American Plumbing Local 12 temporary bathroom Hope Hospital.

Plumbers are also essential workers

Lawn signs, banners, billboards, ads, social media posts, and more have been thanking essential workers such as doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, and others on the front lines during the pandemic. For good reason. While others were quarantining at home, these critical workers never stopped going to work. They have been providing a lifeline–sometimes literally–for people.

But consider this: Have you been following the CDC’s guidance and cleaning your hands much lately? You have plumbers to thank for that.

When COVID cases began surging, temporary hospitals were quickly erected to help address the pressing need for medical care and avoid overwhelming the region’s health care system. Did you know that GBPCA contractors and Local 12 plumbers helped construct the facilities?

They may not be as visible as doctors and nurses, but, whether there is a pandemic raging or not, plumbers are essential workers.

“If people don’t have hot water, they can’t clean their hands properly. And clean drinking water is absolutely essential for human life,” notes Rick Carter, the director of Local 12’s training center. “That’s always been the plumber’s role. Sanitation is the key to civilization.”

In response to the outbreak, virtually all private construction industry projects came to a halt in the middle of March throughout the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Some Local 12 plumbers were among the first to be called back to work when job sites were cleared to reopen in May. That’s because hand-washing stations are among the new COVID safety standard requirements.

“We’ve installed hundreds of sinks. As specified, every job has a lot of them,” says Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent. He notes that all of the hand washing stations at construction sites have hot water.

Bringing oxygen lines and hope

American Plumbing and Heating helped build Boston Hope, the temporary field hospital built inside the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. In response to the urgency of the pandemic, the 1,000-bed facility was constructed in less than ten days to treat patients with the virus.

The contractor provided certified brazers and medical gas installers for the oxygen system at Boston Hope. Much has been made about ventilators, which have sometimes been in short supply for patients battling the respiratory virus. But oxygen plays an important role as well.

“It’s part of the hierarchy of treatment with respiratory patients,” says Jim Bent, senior project executive for American. “They are put on oxygen before moving to a ventilator.”

According to Lawrence Garside, the American foreman that oversaw the work on the oxygen system, the plumbing crew only had four days to complete the job. Although the turnaround was remarkably fast, the protocols for medical gas, including strict guidelines for installing, purging, and third party testing of the lines, were the same as at permanent medical facilities. “It has to be,” Garside says. “It involves human life.”

“Medical gas is one of the backbones of any hospital–and it is all under the guise of plumbers,” adds Bent. American, which does a lot of health care projects, is currently working on a large expansion for Boston Children’s Hospital that includes 13 operating rooms. “They have miles of pipe in them,” Bent says.

The 1,000 rooms at Boston Hope were in eight-foot-tall cubicles. In order to pipe gas from the oxygen farm placed outside the convention center, the American plumbers hung lines along a temporary truss system and into a service alley behind the cubicles.

Once the field hospital was up and running, American was called back to the site to quickly install three bathrooms. Nurses were having a difficult time constantly walking hundreds of feet to empty bedpans. The makeshift bathrooms were strategically placed close to the patients’ rooms. The plumbers installed ejector pumps and 300 feet of pipe that emptied into holding tanks outside the convention center.

“We’ve ‘temporarily permanently’ installed the lines,” is how Garside explains the job. Boston Hope opened on April 10 and closed on June 3. The plumbing and medical gas systems will eventually come down, but for now, everything has been capped and left in place in case the overflow hospital needs to be reactivated.

“In all my years as a plumber, I’ve never been involved in anything as unique as this project,” says Garside, who has been working in the industry for 19 years. “I liked the challenge.”

What about office buildings and other places that may have been dormant for months during the pandemic? As buildings prepare to reopen, plumbers often work behind the scenes there as well. They know the protocols to test and run plumbing and water systems that have been sitting idle.

“We make sure that Legionnaire’s and other bacteria hasn’t grown in stagnant water,” says Local 12’s Carter. “People take for granted that you can just turn on the faucet and you get clean drinking water.”

And they’re off! Record-setting PLA to guide Suffok Downs redevelopment

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, Suffolk Downs was the place to be. Horseracing was wildly popular here (and throughout the country), and tens of thousands of visitors regularly jammed the racetrack’s stands. In the following decades, attendance dropped off, slowly at first and then more dramatically. By the time Suffolk Downs ran its final live race last June, the crowds had dwindled to a trickle.

But crowds of people will once again be flocking to the site.

When a deal to build the Boston-area casino at the forlorn racetrack fell apart, the HYM Investment Group swooped in with plan B: an enormous development project that will essentially create a new neighborhood from the ground up. How enormous? At 161 acres, the property is about the size of the North End. Plans call for 16 million square feet of development. That’s more than double the size of the Boston Seaport development, which, up to this point, has been hailed as the largest single real estate project in the city’s history. Suffolk Downs, therefore, will handily take the crown as Boston’s largest redevelopment project.

“We’re used to working on big projects. But, I can’t think of one that comes close to this,” says Tim Fandel, business manager for Local 12. Estimated to take about 15 years to fully build out, the Suffolk Downs project will create 14,000 construction jobs. “It will literally mean millions of hours for Local 12 members,” Fandel adds.

To launch the massive project, HYM, general contractor John Moriarty & Associates, and the area’s building trades unions worked together to develop a project labor agreement (PLA). The pact is the largest private sector PLA ever signed in the region.

A huge boost for Building Pathways

The Suffolk Downs redevelopment will be entirely union-built. The agreement spells out collective bargaining provisions for the building trades that will work at the site.

“The PLA guarantees living wages with benefits, support of apprenticeship programs–all the things that unions represent,” says Fandel. It is also a document that all parties will be able to use as a collaborative tool throughout the lifecycle of the project, an important consideration given the extensive duration of the buildout. “Because the project will span so many years, the PLA will allow for continuity and consistency, regardless of changes in leadership, changing economic conditions, contract negotiations, or other factors,” Fandel notes.

Straddling two communities, 60% of the Suffolk Downs site is located in East Boston with 40% of it based in Revere. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, and Boston City Councilor (representing East Boston) Lydia Edwards were supportive of all stakeholders and the project’s community process and strived to ensure that all voices were part of the discussion. In addition to involving the leaders, HYM has conducted extensive outreach to engage the community at large. The company has worked hard to get organizations and individuals to buy into the project.

According to Tom O’Brien, HYM founding partner and managing director, he has held over 450 meetings over a two-year period to discuss the proposed Suffolk Downs redevelopment. Some were large-scale community meetings, others were one-on-one chats across a kitchen table. Those give-and-take discussions helped shape the plans and goals for the project. Community issues also factor into the PLA governing the project.

For example, HYM is committing $2 million to equity and inclusion initiatives as part of the agreement. $1 million will be targeted to Building Pathways, an apprentice preparedness program that provides training and advocacy for women and people of color seeking employment in the construction industry. Its graduates have joined the ranks of Local 12. Mayor Walsh founded the program when he was head of the area’s building trades.

“Building Pathways is the vanguard for outreach and recruitment to underrepresented groups in construction,” says Brian Doherty, the current secretary treasurer and general agent of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District. “It’s been such a game changer and has made a huge impact for a lot of people as well as the industry as a whole.”

Since its launch in 2011, Building Pathways has enrolled 343 participants, 86% of whom are people of color and 42% of whom are women. It boasts a graduation rate of 93% and a placement rate of 80% in union apprenticeships or industry-related employment.

Mary Vogel, the executive director of Building Pathways, is grateful for the PLA earmark and says that it will be used to sustain and expand the organization and its mission. She hopes to move into a larger space that can better accommodate the growing program. On her wish list is an in-house shop facility that could be used for hands-on training.

Beyond the financial support, Vogel notes that the Suffolk Downs PLA addresses important issues such as specifying that a percentage of the project’s construction jobs be reserved for apprentices and that a percentage of the apprentices be Building Pathways graduates. “The PLA’s equity provisions will not only increase participation of women and people of color in the building trades, but also help create a respectful and welcoming workplace,” she says.

“We worked collectively, all parties, to make sure diversity and equity are front and center in this pact,” Doherty adds.

Two Blue Line MBTA stations are located on the site.

Housing will be a key component

So, what will be built at the former racetrack? 10 million square feet, or 63% of the project, will be devoted to housing. The new construction will make a significant dent in the area’s acute housing needs. Commercial, office, and lab space, will account for 5 million square feet, and hotel and retail will occupy the remaining 1 million square feet of development.

“The retail is what we would call ‘neighborhood retail.’ It’s restaurants and small shops, not big-box retail,” says HYM’s O’Brien. That makes sense, because there will be lots of neighbors moving onto the site.

10,000 housing units, including apartments, condos, townhouses, and single-family homes, are planned and an estimated 15,000 people will eventually live in the new neighborhood. 930 of the on-site units will be affordable. HYM is pledging to build and preserve another 500 units of affordable housing offsite in East Boston. The Suffolk Downs redevelopment will create more affordable units in Boston than any other single project.

Bounded by major roads, the site, as it currently stands, is physically cut off from East Boston and Revere. HYM has plans to connect the new neighborhood to the larger community via infrastructure improvements valued at $367 million. “It’s our obligation to build all of the roads, parks, water, sewer–everything,” O’Brien says. A quarter of the site will be dedicated to open space. “We think that’s a terrific way to build community and make sure that even if you don’t live or work there, everyone will be welcome there,” he adds.

One of the ways that the Suffolk Downs site is connected to the community, and one of its greatest attributes, is that two Blue Line MBTA stations are located on its eastern border. It is a short ride to Logan Airport and about a 15-minute ride to downtown Boston.The project is scheduled to break ground later this year.

What is a project labor agreement?

Representing 16 million square feet of development across 161 acres that will span two communities and require 14,000 construction workers over the course of 15 to 20 years, the project labor agreement for the construction of the Suffolk Downs redevelopment will be the largest agreement of its kind for a private-sector project ever in the region. But what is a project labor agreement, exactly?

“Project labor agreements are good, sound public policy,” says Brian Doherty, secretary treasurer and general agent of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District. “They ensure that all stakeholders involved with construction projects benefit. PLAs are good for developers, contractors, workers, and surrounding communities.”

The concept of a project labor agreement (PLA) dates back to the 1930s, when it was first introduced to help guide complex and massive public projects such as the Hoover Dam in Nevada and the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. A PLA establishes the terms and conditions of employment for construction workers prior to breaking ground on a project. It defines a set of agreed-upon expectations for all parties.

To draft a PLA, union labor organizations negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the owner of a project, whether it is a public or private entity. In some cases, general contractors and/or representatives of the communities in which projects are based are also involved in the negotiations. For the Suffolk Downs PLA, general contractor John Moriarty & Associates participated in the development of the agreement along with the project’s owner, the HYM Investment Group, and the building trades unions.

Included among agreements’ terms are elements such as employee wages and benefits, budgets, timelines, accountability and transparency provisions, and community benefits. More recently, issues such as pay equity, gender equity, and diversity equity have been addressed in PLAs, including the one negotiated for the Suffolk Downs project.

By considering and standardizing terms and conditions up front, PLAs help promote productivity, efficiencies, and stability, which engender the quality of the work and the timely completion of projects. The agreements dictate minimum standards that translate into fair treatment for workers, including assurances that they will not be locked out of their jobs. In exchange, workers agree not to strike or picket during the term of the PLA. Should disputes arise, resolution mechanisms are included in the agreement.

“The best way to develop a PLA–and it’s worked for nearly 100 years now–is to anticipate any issues that might come up and resolve them before the project starts,” Doherty says.

The benefits flow in all directions. “The PLA gives us predictability in terms of cost, schedule, and quality,” says Tom O’Brien, HYM founding partner and managing director. “We build all of our jobs with union construction trades.”

While Suffolk Downs is enormous, PLAs are not necessarily used just for large projects. The advantages that they bring can be scaled for projects of any size.

Through the years, PLAs have weathered some storms. In the 1980s and 1990s, anti-worker forces challenged their legality. The issue made its way through the judicial system, ending with the Supreme Court hearing a case regarding the Boston Harbor cleanup in 1993. The court voted unanimously to uphold the use of PLAs on public projects based on the fact that they make sense for both business and labor.

“PLAs just make sense,” Doherty says when asked why the agreements have stood the test of time and remain vital today. “They’re critical to the democratic process. They ensure that when there is economic development, everyone has a seat at the table and shares in economic prosperity.”

Local 12 plumbers at the construction site of The Hub on Causeway

Expanding the Garden into Boston’s new Hub

There is a flurry of activity at TD Garden, and it’s not just the Stanley Cup playoffs and Backstreet Boys concerts.

There are towers and buildings being erected alongside and above the sports and entertainment arena on the site of the old Boston Garden as well as an expansion of the venue itself. Collectively known as The Hub on Causeway, the almost 1.9 million-square-foot mixed-use project that Delaware North is building with Boston Properties will include two office towers, a residential tower, a hotel, and a podium that will feature a new entertainment performance space, a Star Market, a 15-screen movie theater, and a number of restaurant and retail locations. Valued at $1.2 billion, the aptly named Hub is transforming Causeway Street into one of the city’s foremost destinations.

“Hub is going to change the neighborhood and help fill some of its needs,” Amy Latimer, TD Garden president, told the Boston Globe in a video interview. “It’s changing the vibe.” It will also change what Latimer refers to as the “street-to-seat” experience for fans coming to the arena.

 “You could live in an apartment here, and almost never have to leave,” says Carl Wall, foreman for American Plumbing and Heating. Between the grocery store, the shops, the offices where residents could work, the eateries, and all of the activities, tenants wouldn’t even need to go outside, he adds. Of course, if they did want to leave, the MBTA’s subway and commuter rail stations would just be an elevator ride away.

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Fenway Center phase-one rendering

First phase of Fenway Center takes shape

In addition to Fenway Park, the Citgo sign, and other landmarks, motorists driving along the Mass Pike near Kenmore Square have a new sight to behold: the Fenway Center. Perched alongside the interstate, it’s pretty hard to miss the 15- and 9-story towers that began to go vertical in early 2019. But the buildings only represent the first phase of the proposed $600 million multi-use complex. If the developers can secure air rights and funding, a second phase would include an additional three buildings to be constructed on a deck that would span across the turnpike.

“It’s an enormous project that would transform the neighborhood,” says Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent. “We are potentially looking at six to eight years of work for our members.”

The two towers now under construction will include 312 apartments, including some affordable units. There will also be street-level retail shops and two below-grade garage floors with 200 parking spaces. The site used to occupy surface parking lots.

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Building one of Boston’s largest, most upscale hotels

THE SWIFTLY EVOLVING SEAPORT DISTRICT WILL BECOME EVEN MORE BUSTLING WHEN THE OMNI BOSTON HOTEL AT THE SEAPORT OPENS IN 2021.

Now under construction, it will bring an additional 1,055 guest rooms to the neighborhood. The 21-story, 218-foottall project will be among the city’s five largest hotels. The Omni Seaport is budgeted at $550 million.

GBPCA contractor American Plumbing and Heating was selected early in the process for the design-assist project and has been working with general contractor John Moriarty & Associates and Cosentini Associates, the plumbing engineer. Design and preliminary work began in the fourth quarter of 2018, and American’s crew began underground installation in early 2019. During the summer, aboveground work began on the site.

Boasting 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space across four levels, the Omni Seaport will feature the neighborhood’s largest ballroom. It will also offer 35,000 square feet of restaurant space, including the upscale French Brasserie. To support all of the dining and entertainment needs, the project will include 13 commercial kitchens.

“That’s quite unique for a hotel,” says Jim Bent, senior project executive for American. “Or any building for that matter.”

Noting that the building occupies virtually the entire footprint and that the site is “tighter than tight,” Bent adds that getting materials delivered is a logistical challenge. He says American uses a “just-in-time” approach to minimize warehousing and avoid tying up capital. Materials are only ordered when they can be run through the company’s large prefabrication shop and the finished systems and assemblies can be delivered to the job site (typically during off hours) to be installed.

“We need to make sure we have everything on the truck that we need for the floor on which we are working each day,” says Bent. In addition to the employees working on the project in the prefab shop, he estimates that there will be 30 Local 12 mechanics on site at the height of construction.

The Omni will include two 21story towers with an 11-story tower in the middle that will feature four “Cabana” levels. A three-story ground-floor podium will anchor the towers. Among the hotel‘s amenities will be a rooftop pool and a spa.

The significance of the project is not lost on the plumbers. “We know that the Omni will take its place as one of Boston’s preeminent hotels,” says Tony Megnia, American’s foreman for the job. “It’s an honor for us to be an intricate part of the construction of this new landmark in the Seaport District.”

According to Bent, the chic hotel will offer high-end finishes in the rooms and throughout the hotel, particularly in its 52 luxury suites. There will be copper faucets and trim in the showers, for example. One of the towers calls for brushed bronze finishes on the fixtures.

“We will be installing elegant soaking tubs and black lavatories,” notes Bent. “Omni is a respected brand with high standards.”

Located adjacent to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, hotel guests will be able to directly access the facility via a tunnel below Summer Street. The walkway will also connect to an MBTA Silver Line station.