Mass General Hospital expansion project Boston

Cannistraro in it for the long haul at MGH

Boston is known as a hub for medical care, and Mass General Hospital is among the city’s crown jewels. Serving the community and beyond for more than 200 years, the Harvard Medical School teaching hospital is acknowledged as one of the world’s finest healthcare facilities. Over the past three decades, MGH has been thoughtfully expanding and modernizing its campus, and has chosen Cannistraro as the plumbing subcontractor of record since construction of the Blake tower in 1990.

The GBPCA contractor is back on board for the hospital’s latest expansion, a project that is so major, it started last year and will keep Cannistraro and the Local 12 plumbers on its team busy through 2030. Valued at $2 billion and encompassing more than 1.5 million square feet, the state-of-the-art clinical care complex will include two towers perched above an underground garage along Cambridge Street.

In responding to the hospital’s RFP, the company presented a multi-year plan showcasing its leadership depth to manage the manifold and far-reaching project, according to its president, John Cannistraro Jr.

“We’ve never had a project that’s spanned so many years before,” he says. “But based on our long history with MGH and our demonstrated succession plan for future leaders, working with them for the long term is a perfect fit.”

The project will be built in phases, with the first phase focused on the creation of the six-level, below-grade garage and the erection of a 12-story inpatient tower. Those are scheduled to open in 2027. During the second phase, the existing above-ground Parkman Garage will be demolished, and the second tower, at 13 stories, will be built. That building is slated to open in 2030. The towers will be the new homes of the hospital’s cancer and heart centers. They will also include 482 single-bed inpatient rooms, 23 operating rooms, 100 infusion bays, and 120 exam rooms.

“This building will be the most important Mass General constructs in our history–perhaps only second to our original Bulfinch building dating back to 1811,” says Dr. David Brown, MGH’s president. “It will create the environment our staff need, and our patients deserve.”

A joint project that both Turner Construction Company and Walsh Brothers are managing, the Cannistraro team has been working on coordination with the two general contractors for about a year.

“We’re getting risers up through shafts. We’re getting in there with other trades and using the 3D Revit program [BIM software] to make sure that pipes, ducts, and electrical all fit together,” says Jim Fitzgerald, Cannistraro’s plumbing pre-construction manager for the MGH project. The Local 12 member explains that getting subcontractors in early and having them participate in the design work helps make sure that everything will be in harmony before fit outs start. “You can eliminate the headaches, hassles, and hiccups down the road.”

It’s a business model that is gaining acceptance, largely because it embraces efficiency, Fitzgerald notes. By drawing everything out in advance, Cannistraro can take hours from the field and move them into its prefabrication facility. “The building process can go much more smoothly,” he adds.

For example, the plumbing contractor is assembling medical gas headwall units at its fabrication shop in the Seaport District. Local 12 mechanics are installing the medical gas piping alongside electricians that are providing the wiring and drywall carpenters that are building out the units. Fitzgerald says that bringing multiple trades together to work with each other during preconstruction is a relatively new concept. He adds that they are fortunate to have large openings in the buildings to accommodate the bulky units.

They’ve spent a good part of their careers at MGH

Fitzgerald has been working for Cannistraro for more than 30 years, much of it spent working on MGH projects. In the early 2000s, he was the general foreman for the hospital’s Yawkey Center, a large two-tower facility. Ten years later, he oversaw the subcontractor’s team working on MGH’s Lunder building. Following that, Fitzgerald was the lead coordinator for fabrication on Spaulding Rehabilitation’s new campus in Charlestown, which is part of the MassGeneral Brigham network.

“It means a lot to me,” he says. “I’ve been a patient at Mass General, my family has been there, I have relatives who work there. The fact that I’ve helped build it kind of hits home.”

Kenneth Reagan, VP for business development and special projects, has also worked for Cannistraro for more than 30 years and has spent even more time at MGH. Since 1989, he has mostly focused on special projects, such as room and floor renovations, with a crew of six to ten Local 12 plumbers. For example, he is now overseeing an upgrade to the entire hospital’s bulk oxygen that includes a separate tank plant and separate piping system. Spanning about four years, the huge undertaking will essentially provide a backup oxygen distribution system for the medical facility. It’s indicative, Reagan notes, of the hospital’s forward thinking and commitment to innovation.

“When I look at MGH, it’s so far ahead,” he says. “It is the first on to jump on new technology. It’s always at the forefront with the most advanced facilities.”

It is also a stickler for details. Early in his career, John Cannistraro remembers working as a project manager for the Blake Tower. While preparing the submittals for the job, he learned that the hospital required information down to the last nut and washer.

“They looked at every page and stamped them,” John recalls about the 200-page-long document. “I was proud of that, because it was an attention to detail that has always stuck with me. It was important to MGH; it was important to me.” It helped forge a long-term relationship with the hospital that remains strong. “It brings me tremendous joy to have built this reputation at MGH.”

Creating a 96-hour island

Over the course of the contractor’s long partnership with the world-class hospital, the plumbing systems, and the work that Local 12 plumbers perform, have remained more or less the same. But, the processes have changed. For one, fabrication, driven by building information modeling, has become much more prevalent. Always on the cutting edge, the hospital itself has become more complex.

For instance, the current MGH project includes provisions for the new buildings to enter 96-hour island mode. Should there be catastrophic weather or some other disaster that results in the loss of power, water, utilities, or sewer, the buildings would remain self-sufficient for four days. The patient rooms, operating suites, and all of the other hospital’s functions could continue unimpeded, thereby providing a haven for an especially vulnerable population.

“We’ve never seen anything like this to this degree,” Fitzgerald says, noting that MGH is considering climate change, sea level rise and storm surge, terrorism threats, high winds, and other modern-day factors in its wide-ranging plans. “These buildings are being designed to 2070 standards,” he adds.

There will be ten 7,500-gallon domestic water tanks in the lower level of the new garage. Additionally, Cannistraro will be installing four 10,000-gallon emergency sanitary tanks in the underground of the garage along with piping and valves to divert water to them, if necessary.

“I look at this project as being groundbreaking for the modernization of hospitals,” Reagan notes.

Given the long time frame, Reagan and Fitzgerald will most likely be retired before the MGH project finishes. However, they are training and teaching the men and women who will succeed them. When it wraps in 2030, they will be able to look at the new buildings, and the many other projects on which they worked at the hospital, with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Along with the many Local 12 plumbers who have worked on Cannistraro crews at MGH, they will know that they helped make possible the renowned, exemplary care the hospital provides.

Josiah Quincy Upper School Boston

New school takes shape in Boston’s Chinatown

A topping off ceremony was held in December for the Josiah Quincy Upper School project under construction on Washington Street in Chinatown. On track to open in September 2024, the six-story, 185,000-square-foot building will welcome 650 students in grades 6 through 12. Turner Construction is the general contractor for the $170-million job, and GBPCA contractor PJ Kennedy & Sons is handling the plumbing and HVAC.

When The Pipeline visited the construction site, Gene Moscone, PJ Kennedy’s foreman for the project, showed an oil/water separator his crew had installed adjacent to a sump pump at the base of the building’s elevators.

“I’ve never done a separator like that inside a building before,” said Moscone, who has been a Local 12 member for more than 30 years. “It’s unusual.”

Bob Collins, project manager with PJ Kennedy, explained that the project also includes an in-ground rainwater infiltration system. It will distribute water from the roof’s drain storm piping system.

“We installed approximately 2,000 feet of 12-inch PVC Schedule 40 pipe,” he said. “We pre-drilled out the pipes’ holes at our prefab shop in Dorchester.”

PJ Kennedy & Sons plumbing Boston Josiah Quincy Upper School
The PJ Kennedy & Sons crew installs a leeching system for the Josiah Quincy Upper School project.

Located in a densely populated neighborhood, the compact, one-acre site could not accommodate any outdoor space at the ground level. Designed by HMFH Architects, the building will include an outdoor classroom, activity complex, and gardens on its roof where students and faculty will be able to get some fresh air. Other amenities will include an auditorium, a black box theater, a media center, a cafeteria, and a gymnasium.

The school’s designers also considered the site’s close proximity to the Southeast Expressway and the Mass. Pike, and the highways’ impact on the building’s indoor environment. The project includes an advanced displacement ventilation system with high-performance filters and rooftop air handlers to maximize the air quality.

According to Mike Pirrello, superintendent with Turner Construction, the building has some other unique design aspects that make it a challenging build.

“For a shorter building, it has complex steel,” he says. “There’s a big cantilever at the auditorium and another at the gymnasium with a three-story truss supporting them.”

There are structural constraints imposed by the way the truss system works in the building, Pirrello explains. The crew will be pouring concrete from the first floor through the third-floor level, and then waiting until the building is fully erected to pour the roof concrete.

“The roof concrete will engage the truss system within the building,” he says. “Then we can go back and load the other floors.”

A long time in development, plans for the Josiah Quincy school go back to Mayor Tom Menino and have spanned three administrations, Moscone notes. It is one of the biggest ground-up public buildings that the city has erected in many years.

Harding and Smith on board for Green Line extension

Some thirty years after the Commonwealth pledged to extend the Green Line to Medford and Somerville as part of an agreement concerning the Big Dig, trains are finally clacking north beyond the Lechmere station. GBPCA contractor Harding and Smith has been along for the ride for the past eight years of the bumpy project’s starts and stops.

When the MBTA first put the project out to bid in 2014, the Walpole-based contractor won a lot of work, including pumping stations and HVAC installations. The initial plans for the extension included full-featured, enclosed stations boasting glass exteriors and artwork on display inside. Estimated costs began rising and continued to spiral to $3 billion, however, causing the state to stop the project before major work began. It nearly killed the extension altogether.

In 2017, the state developed a scaled-down project with open-air stations and a budget of $2.3 billion. GLX Constructors, a consortium of construction and design companies, took over as the general contractor. Harding and Smith re-upped for the modified project, which called for less work than the extension’s original vision.

“It’s really a tale of two projects for us,” says Mike Perrotta, Harding and Smith’s estimator and project manager. One of the contractor’s crews has been handling track drainage, while another has been installing dry standpipe for fire protection. Most of the work has focused on the viaduct that extends from Lechmere to East Somerville.

Local 12 members Joe Chicos (L) and Corey Elliott work on the GLX project for Harding and Smith.

As Perrotta explains it, the southern portion of the Green Line extension is so congested, the fire department wouldn’t be able to have full access to the elevated trackway.

“We’re putting fire pump truck connections on the street level where they can get at them,” he says. “Farther north, it’s not needed because fire crews have more leeway to reach the tracks.”

For the track drainage work, the contractor’s plumbers are installing piping to collect water that will accumulate on the tracks during heavy rains. They are directing some of it down to concrete splash blocks and tying the rest of the piping to underground drainage systems. Without the mitigation, water would spill over the sides of the elevated track and cause havoc below.

“Local 12 and Harding and Smith have been fighting for roadway and track drainage work for years,” Perrotta notes. “It requires the skills of plumbers.”

The Green Line extension project is unique for the contractor, because it requires workers to be elevated most of the time.

“With everyone working off manlifts, manlift experience is important,” says Perrotta. “They have been working anywhere from 10 to maybe 40 feet off the ground, in difficult climate conditions, while navigating trains, high voltage power lines, and construction equipment near them.”

Because most of the pipe can’t be picked up manually, rigging has also been an important skill. Towards the end of the project, when test trains began running or maintenance trains needed to pass (part of the project includes a new railyard and maintenance facility near the extension), MBTA or Keolis flag persons were working closely with the construction trades workers to clear the area and ensure safety. Some sections of the extension are also located near commuter rail tracks, which added to the complexity of the project.

Originally scheduled to open in late 2021, the long-brewing extension was further delayed by complications from COVID and supply chain issues. The branch which runs to Union Square Station in Somerville is ready to roll. The Medford branch, which includes five stations and terminates at College Ave. Station near Tufts University, is set to open later in the spring. The original plans called for extending the Green Line all the way to Route 16. A later phase may include additional track and another station.

“The extension is a great project for the corridor that runs through Cambridge, Somerville, and Medford,” Perrotta says. “It’s good for smart development, reducing traffic, and reducing carbon emissions.”

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.”

They are taking this hospital project to heart

Sometimes, GBPCA contractors and the Local 12 members who work for them might think about the offices, condos, lab spaces, or other end uses that their hard work will make possible. Most of the time, however, the focus is on the day-to-day work at the job site. That’s not the case with the Hale Family Building, an 15-story clinical facility now under construction at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Our team is taking this job to heart,” says Jim Bent, senior project executive for GBPCA contractor American Plumbing and Heating. The building will include a state-of-the-art clinical lab, a comprehensive heart center, a re-imagined neonatal intensive care unit, and a number of other features. As one of the most respected and renowned pediatric hospitals, families from the region, the country, and around the world entrust BCH with the care of their children. The plumbers are acutely aware of the challenging cases Children’s takes, the critically important work it does, and the young patients it serves.

The job is particularly meaningful for a Local 12 member whose child had a heart-lung transplant at BCH. In honor of the child, workers inscribed his name, Ethan, on one of the beams at the site.

“We know how the facility will be used. It’s not just another building,” Bent adds.

Spanning over 590,000 square feet and costing $1 billion to construct, the project is quite large. From a plumbing perspective, it is a particularly big and complex job. At its height, American had 80 workers on the job. “That’s an incredible amount,” says Bent. “We’ve never had that many people at one site before.”

“It’s the biggest job I’ve ever seen for plumbing,” adds Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent. “It is a massive medical gas system.”

At one point, American had 35 workers focused on medical gas alone. Among its highlights, the Hale building includes ten hybrid operating rooms, multiple pre-op exam rooms and recovery rooms, and a cardiac clinic with 21 exam rooms. The facility will also feature 96 private, inpatient rooms outfitted with medical gas.

All of the patient rooms in the Hale Family Building will be private.

It is a trend among hospitals to build single-bed instead of shared patient rooms. The configuration allows families to have more privacy, something they especially appreciate during difficult and often emotional hospital experiences. Even the neonatal intensive care unit will have 30 beds in private rooms instead of open bays.

It is unusual for hospitals to integrate patient rooms with operating rooms, exam rooms, and a host of other services in one building. The Hale will also include a radiology suite, pharmacy services, and a pathology lab. Children’s says that the building’s all-inclusive design will enable it to offer more efficient, enhanced care as well as foster clinical collaboration. Neither patients and their families nor Children’s caregivers will have to leave the Hale.

The job is unusual for American as well. While medical facilities are among its specialties, the contractor typically builds one type of feature at a time, such as patient rooms or hospital labs. But the multi-purpose Hale has the plumbers working on a variety of spaces at once. It calls on many different, specialized skills and requires a lot of coordination.

In honor of a Local 12 member’s son who was a patient at Boston Children’s Hospital, workers inscribed his name on a beam.

American started the pre-planning process in 2016, and on-site construction began in 2018. Just before the pandemic forced the temporary closure of the job in March, the crew had completed work on most of the storm, sanitary, and water lines that run through an existing hospital building. 

The site, which reopened in May, was able to ramp up quickly, because while the Hale building will be connected to existing buildings, it is isolated from them during the construction process. The trades’ workers, therefore, do not have to worry about social distancing issues with patients, families, employees, and others at the hospital. Also, the plumbers got to return to the project first, because they had the responsibility of installing hand-washing sinks for all of the trades per coronavirus safety guidelines for construction sites.

The Hale building is located on what had been a central courtyard at the campus. In order to gain access to the site, an old granite building on Shattuck Street was taken down. It will be rebuilt at the end of the project. The courtyard had been the location of the beloved Prouty Garden, and its removal has caused controversy. (See related article in this issue.)

Despite the COVID-related shutdown, the project is slated to be finished on time with a planned opening scheduled for the third quarter of 2021.

Boston Children's Hospital Prouty Garden taking dirt for new buidling

The spirit of BCH’s Prouty Garden lives on

In order to carve out a footprint for the Hale Family Building now under construction on the land-challenged Boston Children’s Hospital campus, the organization decided to use the courtyard that had been the site of the Prouty Garden. The removal of the garden has caused controversy.

“The Prouty Garden has had a special place in the hearts of many families,” says Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent. “Many patients would visit its tree during their stays and found comfort there. Some families would spread the ashes of their children in the garden.”

When word got out that the hospital was planning to build over the garden, many supporters came forward to oppose the project. A group sued the hospital and asked for a court injunction to stop the clinical building from moving forward. The motion was ultimately denied.

In acknowledgment of its importance, BCH is honoring the garden in a number of ways. According to Jim Bent, senior project executive for American Plumbing and Heating, the GBPCA contractor working on the Hale job, the Dawn Redwood that stood at the center of the garden was sent to a mill, and its timber will be used to make benches and other items for new and existing gardens at the hospital.

“The spirit of the tree remains,” Bent says. “The spirit of the garden will remain.”

Also, families and staff members at BCH were able to take seeds from the tree to plant in their own yards. And soil from Prouty Garden was collected and will be transferred to other gardens at the hospital. Plants and statues, as well, have been or will be moved and showcased in other gardens.

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.”

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