Alewife Park in Cambridge

Life sciences fuel construction boom

Boston is known for many things, including its rich history, incredible sports legacy, clam chowder, wicked good accent, top-ranked universities, and the best hospitals in the U.S. It’s those last two categories–an embarrassment of riches–which help make our region the mecca for research, science, medicine, and innovation.

That has fueled a construction boom for the red-hot biotech and life science industry. Is it sustainable? The science would seem to indicate that there’s plenty of life left.

“We are incredibly fortunate to be here,” says David P. Manfredi, CEO and founding principal of Elkus Manfredi Architects. The firm has designed many buildings and campuses for research and development companies such as Novartis and Pfizer. “It’s no exaggeration to say there is no greater density of life science research anywhere in the world,” he adds.

The focal point is Kendall Square, which benefits from its proximity to MIT. Among the companies planting their flag in the Cambridge outpost are Moderna, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Biogen, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, to name a few. But construction of life science buildings has expanded to the Seaport, the Fenway, and elsewhere as developers and companies continue to invest mightily in the sector.

There is even a life science project being built in downtown Boston. Nan Fung Life Sciences Real Estate, a development company based in Hong Kong, is transforming One Winthrop Square into lab and research space. In addition to its location in the Financial District, what makes the project unique is that the five-story, 111,000-square-foot building was originally built in 1873.

Lots of plumbing

The big, sturdy structure, with its tall ceilings and open floor plans, is conducive to being repurposed for life science needs according to Paul Dionne, president of P.J. Dionne Company. The GBPCA contractor, which has been working on life science projects for most of its 30 years, is handling the plumbing for the One Winthrop Square transformation. 

One Winthrop Square construction site

“There is a lot of piping and mechanical systems in them,” Dionne explains, referring to gases such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and argon that typically serve multiple labs. The mechanical rooms for life science buildings are often very large and include reverse osmosis water systems, air compressors, vacuum pumps, nitrogen generators, and other systems. The buildings also typically require a lot of hot water and natural gas and have multiple drainage systems to accommodate the needs of research and tech companies.

“It’s great for us,” adds Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager. Echoing Dionne’s assessment, he says that life science projects are technically complex and require lots of plumbing–considerably more than other types of jobs such as office buildings or residential complexes.

One Winthrop Square rendering

Among the many major life science projects now underway and keeping GBPCA contractors and Local 12 plumbers busy is Cambridge Crossing, a vast, multi-use campus that will include three large lab buildings. Other projects under construction or in the pipeline include BioMed’s 1.3-million-square-foot innovation space at Assembly Square in Somerville, a number of projects in Watertown, and a project in the Alewife section of Cambridge.

There is much new construction. But as with One Winthrop Square, there are a number of existing buildings that are being redesigned for the in-demand life science market as well. 601 Congress Street in the Seaport, for example, had been John Hancock’s headquarters. Built in 2005, the office tower is being transformed into lab space. Its height won’t change, but the number of floors will. The repurposed building will have fewer stories, each of which will be taller to accommodate racks of piping, duct work, and other systems.

“To retrofit a standing building, the mechanicals are a little more challenging,” Dionne explains.

“Not every office building should be converted,” says Manfredi. “It’s a lot easier to convert while it’s still on paper than after it’s built,” the architect adds.

How long can the boom last?

Still, with so much demand, there is a tremendous incentive for developers to transform existing buildings. Investors and developers are also placing huge bets on new biotech projects.

“Right now, there doesn’t seem to be any end to the demand,” says Dionne. “It reminds me of a bubble. I sure hope it’s sustainable. In the long run, I think it is.”

There appears to be a general consensus around that optimistic outlook. “Science and technology are really the future for our regional economy,” attests John Cannistraro, Jr., president of Cannistraro. The GBPCA contractor has worked on many projects in the sector and has a number of jobs on the horizon as well. “There is tremendous pent-up demand for science,” he says.

According to Manfredi, there is a foundation for continued growth. “What do we as a society care most about right now?” he asks. “It’s probably health and wellness.” Therefore, it’s no surprise there is so much interest in the life science industry.

The architect warns, however, that research hubs in Silicon Valley, San Diego, Seattle, Houston, and elsewhere are nipping at our heels and eager to cash in on the biotech boom. “If we are not good stewards, they’ll find other places to go. But I think we have been good stewards.”

Telling stories with buildings

– Spotlight on David P. Manfredi and Elkus Manfredi

The construction industry is highly collaborative and requires many interdependent players in order for buildings to get built. Within our own ranks, Local 12 plumbers need GBPCA contractors to provide the projects and the infrastructure so that they can work–just as the contractors rely on the plumbers to get the work done. The plumbers, in turn, have to work cooperatively with other building trades as part of an integrated, team effort.

Comparing building projects to movies, which by their nature also require a great deal of collaboration, general contractors are like film directors. They oversee the process and orchestrate the subcontractors (who are the cast and crew in this analogy) to bring buildings to life.

But it all starts with architects. They are the ones who conjure buildings in the first place. They write the scripts, if you will, and tell the stories of what buildings will be. One of the region’s most prominent and visionary firms is Elkus Manfredi Architects, led by David P. Manfredi, CEO and founding principal. Its vast portfolio of projects, which includes some of the Boston area’s most noteworthy buildings, also spans across the country and beyond.

David P. Manfredi Boston architect
David P. Manfredi
Photo: Ben Cheung

At first glance, it might come as a surprise to learn that Manfredi originally pursued English Literature. It was only after earning a graduate degree in the subject that he made his way to architecture school.

“I took a circuitous path,” Manfredi says, noting that his father was a carpenter and home builder. He remembers coming home as a young child from his dad’s construction sites covered in mud. Throughout high school and college, he swung a hammer alongside his father. That influence eventually led Manfredi into the industry.

But, he believes, his passion for literature still plays a part in his chosen profession. “We are storytellers,” says Manfredi, characterizing architects. “Telling the narrative of how we design, persuading people of our ideas, is a big part of what we do.”

Another reason that Manfredi shifted career paths is that he truly enjoys engaging with others, both within his firm and with the engineers, clients, contractors, subcontractors, and others who work on his designs. Whereas literature is typically a singular, and sometimes lonely, pursuit, architecture demands camaraderie and collegiality. So instead of focusing on literary works, Manfredi weaves three-dimensional stories with his design projects.

Design diversity is among founding principles

After working together with Howard Elkus at The Architects Collaborative in Cambridge, the two formed Elkus Manfredi Architects in 1988. (Elkus passed away in 2017.) From the start, the two decided that they didn’t want to be pigeonholed into a building type. They were too curious about the entire design spectrum and eager to tackle a variety of projects. As a result, the firm has produced landmark life science campuses, office buildings, hotels, residential complexes, retail projects, academic buildings, houses of worship, cultural institutions, and more.

While they never wanted to be a single-purpose firm, Manfredi says they always wanted to be a single-office firm. Their work can be found in Los Angeles, Florida, Chicago, Houston, and elsewhere, but it all emanates from one base.

“We’re here in Boston. This is where we live as well as work,” says Manfredi. “We’re committed to the city.”

Boston is also home to many of the firm’s signature projects, including the Pier 4 mixed-use office building, the 14-acre Boston Landing development and the adjacent New Balance headquarters on the Mass Pike, and the restoration of the Paramount Theatre. Elkus Manfredi projects outside of the region include The Grove, an urban retail and entertainment destination in Los Angeles; the vast, multi-use Miami Worldcenter development; and The LINQ Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Among the projects that Manfredi considers to be the firm’s most significant is The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

New Balance headquarters at Boston Landing
Photo: © Robert Benson

“The work we’ve done at the Broad Institute is really important to me, because the work they do is so important,” Manfredi says, citing its breakthrough genomics research. The building is designed to be flexible so that the Institute can be agile and adapt to the rapidly evolving science. “In some very small way, we were able to support what they are doing,” he adds.

Other projects Manfredi singles out include the new corporate headquarters for MassMutual on Fan Pier; the 44-story residential apartment tower, The Alcott, set to open later this year in the West End; and multiple life science projects, including research and development hubs for Pfizer and Novartis.

Collaborating with mechanical contractors

GBPCA contractor Cannistraro has worked on many projects together with Elkus Manfredi including Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ global headquarters in the Seaport and the InterContinental Boston hotel on the waterfront. President John C. Cannistraro, Jr. admires the scope of its design portfolio.

“David’s firm is unique in its range of talent. On the one hand are these massive commercial projects. In the other is the pencil that designs building restorations which are more mystical and spiritual,” Cannistraro says. Among his favorites is Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. “I did not work on that one but find it more peaceful that way when I visit and look up in wonder.”

Cannistraro says that the working relationships between subcontractors and architects have been evolving. Mechanical contractors, he says, are sometimes brought in during the pre-construction phase to help shape the design of a project. The pandemic, Cannistraro believes, has accelerated the trend. The calamity has enabled those in the construction industry to reconsider the ways that they work together and has made them more open to new ideas and processes.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross
Photo: © Robert Benson

Manfredi agrees with Cannistraro’s assessment, noting that increased collaboration has allowed the construction industry to do things more accurately and faster than ever before. He also says that subcontractors, architects, and other building trades are more dependent on one another than ever before. 

“We start it, and it ends up with subcontractors. By the time the building gets built, we’ve all had our hands in it,” Manfredi says. “It’s all positive–all for the good.” Citing Cannistraro’s massive, new pre-fabrication plant in the Seaport, he notes that “it helps them offer better coordination, higher quality, and better durability. That’s good for all of us.”

Respect for the trades

Manfredi’s regard for the building trades can be traced back to his father, the home builder. “I tell young architects all the time to listen to the people who are going to build your buildings because you’ll learn a lot. They’ll often know how to build what we envision.”

He acknowledges that his firm’s success is dependent on the success of the trades. “Hopefully, the trades feel the same way,” Manfredi adds. “We recognize in Boston that the talent resides in the union trades. I think we’re really fortunate to have a lot of innovation in the trades here.”

Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager, says that Elkus Manfredi has made a huge impact in and around Boston with its collection of projects. He notes that the firm’s designs are both aesthetically striking and rooted in practical function. “It’s an honor for us to work on its buildings.”

As with virtually everything else, the pandemic has been disruptive for Manfredi’s firm. He says that he and his colleagues have discovered that they can be surprisingly productive using technology and working remotely. That’s been a revelation, but Manfredi longs for a return to in-person collaboration. He hopes there is a way to combine some of the technology breakthroughs that have emerged with the industry’s best collaborative practices and reinvent the architectural design process.

There are new buildings to build and new stories to tell in the post-pandemic world. Perhaps there are new ways to join together and tell these three-dimensional stories.

Climate policy legislation would have unintended consequences

In theory, a “net-zero” building code–that is, a code designed to develop new buildings that would generate no carbon emissions–sounds like a no-brainer. 

Energy efficiency, after all, is something we need to achieve. But whenever theory meets reality, the devil is in the details. And the details of the state’s proposed net-zero building code raise some troubling concerns.

That’s why this past January, Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the part of a sweeping climate policy bill that targets building codes. He instead sent it back with recommendations that a coalition of industry stakeholders as well as the general public be given the opportunity to weigh in on the provision.

Zero-energy buildings either produce no emissions or generate sufficient renewable energy to offset their carbon footprints. The original bill included a net-zero “stretch” or “flex” code that would allow communities in the Commonwealth to opt into higher energy efficiency requirements for new buildings.

If enacted, the provision would have created a patchwork of building codes across the state. That would have caused uncertainty and a lack of continuity in the construction industry. The provision would also open the door to communities such as Brookline, which attempted to ban the installation of gas and oil pipes in new and renovated buildings. Stating that it would undermine the state’s building and gas codes along with the authority of the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gasfitters, Attorney General Maura Healey disapproved the town’s bylaw.

The Brookline example highlights other potential problems with the proposed net-zero flex code. By uniformly banning gas, the town’s restrictions would have imposed a financial burden on homeowners, businesses, and organizations. They would have had to rely on electricity, which costs considerably more than gas, to heat their homes and buildings. It would have also increased the construction costs of new buildings in Brookline.

Higher construction costs are one of the primary objections to the net-zero code. For example, it is estimated that a typical two-story home would cost as much as $83,500 more to build. That would have a chilling effect on the development of affordable housing and other types of construction. It’s challenging enough for working families seeking housing in the Boston area; adoption of the code would make it that much more difficult. Also, it would discourage development of new projects, thereby taking jobs away from working men and women in the construction industry.

“This is a well-intended law,” says Andrew DeAngelo, director of public affairs for the GBPCA. “But it has unintended negative consequences.”

Despite its informal characterization as a “flex” code, another problem with the legislation is its inflexibility. Should a community choose to outright ban all gas piping in new buildings for example, it would mandate a hatchet, rather than a scalpel, be used to help control carbon emissions. Rigid regulations may impose unnecessarily expensive technology that would make it prohibitive for developers and owners to proceed with projects. Some may not have the ability to scale up. Given some latitude, developers may be able to find ways to decarbonize faster and less expensively.

“I understand the desire to move away from gas,” says Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager. “We share the goal of addressing climate change and reducing carbon. But we differ on the pathway to getting there.”

Massachusetts, which is already recognized as a leader in climate issues, may need to move away from gas and other fossil fuels as energy sources. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that its cities and towns should ban all piping. DeAngelo points out that much progress is being made on zero-carbon-emission fuel resources such as renewable natural gas, methane, and hydrogen.

“We wouldn’t want to eliminate the pipe infrastructure,” he says, noting that Denmark and Australia have major projects that are powered by hydrogen. “We need a diverse energy portfolio, especially here in New England,” DeAngelo adds. “We need to take a broad view.”

By first vetoing and eventually reaching a compromise with the Legislature to allow for an industry stakeholder input process, a window has been provided for organizations such as the GBPCA and Local 12 to share their views about the law’s impact and to discuss issues such as the adoption of hydrogen as a fuel alternative.

“We are happy for the opportunity to have our voices heard as legislation and regulations are crafted,” says Local 12’s Fandel.

John Marani III president of Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Assoc

John Marani elected president of GBPCA

At its annual meeting in May, the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association swore in its new officers and executive board, including John Marani III as the organization’s president. He will serve a two-year term.

Marani, owner of GBPCA contractor A.H. Burns in Rockland, says that he has enjoyed representing the organization in other positions he has held and is looking forward to taking the helm.

“John has many years of experience in the industry and is a respected leader of GBPCA,” says Jeremy Ryan, the organization’s executive director. “He is also passionate about the industry and has some great ideas to help us move forward as the pandemic winds down. I know he will do a great job.”

Among the biggest things on his plate, Marani says that he will be participating in the negotiations of a new contract between the contractors and Local 12. When they sit down at the bargaining table in the fall, the labor and management groups will try to gauge where the industry and the larger economy will be heading post-pandemic.

It’s difficult to know for sure, of course, but Marani is bullish about the state of the region’s construction market. “I’m shocked at how well our area has recovered,” he says. “We were minimally affected by the pandemic.” Marani points to the amount of work that is permitted and the financing that is in place as indication of the industry’s resilience and strength. “I’m an optimist by nature. I want to believe it’ll be okay,” he adds.

Marani says that he has a great relationship with Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager, and is looking forward to expanding it in his position as GBPCA president. Their rapport is indicative of the way that the contractors work collaboratively with the union in general. “We have a model relationship,” says Marani. “We set an example for the rest of the country.”

The relationship, he believes, is one based on mutual respect and an acknowledgment that both groups can achieve great things when they work together. “Our contractors have had enormous success over the past ten years. But we didn’t make it happen alone,” Marani says. “It’s a joint effort. We need qualified plumbers.”

To that end, he notes that Local 12’s training program produces some of the most qualified workers in the U.S. And, Marani says, the union’s business agents are level-headed. “I’m proud to be associated with Local 12. My hope and my expectation is that our great relationship will continue.”

Marani succeeds Joe Valante, Jr. as GBPCA president. He presided over a difficult period as COVID-19 virtually shut down the region’s construction sites in early 2020 and caused much uncertainty and disruption for the industry. It also dealt a blow to vulnerable people in the community. In response, Valante helped spearhead efforts on behalf of GBPCA and Local 12 to donate about $100,000 to charitable causes.

“Through Joe’s empathetic, personable leadership, he was the right guy for the position during the pandemic crisis,” Ryan says. He also credits Valante for helping to hire Andrew DeAngelo as GBPCA’s director of public affairs, thereby increasing the organization’s outreach and making inroads with important initiatives.

Through the decades, GBPCA contractors A.H. Burns, Valante Mechanical, and E.H. Marchant Company have all been friendly competitors based in the Quincy area. All three union shops used to belong to the same Quincy local (which has since become part of Local 12). Larry Petrilli of E.H. Marchant, Joe Valante, Sr. of Valante Mechanical, and Marani’s father, John, all supported each other. The contractors borrowed each other’s tools and plumbers. “To me, it’s the way business should be,” Marani says. 

Now, the second-generation owners of the shops continue the tradition and work cordially with one another. For example, Marani often calls Mike Petrilli for advice. “Mike is very bright,” he says. “He has helped me a lot through the years.”

Petrilli, who has long been active with the GBPCA (and its predecessor, the PHCC of Greater Boston), encouraged Marani to get involved with the organization. With Marani’s election, the three contractors have each taken their turns leading the group. Petrilli served as president from 2009 to 2011.

Other GBPCA members elected to the executive board include Paul Dionne of PJ Dionne Company, vice president; Ken Reagan of Cannistraro, clerk-treasurer; and Jim Bent of American Plumbing & Heating, assistant clerk-treasurer.

As part of the annual meeting, the GBPCA awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships and awards. Recipients included 23 students who are the children of member contractors, their employees, and the Local 12 plumbers who work for them. For this year’s essay, scholarship applicants were asked to write about the many ways that COVID-19 made an impact on their lives. The organization also gave awards to five top Local 12 apprentices, one from each class.

Ricardo Souza EFR Mechanical plubing contractor

Ricardo Souza reinvented himself as a plumbing contractor

Spotlight on EFR Mechanical

In his native Brazil, Ricardo Souza was proficient with boom microphones and video cameras. Construction tools, however? Not so much.

“I didn’t even know how to hold a hammer before I got here,” Souza says. Which is pretty extraordinary, considering that he is now the owner of EFR Mechanical, a growing plumbing and heating contractor. As you might expect, Souza’s success story is one filled with determination and singular focus. “You have to work hard in this life,” he says, sharing the drive that motivates him.

But Souza didn’t go it completely alone. His story also demonstrates how Local 12 can help enterprising plumbers realize their dreams of opening their own shops.

When he was a young teenager, Souza started working as an office boy for an advertising agency. He later held lights during video production shoots, then learned how to operate a camera, and eventually became proficient at editing the commercials and political videos that the agency developed.

After getting married, he decided to venture out on his own and open his own video production company. In order to finance the company, a friend suggested Souza go to the U.S., work for one year, and save the money he would make. 16 years later, he is still here.

“Everybody looks for the American dream,” Souza says, referring to the misconception that the country’s streets are paved with gold, and easy money is readily available. “It’s not as simple as everybody thinks.”

Landing in Boston because he has a friend who lives in the city, Souza did what many locals do: He went to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. While there, a plumber happened to come in looking for a laborer to help with a job and offered Souza the work. So began his plumbing career.

That plumber, Rick MacKinnon, admired Souza’s work ethic and took him under his wing. Souza began apprenticing with MacKinnon while working at (where else?) Dunkin’ Donuts at night to earn extra dollars. He also began fixing computers on the side in whatever free time he could find.

With the money he was earning, Souza maintained the dream of opening his own television production company and even bought a video camera thinking that he might start his business in Boston. But a funny thing happened.

“I found I really enjoyed plumbing,” Souza says. “I also realized I could make a good living at it.”

So he ditched the extra jobs and focused on plumbing. Souza worked most of the day with MacKinnon. Ever the entrepreneur and hard worker, he also bought a truck and tools and did service work on the side.

The people at his non-union shop didn’t speak well about the union, repeating many of the common myths that paint a false picture about organized labor and often prevent workers from making decisions that are in their own best interest. Since Souza didn’t know anything about unions, he took the misrepresentations at face value and continued working for the open shop.

“Then I made friends with someone who was in Boston Laborers Union Local 223,” says Souza. The friend talked about the health insurance he was getting, the retirement plan the union offered, and other benefits. “I thought I was doing okay, but I didn’t realize what I didn’t have,” Souza added, noting that he always struggled trying to pay for health insurance.

Upon learning about the benefits, Souza’s wife, Fabiane, encouraged him to look into Plumbers Local 12. His mentor, MacKinnon, had joined Local 12 by that time and also encouraged him. The day he got his license, Souza contacted the union and never looked back.

“In addition to the benefits, the money I started making was way better than at my non-union job,” he says. Souza began working for GBPCA contractors CMP Plumbing and Heating and American Plumbing and Heating. Among the projects he worked on for American was a building for MIT in Kendall Square. About a year after he joined Local 12, Souza got his Master Plumber license and began thinking about opening his own shop.

Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager, assured Souza that the union would support him if he started a shop. That gave Souza the courage to take the leap and form EFR Mechanical. He started the business in April 2020, just as the pandemic began wreaking havoc, as a one-person shop.

EFR Mechanical trucks

At first, Souza relied on Plumbers 911, Local 12’s marketing service that connects union shops with homeowners and small businesses seeking plumbing services. The referrals kept him busy with service work. He says that after completing the work, the customers would often turn into clients and call him back for additional projects. Word of mouth also led to additional work, as his clients referred EFR.

About a year after he started his shop, Souza now has three plumbers working for him. But he’s only just begun growing the business. He has been bidding construction projects and will be starting work on two apartment buildings in Boston. One is a 210-unit building that will begin in September, and the other is an 88-unit building slated for October.

“When I need help for these bigger jobs, I know I’ll be able to get the manpower from the hall,” Souza says. That kind of backing empowers him to think even bigger. Looking to the future, Souza says he envisions having “at least 100 people work here.”

Fandel is a big cheerleader for EFR and Souza. “He is so motivated,” the Local 12 leader says. “I know he will be successful.”

With a little help, it turns out Souza is living the American dream after all.

Stop & Shop concept store

They’ve got the market on supermarkets

– Spotlight on A.H. Burns Company and John Marani III

“Look at any Whole Foods, Star Market, Stop & Shop, or any supermarket in the area. Chances are we did the plumbing,” says John Marani III, owner of GBPCA contractor A.H. Burns Company in Rockland. “It’s our specialty. Everyone knows we do supermarkets.”

The business started back in 1958 when Al Burns began operating out of his basement in Quincy. Joining him at the two-person shop was Marani’s father, also named John. The two had worked together at another plumbing company. When Burns suffered a heart attack, the elder Marani took over the business. “Al was like a father to him,” Marani says, explaining why his dad kept the A.H. Burns name. To this day, people refer to Marani as “Burnsy.”

As a child, Marani wasn’t particularly interested in plumbing. Unlike his father, he says he wasn’t mechanically inclined and had to work hard to hone his skills. Instead, he excelled in school and consistently made the honor roll. Nonetheless, as the only son of a plumber who started to work in the trade when he was 13 years old, plumbing was his destiny. “I never really felt like I had any choice,” Marani notes. “I’ve often said I was born with a pipe wrench in my hand.”

His career began while in middle school

Marani took over A.H. Burns from his father, also named John.

Like his dad, Marani also began working in the trade at age 13. During summer breaks, he put in full days fetching tools, sorting fittings, and helping out at his father’s shop with other tasks. After high school, Marani got his associates degree in civil engineering (the closest major to plumbing engineering that was available, he says) at Wentworth Institute. Graduating in 1980, he then went to work full time at A.H. Burns. 

As a first-year apprentice, Marani says that he made $4.35 an hour. Joe Valante, now president of GBPCA contractor Valante Mechanical, was in the same Local 12 training program class as Marani.

In the early 1980s, A.H. Burns was small and only employed a few plumbers. The shop ran new construction work on buildings such as banks, restaurants, and small office buildings. It also handled remodeling jobs as well as service work, both of which was nearly all for commercial customers.

Its biggest client was Stop & Shop, which also operated Bradlee’s department stores, Medi Mart drug stores, and Perkins Tobacco Shops. Marani says that A.H. Burns handled all of the service work for all of the chain’s locations throughout Greater Boston. That kept him plenty busy. Marani remembers doing quick remodeling turnarounds for the grocery stores on weekends. They would close at 6 p.m. on Saturday and reopen 1 p.m. on Sunday. In the intervening 18 hours, including the wee hours of the morning, the A.H. Burns crew would replace all of the produce and deli cases, and do all of the other plumbing work.

The shop has had its ups and downs

When his father retired in 1992, Marani took over ownership of the business. “If I knew then what I didn’t know, I probably would have run screaming from the building,” he says with a laugh. Marani adds that his personality is well suited to running a company. He says that he is not a worrier by nature. Which is good, because the shop has experienced some challenging periods.

A.H. Burns was humming along the first couple of years under Marani’s leadership. But everything crashed in 1994. With its fortunes closely aligned with Stop & Shop, the contractor took a huge hit after Bradlees filed for bankruptcy, effectively taking 50% of the chain’s work away. Then the company began converting its grocery stores to Super Stop & Shops and bidding out the work to general contractors. A.H. Burns still handled the maintenance for the stores, but the work dwindled to the point that Marani was down to one employee.

He says that he scratched and clawed and was able to keep the company afloat during the difficult period. In 2000, Marani renegotiated with Stop & Shop and began doing new construction for the chain’s Super Stop & Shops, averaging three or four of them a year. By the mid-2000s, A.H. Burns had a crew of about 20 plumbers.

When The Great Recession reared its ugly head in the late 2000s, the company faced an especially challenging period. But Marani persevered, weathered the bad times, and eventually built the business back to achieve its greatest success.

2018 marked the biggest year ever for the contractor. In 2019, Marani says his revenue increased by a factor of more than two compared to 2018. 2020 was poised to be another banner year until the pandemic brought nearly everything to a halt. Business resumed fairly quickly, and Marani is confident that A.H. Burns will return to its pre-pandemic pace.

Fireking Baking Company’s production facility, an A.H. Burns job.

Recently, the shop handled the plumbing for wholesale baker Fireking’s new 200,000-square-foot production facility in Braintree. At $1.5 million, it is the largest job A.H. Burns has ever done. Other recent projects include the Herb Chambers BMW dealership in Medford, the sports book at Encore Hotel & Casino in Everett, the Star Market at The Hub on Causeway in Boston, an Amazon delivery center in Norwood, Stop & Shop’s headquarters in Quincy, and, of course, multiple Super Stop & Shop locations.

Like his father, Marani is an avid boater and has a cabin cruiser. The trips he takes include excursions to Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown, and Salem, often timed to attend blues festivals or concerts featuring blues music, another one of his passions.

Marani plans to continue specializing in grocery stores. The reason he likes doing those kinds of projects? “There is lots of plumbing in supermarkets.”

It’s beyond time to get the lead out

No amount of lead in the blood is safe, according to public health officials. Children are especially vulnerable to the chemical’s ill effects. That’s why President Biden has proposed eliminating the country’s lead water pipes and has developed a $45 billion plan to replace lead service lines. Should Congress pass the legislation, what impact might it have here in Massachusetts?

State environmental officials estimate that there are about 220,000 buried lead pipes, representing approximately 8.3% of the service lines. The American Water Works Association estimated in 2016 that the state ranked eleventh in the nation for the number of lead service lines. In the Metro Boston area covered by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, there are about 13,000 lead lines remaining, representing about 2.5% of the region’s homes and buildings. The MWRA, along with the cities and towns it serves, has made a lot of progress over the years removing many of the lines.

Replacing lead pipes is a costly proposition. The offending pipe might only be in the street and/or run from the street under the front lawn of the property. Or it might extend all the way from the street into the house. About 5% of the region’s lead pipes are “goosenecks,” short pieces of lead that connect a galvanized service line to the main in the street. Trading out an entire service line, which usually spans about 30 to 50 feet, could cost $6,000 to $10,000, according to Stephen Estes-Smargiassi, the MWRA’s director of planning and sustainability. On average, the section on private property costs about $5,000 to replace.

The MWRA began a zero-interest program to loan cities and towns money for lead pipe removal. But the communities have to pay the money back. With federal funds, there would be no cost to the municipalities. And more significantly, there would be no cost to the homeowners and other ratepayers.

A few cities and towns, including Quincy, Chelsea, and Marlboro, cover the entire cost of replacing lead service lines. But most communities ask homeowners to foot the bill for the private portion of the line and offer a variety of programs. Newton, for example, provides homeowners a 10-year, 0%-interest loan. Boston performs the work, funds the first $4,000 for property owners, and offers them a loan for 60 months at 0% interest to cover the balance. Estes-Smargiassi, who lives in Jamaica Plain, had his lead service line replaced. Since the private section cost less than $2,000 it was free to him.

Most property owners, however, have to fork over some money to remove their lead service lines. That can present a significant obstacle. “It would be great to solve a health problem without causing a financial problem,” Estes-Smargiassi says. “If you can make it free to the homeowner, it’s much easier to get them to participate.” Passing Biden’s proposed plan would enable the state to remove the remaining lead service lines at a much faster pace, he adds.

There are a number of ways property owners can determine whether they have lead service lines. Many larger communities list the locations of lines on their Web sites. If the information is not available online, homeowners could contact their local city or town halls and ask whether they can provide the info. On its Web site [bit.ly/MWRALead], the MWRA shows property owners how they (or their plumbers) can determine whether they have a lead or copper service line by scratching the pipe with a key.

“It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” Local 12 Business Manager Tim Fandel says about the Biden administration’s ambitious lead pipe removal proposal. He points to the avoidable lead poisoning tragedy in Flint, Michigan as a dire warning sign and cites the importance of safe and clean drinking water. “It’s long overdue for us to take action,” he adds.