Open Door Policy

In life I’ve heard this line many times: “I have an open-door policy.” Teachers, coaches, employers, politicians, etc.  Many like to throw this line around, but do they mean it? Here’s an example of one individual who meant it, and as a result the rest of us (at least those in Pennsylvania) are better off because of it. Thanks Mike Turzai. Here’s the story:

During the summer of 2016, while living with my family in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, in the McCandless area, I was offered a job in the central PA area. After much thought and discussion with my wife and daughters, we decided to accept the position and move away from an area that has treated us great. We listed our Pittsburgh home for sale and began looking for a home in central PA.

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It’s signed! During the summer of 2016, we accepted the position of Executive Director for the Keystone Contractors Association. From this moment on, it was time to start the relocation process. 

We had three offers the first day our home was on the market (McCandless is an awesome place to raise a family and Michelle Petty is a great realtor). We accepted an offer that was best for us, but the buyers could not close on the purchase for at least two months, which turned out to be good for us in that we could live in the home for longer than we expected to, and it gave us time to find the perfect place to live in central PA.

While we were living in the McCandless home, the buyers continued to prepare to buy it and an inspection was part of this process. More than a week after the home inspection was conducted, we received an email from the buyer’s real estate agent that contained the results of the inspection. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday evening when the email arrived; it was a lengthy, 50-plus page report with bold, red-highlighted items that the inspector deemed as important; and a few pages into the report I saw a line that made my heart sink: “GAS LEAK detected not safe to live in.” Since I was living in the home, with the four people who are my world, I was speechless…wait WTF did I just read?!?!?! We left right away and spent the night at my aunt’s home, a few miles down the road.

The next morning, I was busy on the phone. I called the gas company first (Peoples Natural Gas was amazing as they arrived right away, and they had the gas leak issue resolved within the hour). Then I proceeded to speak to my realtor and an attorney friend of mine. I wanted to know why, if my family was in harm’s danger, did the home inspector not alert us. The response I received was that home inspectors are not legally obligated to notify anyone of unsafe conditions, like gas leaks. My first thought was that you would think a member of a society/country would feel morally obligated to let someone know about this, but unfortunately this was not the case. Then I called my Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Turzai.

Turzai is a friendly guy who you speak with at the North Allegheny High School Football games or you see walking down the streets in your neighborhood. He told me a few times over the years, while living in the district he represents, to not hesitate to contact him if I encounter any issues: “my door is open let me know if I can help.” So, I thought I’d take him up on the offer to see if he could help. Yes, my issue was resolved when I called him, and my family moved back in our home after the gas leak was fixed, but I do not want any other family to have to go through what I went through and fortunately for the rest of Pennsylvania, Turzai agreed and did not want anyone else to go through this serious issue either.

After thoroughly understanding the issue, Turzai and his staff were able to assist in modifying a home inspection piece of legislation that at the time was moving through the 2015/2016 Pennsylvania legislative session. Time ran out on this piece of legislation and when the session ended on December 31, 2016, the home inspection legislation died.

When the new year arrived, the Pennsylvania legislature introduced a new home inspection bill for the 2017/2018 session and the provision that we inserted requiring home inspectors to notify residents immediately if they are living in unsafe conditions carried forward to the next session as well. House Bill 1001 recently passed in the House of Representatives and it is now in the State Senate. While it’s a comprehensive bill that affects many aspects of the home inspection process, I for one am glad that it spells out how home inspectors are to act when encountering threats to health and safety.

One would think that a home inspector would notify a homeowner if they were living in an unsafe condition, but I found out that is not the case. It’s a good thing Mike Turzai has an open door policy and listens to the people he represents.

Remembering (& Helping) A Mentor

The benefits of being a mentor are well known. You can position your company, industry, etc. for a better tomorrow as you pass down your knowledge and information to future leaders. I hope that mentors don’t ever feel like it’s a thankless job helping the next generation. Sure, there might not be immediate payback, but being a mentor can be extremely rewarding when the mentor sees the protégé blossom into an industry leader.

I have been extremely blessed when it comes to mentors assisting with my professional development. After the Navy, I enrolled and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a dual degree in Journalism and History – not your typical degrees for the construction industry. However, some people saw something and cultivated me to succeed in this industry. There are too many to name, but today I’d like to focus on one individual – Dwight Kuhn.

Dwight saw something in me and always took the extra time to thoroughly explain construction topics to me. We were part of an industry group comprised of experienced leaders that met in the evenings to discuss construction best practices; I was the lone individual who was not an “experienced industry leader,” but I kept good notes and ran good meetings so I was involved. The next day, after our meetings, my head was spinning when I tried to comprehend all the topics we discussed the night before. More often than naught I found myself calling Dwight for an explanation. He always had time for those phone calls.

But the special thing about Dwight was, it wasn’t just me that he spent time with. He really cared about the next generation and getting them engaged. As I mentioned earlier we had a group of current industry leaders that focused on best practices, but to be honest – this book of recommendations was dated and archaic. A few members of this group decided that we needed a complete overhaul. But it was Dwight who made the breakthrough suggestion that we needed: let’s involve the industry’s future in this activity.

From Dwight’s idea we invited young, up-and-coming industry leaders to the table to serve on small task forces that included a few principles from architectural firms and executives from construction companies. I think the small group suggestion made it less intimidating and everyone was engaged. Sure we updated a few best practice recommendations, but more importantly his suggestion may have expedited the development of current leaders from Pittsburgh’s design and construction industry, people like; Sean Sheffler, Associate at LGA Partners; Anastasia (Herk) Dubnicay, Executive Director of ACE Mentor Program of Western PA; Gino Torriero, CEO of Nello Construction; Jen Landau, Project Manager at Landau Building Company; Kristin  Merck, a promising architect who opted to launch a successful photography business; to name a few. Plus, that little scribe who used to hound Dwight for help the morning after meetings is now Executive Director of the Keystone Contractors Association.

Please note, that exercise that grouped young and experienced leaders happened around ten years ago so I’m pretty sure my memory is leaving people off that are really successful today. Sorry. But the one thing I am sure about is that Dwight touched many people in a positive way during his career. We can all show him thanks by participating in the Dwight Kuhn Replenishment Blood Drive, which is this Thursday, November 2, 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the Master Builders’ Association. Even if Dwight did not touch you during your career, you can show your support of the mentorship process by giving blood. For more information on this blood drive or on Dwight, please contact Michael Kuhn at mkuhn@jendoco.com.

The reason for this blood drive is that during an annual routine physical in April of 2017, Dwight was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). AML is a blood and bone marrow cancer that can quickly spread to other parts of the body. To date, Dwight has undergone three treatments of intense chemotherapy and has needed 40 units of blood and 40 units of platelets. His AML is currently in remission, but he has myelodysplastic syndromes, a precursor to AML. He continues to need blood transfusions every two weeks to keep his strength. If you would like to help, visit www.centralbloodbank.org then click “Make an appointment” and search with group code: Z0021025.

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Looking for a Good Construction Article to Read?

What does a four-time NFL Super Bowl Champion, a public relations specialist, and a human resources expert have in common? Each has been featured in the Keystone Contractors Association Construction Industry Articles of Interest webpage.

When I came on board at the KCA I expressed a desire to place a strong emphasis on education and the sharing of best practices. I was right at home with the KCA membership as they too feel strongly about education since it’s a vital aspect of career development. Members devoted time to creating our educational programming. Some topics were better suited for an in-person seminar/ presentation, while other topics were better in an article format. With the latter in mind, we created an online format.

During the past few months of its existence, we have been fortunate to have such intelligent and motivated professionals wanting to be featured on this new resource. We are extremely pleased to feature such diverse and important topics on this website. Sami Barry of Helbling & Associates, penned an article on women in the construction workforce; Tom Kennedy, UPMC consultant, wrote about Integrated Project Delivery from the Owner’s perspective; Rocky Bleier, Vietnam Veteran, Steeler Legend and Owner of RBVetCo, authored an article about teamwork in construction; plus, Jason Copley of Cohen Seglias, and Joseph Bosik of Pietragallo Gordon Alfrano Bosik & Raspanti, wrote separate articles about the Mechanics’ Lien Law.

The newest articles come to us from Christopher Martin, President of Atlas Marketing, and Thomas Williams, Partner at Reager & Adler PC. Mr. Martin’s article is on crisis communications. As an expert in this field, adding his insights to this serious topic was a no brainer. As a result of his interest in educating the construction community, we are in the talks now to create an educational program to prepare construction companies in responding when a crisis happens. Mr. Williams’ input is on a new contract provision being inserted by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services for construction services. Due to the potential ramifications of this new governmental clause, the KCA is leaning towards hosting an educational program on this subject matter too and it’s nice to know we have Mr. Williams if we go that route. Thanks to the proactive, and knowledgeable, input from both professionals KCA is able to educate the construction industry on serious topics.

If you want to be added to this resource, and position yourself as a construction industry expert of a specific topic, we’d like to hear from you.

To view the KCA Construction Industry Articles of Interest visit: https://keystonecontractors.com/industry-articles.

My Favorite Moment from My First Year at KCA: The Meeting that Changed It All

As I celebrate my one-year anniversary at the Keystone Contractors Association, I recall the meeting that changed it all for the KCA. I started at the KCA during the fall of 2016 and, after a three-month transition period learning from Mr. McDonough, I became the Executive Director of the KCA.

We held two KCA Board meetings and some KCA Committees met during the first six months after the transition period. Despite not having much to go by as far as a comparison goes, it just felt like the KCA get togethers were business as usual – nothing special. Then it happened.

For those first two Board meetings, I thought we were accomplishing what was expected of us – financials were in line, Association was humming along with minimal issues, etc. But I could sense that each of us, the entire Board and I, that we wanted to do more. What I did next could be viewed as unconventional, and if it failed could be viewed as a lousy idea, but what happened was magical.

We held a Board meeting with no agenda. I sat in a room with twelve construction executives, successful ones too that run their own construction company. Their time is extremely important. When the meeting started I said: “for today’s meeting, I want to know what’s on your mind: what work related topics do you want to discuss? What challenges do you face in running your company? Look there’s no agenda today. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a lively discussion in any direction we all want to take it. So, who wants to start it off?” The room went silent and then I continued: “This meeting could last two minutes or it could last two hours; it all depends on all of us.”

Again, silence. I really started to doubt my idea for this meeting and then one Board member said: “Does anyone else in the room have trouble finding qualified workers?” The ice was broken. From that point on it was as if the levee had broken. We discussed a wide gamut of issues affecting construction company owners from safety inspections to leadership development to community service to managing millennials to construction legislation. You name it and we discussed it. We went over our self-imposed two-hour limit too.

For each topic, we would spend ample time discussing it. Board members would offer each other advice on addressing an issue and collectively we would discuss if it’s something the KCA should look into addressing. This agenda-less meeting was succeeding on various levels. As the ‘new guy’ I got to see how the Board members interacted and you could sense the strong relationships that existed among them. Plus, I got to understand what issues are facing the membership and I could create a strategy to address issues that were appropriate for the KCA to get involved in.

One major KCA initiative that came to life as a result of our agenda-less meeting is our efforts in workforce development. KCA talked about this issue in the past but there wasn’t much action. We are currently working on a strategy to address the serious construction worker shortage issue that exists with both labor and management. This strategy will feature activities that stretch from grade school to middle school to high school to college to post education. While this comprehensive plan is being created, the KCA has begun implementing some actions already. This week we’re addressing students from Harrisburg High School about careers in the construction industry.

I share this agenda-less meeting story because I believe in sharing best practices. It worked for me and I’m not saying it may work for others, but if considering and you want more details let me know. If you’d like to share your management strategies with me, please feel free to contact me at 717-731-6272 or Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

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It’s always nice to leave a meeting and see a KCA member building a better quality of life. JC Orr is the General Contractor for the PA Housing Finance Agency in Harrisburg. This project is being built to achieve LEED Platinum and Passive House Certifications.

Let’s Spend PA Tax Dollars Efficiently

Today we are a few days away from the month of October. In Harrisburg, it should be a time that our legislature is working on crucial issues – education, healthcare, energy, opioid epidemic, etc., but instead our state is still trying to complete its budget. One Pennsylvanian even tracks it daily and any minute today we should see his post about the budget now being 89 days late.

Every time I think about the budget debacle, as a construction professional I think about a major issue that drives up the cost of public construction, that being the Separations Act. 10 to 13% – that is amount that we overpay for construction services in Pennsylvania. Think about that every time you drive around and see a public construction project underway – our state is paying 10 to 13% more from your tax dollars to construct that building than what Maryland would pay for it. Next time you hear that your local school district is holding a school board meeting, think about all the topics they cover under their buildings and grounds report and how those projects will cost tax payers 10 to 13% more than what New Jersey would pay due to a meaningless mandate.

The Separations Act requires Pennsylvania to build in an archaic manner where multiple prime contractors take a lead role, and point fingers at each other while standing next to their attorneys every step of the way. Claims, lawsuits, delays – those are the norm for public construction projects in our state and those are the factors that drive up the cost of construction. In other states, like West Virginia, Ohio, and 47 other states in our nation, they are free to choose the most efficient construction delivery method. Our federal government and the entire private sector are also free to choose the most cost-effective delivery method.

So next time you read a newspaper article on the state budget impasse, just think about how we overpay for construction services by 10 to 13%. Let that fact sink in while you start your day, the 89th day that we are late on this year’s budget.

Please share this petition with your contacts, urging them to sign:  https://www.change.org/p/pennsylvania-repeal-pa-separations-act. Also contact your legislators and let them know that you want action on Senate Bill 744 and House Bill 1529.

Are You Ready For OSHA’s New Silica Standard?

The enforcement of OSHA’s respirable crystalline silica standard that applies to the construction industry begins on September 23, 2017. After some delays to allow OSHA to conduct additional outreach and to provide educational materials and guidance to employers, the date is almost upon us. Are you ready? If not quite there yet, KCA can help.

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Since it could be debated that this is one of the most complex standards the construction industry has faced, it was understandable that it seemed as though a silica event happened daily throughout the country. At the Keystone Contractors Association, we wanted to host one more educational event on this topic to assure construction employers are prepared. This week we hosted a facilitated discussion led by OSHA’s Dale Glacken, Compliance Assistance Specialist for the OSHA Harrisburg Area Office. This discussion included commercial construction professionals from both general contractors and subcontractors based throughout the Commonwealth.

Here are the key takeaways from this discussion:

  1. List – Prior to project commencement, make a list of all potential silica hazards. Add the tasks that will need to be performed on a project where workers could be exposed to silica. Will sandblasting be performed on this project? What about jackhammering, concrete drilling, brick/concrete cutting, concrete mixing, chipping/scraping, etc.? Just think about the project and what construction activity needs to happen as you reach milestones along the way.
  2. Assessment – After your list is created, go down each activity and assess each one. Provide the details for each item to understand them better – how much time will it take, what tools are needed, how many people, etc.?
  3. Controls – While working off the list created earlier and the details on each item, think now about how to control the silica exposure for your workforce. What PPE is needed? Do the tasks have to be completed near other workers, or for example can blocks be cut away from others in an enclosed area? What are ways that dust be controlled? At this point you may want to refer to the table 1 of the OSHA silica standard to assist you in determining if you’re in compliance: https://www.osha.gov/silica/SilicaConstructionRegText.pdf.
  4. Plan – Led by your company’s silica competent person, create the project specific plan, which includes specific controls for each activity that could potentially expose workers to crystalline silica. This plan should highlight scope of work to be completed, control methods, and housekeeping. Housekeeping is important in a silica plan, just as it is important in every aspect of safety. I’ve noticed that a clean jobsite, tends to be a safer jobsite. Also while developing the plan, think about if areas should be restricted to limit silica exposure. But don’t just create a plan and let it collect dust, make sure to implement it and carry out those competent person inspections, plus refer to the plan throughout the project to make sure it is being carried out and workers are protected.
  5. Training – As highlighted in the plan, training plays a vital role. In this plan, training should focus on tasks that expose workers to silica. Along with making sure tools and PPE are made available, make sure too that training is available for those tools and PPE; proper use is necessary and don’t assume someone knows how to use something. The copy of OSHA’s Silica Standard should be readily available to all workers.
  6. Medical – Making sure workers are healthy, and keeping them healthy, is important to this new standard. If a worker is to wear a respirator for more than 30 days per year, medical surveillance is required by the employer. This examination must be completed within 30 days of assignment unless the employee has had an examination within the last three years. Then periodical medical examinations should be offered at least every three years, or more if recommended by a health care professional. The employer will maintain a medical surveillance record on each employee.

Along with the rousing discussion, this KCA silica event also featured plenty of resources on the topic. KCA has each resource that was discussed, as well as numerous other silica resources that can help your company. Please do not hesitate to contact the KCA for help. To reach KCA call 717-731-6272.

NOTE: Comments were made during the event that many small businesses that work in the construction industry may not be prepared for the silica changes. Many KCA contractor members extended an invite to subcontractors who did not even know about this standard. If you encounter firms that need help, please let them know the KCA is here for them. We can schedule a time to stop by their operation or if they’d like we can simply provide them the resources needed on OSHA’s New Silica Standard.

State College HS Project Tour & Construction Phasing Advice

On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, the Keystone Contractors Association partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council Central PA Chapter to provide the construction industry with a tour of the State College High School project currently under construction. The project consists of two buildings, around 660,000 SF of renovated and new construction, with costs estimated around $140 million.

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Weather-wise, it was a perfect day to don the safety PPE and walk the jobsite. But first, the fifty-plus attendees sat through a very informative presentation given by Ed Poprik, State College School District; Jeff Straub, Crabtree Rohrbaugh Architects; and, Tim Jones, Massaro Construction Management Services.

The project’s owner, Mr. Poprik, kicked off the presentation. He provided a history of the school’s capital management, which dated well beyond the twenty years he has been at the school (in fact the week of the tour marked his 20th anniversary that he has served as the District’s Director of Physical Plant). He discussed past projects of the district, the aged high school buildings, and the famous referendum vote that residents of the district passed in order for the massive project to proceed.

Next the project’s architect of record spoke. Mr. Straub discussed the referendum, and his firm’s role in the process in assisting the district in getting the community to first understand there was a need for the project and then to engage the community. He then proceeded to highlight some of the sustainable features on the project, as well as explain the LEED certification process. The school set the goal of at least a Silver LEED certification and with that in mind his firm designed to the Gold level to assure they at least reach Silver if by chance some points are not achieved. The project is on pace to receive Gold.

The final portion of the presentation prior to the tour was given by the construction manager, Tim Jones. We all know how important the Owner and Architect are on a construction project, but KCA is a contractor association so we’re going to focus on this portion of the presentation more.

Tim Jones is a senior project manager for Massaro Construction Management Services, a Pittsburgh-based company. Prior to the State College High School work, Massaro was the CM at Penn State University on a multi-year project in the PSU Henderson Health & Human Development Building. This award-winning HHD project consisted of 105,505 SF of new construction and 39,147 SF of renovation construction and the total project cost was a little over $43 million.

Timing of the PSU and State College High School projects were ideal for Mr. Jones to pick up roots in southwestern PA and relocate his family to the State College area. Additionally, the experience of two active educational buildings being constructed with Mr. Jones serving as the project manager was an excellent opportunity for the industry to hear his lessons learned concerning project phasing.

Before jumping right into the subject at hand, first let’s explain construction phasing. For numerous reasons a construction project may have to be broken down into smaller, separate manageable segments or phases. Some projects are phased due to financing and a phase may be completed as money is received from the lender. Another popular reason for phasing is to accommodate an Owner/User Group that still needs to function while the project is under construction. The latter reason was the case for the State College projects to be phased construction.

A college or high school cannot simply close its campus for a few years to complete a mega construction project. When phasing is needed, the General Contractor/ Construction Manager is relied upon to take the lead, and in the case of both the PSU HHD and State College High School projects, Mr. Jones was the point person from the CM firm. Here are some lessons learned from these two phased projects that he shared with the attendees at this week’s tour:

  • User Group Point of Contact – A construction project, regardless of the size, can be a challenge coordinating all the various trade contractors, but the Owner needs to be included too in the project. And this challenge intensifies in a phased project as each phase is sort of a unique project in itself. In the case of an educational setting, there may be dozens of people who are considered the Owner/Client, from professors to administrative staffers to students. To effectively provide input in an efficient manner, it helps tremendously if there is one point of contact to speak on behalf of the User Group. This one User Group contact and the CM will communicate constantly during the duration of the project. Without one contact, the CM could find themselves in a position to receive contradicting input of what the Users need.
  • Meeting Cycle – A consistent meeting schedule should be created and respected by project stakeholders. Constant communication is crucial on a phased construction project on an educational campus to allow for the construction team to understand what needs to happen to respect campus activities.
  • Space Loss Planning– The project team doesn’t live in the spaces that they are trying to relocate or revise. Input from the User Group is critical to this but you need to be mindful that this can be a challenge. Approaching a construction project is stressful for the Users as most often they haven’t been through a significant project that effects their day-to-day responsibilities of educating. One lesson learned was that some of the existing building compression was too much for the Users to really work with. Part way through the construction phase the project needed to add some supplementary temporary trailer space to help accommodate. Owner’s need to carry contingency for phasing in the same way they carry contingency for construction challenges.
  • Coordinate Commissioning & FFE – Building commissioning activities, as well as furniture, fixtures and equipment installation, are to be completed before handing a phased portion of the project over to the User Group. As you can imagine, on a phased project different portions of the same project will reach milestones at different times. These milestones must be communicated and tracked so the project will be ready for the commissioning and FFE stages. A smooth, coordinated process allows the User Group to get into the completed spaces when expected. On a phased project, the CM will be responsible for creating the schedule for moving the User Group around to allow for spaces to be renovated. If a space is completed, yet move in is not allowed due to mechanicals not being commissioned for example, it could have negative ramifications on other phases of the project and could potentially alter campus school schedules.
  • Don’t Under Estimate Temporary Office Location – As mentioned, the User Group must continue operating while the project is ongoing. Educational spaces may be under construction and unable to serve the school, but setting up temporary locations can be a viable solution to keep the school operating. Depending on the project, setting up temporary locations can be the solution to keep a school operating.
  • Summer is too Short – A common statement heard on a school construction project is: “Don’t worry about that now, we’ll do that over summer break.” Well, these summer activities can add up if you don’t keep a handle on this ‘do it over summer’ approach. The school could find itself behind schedule and delay the final move in date if too much work is transferred to summer.

The overall message that came across for a successful phased project is that communication is extremely important. Following this presentation, the attendees were given a lengthy, in-depth walking tour of the State College High School construction project. To view pictures visit: https://jonobrien.smugmug.com/State-College-HS-Project-Tour-E-/