AMB Incorporated: Say Hello to Heaven Brian

NOTE: Around five years ago I wrote the following article for BreakingGround Magazine, a construction industry publication that covers the Pittsburgh region. The article never ran, but after hearing that my friend, Brian McKay, passed away this afternoon, I felt the need to share it. Brian had one of the biggest hearts and would drop everything to help people.  Upon hearing the news of his passing, one of Brian’s good friends said to me: “There’s a big plumbing job in heaven that was behind schedule and Jesus needed Brian.” RIP Brian.

 

 

AMB is a well-known, respected name in Pittsburgh’s construction industry. Well, not the entire construction industry knows of this contractor. “We have our own set of clients that we serve and they keep us nice and busy,” said Barbara McKay, President of AMB Incorporated. “We’re pretty selective in who we’ll work for. Our focus has always been on quality in the field – not image off of the jobsite.” To illustrate their point one needs to only look at company vehicles and notice that they do not even place a logo on it.

“AMB is a very dependable firm and their field guys are very conscientious. I enjoy working with them,” said John Paul Busse, President of F.J. Busse, Company, Inc. “They have reasonable prices, which is great, but the part that does it for me is that they have the owner’s interest on a construction project. They ask the right questions and have the solutions to help a project succeed. Plus they understand coordination and schedules which comes in handy for digging as their excavating work can help other contractors on a project”

AMB is a certified woman-owned company that was founded in 1989 by Barbara under the name of AMB Excavating. The company’s initial mission was to handle the excavation services for Bryan Mechanical. “We started small, with a Superintendent in the field digging and me in the office,” said Barbara. The company grew over the next decade until it landed its most renowned project to date in Heinz Field. AMB joined a consortium of contractors to handle all of the underground piping at the home of the Steelers. The contractors included in this consortium were: Bryan Mechanical, SSM Industries, and Sauer.

Along with growing in size, the company also expanded its service over the years to include plumbing. Barbara’s husband, Brian McKay, joined the AMB team in 2004. He is a card-carrying member of Plumbers Union Local 27. He graduated from the apprenticeship school in 1983 and he went right to work for Bryan Mechanical. He worked there until SSM acquired the mechanical contractor in 2001. In 2004, when Brian went to work for AMB, he did not have to travel too far as the companies are in the same yard on Neville Island.

AMB has a pretty even workload of half its work public and half private. Some of the notable projects that AMB has worked on over the years include: Master Builders’ Association Headquarters, City of Pittsburgh Public Schools, PPG Place, Omni William Penn Place, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Chevron Science Center and Salk Hall. For the latter two projects, AMB was hired by Burchick Construction. “Brian’s hands-on approach always makes sure the appropriate resources and equipment are allocated for each project,” said Dave Meuschke, Vice President of Burchick Construction.

Today, AMB features three operators, four plumbers and Barbara and Brian in the office. One of the plumbers in the field is the son of Barbara and Brian – Matt McKay. Matt is a fourth generation plumber. The vision now for the elder McKays to assist Matt to succeed as an owner of a construction company. Matt, along with longtime employee Stanley Marciak, are both being mentored to be an owner. “My time is short in the industry. I want to make sure Matt is set up to succeed,” said Brian. “Matt is a graduate from Local 27 so he has the hands-on knowledge, but now he needs to fine-tune his management skills. I stress all the time how important estimating is – a bad estimate leads to losing money and you can’t have that when employees count on you.”

“I’m in a real fortunate position where I not only get to go to work with my parents, but I get to learn from them. While it’s a real hands-on learning process, I’m lucky in that I can walk down the hall and ask advice from someone that has been there, done that,” said Matt. “Going from a tradesman in the field to the office can be a challenge: you have to learn to operate a business and maintain relationships while cultivating new ones. My parents know what I’m going through and they are good at offering advice when I need it.”

Another point that the McKays stress to the next generation is to be active in the industry you work in. The company is signatory with Plumbers Local 27, Operating Engineers Local 66, and Laborers Local 373. Brian serves as the Chairman of Plumbers Local 27 Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, as well as serving as a Trustee on Local 27’s Pension and Healthcare Fund Boards. “Brian is the model Board Member,” said Rege Claus, Executive Director of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Pennsylvania. “He’s knowledgeable in the field, a card-carrying Local 27 member proves that, and he’s quick to volunteer to help the association. He serves on each of the MCA’s negotiation steering committees, plus he’s respected by his peers.” The last point is proven with Brian being elected to serve as President of the MCA.

Along with helping in the industry by serving on construction association boards, it is also important to be a steward of the community and improving the place you call home. The following story demonstrates the McKay’s hands-on, get-it-done volunteer spirit. Last year at a Pittsburgh Builders Exchange Board Meeting, Board President Brad Bridges of R.J. Bridges presented a community service idea for the association: they would renovate a home for the Habitat For Humanity. “Brad set his sights on rolling up the sleeves and getting to work and I told him that I was not sure how construction executives on the Board would react,” said Del Walker, Executive Director of the PBX. “When we presented it to the Board, the first volunteer amongst the group was Brian McKay. Then on the renovation day he shows up excited to work, but there was no plumbing work on this project. Instead he was tasked with building stairs for a deck and he shined at the assignment. He did a great job on the stair stringers and I was amazed.”

“I find it funny that people were surprised a plumber could have carpentry skills. I’ve spent my life in construction and picked up a few secrets from the other trades over the years from the many talented craftsman that I’ve worked alongside,” said Brian.

I Stand Corrected, but I still believe Safety First!

Last week was the fifth annual OSHA Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. The Keystone Contractors Association members joined the rest of our country’s construction industry in being excited about this weeklong tribute to safety.

This enthusiasm rubbed off on the KCA staff, and as a result I penned an article about how the staff plans to hold a Safety Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. We held the training and I’m glad we did it so now we’ll be prepared if something happens at our office.

However, after the training we were informed that while OSHA encourages training, if you’re going to hold a Stand-Down during May 7-11, 2018 and call it a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week event, then it has to be falls related. Upon learning this fact, the KCA staff had a safety consultant speak to the staff about fall hazards during the week so that we could state that we held a falls related Safety Stand-Down during OSHA’s Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. We urged each KCA member to conduct a Stand-Down during the week and because of that we felt it was important to practice what we preach.

While I erred in encouraging any type of safety training to be held during the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week, I later discovered that the error was in the moniker I used in labeling the event during the week of May 7-11, 2018. Five years ago, this May week was originally named an appropriate title to try to help in reducing the number one cause of construction fatalities – falls. But over time large, national/global construction firms working through the Construction Industry Safety Institute (CISI) created Safety Week (which is held in conjunction with the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week).

The aim of Safety Week is to raise awareness of the construction industry’s continuing commitment to eliminate worker injuries, and to clearly communicate the industry’s dedication to a culture of care and concern and the belief that every week must be Safety Week!

So, I messed up and called our emergency evacuation training a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week event, when in fact it should have been called a Safety Week event. But I’m kind of glad I flubbed this one, because of this blunder the KCA staff received two safety trainings during Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week and Safety Week.

Safety First!

Let’s Pause for Safety During May 7-11

This Monday marks the beginning of the 5th annual “OSHA National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week.” On May 7-11, 2018, thousands of construction jobsites across the country will hold a safety Stand-Down event. It’s time ALL industries join construction and take a moment to pause and talk about safety hazards at work.

A safety Stand-Down is a voluntary event to allow for employers to speak with its employees about safety at work. Any workplace can conduct a safety talk, and any topic can be focused on – distracted driving, proper lifting, emergency evacuation, workplace stress, etc. Just because OSHA refers to it as: “Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week” doesn’t mean this week is only for construction and the only topic is falls. This week-long tribute to safety was born out of the construction industry and falls are the leading cause of casualties in this industry so I assume OSHA wanted to draw more attention and training to falls hazards.

However, over its brief five-year existence, this has grown and more and more industries are celebrating safety during this week. Every year more non-construction employers are holding Stand-Downs. In fact, OSHA claims that the largest single participant for one stand-down was the United States Air Force in 2015 and 2016, both times reaching more than one million military and civilian personnel.

toolbox talkThe Keystone Contractors Association is a commercial construction trade association. We hope 100% of our members participate in an OSHA Stand-Down this year. We, the association staff, are not construction professionals – we work in an office providing various services to contractors. But our staff of three will conduct our Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. Hopefully we won’t find ourselves in an emergency in real-life, but thanks to this year’s Stand-Down we’ll be prepared. This also shows that any sized employer can hold a Stand-Down.

Following the Stand-Down, employers should visit the OSHA Stand-Down website to download a Certificate and provide feedback on the experience. (https://www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown/index.html).  The sharing of best practices is an excellent way to improve safety and protect our workers.

At KCA we believe that teamwork improves safety and we hope that work teams across Pennsylvania will take a moment to focus on Safety during May 7-11!

Veterans – The Forgotten DBE

Last evening, the City of Harrisburg and the Capital Region Water hosted an informational event. The purpose of this event was to educate disadvantaged business enterprises on getting work so that small, emerging companies could perhaps gain a piece of advice or make the right connection to help their business. Awesome initiative – that’s why the Keystone Contractors Association was there to support it. The KCA looks forward to assisting in the delivery of more events that benefit DBE firms. The KCA has established and respectable construction companies that look forward to helping emerging companies, plus we represent quality DBE firms.

However, I cannot let an absent item slip by without speaking up. During the two-plus hours of speakers during the program, not a single speaker mentioned Veteran Owned Company. The KCA supports all DBE classifications and we were glad to hear that both the City of Harrisburg and Capital Region Water supports DBE participation on their projects. Both groups were pointing out how they help to get participation from the minority, woman, and gay-and-lesbian-owned companies.

But during all the speakers, I kept thinking: “What about the Veteran Owned Company?” The owners of these companies protected our country.  By no means am I saying that one DBE classification is better than another one – all are important and should be supported.

As a Veteran myself, who represents many fine Veteran Owned Companies throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, maybe I’m a little sensitive to this subject. To all the Veteran Owned Companies in Pennsylvania’s construction industry, KCA will work to make sure you’re recognized. On behalf of the KCA President Ron Virostek (Army) and myself (Navy), we want to thank each of the Veteran Owned Companies that belong to the KCA for their service and say that we are honored to represent your company:

  • Serviam Construction
  • AJ Roofing Inc.
  • Howard Warner Construction
  • RBVetCo LLC
  • Spartan Construction Services

 

2018 PA Budget Hearings with DGS

As was the case the last year, the Separations Act was a discussed topic during the Budget Appropriation Hearings with the Department of General Services.

In the Senate, DGS Secretary Topper was asked questions about the Act by Senator Folmer. The gist of the Secretary’s comments related around DGS experiencing increased administrative costs, but they are unsure if total cost is more. DGS would like to continue to study the issue more.

As for the House, Representative Everett led the way with the questioning. Topper echoed his comments from the Senate – increased administrative overhead in the norm for a Separations Act project, but he felt there was a need for more studying of the issue. Everett countered with hints about a new legislative strategy that allows for the current multiple prime delivery system to be used if that’s what the public owner chooses; however, the public owner can also select from other delivery options too.

Personally, I think if the DGS was serious about wanting to study the issue more they should make three phone calls to Pitt, PSU & Temple. When these schools receive state funds they have to abide by the Separations Act and build as the school’s call it: ‘the DGS way’ but when these schools build with their own money they build using Design-Bid-Build with Single Prime; Design Build; Construction Management At Risk; and PSU is even trying IPD. All DGS would have to do is review projects built on these campuses using multiple prime compared to using a variety of single prime. End of ‘we need data’ story.

Click here to hear DGS Topper answer questions from Senator Folmer: https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/6d6hud1x5z

Pennsylvania’s Top Construction Stories of 2017

The news was overwhelming in 2017. From healthcare mergers and insurance coverage to gender inequality to natural disasters to international relations to political squabbling…. Every time you looked at your phone or watched the nightly news there appeared to be another breaking news crisis being reported. Meanwhile the construction industry kept chugging along, adding jobs to the payrolls and improving the quality of life. That’s not to say that 2017 was just another typical year for the construction industry. No not at all. Last year we experienced some remarkable events.

Below are the top Pennsylvania construction stories of 2017 according to me. I kept them brief so you can breeze through it quickly, but if you want more information on any item listed please don’t hesitate to contact me at 717-731-6272 or Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

Lastly, let me know what you think. What construction story in your mind did l leave off my list? Or what item did I list that is not a big deal?

Enjoy and keep in mind they are not listed in any particular order:

Amazon H2 Fever

After an announcement that it would build a second North American headquarters, online retail giant Amazon snagged 238 bids for its “HQ2” and the construction industry was on the edge of its seats wondering if this massive project would be built in their region. But I think construction professionals and the general public also were hoping that any sort of tax incentives included in the bid would not hurt their region too much in the future. Pennsylvania had numerous sites submit a bid. For more on Amazon H2 and the crazy amount of incentives click here:   http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-hq2-cities-developers-economic-tax-incentives-2017-10/#memphis-tennessee-60-million-1.

 

Silica Standard Arrives

After a lengthy extension to review input from industry stakeholders, OSHA’s new silica standard went into effect on September 23, 2017. What that means for the construction industry is that contractors who engage in activities that create silica dust, such as cutting, grinding/ blasting concrete, stone and brick, must meet a stricter standard for how much of that dust workers inhale. The same goes for the employers of the tradespeople working around such activities. Numerous trainings were held and educational materials were produced to prepare the industry for this new standard. Many organizations, like KCA, even teamed with OSHA to host informational roundtable discussions. For more information please contact the KCA or visit: https://silica-safe.org/regulations-and-requirements/osha.

 

Opioid Crisis Continues to Plague Construction

The opioid epidemic is hurting America. Scary stats when you consider that our country makes up 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 80% of the opioid supply and we are losing 100 people a day. The construction industry has been suffering along with most every other industry too. While it is not an easy task to find the stats by industry, insurance underwriter CNA estimates that 15.1% of construction workers have been affected by the opioid crisis. Much like the rest of society, KCA finds these stats unacceptable and we are doing something about it. Our plans are currently developing and we could use your help to implement them. If you want to join the fight to help Pennsylvania’s construction industry tackle the opioid epidemic, get in touch with us. This offer is extended to all – KCA members, nonmembers, organizations, etc. Together, we can make a difference.

 

USGBC releases LEEDv4 and AIA Updates its Contracts

Both of these items are similar in that in both instances two groups – U.S. Green Building Council and AIA National – worked with their respective memberships and industry stakeholders to update something that is of value to the construction industry. The USGBC issued its updated version of LEED version 4 and AIA issued its 10-year update of its contract documents. Both are also similar in that while they might have been updated in 2017, the industry can still use the previous version a little bit longer to have time to get acquainted with the newer version. The overall sentiment is that both are improvements from the previous version, encouraging collaboration in construction. For more information on LEEDv4 click:  https://www.usgbc.org/leed-v4-old-new and for information AIA contracts: https://www.aiacontracts.org/.

 

Philadelphia is Carrying Good Times into 2018!

By all accounts, 2017 was a great year for the construction industry in the City of Brotherly Love. But 2018 is going to a new level in Philadelphia. More than 8 million square feet of development is forecasted in Philly. To put this into perspective, during 2017 Philadelphia finished 3.3 million square feet of construction. A big chunk of this upcoming work will come from Aramark’s new headquarters, uCity Square on Market, and One Franklin Tower in Logan Square. For more information click here:    https://philly.curbed.com/2017/11/30/16715170/philadelphia-new-construction-analysis-2018.

 

Separations Act Gets Some Attention

As stated in my blog last week, the Separations Act had some memorable moments in 2017. To read this post click:   https://wordpress.com/post/buildingpa.blog/267.

 

Federal Tax Legislation Helps Construction Industry

Before ringing in the New Year, Congress passed a comprehensive tax reform legislation that will lower rates, spur economic growth and have a positive impact on construction businesses for years to come. The AGC of America put together a comprehensive chart to illustrate the benefits of this tax reform package:  http://images.magnetmail.net/images/clients/agca/attach/1218_House_Senate_Tax_Reform_Comparison_v6.pdf.

 

Harrisburg has Big Plans in its Sights

During 2017 two mega projects having been moving closer to the bidding/construction stages. The one project, the Federal Courthouse, has been in the works for the better part of the past decade, but it received a big boost early in 2017 when it received funding authorization. Since this funding announcement, the GSA has been moving quickly on this $200 M-plus, 243,000 square foot Federal Courthouse project. This project has encountered a few snags this past Fall, but hopefully it will break ground soon. Here is a blog post I wrote about this project: https://wordpress.com/post/buildingpa.blog/51.

Another project on the mega scale includes the vision that Harrisburg University has in constructing the tallest building in Harrisburg. In the Fall of 2017, the school announced plans to build a 36-story, $150 M mixed-use tower that will feature 200,000 square feet of educational space that includes fitness center, conference space, hotel, and housing for 300 college residents. For more information:  http://www.cpbj.com/article/20171115/CPBJ01/171119902/harrisburg-university-plans-to-build-citys-tallest-tower.

Separations Act in 2017

During 2017, there were some memorable stories involving Pennsylvania’s  Separations Act. Today I’m going to touch on a few of the major stories.

But before jumping right into the fun, here’s a quick explanation of the Separations Act: this law requires public construction projects in Pennsylvania to build utilizing a multiple prime delivery system and hire at least four prime construction companies for one project. Our state is one of three states that require this handcuffing of public agencies to build in this cumbersome manner – don’t get me wrong the multiple prime delivery system can be a good option depending on numerous factors (owner’s expertise, complexity of project, budget, schedule, etc.), but multiple prime is one of many delivery options. The construction industry has evolved over the years and we now have more innovative and collaborative team approaches to consider, yet our state only allows one delivery option. Considering that the multiple prime delivery system is rarely used in the rest of the country, federal government, and private sector, it’s time for our state to amend our law and allow options in construction delivery systems.

Here we are in 2017 and PA is still mandating we follow this ancient law that impedes the construction industry from progressing. However, our current state is led by a self-proclaimed Harrisburg outsider, so maybe Governor Wolf will play a vital role in advancing the construction industry, and maybe, just maybe the Harrisburg outsider moniker played a role in kick-starting efforts in advancing the construction industry in 2017. Without further ado, here are my top Separations Act stories of 2017:

2017 Senate Appropriation Hearing

On Monday, February 27, 2017, the Separations Act got off to a good first step this year during the PA State Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. At this event, the Governor’s appointed Department of General Services Secretary Curt Topper said: “we face some significant constraints that the private sector does face when it comes to managing our money efficiently. So, for example the Commonwealth, when we go to market in order to contract to do construction, we are bound by the Separations Act of 1913. We are one of only three remaining states in the U.S. that has a Separations Act. That Separations Act requires that we do business less efficiently than we could otherwise do business.” Bravo to Governor Wolf for appointing a forwarding-thinking individual like Secretary Topper who sees an issue and wants it addressed to improve the Commonwealth. Plus, bravo to Secretary Topper for knowing that you were appointed to do a job and you didn’t let politics get in the way.

Click here to Secretary Topper’s hearing:  http://www.pasenategop.com/budget-hearings-summary/

Here is an OpEd on his testimony:  http://www.yorkdispatch.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/03/07/oped-s-time-repeal-separations-act-pa/98857412/

Here is commentary from Philly Inquirer’s John Baer: http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/john_baer/Another-old-PA-law-enters-the-states-fiscal-follies.html

 

Pennsylvania Organizations Want Change

What happened on that Monday in February of 2017 had tremendous reach beyond the room where the Senate Appropriations hearing was held. Organizations across the Commonwealth had a bounce in their step, as an executive in the governor’s cabinet publicly supported modernizing the Separations Act. This newly formed coalition mobilized in 2017 and even launched an online petition (located here:

https://www.change.org/p/time-to-modernize-the-pa-separations-act). More to come from this coalition in 2018.

 

A Union Uses Separations Act to Gain Marketshare Over Another Union

In a bizarre twist of fate, a school in the Pittsburgh area signed a project labor agreement (PLA) which pleased the union construction sector in that area. Promoted as a tool to assure labor harmony, West Jefferson Hills School District could not imagine their PLA project being shut down when one building trades union sued the school district, architect, construction manager, and others – but that’s exactly what happened. The plumbing contractor filed suit claiming that the site utility work outside the building footprint should have been assigned to them and not the general trades contractor. It is typical on a construction project (public and private) to have the plumbing contractor perform plumbing work from inside the structure to five feet outside the building. Yet, this plumber wanted work to exceed the ‘typical’ scope of work and this contractor wanted the site utility work assigned to them, which took work from the general contractor, site contractor and the Laborers Union. The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County sided with the plumbing contractor stating that the project ‘willfully’ violated the Separations Act. This ruling changes years of precedence that could have major consequences on construction in Pennsylvania – both public and private.

 

 

Separations Act Project a Mess on a Grand Stage

The saying goes, that nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. Well, in construction, nothing attracts the masses like a massive project. Originally set to open during November of 2015, the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County, PA, which is the largest public building project in our state’s history, is way over-budget and years past schedule. Since this project is so mammoth and expensive, it has the attention of many people statewide, from construction professionals who want to see how it’s built to concerned tax payers who want tax dollars spent efficiently. But a disastrous, multiple prime construction project should have been foreseen since it took years to bid the project, bidding three times over the timeframe of two Governors – Ed Rendell and Tom Corbett. I could go on and on about the mess that is the SCI Phoenix, but I think the PA Corrections Commissioner John Wetzel summed it up best in a Senate Budget hearing when he said: “It’s been a terrible construction project.”  For more information on this developing, and apparently never-ending story, click here to read one of the many articles on it:   http://www.philly.com/philly/news/crime/prison-graterford-phoenix-phila-convention-center-20170901.html

 

Well those are my top Separations Act stories of 2017. They were each briefly presented but if you would like additional information on any item listed please do not hesitate to contact me. Also, if you have an opinion on these stories or think I’m missing an item, I’d like to hear from you.