Taking on Logistically Challenging Construction

W.T. Rich Company

Founded in 1968, W.T. Rich Company is a reliable construction manager in the state of Massachusetts that has a demonstrated track record of meeting and exceeding client expectations. The company particularly excels in the face of projects that are inherently unique or challenging.
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W.T. Rich Company specializes in new ground-up building construction, major renovations and additions, and complex historic restoration, and it has extensive experience with logistically complex projects, often in close proximity to residences and other buildings in operation.

The Clark Avenue Middle School was one of the most challenging and complex recent projects for W.T. Rich. This five story, 115,200-square-foot middle school in Chelsea, MA was a two-phase, $47 million project that took three years to complete. The particular features of the building included a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a music room, an art room, a media center, administrative office space, and a central staircase that has become the hallmark of the school. The construction had to be completed in two phases because the City was unable to provide an alternative space for the students and the school had to remain occupied throughout the project.

The first section of the school was torn down while the other section continued day to day operations, and once new construction was complete in the first section, the students were transitioned over to allow for phase two to begin. The short distance between the buildings that were constructed in the two phases of the project made it quite complex. The two sections of the building were only seven feet apart and the demolition and construction had to be monitored closely.

The school is located at the intersection of Clark and Crescent and it is bracketed by four residential urban streets. Without any athletic fields or extra space, the school and the neighborhood have a tight, old-school atmosphere and most of the students are within walking distance. “Logistically speaking, for construction purposes the challenges are that you’re in this residential area and you have a lot of kids who are walkers, so you have to implement control into the job site like blackout periods where you can or cannot take deliveries,” explains Harvey Eskenas, Senior Project Manager at W.T. Rich. Balancing the operations of the school during steel delivery or concrete installation, for example, was essential and the priority was always to keep students safely out of harm’s way.

“Another thing that was particularly challenging during the project is the City decided to do a road utility overhaul and resurfacing project right when we were getting ready to have steel delivered on site, so that was an extra layer of coordination, planning and communication with the City,” says Mike Michaud, Quality Control Director and Project Manager at W.T. Rich. In the midst of all this controlled chaos, W.T. Rich did its best to be accommodating to the neighbors who have backyards less than 10 feet from the project site. “We still had a schedule and budget to keep, but we also had to make sure that we tread as lightly as possible on the neighborhood; that was a key piece.”

Many of the school’s neighbors were lifelong residents in the area and had even attended the Clark Avenue School in their school years. Change is never easy, and the concept of replacing the old school did not go over well with everyone; however, those individuals had a change of heart after seeing the final results. The previous educational building was 110 years old and was in dire need of an update, and the general attitude and atmosphere of the community has become friendlier and more optimistic since the school was renovated. Chelsea is known as a tough city and the general population was excited to see improvement of the area, despite any disruptions.

W.T. Rich did an excellent job of engaging with stakeholders and neighbors, communicating clearly about its schedule and translating the construction data. One strategy the team used was to treat neighborhood complaints like fires and address them immediately before the issue could fester and grow. The team did not simply throw dates and facts at the inquiring people; they stuck around long enough to ensure that the residents fully understood the process and had all of their questions answered.

“W.T. Rich knows that taking the extra couple of minutes to explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it sets us apart from a regular contractor that is all about schedule and the bottom line. We find that it serves us well to communicate throughout with all the stakeholders to keep them informed of what’s going on,” says Mike. This mindset also helps the contractor deal with any potential issues before they arise in the midst of construction tasks.

As the construction process wrapped up, one of the most vocal initial critics of the project stood up at the last community meeting to give W.T. Rich a standing ovation and express that they would be sad to see the workers leave. This is a testament to the company’s ability to work through a difficult situation without ever losing sight of its priorities.

The Clark Avenue Middle School project was successfully completed on time and within budget. It is on target to achieve LEED Silver or higher certification and despite the high number of inherent challenges, the project progressed smoothly.

“We don’t just go and put up a building for our clients; we take these extra steps to establish outside relationships to make sure this whole process is successful for everyone involved – and we do this on every project. We have so many logistically constraining sites that it’s so important for us to make sure that this happens,” says Sheri Cote, Marketing Director at W.T. Rich. The specialized company tends to end up working on unique projects that offer a variety of challenges and it is proud of its capability to take on the near-impossible.

W.T. Rich was recently awarded three other projects involving tight site logistics and construction on an existing, occupied school: Manchester Memorial Elementary School ($41M), Smith Elementary School in Danvers ($42M), and Pentucket Regional Middle-High School ($124M). The company has also been recognized by the Boston Globe as one of the Top Places to Work for the last three years in a row.

The company’s senior staff is approachable and will listen to anyone’s concerns, and they respect different opinions. This leadership style encourages a positive workplace culture. The employees all genuinely care about each other at W.T. Rich and they do not have strictly business relationships. When coworkers are friends and are familiar with the other’s family, that personal attachment is additional motivation to help the other succeed, which in turn helps the company succeed. Unsurprisingly, the high level of teamwork at W.T. Rich has led to a low turnover rate. “In this economy, especially in the construction industry where people are bouncing from job to job, our people tend to stay and retire here,” says Mike.

The company is small enough to work together as one group by exchanging team members between projects depending on individual strengths and weaknesses, which is especially beneficial when unexpected issues occur. “We face the challenges together and we succeed together so when something is particularly challenging, we’ll pull in the resources to keep everything on track,” says Mike.

W.T. Rich has developed a reputation for its unique ability to truly partner with all the stakeholders of a construction project. Those partners benefit from the company’s vast and in-depth construction knowledge early in the design process, leading to success with the budget, the schedule, and the final product. The committed and trustworthy contracting company looks to foster effective relationships with the owner of the building, the OPMs, and the architect in order to work together to find the most efficient solutions for all involved with and affected by the project.

Logistically complex construction projects have become a specialty for W.T. Rich, and the company will continue to take on new challenges while focusing on client and stakeholder satisfaction.

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April 24, 2019, 1:19 PM EDT