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Podcast: Construction Across the Tri-State - Structure Tone
Structure Tone is a global leader in construction management and general contracting services with offices located in the US, UK, and Ireland. Founded in 1971, the company is among the world’s top twenty construction companies worldwide, responsible for more than $3.5B in annual construction volume.
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Podcast: Construction Across the Tri-State

When New York shut down construction earlier this year, Connecticut and New Jersey followed suit—or so it seemed! With active projects in New York, New Jersey, and across Connecticut, Pavarini North East had to juggle three sets of state guidelines and continued building in several COVID hotspots. Join PNE’s director of operations, Brian Boyce and director of project administration, Katlyn Tracey, to find out what is was like continue operating while surrounded by shutdowns.

HOST

Brian Boyce

Director of Operations,
Pavarini North East

View Bio

GUEST

Katlyn Tracey

Director of Project Administration,
Pavarini North East

View Bio

Narrator:

From mass shutdowns to jobsite safety concerns, the global pandemic has transformed construction as we know it. As the AEC community continues to navigate this unprecedented situation, we’re sitting down with construction leaders from around the globe to hear how they’re responding to these evolving circumstances. Welcome to STO Building Conversations and episode four of the COVID-19 series.

Katlyn Tracey:

Welcome everyone. My name is Katlyn Tracey, and I’m the director of project administration for Pavarini North East. Pavarini is part of the STO Building Group located here in Stamford, Connecticut, and today I’m talking to Brian Boyce, Pavarini’s director of operations. Brian and I worked together through the many challenges of COVID-19 and today we’ll be discussing what it was like to continue working and building through the early stages of the pandemic.

Brian Boyce:

Well, thank you, Kate. This has been a difficult time the past couple months, definitely something new that I’ve never experienced in my 36 years working for this company and in this business. But first I’d like to thank all our Pavarini employees. This is something that you and I, and obviously the company has never experienced before and without their effort and working as a team, we would not be successful operating during this pandemic.

Katlyn Tracey:

Yeah, that’s a great point, Brian. You’re right. It was a great team effort in the whole Pavarini group certainly did do an admirable job. It does bring up a good point. Unlike New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut never fully shut down. So, from your perspective, what was it like to continue operating through the height—you know, the true height of COVID-19?

Brian Boyce:

COVID-19 Kate, yeah, pretty interesting here. I think the mandate, if you remember came down on a Friday night and COVID-19 was definitely hitting New York and the Tristate area. It was pretty bad. So, the governor of New York mandated that all a nonessential construction was going to shut down. I think they were saying New York sneezes—which they were, this is COVID-19 hitting New York—Connecticut and Jersey are going to catch a cold, so they’re going to follow. And they did. That night Jersey followed and Connecticut followed that evening as well, shutting down all nonessential projects. Now, I think the more we dug into it, you and myself and Mike Melanophy, our regional vice president, we broke it down.

So essential work in New York, we knew included healthcare and we were doing some hospital and healthcare work in New York, so we understood that those jobs are going to stay operating, but we also investigated Jersey. Jersey education stayed essential, we were doing a school in Englewood. So now at least we knew that some staff would be reporting back to work on that Monday. And then when we got to Connecticut, Connecticut mandated any ongoing construction was deemed essential. So that probably kicked us in the pants a little bit—all our jobs in Connecticut were still running. So, what did we do? You and I, we obviously shaped up for work on Monday morning, not necessarily knowing how we’d attack this, but we were operating at full capacity in Connecticut and partial in New York and New Jersey.

Katlyn Tracey:

Yes, Brian, it certainly was a day to day kind of situation, right? I mean, things were changing daily. State after state cup announcing that they were shutting down. We were surprised that Connecticut didn’t. How were things around the office at the beginning?

Brian Boyce:

So, yeah Kate, we were, we were definitely surprised. And again, we’re were reporting to work that Monday. Um, we had decisions to be made cause COVID-19 was now in our lives, right? If you remember, I think Monday, the first thing Mike and the leadership team did was they gathered all the office staff—we got administration, estimating, accounting—and asked them if they were more comfortable working from home. You know, people have kids, we were worried about people who have some older folks living in their homes. The fear was bringing in COVID to your home or actually from your home, bringing it into work. So, we gave everybody an opportunity to make a decision to work from home or work from the office. And I think Katie, if you recall, I would say 99% of the staff elected to stay in the office.

When you walked in the office that Monday, the building started to change. They put out a lot of signs. There was definitely cleaning stations. We did have social distancing. We tried to separate people at the coffee stations. So, they saw we were reacting right away. And then that was, I think the comfort level that really decided for the majority to come to work on a daily basis.

Now, at the same token, we had to make a decision, Mike and I, on the field staff—our supers, our managers, and some of our labors. And I think the best decision we made was keeping all that manpower reporting directly to the projects and just reporting in. Obviously we would speak to the managers and the supers each morning, check their manpower, check for any exposure from the staff or people on the job, so that worked out well. We separated the office right from that first week and all that field staff. And it was just the communication reporting in via the phone calls or GoTo meetings, really defining everyone’s role in what we were doing out there on a daily basis.

Katlyn Tracey:

Absolutely. It was certainly challenging. And I think that the key was Pavarini’s main priority was the safety of our staff. So, I think that’s why people felt comfortable coming in, Brian. You guys really did a phenomenal job reacting on a day-to-day and case-by-case basis.

Brian Boyce:

Again, good point. We were talking to our supers and managers on a daily basis every morning, reporting in. We do have protocols from corporate on how to handle any exposures, because this is obviously all new to us. Anything that came down from CDC or from OSHA, for instance, you know, a contractor is exposed at home or somewhere to COVID and he’s bringing into the job—how do you monitor that? How do you react? Do you shut the job down? Do you clean it? Do you fog? All of these items we didn’t even know if they were feasible or did they work, but we had to introduce them. Temperature scanning. We bought a scanning device. We scan all the contractors arriving on the project. Social distancing. How do you treat mass? How do you treat when manpower are on lifts together? Do they wear shields? Proper wash stations. Obviously being a little more proactive now that we had our feet wet, we knew what to anticipate. It kind of helped and encouraged the manpower to go to work any given day, knowing they were working on a clean site.

Katlyn Tracey:

Yeah, you’re right. You were operating with a number of guidelines, right? We had our corporate guidelines. We had OSHA guidelines. You had the CDC, you had to look at the New York state guidelines. You had to look at Connecticut guidelines, Jersey guidelines, so that there was a lot of information out there. So, to know the actual ones to follow was a bit of a challenge.

Brian Boyce:

Right. And we had to make a decision on a daily basis, given the job—decisions had to be made. And we learned from week to week, we were making different decisions. I think, as we got a little more exposure, more knowledge of what we were up against.

Katlyn Tracey:

Right. Right. And then the other thing I’m sure, Brian, you had to deal with was as the surrounding States were shutting down, did you run into any kind of issues as far as labor supply from subcontractors, maybe material supply, was there issues with that or transportation? How did that affect our jobs?

Brian Boyce:

Well, it was interesting because you would think that yeah, our jobs are active and there was a lot of manpower at home. You would think you’d be able to man projects, but it was actually the opposite and I hate to use a word, but we were limping along. We had geared jobs back up, even though I had the manpower, there was a supply chain problem. Now you had manufacturing plants in the Tristate area and Pennsylvania that had been supplying our jobs that were shut down. So, you know, I’m managing manpower, I’m managing with the material I have on the job only. And we were lacking material. It’s just now extending the projects and that’s what we were facing.

Katlyn Tracey:

Right. So, I also noticed, and like many of the other industries, COVID forced us to adapt in order to continue meeting our project requirements and our client needs, right? Can you talk a little bit about some of the innovative solutions that Pavarini has been leveraging during this new normal?

Brian Boyce:

Well, we know that from when the pandemic hit, all our clientele, our consultants, architects, everybody’s now working from home. So, you have this problem: how are we going to communicate with everybody? I know the team initially established the GoTo meetings to get on the phone and converse with the client, with the architect, kind of convey or ask any questions because we’re still out in the field building the project. Now, we have a Matterport camera. In the past, I’ve experienced where we shared a Matterport scan through presentations, scanning some existing spaces, so I figured why not try it here? What we did is we picked a job that was pretty busy at the time. It’s a base building project, so I scanned the entire building interior. It scanned the, obviously anything that’s roughed in above the ceilings—this is still during the course of construction, scanned all the partitions, the façade, and it was pretty neat because by doing this, scanning your rooms, your open areas, you can basically see the progress of the project.

We scanned it for this particular job, I think we did it once a week. We shared a link and the client was able to see the progress. What was great about that was through Matterport, the 3D scan, the digital scan, we were able to do our finances. I was able to bill and everyone could see the progress on the job. The client was actually able to take that tool and create project reports. If you had reports to respond back to us, “Hey, check this, check that,” and it worked out great. So, we ended up introducing a pretty convenient tool to communicate with the client and the owners as we progress on the project. You know, we’re in the field, but everybody else is in GoTo or they’re at home, but at least they’re seeing the progress.

Katlyn Tracey:

Great. Great. You do you think that these digital advancements that we had to make and use during this period of social distancing, you know, such as Matterport and performing virtual tours and presentations will continue post-COVID? Are these tools that we’ll continue to use in our business and in our industry?

Brian Boyce:

I definitely think so because, you know, in late March when this all started to today, we have been doing interviews. And they’re not in person anymore, they’re obviously online and I’ll give you a perfect example. We had an interview with a consultant out from Chicago. We were pitching a job in Greenwich, Connecticut. So, we proposed, let’s use Matterport similar to what I did out in Jersey. I can scan your space and I can show you progress. We’ll scan it weekly or I can scan it once a month. And with Matterport, because it’s 3D and digital, you’ll see partitions in place, progress, anything above the ceiling. Obviously, it’s scalable. You could see what I’m building above the ceiling. They bought into it. And I think for that particular presentation, that definitely secured us winning that project. So, in my opinion, it’s a great tool and it will be in the future.

Katlyn Tracey:

Neat. So, as we had said earlier, construction pretty much paused across the Northeast, except for Connecticut. When it was time for the other STO offices in the Tristate area to remobilize, did they turn to you and Pavarini North East for advice?

Brian Boyce:

Well, I do know from the onset, Mike was on the phone twice a week with corporate and all the various offices. They were breaking down what was happening in their particular offices at the time. But in addition to that, Mike and I got together with just the Tristate area—the South Jersey office, the Jersey office and Boston. Knowing that Jersey was partially open with a essential work. We know Boston was completely shut down, and then us, Pavarini, we were operational really in Connecticut and then partially in the other offices. So, sharing information was a great idea. Boston, they kind of brought to the table, shutting down projects. They shut everything down. They had a protocol in place and they shared it.

If you recall, Kate, Mike designated us to establish a COVID taskforce. And we did. We grabbed a couple of managers and two estimators, and we established a team. We were going to sit down and write our own COVID plan. You know, we had access to CDC and a lot of their information, we had access to OSHA. We had a lot of information from corporate, you know, like protocol on how to react when guys got sick or our contractors got sick or were exposed. So, with all this information, we built a COVID plan. We wrote it in three weeks, and we kicked it out. I shared it with Boston, they thought that was a great tool to have. And then once we kind of finalized it, edited it, and really shared it with our team, clients got wind of it. They were definitely excited. They didn’t have anything like this, so they asked us to share with them. And it was neat, Katie, that you and I had that already in place. So, we were able to share it with our clients. And I guess it gave everybody a good comfort level—these are kind of unprecedented times, and at least you have a plan in place on how to deal with it.

Katlyn Tracey:

True. And it had pretty much your lessons-learned in there. I mean, you had established the protocols for our office, so that was a good tool. So, what do you think are the lasting impacts of this situation, of COVID, both near-term and long-term, for us, Pavarini and the STO Building Group.

Brian Boyce:

Yeah. That’s a good question. Me personally, I don’t see this going away time soon, obviously. It’s the new norm that’s out there, masks, social distancing, staying safe. I think we adapt as community, as a whole. We’re smart and we learn to adapt going forward. I mean, look at what we’ve got now—we can’t even exit New York, these days, right? The pandemic is hitting other towns, like it hit New York. And if I remember, if you remember, the pandemic hit New Rochelle and you and I were working in New Rochelle, it was in Bergen County. I was working in Bergen County. All the hospitals, we were working in a hospital right across the hall from an ICU.

Katlyn Tracey:

Yeah. You were certainly in all the hotspots.

Brian Boyce:

In almost every hotspot imaginable in this Tristate area. It’s an eerie feeling sometimes, but I think that’s where we stand.

Katlyn Tracey:

Well, Brian, that’s all I have for today. I appreciate you joining us and answering some questions on COVID.

Brian Boyce:

Well, Kate, thanks for having me today. It was pretty neat talking about this conversation and I’m sure we’ll be talking about it in the future.

Narrator:

Thanks for listening. For more episodes like this, you can find S O building conversations on Spotify, Apple podcasts, and the structure tone website.