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.

Local 12 Plumbers Boston training center

Training center back to “normal”

As with nearly everything, the pandemic wreaked havoc with Local 12’s training center. But, after coping with major interruptions and modifications the past two academic years, apprentice classes and other programs at the center have returned, more or less, to regular operations.

The only major concession to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 is that students, instructors, and visitors must wear facemasks in the facility while they are in classrooms. Night classes for journeyman training, which had been temporarily cancelled, have resumed.

“We are trying to get back to normal,” says Rick Carter, the training center’s director. “But I think we are all still in COVID shock. Some people are having a hard time rebooting and returning to normalcy.”

When the pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020, the training center switched to remote learning. For classes that emphasize hands-on instruction and participation, the model proved to be difficult. Carter says it was not conducive to the kind of high-quality training for which the center is known.

In fall 2020, in-person classes returned. To maximize social distancing, however, the class sizes were reduced to about ten apprentices. That meant the center had to expand its schedule and present more classes to accommodate everyone. Many hand sanitizer stations were installed, the HVAC system was upgraded to improve ventilation, and other modifications were made. It was not ideal, but it was significantly better than conducting virtual classes.

This academic year, the center is back to pre-COVID-sized classes and a regular schedule. Carter says that it’s good to put most of the pandemic-era modifications in the rearview mirror. “Hopefully we never have to go back to that.”

MA State Senator Patrick O’Connor at Local 12

This senator puts people above party

A Republican senator who supports unions? Sounds crazy, no? But Massachusetts State Senator Patrick O’Connor threads that needle with aplomb.

The defining events that helped shape the pragmatic, authentic politician and his convention-defying worldview include growing up in a union household. His mother, Terry, is a NICU nurse who belongs to the Massachusetts Nursing Association, and his father, Mike, is a Local 12 plumber.

“My parents instilled the value of hard work at a very early age. They also made sure I looked out for others,” O’Connor says. He believes that their union affiliations set an example and reinforced the lessons they taught him. “One thing unions bring to the table is a fundamental understanding that it is our responsibility to take care of our own. That’s something I take with me every day to Beacon Hill.”

MA State Senator Patrick O'Connor and his father, Michael

MA State Senator Patrick O’Connor (R) and his father, Michael.

O’Connor remembers that his father would get up very early to go to work and would sometimes be on call, working late into the night. Nonetheless, he says, it was evident that his dad loved being a plumber. O’Connor would occasionally help his father with projects around the house and enjoyed accompanying him to work. He considered becoming a plumber himself or pursuing another trade. But public service beckoned and was more of a calling.

Politics, O’Connor says, has always been a major topic in his family. His late grandmother, Virginia O’Connor, worked as a secretary for legendary U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill when he was a Massachusetts state representative. That gave her a front-row seat to the government’s inner workings and plenty of fodder for family discussions. His grandmother’s keen interest in politics got O’Connor intrigued in the topic.

At age 21, he entered the fray and was elected to Weymouth’s town council. He rose to serve as its president. In 2016, O’Connor won the Plymouth and Norfolk State Senate seat and was reelected this past November.

As a Republican, some of his positions hew to party lines. For example, O’Connor often votes to rein in what he considers excessive spending and taxation. Then again, he supports renewable energy and legislation benefiting low-income and marginalized families, issues that are typically associated more with Democrats.

“My policy positions are all over the map,” admits O’Connor, who describes himself as a moderate, centrist Republican with a very independent voice. His core belief, he says, is to make government work better for people. “We need people from both parties who are willing to come together, work hard, and provide solutions.”

MA State Senator Patrick O'Connor with Local 12 business agents

MA State Senator Patrick O’Connor with Local 12 business agents, Jim Vaughan (L) and Barry Keady (R).

Perhaps nowhere does the Republican diverge more from his colleagues than on labor issues. He has seen first-hand the difference that unions have made for his parents. “I’ve experienced it, and I believe in it. That helped me form an opinion early on that regardless of all other policy positions, I was always going to be staunchly pro-union,” O’Connor adds.

His stance sometimes elicits ribbing from the state’s Republican caucus. But, he believes, his advocacy for labor has also opened eyes among many legislators.

On the other hand, O’Connor’s labor voting record has earned praise from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. He was the only Republican to be endorsed in the last election by the state organization. In response to the endorsement, O’Connor said he “was proud–floored actually. It’s an affirmation of the work we’ve been doing. That put the exclamation point on our campaign.”

He says that Massachusetts has one of the strongest–if not the strongest–labor movements and construction markets in the country. O’Connor isn’t about to rest on any laurels, however. “There is still a lot more work to do to make labor even stronger,” he says.

Given the influence of Tip O’Neill, an outspoken liberal Democrat, how is it that O’Connor chose to become a Republican? It was the 2000 presidential campaign of self-described maverick, Senator John McCain, which attracted him and sent him down the GOP path. O’Connor believes that many of the ideals that he admired in McCain remain intact in the state’s Republican party. He contends, however, that the national GOP has strayed from those beliefs.

Echoing a sentiment that is the hallmark of President Biden, O’Connor says that that there is often too much divisiveness among Republicans and Democrats and calls for more unity. “Generally speaking, we are all Massachusetts residents, all Americans, all human beings. We need to treat each other better.”