sure that happens.

“From the outset of the pandemic, we were very intentional about saying our main goals are to look after the safety and health of our people, to protect the jobs of our people, and also to maintain our employee benefits,” he went on. “There was a lot of uncertainty at the time. We had some sectors that slowed down for a short period of time, but we had others that ramped up, and now I think some of those sectors that have slowed down have come out of the pandemic ready to work with Tighe & Bond on even more projects.”

 

Building a Culture

Belitz said Tighe & Bond’s leadership is proud of the firm’s culture, which includes elements like the Make a Difference program, which affords employees time to give back to their communities through service projects with local nonprofits.

“Even during the pandemic, though we couldn’t do some of those things because of the restrictions, we had a number of our people volunteer in places like food banks and hospitals and places that had the most need during that period of time,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the company’s employee-benefit program has seen additions like a paid-time-off donation program, by which employees can donate hours of unused vacation to co-workers for certain personal needs; and a student-loan repayment benefit through which the company makes a principal payment to an employee’s student loan. “It shows our commitment to importance of education and our commitment to employees,” Belitz said.

Meanwhile, he added, the firm has made further investments in technology, both internally and with tools like drone technology, 3D laser scanning, and enhanced use of GIS. “We think those are things that enhance the client and employee experience.”

The firm has also increased its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through efforts like the Supporting Women at Tighe & Bond Employee Resource Group and a partnership with the National Society for Black Engineers, which includes two scholarships for students in the engineering field; both efforts aim to increase the diversity of the firm’s talent pipeline.

All these efforts create an environment where people want to work, Belitz said.

“One area that’s super important for us is our employee ownership and the fact that, even in a climate today where there’s a lot of consolidation and a lot of influence of equity investment in engineering and architecture firms, we’re remaining committed to our employee ownership model,” he added.

“That, combined with the fact that we have all our offices within the Northeast, is a very good model for us to keep growing, but to grow in a manageable way. Growth creates opportunity for our people, and I think we’ve got a nice growth model in place.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

Cover Story

Form and Function

Interim Dean Tom Moliterno

Interim Dean Tom Moliterno

The Isenberg Innovation Hub, a $62 million expansion and renovation of the business school’s facilities on the UMass Amherst campus, will open its doors to students later this month. The building’s exterior design is stunning, and it gives a new face to Isenberg and perhaps the university, but the architects have made it functional as well.

Dramatic. Striking. Stunning. Powerful. Distinctive.

Those are some of the words that come to mind as one takes in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, a $62 million, 70,000-square-foot addition and renovation to the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, and its copper cladding, circular design, and falling-dominoes effect.

And those who conceptualized this project and then went about raising the money for it certainly had all those adjectives in mind when they went about hiring architects to create something that would effectively, and loudly, announce the Isenberg school’s ascension to the ranks of the best business schools in the country — and also help recruit the next generation of top students.

“Now that we are a top-20 business school, the students who are considering us are also considering a lot of other exceptional business schools. And one of the things that a student and his or her parents think about is the physical space.”

But that’s certainly not all they wanted — or demanded.

“Now that we are a top-20 business school, the students who are considering us are also considering a lot of other exceptional business schools,” said Tom Moliterno, interim dean at Isenberg. “And one of the things that a student and his or her parents think about is the physical space; there is a requirement, much like a football team needs good facilities, for facilities of a certain caliber in order to ensure that we get the best students.

The learning commons in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, like the building itself, has both a striking design and a great deal of functionality; it also doubles as event space.

The learning commons in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, like the building itself, has both a striking design and a great deal of functionality; it also doubles as event space.

“But there’s more to it than that,” he went on. “You need more than a pretty building; you need a building that’s designed to train students and to prepare students for careers in the 21st century.”

Elaborating, he said business schools today require space that is geared far more toward student collaboration, team working environments, distance learning, and career services than even a decade or two ago.

And all of this is reflected in what’s behind the flashy exterior of the Business Innovation Hub. Indeed, as he conducted his formal tour of the new facility, Moliterno seemed to be constantly pointing out places where people, and especially students, could come together and collaborate.

The hallways, like all the areas in the Business Innovation Hub, are designed to promote collaboration.

The hallways, like all the areas in the Business Innovation Hub, are designed to promote collaboration.

In the learning commons, which doubles as event space, there are dozens of soft chairs and small round tables at which people can gather; in the classrooms, the chairs have wheels, and for a reason — so they can be moved and maneuvered to face in any direction, toward the instructor in the front of the room or the student across the table; in the hallway outside the classrooms, there are more soft chairs and gathering spaces; in the courtyard, there are stone benches; on the grand stairway, there are wooden planks affixed to one set of the concrete stairs — again, for a reason.

“If you’re heading up the stairs and you see someone coming down that you want to talk to, you can pull over, sit down on the stairs, and talk,” said Moliterno, adding that the architects — Boston-based Goody Clancy, in partnership with the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) of New York and Denmark — went to extremely great lengths to inspire and facilitate collaboration, and this, perhaps even more than the stunning exterior and interior designs, is what the new addition is all about.

Roger Goldstein, the principal at Goody Clancy who headed the Isenberg project, agreed, and said the firm applied lessons from two decades of work designing college business schools and additions to the Isenberg initiative.

An aerial view of the expansion project

“Their aspiration was for something with real distinction — something that would be forward-looking and quite contemporary,” he explained, referring to Moliterno and Mark Fuller, the former dean of the Isenberg School and now associate chancellor at UMass Amherst. “But also a building that works really well and will stand up in the long run.”

Yu Inamoto, lead architect for the BIG group on this project, concurred. “One of the desires put forth by the dean, the faculty, and all the others we interacted with was to have a space that was not only impressive, but a place for gathering, and this is reflected throughout.”

Faculty and staff are currently moving into the new facilities, said Moliterno, adding that the building will be ready when students return to classes later this month.

One of the state-of-the-art classrooms in the Business Innovation Hub.

One of the state-of-the-art classrooms in the Business Innovation Hub.

What they’ll find is a state-of-the-art, user-friendly facility that does a lot for Isenberg, and UMass Amherst on the whole.

It gives the business school — and perhaps the university itself — a bold new face. It also gives the school a powerful new recruiting tool and perhaps the ability to rise still higher in the rankings, something that’s difficult to do as it moves up the ladder.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest toured the Business Innovation Hub and learned how it blends form and function and punctuates the Isenberg School’s ongoing ascent among the nation’s top business schools.

Space Exploration

While obviously proud of the expansion’s ground floor, with its learning commons, courtyard, hallways crowded with gathering spaces, and generous amounts of glass, Moliterno was anxious for his tour to reach the second floor.

Because this is where more of that all-important functionality can be found. And it manifests itself in a number of ways, from greatly expanded and enhanced space for the Chase Career Center to separate lounges for students waiting to be interviewed and recruiters waiting to do some interviewing, to the small interviewing rooms that, when not being used for that purpose, can double as additional gathering spaces for students, thus maximizing each available square foot of space.

“Those rooms are sized and furnished to swing one way or the other depending on what the need is,” said Goldstein. “And that improves efficiency because you’re not creating spaces that have only one use and are empty half the time.”

Before elaborating on this mindset and what the Business Innovation Hub means for Isenberg, its students, faculty, the recruiters who will visit it to query job candidates, and other constituencies, Moliterno first went back to roughly the start of this decade, when the seeds for this facility were planted.

And they were planted out of need, he went on, which came in many forms.

The first was simply spacial. Indeed, while the original Isenberg building, built in 1964, was expanded with the so-called Alfond addition in 2002, by the start of this decade, and actually long before that, a growing Isenberg was busting at the seams.

Architect Yu Inamoto says the copper used in the building’s exterior was chosen in an effort to give it a look that is “authentic and real.”

Architect Yu Inamoto says the copper used in the building’s exterior was chosen in an effort to give it a look that is “authentic and real.”

“What we used to say is that we were a family of eight living in a two-bedroom apartment,” said Moliterno, noting that undergraduate enrollment at Isenberg had risen from 2,500 in to 3,400 in just a few years earlier this decade.

Facilities were so cramped that some departments within Isenberg, such as Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management, were spread out in other buildings, said Goldstein, creating an inconvenience for students and faculty alike. The Business and Innovation Hub brings all of Isenberg’s departments and offices together under one roof.

Beyond the need for more space, though, Isenberg also needed better space, said Moliterno — space that reflected its climb in the rankings in the U.S. News & World Report listings of business schools — both public institutions (it’s now 26th nationwide and first among undergraduate programs in the Northeast) and overall (44th in the nation). And space that would help Isenberg compete for students applying to the other schools just above or below them on those lists.

“Relatively early in his tenure, Mark Fuller realized that the school was on a trajectory, both in terms of growth and in terms of quality, that was going to necessitate new physical space,” said Moliterno, adding that the first discussions and estimates on square footage required date back to 2010 or even 2009.

At this point, the project essentially “went into the queue,” as Moliterno called it, noting that there were a number of building projects being forwarded for consideration and funding. To move up in the queue — something deemed necessary as the school continued its torrid pace of growth as well as its ascent in the rankings — the Isenberg School took the unusual step of committing to provide 60% of the funding for the project, with the rest covered by the university.

This commitment translated into the largest ever made by a specific school for a campus building project, he went on, adding that this bold step did, indeed, move the initiative up in the queue. And in 2014, formal planning — including specific space requirements and preliminary cost estimates — began in earnest.

However, in the two to three years since the initial discussions and rough sketching were undertaken, construction costs had increased 50%, he said, bringing the total cost to $62 million.

While raising that sum was a challenge — met by tapping into a growing base of successful Isenberg alums — it would be only one of many to overcome.

Another would be fitting the building into that crowded area of the campus while also negotiating a veritable rat’s nest of underground utilities in that quadrant.

“There was this bowl of spaghetti of steam lines, electrical conduits, and high-speed data lines,” said Moliterno. “And one of the real design challenges was figuring out how to put a building on this part of campus given everything that was underground.”

Designs on Continued Growth

Creating a road map for navigating this bowl of spaghetti was just one component of the assignment eventually awarded to Goody Clancy and the Bjarke Ingels Group — a partnership that Moliterno called a ‘perfect marriage’ of an emerging force in the design world (BIG) and a company with vast experience in designing not only academic buildings, but business-school facilities.

“There was this bowl of spaghetti of steam lines, electrical conduits, and high-speed data lines. And one of the real design challenges was figuring out how to put a building on this part of campus given everything that was underground.”

Indeed, BIG has been on a meteoric rise, with a portfolio now boasting Two World Trade Center in New York, Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters building, and several dozen other projects either under construction or in the planning stages.

As for Goody Clancy, as noted, it has spent the past 20 years or so developing a strong niche designing new buildings and additions for business schools, and the portfolio includes recent work at Harvard, Boston University, Georgetown University, Texas Tech, and the University of New Hampshire.

Development of this niche wasn’t exactly by design, to use an industry term, said Goldstein, but as often happens in this business, a single project or two can lead to additional opportunities.

And that’s what happened after the firm took on a project for Babson University, known for its programs in entrepreneurship.

“We then did a few more, and before you knew it, we had three business-school buildings, and we thought, ‘OK, this looks like a specialty,’” he told BusinessWest, adding that the company has another four or five business-school projects in various stages of completion, a reflection of the need for such institutions to keep up with the Joneses, if you will, so they can effectively compete for the best students.

“Business schools have wealthy donors and want to build buildings that will advance their brand,” he said. “They want something that will differentiate them.”

Inamoto agreed. “Schools definitely want to make a statement with these buildings,” he said, adding that the Isenberg addition is the first academic project taken on by the firm in this country, and thus it sought to partner with a firm with a deep portfolio in that realm.

As they went about designing the addition, the team of architects focused on both of their priorities — form and function. They conceptualized an exterior that would fit in — sort of — and respect the brutalist style so prominent in other buildings in that part of the campus, such as the Fine Arts Center and the Whitmore Administration Building.

The circular design, meanwhile, would create a dynamic look that would also connect, in dramatic fashion, with the existing Isenberg facility (as the aerial architect’s rendering on page 18 shows) and “close the loop,” as Goldstein put it.

As for the copper exterior, Inamoto said it was chosen — after aluminum was first considered — because the material, like the school itself, isn’t stagnant; it changes over time.

“As a firm, we like the look of copper, and we like to recommend naturally aging materials,” he explained. “The copper panels are already starting to weather; when they’re first installed, they’re a bright, shiny orange, and within weeks, that starts to become darker and brown, and over time, they’ll oxidize to a green copper look.

“Over time, the building weathers,” he went on. “And we didn’t want something that was too flat or too plasticky, if you will. That’s part of our design strategy; we try to select something that’s authentic and real.”

In designing what’s behind the copper façade, they started by gathering extensive feedback, via focus groups, from a number of constituencies, including Isenberg administrators and staff, students, faculty, and others. And they incorporated what they learned into the final design, said Moliterno, citing everything from a café to greatly expanded space for the career center and undergraduate advising.

“They brought in Career Services and said, ‘walk us through everything you do — what are your space needs? You have interviewers here — how many, and what do they need?’” he recalled. “And then, they had that same conversation with Undergraduate Programs and with a committee of faculty who talked about the classroom space.

“And they had the same conversations with students,” he went on. “And this is where we learned that students are often here from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, and thus they want a place to eat in the building, because if they leave the building, they break up their team process.”

As for the career center and undergraduate advising facilities, these are as important to the ultimate success of Isenberg students (and the school itself) as the classrooms, said Moliterno, adding that these facilities provide more services to far more students than they did even a few years ago.

“Students don’t just show up when they’re juniors and look for job postings,” he explained. “They’re working with the career services offices constantly in order to get internships, résumé review, and structure their social-media profile. The hands-on career prep, the number of hours one spends in career services, has grown dramatically over the years, and this is reflected in the design of this building.”

Seeing the Light

As he walked through the expanded career services office during his tour, Moliterno put the Business Innovation Hub and the chosen designs for it in their proper perspective.

“At the initial bid process, when I was speaking to all the architects who were bidding, I said, ‘I want to be clear about something: this might be the most beautiful building in the world, but if it doesn’t work for the students, if it doesn’t enhance and improve the student experience, it will be a failure — full stop,’” he recalled.

‘Most beautiful building in the world’ is a purely subjective matter for discussion, he went on, while the matter of whether a building works for students certainly isn’t.

He’s quite sure that this one does, and while that quality generally doesn’t warrant adjectives like ‘dramatic, ‘striking,’ ‘stunning,’ or ‘powerful,’ it probably should.

And it explains, even more than that façade, why the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub is such an important development for the school and the university.

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

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