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Past Meets Future

Stephen Greenwald

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wrestling arena at Northfield Mount Hermon School

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

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

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

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

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

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


Comforts of Home

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

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

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

Renaissance Builders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Green Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Remodeling Woes

Joshua L. Woods, Esq.


Many of us love watching home renovations on television. Whether the redos are taking place at a beach-house bungalow, a tiny apartment, or a Victorian mansion, it’s always entertaining to live vicariously through people remodeling a house or building their dream home.

But what happens when opportunity knocks in real life, and you have the chance to create a space of your own design? Perhaps you envision a beautiful, blue-tiled backsplash against white kitchen cabinets, heated bathroom floors, or a cozy living room with a gas fireplace. With a reliable and trustworthy contractor, all things are possible.

Unfortunately, not all contractors are reliable and trustworthy. Someone close to me recently experienced firsthand the horrors of hiring the wrong renovation company. My friends lived to tell the tale, but along the way, their family suffered through considerable delays, shoddy work resulting in added expenses and additional repairs, and the all-consuming worry of working with an uncommunicative contractor. Here is the story of a ‘craftsman’ remodeling company whose primary craft proved to be collecting payments for unperformed work.

It all began when my friends, first-time homebuyers, hired a local contracting company to perform a complete restoration and remodel of a charming 1930s colonial-style house. After interviewing five separate contractors, my friends decided to work with ‘Craftsmen’ (the company’s name has been changed to protect their anonymity). The contractor was extremely charismatic, proposed a comparable bid, and seemed to have just the right can-do attitude needed to complete the project. Craftsmen provided three references who, when contacted, sang the company’s praises. Craftsmen also had great online reviews. My friends decided to move forward and agreed to the terms of a proposal from Craftsmen, officially hiring the company for their project.

Joshua L. Woods

Joshua L. Woods

“They had to live through an enormous amount of stress, the upheaval of an unfinished living space, hideously long delays, and considerable additional expenses. You can learn from their mishaps.”

Craftsmen requested a down payment, and upon receiving the funds, the first step of the project — demolition — was scheduled. Pursuant to the payment schedule on the written proposal, the second payment would be due on demolition day, the third would be due when rough plumbing was installed, the fourth upon installation of rough electrical, the fifth upon installation of drywall, and the sixth and final payment would be due when the project was completed.

To their chagrin, my friends soon discovered the problem with this payment schedule: the majority of the fees would be paid prior to the rebuilding. That is, four hefty payments were required before the demolished spaces would be fully rebuilt.

At first, the contractor completed the demo work on schedule, but then they went silent. The house sat in disarray, unfinished, for months after the first payments were made. Nothing was accomplished properly. The plumbing was installed incorrectly, there was an old toilet left in the dining room for months, the trim was unfinished, the hardwood floors were ruined, exposed electrical wires dangled from the walls, and the list went on. My friends finally decided they could no longer tolerate the situation and made the decision to fire Craftsmen.

For anyone considering renovations, keep the following steps in mind, which can help protect you from a similar experience:

• Verify the contractor is in good standing. Ask for the contractor’s business-license number and research it on the state’s website to ensure there are no lawsuits against the company. You should also search the Better Business Bureau for complaints.

• Look into the contractor’s partners and vendors. Request a copy of the business license for all subcontractors who may work on your project.

• Contact references. Before hiring a contractor, always ask for multiple references and contact as many as you can. Listen closely to what they say. When speaking with references, you will certainly wish to inquire about the ‘big stuff,’ including satisfaction with the final project and pricing, but it may also be wise to inquire about smaller details including punctuality, cleanliness on the job site, responsiveness to calls and requests, etc. Looking back, my friend should perhaps have seen a red flag when Craftsmen provided only three references. A reputable company should be able to provide evidence of a great many satisfied customers.

• Have an attorney review the fine print. Another red flag should have been the lack of a formal contract at the outset and the lack of itemized billing during the project. Craftsmen provided only a written proposal, which is not sufficient for a project of this magnitude. When hiring a contractor, be sure to protect yourself by having a qualified attorney review all documents, proposals, and contracts before you sign. All contracts should include a clear payment schedule in which the final payment is typically 25% of the entire fee, provided only upon completion of the project and a satisfactory final walk-through with the contractor. Once hired, all communication should be in writing, and you should request regular written updates from the contractor, so there is a clear understanding of the status of work completed and work to be done.

• Document the process. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly true where renovation projects are concerned. Be certain to take many photos of your project, including shots of the site before, during, and after the renovation is complete.

My friend and his family were ultimately able to pivot their renovation to another contractor, who repaired Craftsmen’s mistakes and finished the project. The family is now happily enjoying their beautiful, freshly remodeled home.

If my friends had only done more diligent research and consulted with an attorney before working with Craftsmen, they could have potentially avoided the entire awful experience. Instead, they had to live through an enormous amount of stress, the upheaval of an unfinished living space, hideously long delays, and considerable additional expenses. You can learn from their mishaps and use the steps above as important preventive measures. They may be your — and your house’s — saving grace. v


Attorney Joshua L. Woods is an associate with Bacon Wilson, P.C. and a member of the firm’s business, corporate, and commercial law team. He has extensive experience in matters of business law, including all aspects of corporate formation, franchising, joint ventures, leasing, and business and commercial litigation. He is licensed to practice in both Massachusetts and Connecticut; 413-781-0560; [email protected]

Building Permits

The following building permits were issued during the month of December 2018.


Amherst Shopping Center Associates, LLC
165 University Dr.
$34,020 — Install ductless HVAC system in existing CVS stockroom

D’Angelo Inc.
48 North Pleasant St.
$65,300 — Tenant fit-out for food-service establishments

Granodonico Properties, LLC
25 North Pleasant St.
$37,000 — Remove ceiling and insulation, reinstall blue boards and plaster

Jewish Community of Amherst
742 Main St.
$120,000 — Straighten and re-roof steeple

Mathews Properties
37 South Pleasant St.
$5,000 — Demolish wall between two offices

One East Pleasant St.
1 East Pleasant St.
$5,000 — Limited demolition

Town of Amherst
4 Boltwood Ave.
$10,000 — Town room alteration

Udrive, LLC
40 University Dr.
$551,250 — Core/shell for future restaurant


Chicopee Marketplace Owners, LLC
591F Memorial Dr.
$42,900 — Fit-out existing space for nail salon

G6 Hospitality Property, LLC
36 Johnny Cake Hollow
$30,000 — Remove drywall, repair existing drywall, mold remediation

Dorothy Krawiec
2 Valier Ave.
$25,000 — Add three antennas and replace remote radio heads with new ancillary equipment and cables

Yee Family
705 Memorial Dr.
$110,000 — Complete demolition of former Hu Ke Lau restaurant


Keystone Enterprises
122 Pleasant St.
$352,800 — HVAC work for Insa Easthampton expansion

Keystone Enterprises
122 Pleasant St.
$62,000 — Extend elevator hoistway above roof line, reconstruct level deck landing and exterior elevator lobby

Seachange Endeavors, LLC
117 Pleasant St.
$224,000 — Construct two-story manufactured addition to side of building


443 Shaker Road
$275,000 — Roofing

LG Industries, LLC
194 Pleasant St.
$25,000 — Kitchen and bathroom

Stacy’s Cleaners
55 White St.
$1,200 — Rebuild interior stairs

Ventry Properties, LLC
124 Shaker Road
$165,500 — New commercial building


American Tower Corp.
180 Country Club Road
$13,500 — Install small backup generator for cell tower

Behavioral Health Network
298 Federal St.
$65,000 — Install fire-protection system

Joyce Drake
427 Davis St.
$6,000 — Cut out concrete wall for door, frame two walls to make office, finish and frame for bathroom

Joyce Drake
427 Davis St.
Attach sign to building for Kenney Automotive

First United Methodist Church
25 Church St.
$12,800 — Roofing

Syfeld Greenfield Associates
259 Mohawk Trail
$40,000 — Retrofit sprinkler heads to new ceiling height


The Longmeadow Mall, LP
827 Williams St.
$8,500 — Install ceiling to bring space up to code


34 North Maple St.
$125,000 — Construct cidery

Smith College
44 College Lane
$2,365,000 — Upgrade existing air-handling units and exhaust fan in Sabin-Reed Hall

Smith College
44 Green St.
$16,000 — New transom, built-in bookshelves, minor electric work


125 Paridon Street, LLC
125 Paridon St.
$25,000 — Install three panel antennas, remove three remote radio heads and install six, modify equipment, smokestack installation for AT&T

Springfield College
29 Sheffield St.
$225,000 — Alter space in facilities building for use as a dance classroom

YWCA of Western Massachusetts
1 Clough St.
$5,000 — Convert two existing office rooms into sleeping rooms


73 State St., LLC
59 Interstate Dr.
$32,560 — Replace carpet, ceiling, sink, cabinet, and front door; remove two walls; add additional electrical outlets

Jim Byrne
24 Parkside Ave.
$4,200 — Repair front entry foyer, install new security door, install new siding, install new roof

Dante Club
1198 Memorial Ave.
$38,975 — Roofing

Eastern States Exposition
1305 Memorial Ave.
$25,000 — Install wireless telecommunications equipment for AT&T

Turkmen Kenan
707 Main St.
$4,500 — Roofing

Red’s Towing
1528 Riverdale St.
$32,000 — Roofing

Town of West Springfield
1 Toccoa Lane
$7,500 — Install generator to existing wireless facility

Van Deene Medical Building Partnership
75 Van Deene Ave.
$80,000 — Expand office into adjacent vacant space, add handicap-accessible restroom


Equinox Partners, LLC
183 Main St.
$87,000 — Roofing on clubhouse, remove and rebuild entrance, new pine ceiling in clubhouse, install washable surface in kitchen

Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield
173 Main St.
$14,285 — Roofing