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CT Construction Digest Friday January 13, 2023

Developer planning massive logistics/tech center pays $10.18M for 300 acres at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field

Michael Puffer

National Development has paid $10.18 million for 300 acres at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field, further cementing its plans for a logistics and tech park development of up to 2.5 million square feet.

A limited liability company affiliated with Newton, Massachusetts-based National Development bought a collection of properties from Raytheon Technologies Corp. in a deed dated Jan. 3. The unusually lengthy deed also spells out responsibilities and remedies for cleanup of any discovered contamination.

Over the spring and summer, National Development gained town approvals to build 2.5 million square feet of logistics and warehousing space in two buildings, along with two smaller buildings planned for research and development.

While the purchase brings a new level of certainty to National Development’s plans, East Hartford Mayor Michael Walsh said he was already confident.

“I was certain of this development in March of 2022,” Walsh said. “Not everything that gets sketched out on paper comes true but this one makes sense to me and we welcomed it with open arms.”

While National Development has not announced its planned tenants yet, Walsh believes the development will come with about 2,000 jobs and spur “much-needed” development along nearby Silver Lane. National Development has agreed to a $4 million, one-time payment to the town to offset the impacts of its development.

Walsh said he is expecting $3.5 million in permitting and inspection fees for the two large logistics buildings and another $500,000 for the planned “technology and research park.”

Walsh said he expects National Development will build through 2023 and achieve occupancy permits in early 2024. The 300 acres lay within an opportunity zone, coming with tax benefits, which will be partially offset through state payments in lieu of taxes beginning in 2026, Walsh said. After five years, Walsh said, the town can expect about $4.5 million in yearly taxes from the National Development site.

“This is a game-changer for the town of East Hartford,” Walsh said. “This development equals roughly the tax payments paid by Pratt & Whitney today. Essentially we have doubled our largest taxpayer’s commitment to the town.”

A National Development representative confirmed on Thursday that the company has acquired the East Hartford land.

National Development used Rentschler 300 Land LLC for the East Hartford purchase. In a series of deeds also dated Jan. 3, the limited liability company divided the 300 acres among four other National Development-affiliated limited liability companies.

West Hartford nonprofit plans more affordable apartments with total rebuild of campus

Michael Walsh

WEST HARTFORD — West Hartford Fellowship Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing group in town, is planning to rebuild its Starkel Road campus, adding 95 more affordable units to the property..

The plan would go ahead should the Town Council grant Town Manager Rick Ledwith the ability to execute a 99-year lease agreement with West Hartford Fellowship Housing Development Corporation, a new branch of the nonprofit. The resolution will go to the Town Council at its Jan. 24 meeting.

West Hartford Fellowship Housing, which operates properties at 10-50 Starkel Road and 60 Starkel Road, first entered into a 75-year lease agreement with West Hartford in 1968 and has offered 169 units of low-income housing to people who are at least 62 years old and people with disabilities of all ages for over 50 years. 

Mark Garilli, the nonprofit's executive director, said it's those five decades that have the organization planning a complete overhaul of the property at 10-50 Starkel Road. He said the buildings are showing their age and they aren't totally compliant with modern requirements.

"We look at ADA compliance and accessibility," Garilli said at a Town Council public hearing Tuesday night. "Currently, for our senior population, a majority of our buildings are two-story walkups. No elevators. Folks who are there with us for a long time age in place and can’t stay there once they have any challenges with stairs or mobility issues."

The design of the eight acre campus also sometimes doesn't work for residents with mobility issues.

“Our campus layout is very sprawling, and it’s long distances to community spaces," Garilli said. "If a resident wants to make it from the backside of the property to our laundry or our community-multipurpose space, it’s a long walk, whether that’s in the heat or the cold or the rain. The campus layout isn’t very conducive to our current population."

Currently, the nonprofit rents studio apartments that, on average, are 350 square feet and $610 a month, as well as one-bedroom apartments that, on average, are 450 square feet and $650 a month. 

"For our residents, [they are] very small apartments," Garilli said. "They lack any provider or program space. We fully expect these buildings to be extremely efficient and considerably more efficient than the current buildings we have in place."

There's also the issue of the wait list. Affordable housing can be scarce in West Hartford, though the Town Council recently took steps to entice developers to include more affordable housing units in developments. Currently hundreds of approved housing units are either being built or approved to be built in town. About 13 percent of those approved units will be "affordable" for people at varying income levels.

Garilli said the nonprofit plans to offer around 95 more affordable units at the campus once construction is complete, bringing its total number of affordable housing units to 264. On its website, the nonprofit said the current wait time for a unit is two to five years.

"There’s a huge need for more affordable housing," Garilli said. "We have a very long wait list."

At their properties, Garilli said, the income of 60 percent of residents is at or below $1,300 a month, with another 20 percent at or below $800 a month. The subsidized housing income limits for 2022 were $39,450 for a one-person household and $45,100 for a two-person household.

Garilli said construction would be done in phases. Only the first phase will require relocating residents who occupy the first buildings scheduled to be demolished. Garilli said they've relocated nine of those 22 residents and anticipate relocating 14 in total by the spring, with the rest to follow.

"The structure of the phases is that all current residents for phase two will go into the extra housing being built in phase one," said Clare Kindall, president of West Hartford Fellowship Housing Development Corporation. "All of those current residents actually have a guaranteed federal statute. They’re automatically in. If you’re a current resident, you already have a spot."

Jessica Chatfield, a resident of 10 Starkel Road for over the past 12 years, asked at the public hearing if people like her, who live there because of disabilities, will be able to remain on site. 

"I have been grateful to have a safe, affordable, steady place to live at West Hartford Fellowship Housing," Chatfield said. "The development project is a welcome up-leveling in the quality of life for all residents there. With the current lack of truly affordable housing options available here in West Hartford and in Connecticut, I am curious about where one might live with a disability. I am invited to trust the process of life, and I am holding space that only the highest and best outcomes will unfold for all involved."

Chatfield was given confirmation at the public hearing that her space is secure at Starkel Road and that the nonprofit will continue to house people 18 years old and older with disabilities.

The confusion, Kindall said, is over the outdated language of "mobility impaired" that the nonprofit adopted over 50 years ago. Garilli said that 94 percent of their residents are at least 60 years old.

"Our organization for the past over 50 years has been primarily elderly," Kindall said. "We expanded it to the language of the times, which was 'mobility impaired.' We interpret that now as 'disabled.' We could fill our entire complex with only disabled, but we wanted to make a mix. Our priority is our current residents. It has always been the intention of the board and the commitment of the board to include disabled residents under the age of 62 in the development. It’s always been our case and it’s always been our policy."

Kindall said the nonprofit was asking for a 99-year lease with the town to allow them to secure specific funding for the property's redevelopment. Earlier this year, the nonprofit received $1.8 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, which they said equates to $18 million in equity from private investors.

West Hartford first approved plans for the redevelopment of the property in 2019. The Town Council delayed its decision on the resolution regarding the lease until its Jan. 24 meeting to let the town's Planning and Zoning Commission do a standard review.

Prolific Hartford area developer Kenny will debut, kick-start major apartment projects in 2023

Michael Puffer

Long one of Connecticut’s most prominent multifamily developers, Martin J. Kenny and his business partners in 2023 will deliver hundreds of apartments in West Hartford and begin work on hundreds more in Cromwell.

Martin J. Kenny
More Information 

Kenny, owner of Hartford-based real estate investment and development group Lexington Partners, has had a hand in developing more than 2,000 apartments in 18 significant projects over a career spanning more than three decades.

Now, the 66-year-old developer is working with two of his adult sons — Patrick and Kevin Kenny — and is ready for additional ambitious projects, he said.

“I worked for my father and now I have both of my sons working with me,” Kenny said. “All of the sudden I got rejuvenated.”

Also by his side is his longtime business partner and friend Alan Lazowski, head of the LAZ Parking empire and a prominent investor. Lazowski has invested in each of Kenny’s multifamily projects since 2006.

Recent successes

Kenny and Lazowski stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and other dignitaries on Nov. 10 for a ribbon-cutting celebrating completion of a $9.1-million conversion of 42 rental townhouses in downtown Hartford into 86 apartments.

Kenny and Lazowski partnered with Shelbourne Global Solutions — the city’s largest landlord — on the project, dubbed the Sage Allen Apartments.

The three were also partners in a conversion of office buildings on nearby historic Pratt Street. They transformed 196 Trumbull St. into 32 apartments with 6,000 square feet of first-floor retail space in a project completed in 2021. A similar conversion of 99 Pratt St., into 97 apartments above 12,000 square feet of retail space, is just now wrapping up.

A far larger project will come to fruition in 2023 as Kenny completes a $70-million development of 292 apartments at the 22-acre Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery convent in West Hartford. Avon-based Corridor Ventures is the primary investor in the project.

Kenny said he anticipates finishing conversion of the century-old convent building into 92 apartments around late March. A roughly 46,000-square-foot section of this building has been reserved for 70 nuns remaining with the order. Kenny has a right of first refusal should they decide to sell.

The remaining 200 apartments, expected to be completed in June, are being added in a modern building nestled against the historic convent.

The development, titled “One Park,” at the corner of Park Road and Prospect Avenue, will have a rooftop deck, saltwater pool and community center, along with other amenities.

Meanwhile, Kenny has two other projects ready for launch in 2023.

In Cromwell, Kenny and Lazowski are partnered with California-based investment management firm M360 Advisors in a $100-million redevelopment of the shuttered and decaying Red Lion Hotel property.

The plan is to knock down the hotel and replace it with a mixed-use development of 254 apartments, 20 townhomes and 30,000 square feet of commercial space, Kenny said. The property will offer residents numerous amenities and could include a high-end restaurant.

The Cromwell project has passed through local land-use boards. After securing approval from the State Traffic Commission and a tax-abatement agreement with the town, the project should be ready to launch with hotel demolition in the first quarter of 2023, Kenny said.

After that, he’s hopeful to begin construction mid-year and finish 18 to 24 months later.

The first few months of 2023 could also see Kenny launch an $11-million conversion of a 20,000-square-foot former courthouse in quaint Litchfield into a 20-room micro hotel. A limited liability company controlled by Kenny and Lazowski will own 90% of the venture. The remaining 10% will be vested with Salt Hotels, which will also manage hotel operations.

“It’s a really great group,” Kenny said of Salt. “They have people that follow them and go to their hotels all over the country.”

Kenny expects to begin the courthouse redevelopment in early 2023 and finish 15 months later.

Kenny said he has other projects under consideration that could launch in 2023.

A varied career

Kenny’s father, Maurice, was an electrical contractor turned developer. Maurice and Maureen Kenny moved their family from Long Island to Glastonbury when Martin was 11.

After high school, Kenny attended Boston University — just a year behind Howard Stern. After graduation in 1978, Kenny went to work in politics, starting with a Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign, then for a Connecticut congressman, then a U.S. senator from Florida.

He ended his political career and went to law school at the University of Bridgeport after working on a failed Connecticut gubernatorial campaign.

While in law school, Kenny said he began helping his dad work on long-term land leases and legal agreements that bound investors. After graduation in 1983, he worked for the Society for Savings Bank in Hartford. He joined his father’s development firm, the Lexington Co., full time in 1985.

From his time in politics, Kenny had learned how to connect with political decision-makers as well as gauge and respond to public sentiment — useful tools for a developer whose projects often require approval from local boards that also listen to resident concerns.

At the Society for Savings, Kenny learned how commercial real estate deals were constructed and investment pools developed. He also saw first-hand how deals could stumble.

At the time Kenny went to work with his father, Maurice Kenny was partnered with Simon Konover Co. on a renovation of the former G. Fox retail tower in downtown Hartford into a mixed-use office building and 1,200-space parking garage.

Kenny was charged with helping find a parking operator. Most observers expected the job would go to Hartford’s dominant parking operator at the time, Schwartz Parking.

But Kenny and his father were ultimately sold by the persistence and energy of a young up-and-comer, Alan Lazowski, who, as Kenny put it: “Could sell ice to the Eskimos.”

But the decision wasn’t made on faith alone. Lazowski had to come up with a $5 million letter of credit to close the deal, Kenny said.

“For him to come up with a $5 million letter of credit was a big ask and it stressed him out,” Kenny said. “He had to do some scrambling. He had some benefactors help him out. Ultimately, it was a home run for him and his career took off.”

Kenny and Lazowski became friends. In 2006, they partnered on a $12-million conversion of a former textile mill in Glastonbury into 55 apartments. The partnership went so well that Lazowski has been an investor and partner in all of Kenny’s subsequent multifamily construction projects.

The pair also share controlling interests in Lexington Property Management and InnoConn Construction Management.

Kenny said Lazowski’s deep pockets, banking relationships and financial savvy allow the partnership to tackle larger projects. Kenny provides a wealth of experience and development expertise.

“He has a great vision,” Kenny said. “He and I play off each other. I think he and I make each other better.”

West Haven road-raising contract approval delayed, state seeks 'narrative'

Brian Zahn

WEST HAVEN — Members of the state Municipal Accountability Review Board said Thursday they are awaiting more information on an engineering contract to raise Beach Street, primarily for administrative reasons.

The construction project to increase the elevation of Beach Street, a key economic corridor along West Haven's shoreline that has been languishing with the closure of multiple longtime businesses, first began in 2015 but has stalled for years over permitting concerns.

The first phase of the project, elevating the street near the city's wastewater treatment plant, is completed, and the city has received the funds for its second and third phases. However, the project most recently encountered a road bump when a protected species of grass was discovered, requiring a preservation plan to be submitted to the state.

Since the city first entered into a contract with Diversity Technology Consultants for engineering services, West Haven has come under the authority of the MARB — which was formed in 2017 — and has subsequently been placed under Tier IV, the MARB's highest level of oversight. Kimberly Kennison, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Jeff Beckham's designee to the board and chairwoman of the Thursday meeting, said the MARB wished to review the contract as it has not been fully executed and there have been several amendments since it was first signed.

However, officials said they wanted clearer information to inform their understanding of the contract history.

"This is a critical project," said city  Finance Director Scott Jackson. However, he said the city recognizes the MARB would need more narrative documents to describe the contract.

In 2020, the city's state delegation secured $5 million for the second and third phases of the road-raising project. The following year, developers began buying key businesses, such as the former Chick's Drive-In and the Debonair Motel. However, developers for both projects have said they are awaiting the city to begin raising Beach Street before they will develop new businesses in those sites. The city has told developers it expects to begin the project in April.

New Britain officials unveil renderings for newest downtown development

Ciara Hooks

NEW BRITAIN – City officials unveiled the renderings for a new development downtown.

“This is another exciting day for downtown New Britain,” Mayor Erin Stewart said. “This is honestly proof of another project where Amit (Lakhotia) and everybody had a vision that complements ours, that complements the plans that we put together going back to the Transit Oriented Development plans of 2016. That was only made more robust with the plan of Conservation and Development and we just finished that process and going through just last year; looking at and reusing some of our underutilized buildings and reimagining what they could be not necessarily from what the original purpose was.”

Stewart unveiled the first of the three renderings, which displayed the façade of the apartment building.

“This building will compliment The Brit. We want buildings that will complement each other and not to be in competition with each other,” said Amit Lakhotia, developer. “So if people can’t find an apartment at the Brit they can come here and vice versa. So there are options for people and they are similar style apartments with a similar feel to it.”

There will be four floors which will include 79 apartments.

“This project is really huge,” said Jack Benjamin, director of Planning & Development. “This is what we call in development adaptive reuse, taking basically what’s going to be used as the shell of the building and superimposing two stories on top of it.”

Lakhotia and George Taweh, of TLong Construction LLC, have been involved in many projects in town.

“When we were doing the Myrtle Street project one of my investors, he’s like family to me now, was the first one I called when I saw the building,” Lakhotia said. “He came from New Jersey to see the building and he’s like, ‘why don’t we put an oyster bar up there on the top’. And I was like ‘here?’ We’re making his dream come true in this building.”

It will be an all-season bar with heaters and an enclosed portion where people can have a drink and look out at downtown.

On the street front of the building will be a restaurant that can be used all season as well with patio seating.

“It’s going to take some feat of engineering, it’s going to take a lot of capital, it’s going to take a couple grants to get the job done, but really getting a focus on reuse of the space we have. It’s green, it’s clean and it’s revitalizing and maximizing the scale on West Main Street. It’s really turning this neighborhood around,” Benjamin said.

Lakhotia was approved for a $4 million Community Challenge Grant. This will be put toward the $17.5 million project.

“When we talked about a rooftop bar, or restaurant downtown, it was literally pie in the sky, but it’s something we can now make a reality,” Benjamin said.

Demolition inside is already complete and Lakhotia says they are now waiting on the permit to increase the foundation for the addition of the two floors.

“Once we get that we should be able to start construction next month,” he added.

The project is estimated to be completed in early 2024.

New London shares details of plan to replace lead water lines for free

Johana Vazquez

New London ― The city is potentially months away from starting a three-year project to replace its lead water lines that serve homes, apartments and public buildings.

Joseph Lanzafame, the city’s public utilities director, and Kate Edwards, the public outreach coordinator from civil engineering firm Arcadis, met with members of the community Wednesday to lead a presentation on the cost-free program.

Connecticut is set to receive $150 million for the replacement of lead service lines from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, and New London is first on the state’s priority list for funding. The city’s share of the funding is not yet known.

Lanzafame said the program a preventative measure, confident that there is no lead in the city’s drinking water. Then again, he said, there was no lead in Flint, Michigan’s water until there was.

Water in Flint became contaminated with lead and other contaminants in 2014 after the city changed water supply sources which led to pipes corroding.

D’Shayla Hodges, a representative from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, explained lead is a useful metal commonly found in pipes and even paint until 1978. She said historically lead can be found in pipes in homes built before 1986.

Although lead paint and leaded dust and soil cause most of the lead poisoning cases in the country, especially among babies and young children, 20% of people’s exposure to the highly toxic metal is through drinking water, according to the EPA.

To limit exposure, Hodges recommended residents determine the age of their home, talk with pediatricians about exposure, clean away dust and paint chips, run water for 30 seconds before drinking it from the faucet, wash hands regularly and keep shoes at the door.

Edwards said the city’s Lead Service Line Replacement program intends to replace lead service lines with new copper lines. A service line is the pipe that runs from the water main in the street and into the home.

Regardless of what is city-owned or customer owned, the program offers to replace all lead pipes free of cost, pending funding availability.

Lanzafame said the city’s utility department is waiting to hear back from the Department of Public Health on the federal and state subsidies the program will receive, and then the project will go out to bid. He said the department is also taking out a low-interest loan to ensure the program remains free for anyone who wishes to take advantage of it.

Lanzafame said if a homeowner were to not participate in this free program, it could cost them an average of $13,000 to replace their line later on.

She said the first phase of construction will begin in March and last until December with the same schedule repeating in 2024 and 2025.

Lanzafame said the city has predicted there are 2,450 lead service lines that will need replacing, although some are pieces of the lines and not the full lines.

Edwards showed a map with the identified lead service lines and said the city will prioritize areas that are more economically depressed. She said homeowners can do their own testing on pipes with kits they can purchase.

Edwards said the service lines will be replaced one street at a time. She said residents will be notified two weeks before the replacement so their property can be inspected.

She asked the public to sign agreement forms to participate in the program. The form can be found at leadfreenewlondon.com and mailed or dropped at the New London Water & Sewer Department at 15 Masonic St.

During questions, residents asked how they could get someone from the city to test the pipes in their home. Edwards said residents could email leadfreenewlondon@arcadis.com or call 203-427-8144.

Another resident asked what impact the project would have on water rates. Lanzafame said he doesn’t know the exact impact but the city would work to keep rates low.

Robotics: Automating the Job Site


The fragmented, specialized nature of construction will always require human involvement, but technology integration — specifically, robotics — is making construction sites even more productive. Though collaboration between tech developers and industry is critical to widespread adoption, safer job sites where workers are free to handle more challenging tasks is happening now.

"In an industry often averse to risk, construction professionals will want to see proof of success before widespread adoption of robotics in the field," wrote Andrew Roe, president of consulting firm AGR Associates.

As he sees it, robots are on construction sites everywhere, performing tasks humans would rather avoid.

"The robots are performing repetitive and sometimes dangerous work — often guided by CAD and BIM data," said Roe. "With the construction industry facing a labor shortage, the new tools are helping firms keep up with mounting workloads."

Surveying and data collection were automated years ago, but robotic equipment is transforming construction sites all across the United States.

Automated Pile-Driving

Automated technology is being adopted in the movement of construction materials from one location on a job site to another.

Construction companies partnering with manufacturers and integrating technology are crucial to the transformation becoming reality.

Mortenson Construction, partnering with Italian manufacturer Orteco, is using equipment that automatically distributes piles across solar farms. The GPS pile-distribution system was recently used on a large solar project in West Texas.

In the process, Mortenson was able to redirect crews to other more critical tasks and expedite completion of the project's initial phases.

Roe explained that the machine can free up to 80 percent of the craft workforce traditionally required to mark pile distribution points. The machine can then deliver piles to each location on the solar farm site, according to Mortenson. The pile-distribution system can precisely position piles awaiting the driving process.

"Our goal isn't to reduce labor," said Trent Mostaert, vice president of solar and emerging renewables for Mortenson. "The real goal is to accelerate how quickly we build solar projects. We want to get more out of the labor we have."

The automation continues to the actual pile-driving process, which features GPS-enabled machines from Vermeer. The GPS technology monitors pile installation with half the workforce used traditionally.

Mostaert said that in combination, the autonomous and semi-automated pile driving machines help reduce cost and risk of injuries.

"Smartly deploying our available workforce on the right aspects of a project and utilizing technology to improve in other areas makes this a reality."

For the pile delivery and driving phases, Mortenson imports location data to the equipment from topographic surveys and CAD files.

Robotic Trenching

Engineering, procurement and construction company Black & Veatch has helped develop an exosystem designed for trenching on solar facilities and other projects.

Roe said that the firm worked with Built Robotics on their Exosystem, considered a great fit for trenching because it happens away from critical work.

Tyler Parker, construction tools and technology manager for the firm, noted that the system has proven "to be a low risk, high reward in terms of a knowledge-building opportunity."

Partnering with Build Robotics, Black & Veatch introduced robotics beginning with 1,000-ft. trench lengths and progressing to 5,000-ft. trenches. The firm then successfully implemented the technology in full on a project last year.

"The robot did exactly what it was designed to do," said Parker. "It was very successful."

The Built Robotics system uses design data from CAD drawings or survey points, along with operator input. As trenching progresses, said Roe, the system also compiles real-time as-built data, such as trench length, width and location. Based on design data, the system establishes boundaries via Built Robotics' geofence feature.

To help improve safety on site, reduce production costs and increase productivity and efficiency, similar high-tech robotics systems are featured in other applications.

For example, the Ekso Evo Exoskeleton, a wearable device favored by engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, can reduce the impact of the weight of materials on the human body.

Repetitive Robots

Roe notes that robotics are visible in other construction applications including monitoring of field conditions in areas too dangerous for humans to navigate.

"Spot, a four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics has been used to gather site data and monitor field conditions," he said.

Construction Robotics offers Semi-Automated Mason (SAM) for bricklaying and Material Unit Lift Enhancer (MULE) to handle heavy material on construction sites.

Husqvarna and Waste Robotics, among other manufacturers, offer a variety of robotic demolition equipment, noted Roe.

ULC Technologies has developed RRES, a robotic roadworks and excavation system that automates inspection and repair of underground utility pipelines and facilities.

Black & Veatch also is partnering with Honda on equipment capable of performing multiple applications, including moving materials, water and supplies to pre-set destinations.

"The team tested the prototype Honda autonomous work vehicle [AWV] at a construction site in New Mexico," said Roe.

Technology to tackle construction tasks such as painting, drywall finishing and rebar-tying are in various stages of deployment, he said.

Challenges to Integration

The challenge to widespread integration of robotics in construction is that many of the firms potentially benefiting are smaller trade and specialty contractors.

"That's a big ask for a small firm when most of the machines are still relatively new and untried," said Rob Leicht, a Penn State University associate professor.

He qualified that comment, adding that robots could become more affordable as they become more common.

Leicht believes improvements in transmitting design information to construction also are necessary to move forward with adoption.

"We still work off a very paper-based orientation," he said. "It's getting better, but it's far from settled into a digital handoff."

Others believe the construction industry is inventive enough to adapt to emerging technologies.

Jim Swanski, director of construction digital transformation of engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, is in this camp.

The pandemic, marked by increased social distancing and reduced travel, blew up demand for the jobsite transformation. As a result, advanced technology involving processes like automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are taking longer to adopt, blogged Swanski.

"Technology can help make the workplace safer, improve productivity, enhance collaboration and make operations more efficient," he said. "So, to not fully embrace it where it makes sense seems foolhardy and can make companies less competitive."

He believes the adoption of Contech — construction technology used for work done in the construction industry — is one way to remain highly competitive.

"Our business is changing," said Scott Hendrickson, associate technology and innovation consultant of Burns & McDonnell. "We must do more with less. It's critical to move faster and simplify processes, allowing people in the field to work smarter and stay safe."

Technology gives skilled laborers working on sites new opportunities for engagement, he continued.

It "allows them to broaden and upgrade their skills, making them more valuable to employers, clients and the global economy."

Path to Automation

Contech is evolving along two paths: the digital experience for project management collaboration tools and the physical tools and equipment used on site.

The first path, project management collaboration, requires applications and software tools that offer value engineering, scheduling, cost-estimates and bid features.

But more frequently these days, are platforms that merge 3D models with schedule timelines for constructability, construction schedules, sequencing and logistics. All of this before a construction crew ever sets foot on the job site. And, as time goes on, these platforms are getting more sophisticated, said Swanski.

Where the jobsite tools and equipment are concerned, it's all about making tasks safer and more efficient. Technology along this path includes wearables, robotics, remote-controlled equipment and machines that use some form of AI.

Swanski believes that reality capture technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles or 3D scanners, are showing real promise. Equipment with the capability to capture and create digital representations of the physical assets of a construction site are currently booming.

"Firms are flying drones over project sites and creating point-cloud images or utilizing laser scanners to create digital twins of actual assets," said Swanski. "Technology also exists that enables drones to fly over a 5,000-acre site and in minutes create a progress report on how much work has been done and what's left to do."

Skid steers are being programmed to pick up and move materials automatically, and backhoes are being programmed to dig trenches and perform other tasks, he said.

A variety of field solutions are available that focus on safety and involve onsite monitoring.

Wearables technology can keep workers safe, check for site risks and monitor productivity while respecting worker privacy.

The technology uses integrated sensors and wireless network technology to provide an in-depth understanding of on-site activity, said Swanski.

Applications that monitor employee vital signs also are being utilized in the field to confirm they are not overexerting themselves to a dangerous level.

"There is a lot going on in terms of technology, and the truth is, all organizations struggle with how and when to adopt it," Hendrickson said. "Incorporating advanced tech into workflows takes careful planning and thoughtful consideration about where the greatest client benefits can be realized."

Swanski, who agrees, said, "While the investments in contech are exciting, we can't lose sight of the impacts to our customers and to our people."

He sees that "on the customer value side, organizations are increasingly adopting generative design to reduce the cost and weight of materials, while speeding up the design optimization process." CEG

Strong backlog report includes warning of tighter financing

Sebastian Obando

Construction backlog remained unchanged in December at 9.2 months, according to Associated Builders and Contractors. The numbers provide a cushion for the sector against a potential recession, but the organization’s economist said reason for caution remains, as higher costs for capital stymied some projects.

ABC’s Construction Backlog Indicator reached its highest level in November since the second quarter of 2019, as contractors with under $30 million in revenue landed new jobs faster than expected. That high water mark was matched again in December.

“Contractors enter the new year with plenty of optimism,” said Anirban Basu, ABC chief economist, in the release, but added “contractors may soon show more concern. Anecdotal evidence suggests that financing commercial real estate projects is more difficult.”

The strong backlog reading indicates the construction industry continues to fend off any recessionary concerns for this year, Basu said. “Even if the economy were to enter recession this year, contractors would likely be insulated from significant harm.”

That means for now, construction pros are emphasizing the positive.

“Rather than fixate on the possibility of a recession, many contractors remain focused on growth, with expectations for rising sales and staffing levels over the next half year,” said Basu. “Even the reading on profit margins increased this month, perhaps reflecting an improved supply chain.”

But while the report suggests optimism in 2023, contractors’ outlook could soon turn more pessimistic. Financing commercial real estate projects has become more challenging, largely due to recession predictions, said Basu.

“The general increase in the cost of capital has also jeopardized many projects,” said Basu. “Certain contractors [are] noticing an increase in postponements.”

ABC’s reading for profit margins and sales jumped in December, while the reading for staffing levels decreased. While all three readings remain above the threshold of 50, indicating expectations for growth over the next six months, they were significantly lower than year-ago levels.