How Jay First Got Involved in Construction:
If you ask our Construction Supervisor, Jay, he’ll describe his exposure to construction throughout his youth as “generic,” noting that he would help his Dad or Grandfather build a shed, do deck repairs, or other things along those lines.
As time marched on, Jay “was confronted by a couple different opportunities to get into the business, and that kind of turned into a little bit more high-end trim carpentry, cabinetry, built-ins, libraries, things along those lines.” He defines his journey as kind of going backwards. “I started from the fine stuff and moved back into framing and things of the like instead of the natural progression where you would typically start on a framing type of issue or drywall hanging issue and progress into some of the finer stuff.” Jay’s experience in high end construction came during his time in New York and New Jersey. He mainly worked in the city in New York, so obviously there wasn’t a lot of room for ground-up construction. “There’s no grass, to be blunt,” he explains, “so we focused more on fit-out jobs – both high-end residential and commercial work.”
He spent quite a few years doing this work in the second to none hustle and bustle that is working in Midtown “before redeveloping, re-upping, and moving into the agriculture end with my company, GreatGrow, which brought us out here to Pennsylvania.”
GreatGrow, which develops soil and plant amendments that increase crop yields, improve soil structure, relieve soil compaction, improve soil oxygen, and promotes the use of water while suppressing foliage and root disease, has since turned into an Intellectual Properties firm, as Jay has been “basically selling his inventions off and things along those lines.”
Jay found himself back in construction – only on the other side of the table – as a Building Code Official and Zoning Officer for Kraft Code Services for six years. “From there, it felt like the natural progression was to move away from that and get back into what I spent so many years doing in New York on the construction side of things,” says Jay.
Jay Meets D&B:
Jay describes himself as a learner and a thinker. Although he had an element of sitework experience in the past, it wasn’t quite to the scale of the multi-family projects that he is leading with D&B Construction. “I like learning new things, so moving into the sitework and infrastructure work and these big parts of the multi-family is very eye-opening and exciting,” he explains.
“I’ve only been with the company for a bit over a year, and I have my hands in a bunch of stuff. I think just with as many moving parts that we have throughout all the different projects, that challenge to keep up with the Joneses and to make everything happen and keep everybody happy that’s pretty much what fuels the fire within me. You wake up and hit the ground running 100 miles an hour all day long.”
Jay Outside of D&B:
His main motivation that gets him out of bed in the morning? His family, of course, which he describes as “the most important part of my existence as a whole.” Jay and his wife have two children: Madeline and McLaen. Although his son is getting ready to go away to college soon and his daughter is about to enter high school – thus making things a lot less busy than when they were much younger – the Holmgren family is still very active.
Madeline is described by her father as a “brilliant dancer,” and McLaen, who played a lot of soccer growing up, has since transitioned over to music in his late teen years – following in his Dad’s footsteps. “He’s picked up a lot of my instruments that I held. Once COVID hit, and I told them they weren’t going to be on their screens 24 hours a day, he started running with it. He’s actually moving more towards playing the bass than the guitar like I did. That love for music has definitely been passed down there. He’s quite the guitarist, quite the bassist,” Jay says with a proud smile. A younger Jay used to write poetry and lyrics, and his son is also following in his footsteps in that regard, too, having put his first couple little pieces together, which Jay describes as “well thought out and well done.”
He describes his daughter, Madeline, as the same with her dance and her art – she draws a lot and things along those lines (just as Jay used to sketch and sculpt a bit).
“I like to think that a lot of the artistic stuff that I did when I was younger was passed down to the youngins,” he explains. Obviously – school’s always important. Jay’s wife, Suzanne, helps the kids with homework as much as possible. “It’s a day to day. You know – we’re just a family,” explains Jay, “but it makes it all worthwhile when you come home to a house full of issues – or not – to keep a smile on your face.”
Finding An Extended Family in D&B:
“I think D&B’s support structure overall is – not to throw the word / term ‘team’ around, but there is such a team structure to D&B. I’ve worked in companies and represented companies in the past where they were very fragmented. Everybody kind of worked on their own keel, not a whole lot of cross over. I do really feel at D&B you have solid relationships. If you need somebody to talk to about this, that or the other, there are people here that are genuinely interested and really nice shoulders to lean on here and there. I try to provide the same, but you know it’s definitely a family feel, a lot of support structure. If people need things, we’re there for each other.”
Often times, we are asked “What’s your why?!” Why do you do what you do? What motivates you to get out of bed each morning? What is your calling?
Our Senior Superintendent, Mr. Ruza’s calling was always construction. His dad was a builder, so he got into construction at just 10 years old. This instilled Mr. Ruza’s unparalleled work ethic at a very young age. Growing up, he traded in his summers and weekends at the shore to help out his Dad on the jobsite.
He joined the Local 845 Carpenter’s Union to complete his apprenticeship, and he also attended college for two years to study Architectural Engineering. Mr. Ruza worked as a Carpenter until he left for the Marines to serve in Vietnam. After serving his four years, he soon started working again, and he has been doing it ever since. If you ask Mr. Ruza about his career he’ll give you this simple – yet definite – answer: “It’s in my blood. That’s all I really know how to do.”
Something else you should know about Mr. Ruza? He just might be the definition of grit. He loves a challenge, stating that he’ll “never turn down a challenge when it comes to work.” With a smile, he concludes: “The harder it is, the better I like it.”
Another aspect of his calling just may be his commitment to safety. It’s no secret that safety is a huge component of construction day in and day out, but Mr. Ruza goes the extra mile, embodying the D&B way of safety being our standard. In 2013, he worked for a General Contractor that was working for a University in Philadelphia. They had just finished constructing a restaurant that was supposed to open at 5:00, but next thing they knew something broke and they were trying to fix it. There was a hole in the wall that was not properly covered. Mr. Ruza walked across it, fell, and shattered about three inches above his ankle. He spent about 30 days in the hospital and 18 months learning how to walk again. “I always took safety seriously, but after that I really got into it. I’ve been doing it since 2013 as a Health and Safety Officer for different companies. That’s why I’m here as a Senior Superintendent for D&B. My job is to enforce OSHA regulations and safety,” he explains.
As an active member of D&B’s Safety Committee, Mr. Ruza has an OSHA manual on the desk in his job trailer. Here, it does anything but sit and collect dust. He is actively reading it from cover to cover to stay up to date with any changes, and he isn’t afraid to pull someone off his jobsite if they are violating any safety regulations. “I liked working with my hands. Now I’m getting well-seasoned, so now I use my brain and my knowledge. I try to teach anyone that wants to be taught,” he says.
For Mr. Ruza it’s all about work and one other important thing – family. After his accident on the jobsite in 2013 he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to work again. While that in itself was difficult for him, the hardest part of that time in his life was not being able to do things with his two young children.
Today all of his children are grown. His son just bought a house to fix up and rent out, so he’s been going over to help him with that. Otherwise, he lives a simple life. “I leave my job site. I go home, eat, and watch TV. I go to bed early because I get up early. That’s about it. I don’t really take vacations or anything. It’s all about work,” he explains. Mr. Ruza takes so much pride in his work that he has even spent Holiday weekends giving his family a tour of his jobsite. That’s passion for the job.
Labor shortages is a hot topic right now. In the construction industry alone, there are approximately 400,000 job openings. Currently, 67% of construction companies are experiencing skilled labor shortages across the globe. Couple this with an increase in material cost (we’re talking nearly quadruple the cost of plywood wholesale prices from $400 to $1500 per thousand square feet that we saw during the first year of COVID-19) and you have a minor reason to panic.
According to our Chief Operating Officer, Brennan Reichenbach, the cost of construction has doubled – and in some cases nearly tripled – in the last approximate five years alone. The substantially cheaper costs of a fit out vs. ground up construction are all the more reason for a developer to consider adaptive reuse projects over new construction – especially in the current climate.
As the icing on the cake, mix these two factors together with the dwindling amount of available development space in metropolitan areas, the current housing market and the nation’s housing shortage, and you get the perfect recipe for a high demand in multi-family housing. Despite all of the stressors currently weighing on the millions of people who touch the construction industry in some capacity, when looking at the current climate through the eyes of a developer, it may just be the perfect cocktail for opportunity. Read on to find out how:
The Housing Inventory Issue Coupled with Available Development Space:
Inventory of houses is an issue across the nation right now. It’s no secret that the prices of reselling a home is at an all-time high, and that is due in part to the fact that new construction is expensive thanks to all the hurdles that need to be jumped in order to reach the finish line of complete construction. A rather stubborn supply chain has been no help in driving down the cost of housing either.
Berks County has been a Seller’s Market since September of 2021, with homes in the county selling for 10.3% more than they would have a year ago. The number of homes for sale in Berks County this year is the highest it has been in the last 15 years. For comparison, in May of this year there were 759 homes on the market throughout the county compared to just 530 the month before. This is an increase of 43.2%.
Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance Poll, conducted in April and published in early May, revealed that 69% of respondents believed it is a bad time to buy a house. This is the first time that a majority of Americans have felt this way in the poll’s 44-year history. The factors likely contributing to this majority statement include rising interest rates and the inability for new housing construction to have a significant impact on the demand for housing.
A recent interview on Keller Williams Realtor Brad Weisman’s podcast Real Estate and You featured Kevin Timochenko, Founder and Owner of Metropolitan Companies, who handles development, building, and management. D&B is currently building a number of multi-family apartments (like The Reserve at Iroquois) for the company, who is also scheduled to build between 200 and 300 single-family homes from Pittsburgh to Delaware within the next year.
Timochenko discusses how developing in Berks County is a different story than the other areas his company typically deals with. Although land is available, it is harder for developers such as Kevin Timochenko to make money on this investment since land and improvement costs are so high in this area, thus making it difficult to build. The amount of preserved land in the area also can complicate things – especially when land is being preserved in the middle of commercial corridors that would better serve the community if developed. To add insult to injury, Berks County is one of the most preserved counties throughout the state of Pennsylvania with over 75,000 acres of preserved farmland.
If you trade the farmland of more rural areas for the concrete of larger cities, you’ll still find the same overarching issue of a lack of available square footage for new development – just in a different setting.
So How Do All These Negatives Make A Positive?
The solution may just be repurposing the commercial square footage already available. Currently, society as a whole is seeing more and more real estate developers buying office buildings so they can convert them to residential use. A recent high-profile example was announced in Washington D.C. with plans to convert two older office buildings – Universal North and Universal South – near DuPont Circle on Connecticut Avenue. The buildings, which total 700,000+ square feet, marks Philadelphia-based real estate firm, Post Brothers, debut into the metro Washington D.C. area.
The firm may be onto something, as they found success in redeveloping a former warehouse in Northern Philadelphia into The Poplar, which includes 285 apartments and high-end amenities including a world-class fitness sanctuary rooftop dog parks, and three infinity-edge saltwater pools.
Time will tell how this transition fares, but it looks like many metropolitan areas throughout the country – with our nation’s capital as the main experiment – will be serving as case studies for converting former commercial space into residential housing or even mixed-use development. In an article in the Washingtonian, Senior Editor Marisa M. Kashino was told by John Falcicchio, Washington D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development, that adaptive reuse is needed to “save downtown.” In the metro D.C. area alone, approximately 325,000 units need to be added before the end of the decade in order to keep up with the demand. Many have their eyes on the recently estimated 157.9 million square feet of rentable office space in the D.C. area as a potential solution for this issue.
The Push for Office-to-Residential Conversions
Many other metropolitan areas aside from Washington D.C. are seeing a strong push for adaptive reuse projects focused on converting office space to residential multi-family living – so much so that legislators are even passing laws to assist with this trend. The latest budget for California included a call to action to spend $400 million “as an incentive to developers to convert commercial and office buildings into affordable housing in the budget years 2022-23 and 2023-24.” In early June New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill that made it easier to convert underused hotels into permanent housing. Just last week, city officials in Chicago announced that they would provide tens of millions of dollars to developers willing to convert aging office towers into residential buildings.
New York City’s push for such conversions is also apparent with the $1.5 billion transformation of the former home of Irving Trust Bank at One Wall Street in lower Manhattan, marking itself as the largest office-to-residential conversion in the city’s history. Take a detour west to Salt Lake City, and you’ll find Houston-based developer Hines, an international real estate firm, acquired a 24-story office building – South Temple Tower – which they plan to convert into a 255-unit luxury apartment complex starting in early 2023. Similar projects are also in the works in major cities such as Atlanta and Dallas.
A Look At The Local Forecast
Given the strong trend of these conversions in larger cities, it is inevitably just a matter of time before we see this start to take hold in more sub-suburban areas.
Patrick Zerbe, Commercial Real Estate Agent for NAI Keystone, has been watching this trend start to take hold since the pandemic. “The pandemic fast-tracked transitions in different trends. The largest transition we are seeing in the commercial real estate world are businesses providing remote and hybrid work. With less people in the office, companies and organizations have determined to decrease their footprint, which in contrast has given an influx of vacant office space. We have primarily seen this in larger cities, but this trend is slowly making its way to subsidiary markets,” he explains.
Recent data from Co-Star, a global leader in commercial real estate intel, provides a good example of what Patrick discusses. Reading, PA has a 6.3% vacancy rate for the nearly 13.5 million square feet of office space available in the city. In comparison, of the 323 million square feet of office space in Philadelphia, 10.3% (or 33 million square feet) is currently vacant. This is an increase from the historical average of 9.5%.
“A lot of companies no longer want to worry about sharing common space, and more people want direct access and direct walk-in space to their offices. A multi-story office building in the center of a city hosts a lot of common areas,” he reflects.
As a commercial real-estate agent, Patrick sees many redevelopment opportunities in the multi-family market. “With the prices of land and material, building anything ground-up is incredibly expensive right now. Any chance a developer may have to look at a re-development project to substitute some of these costs is a winning combination,” he states.
Aside from the obvious solution of breathing new life into corporate complexes as an adaptive reuse project, Patrick predicts that large retail centers and institutions such as old schools may be a great opportunity for development into multi-family housing to aid the housing crisis.
Let us know what areas you think would serve as the perfect adaptive reuse project for multi-family living in the comments below!
D&B Construction’s partnership with Quality Buildings, a commercial framing contractor, began this year through their work on Kennett Pointe, a ground-up mixed-use property currently under construction in Kennett Square, PA.
Elmer Zook, Founder and President of Quality Buildings, has been part of the industry for 18 years now. “We like expanding our client base as well as building new relationships in the construction industry. D&B came on our radar a few years ago as a fast-growing player amongst other GC’s,” he reflects.
The fruition of Quality Buildings’ relationship with D&B began as a culmination of a handful of work connections, including having known our CEO, Dan Gring, through their involvement at Lancaster Berks Next Gen Construction Connect. At Kennett Pointe they supplied a complete furnish and installed a framing package that included manufacturing of pre-fabricating wall panels, floor and roof trusses and installation of the windows and doors.
“Quality Building produces quality work, and they are easy to communicate with. It is always a pleasure working with them, and I would work with them again in a heartbeat,” says John Ruza, Senior Superintendent overseeing the jobsite in Kennett Square.
This turnkey framing contractor was founded in 2008 as a home improvement contractor and Agricultural/Equestrian facilities design and build contractor. They’ve built many custom designed horse barns and riding arenas in NY, NJ, DE, MD, and VA.
Having experience in design and build as a contractor, coupled with a desire to work closer to home versus constant traveling, commercial framing seemed to fit well with their philosophy of working together as a team with other trades to deliver a well-planned project. In 2014, their sole focus became commercial framing for multi-family apartments, senior living and hotels. Completing between 12-15 projects annually, the company has an annual gross revenue of $20,000,000+ in the multi-family, senior living and hospitality sectors. Quality Buildings started pre-fabricating wall panels out of their own facility and continued to expand.
Today, Quality Buildings specializes in offsite pre-fabricated building components, as well as framing components, wall panels, floor trusses, roof trusses and all needed equipment and labor for a complete framing system. Offering VE options and full 3D modeling capabilities for clash detection, as well as BIM modeling with other trades, they are acknowledged as a leading innovator in wood framing. They also offer structural engineering and Mass Timber construction. Their commitment to provide customers with the finest craftmanship continues to be their anchor 14 years later. Quality Buildings has an employee count of 42, consisting of VDC designers, project managers, pre-fabricated wall panel manufacturing and field carpenters. They also have a steady base of subcontractors they know they can turn to for their larger projects.
“We pride ourselves for having more attention to detail and a higher level of service than our competition,” explains Elmer. “We are the experts in wood framing and strive to present ourselves as such. Every department within Quality Buildings has an in-depth knowledge of wood framing. Our designers are the linchpin of our projects being successful and have an extensive hands-on experience with building these projects in the field.”
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to others looking to get into the industry?
A: “Learn as much as you can about the trade you are a part of and about the trades around you that need your collaboration to do a good job and offer a stellar service. Care about your craft and treat people with respect.”
Q: What do you love most about working in the industry and why?
A: “I love working in the industry and providing a service that goes above and beyond just showing up and swinging a hammer. I love that our team is intentional about getting into the nuts and bolts of a project and finding new and better ways to get the job done.”
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: “We appreciate D&B entrusting QB with being your Framing partner on this project and look forward to many more in the future.”
Doylestown, PA – On Wednesday, June 8 Berger Rental Communities hosted a groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate construction of an additional 50 new residences at their Butler Square property, located at 409 E. Butler Avenue in Doylestown. The company took ownership of the property, which contains 97 units in the first building with commercial retail space below, in the summer of 2021.
The 50 additional apartments being added to the property will feature new one- and two-bedroom layouts. A package room in the lobby brings added convenience to future residents, and charging stations for electric vehicles will be made available to all residents of Butler Square as the company continues to evolve its communities. Efficiency and modernization are also top of mind inside each apartment, where you will find smart home technology that includes locks and thermostats and designer inspired finishes.
In attendance for the ceremony were members of Berger’s team, current residences of the Butler Square property, the general contractor, D&B Construction, the project architect, Architectural Concepts, PC, Peaceable Street Capital, and members of the New Britain Borough, including Council Vice President Mr. John Wolff Jr. The company was also grateful to have their nonprofit and relief fund Hope & Door, whose mission is to help families in crisis avoid homelessness through rental assistance, in attendance. “Our goal here is not just to provide housing, but to accommodate residents through extreme flexibility, and provide the highest level of customer service,” said the company’s CEO, Dan Berger. The event concluded with a ground breaking to memorialize the day and delicious refreshments from two local food trucks – Local Harvest Pizza and Sweet Pea Ice Cream.
Matt Johnson, Director of Development at Berger, sent his appreciation to the New Britain Borough and D&B Construction during the ceremony, stating: “It truly has been a streamlined process thanks to New Britain Borough. Another great partnership we have is with D&B Construction. When we took ownership of Butler Square it was with the hopes that we could further expand the space and bring more residents to the community. With their help that vision is well on its way to becoming a reality.”
This project comes as the company celebrates their 50th anniversary and a year of a tremendous amount of growth, with 50 apartment communities currently under their belt. According to Wayne Everett, Vice President of Acquisitions and Asset Management at Berger Rental Communities, “Through our growth we have been able to combine the personal touch and the entrepreneurial spirit of a smaller company with the sophistication, expertise, and technology of a larger organization.”
Dan Gring, Chief Executive Officer of D&B Construction, commented on the fact that Berger Rental Communities embodies the same core values as the general contractor: “At D&B we make a conscious effort to partner with those who share our ‘we care’ mentality. This extends from everyone to our clients and employees, to our extended team of trade partners and suppliers. Our main core value is ‘People and relationships matter most.’ Upon meeting the Berger team, we instinctively knew they were an organization centered around people just as we are. Their customer-centric approach easily explains why they continue to rank amongst the top in the nation for customer service in multi-family, and D&B is thrilled to be their partner through this continued growth.”
About Berger Rental Communities:
Founded in 1972, Berger Rental Communities has been a multi-family owner and operator for 50 years. At nearly 10,000 apartments, they are one of the top five largest management companies in the state of Pennsylvania, with a portfolio that extends into Maryland and Delaware. Berger is motivated by their philosophy that, “renting shouldn’t be hard®”. Their focus on service, innovation and culture has earned them the number one ranking in multi-family for customer service in the nation, and they are frequently rated amongst the top places to work in their industry. For more information on Berger Rental Communities visit rentberger.com.
About D&B Construction:
Founded in 2010 by Dan Gring and Brennan Reichenbach, D&B Construction has grown into one of the region’s most trusted construction firms. Headquartered in Reading, Pennsylvania the company is driven by a commitment to quality and transparency. They have grown from the two founding members to over 50 employees with an additional office outside of Philadelphia to conveniently serve the Delaware Valley region. Today they are a full-service construction management firm offering a variety of services to commercial clients in the healthcare, multi-family, professional office, retail / hospitality, institutional, and industrial sectors. Delivering an individualized, superior experience to all of our clients, D&B is a team of genuinely good people who love to build and work hard, with their success built upon long-standing relationships anchored in honesty, trust, and fairness. Leveraging vast design and build experience, D&B is the conduit for business owners, corporations, and developers looking to enhance the places in which they work, grow, and invest. Completing projects safely, within budget, and on time to minimize any disruption to business is always top priority. For more information, visit online at: dbconstructiongrp.com.
D&B Construction’s partnership with Earth Engineering Incorporated dates back eight years to 2014. They have completed over 12 projects with D&B Construction since becoming our Trade Partner. These projects range from large multi-family projects on 50 acres of land to large healthcare projects for clients like Tower Health and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
EEI performed numerous services on these projects including compaction testing, concrete testing, geotechnical consulting, sinkhole remediation, structural steel inspection, geotechnical investigations, clean fill assessment, and design services. Paul J. Creneti, P.G., Director of the Lehigh Valley division of Earth Engineering Incorporated, has been part of the industry for 26 years now. “Working on these projects with D&B Construction was fulfilling, as they were a collaborative effort with the construction and design team,” he reflects.
Paul has worked with many members of Team D&B over the years, including our Chief Operating Officer Brennan Reichenbach, Vice President of Pre-Construction Mark Keever, Project Manager Scott Weaver, and Vice President of Construction for Reading and Central PA, Tom Rinaldo. His favorite part of working on a D&B project? “Being part of a project team that has trust with all parties involved.” Paul can count on the fact that “quality would never be an issue” whenever he works with Team D&B. “If problems arose during development, the team handled these problems quickly and most appropriately to ensure that sites were being developed properly.”
According to our VP of Construction Tom Rinaldo, who has worked with Paul and EEI for the last 15 years on various projects, “they bring undeniable value and knowledge to D&B projects as a valued Trade Partner.” Tom most enjoys how knowledgeable their geologists are. “We utilize them to do proctors for us. They help out in a variety of ways, from testing and analysis of soil on job sites to concrete testing. When we completed work for 999 Berkshire Blvd. we had to excavate and remove 10,000 SF of soil and excavated around the entire exterior of the building to remediate soils. Their team’s analysis of the unsuitable soil and assistance in finding suitable soil was imperative to the success of this project.”
This full service geotechnical / environmental engineering consulting firm was founded in 1990 in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. By 2003, EEI outgrew this facility and established their Corporate Headquarters in East Norriton, Pennsylvania. Today they have approximately 125 employees and other regional offices in West Berlin, New Jersey, the Lehigh Valley and Central Pennsylvania that allow them to service projects from New York to Maryland.
EEI provides their clients with geotechnical engineering and environmental consulting services. Such services allow them to contribute to the successful development of a wide variety of projects for their clients, as issues such as cost-effectiveness and site development issues are evaluated by their team. This analysis allows EEI to provide clients with the best recommendations on how to proceed with their project.
The predominance of their geotechnical and environmental work is in the private commercial and residential sectors, with a portion of their geo-structural design work in the public sector. EEI takes on approximately 1,200 new projects within a year.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to others looking to get into the industry?
A: “Listen to your client’s needs while at the same time keeping the project within or below budget. You can accomplish this through quality engineering and quick decisions.”
Q: What makes a good leader?
A: “Being true to your corporate values and goals and holding a high standard for others to follow.”
Q: What do you love most about your job and why?
A: “Being part of a project team that leads to the successful completion of projects despite countless variables along the way. It’s rewarding.”
Q: What about a D&B project stands out in comparison to other General Contractors you work with on other job sites?
A: “Quality with a strong focus on the client’s needs.”
The Reserve at Iroquois Springs
EEI’s Geotechnical Engineer, Dan, was just on site last week to check the compaction rating of the soil on this jobsite. View some recent drone footage here.
Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia – Paoli, PA Location
Bucks County Orthopedic Specialists – Warrington, PA Location
Tower Health Medical Group Family Medicine – Womelsdorf, PA Location
Riverfront Federal Credit Union
White-sand beaches, warm weather, great food, and high-end luxuries are everything that Miami is known for. The small town of Surfside is no exception with its reputation of being pleasant, quiet, safe, and affordable. As you likely may have heard, Surfside recently become the center of attention for many people after tragedy struck the small town in June.
On June 24th Surfside’s 12-story beachfront condo, Champlain Towers South, partially collapsed at about 1:25 AM with its residents inside. As of Monday, July 26th, the last victim’s remains were identified. This brought the final death toll to 98 people after tedious efforts were made to account for every resident, and officials have now confirmed that remains for each person considered missing after the collapse have been recovered. The efforts made were the largest emergency unrelated to hurricanes ever conducted in the state, with search and rescue teams from throughout Florida, many other states, and even Israel and Mexico coming together to bring closure to families.
According to the New York Times, this disaster is one of the deadliest structural building failures in American History. Many residents are still in shock. Community Members Peggy Streter and her husband own The Carrot Café located in downtown Surfside. The two have claimed to know about 50 people who lived in the condo. The Streters are not the exception. Miami’s building chief, Charles Danger said, “Everybody in Miami knows somebody from that building or knows somebody who knows somebody.”
The rest of the building was demolished on Sunday, July 4th in efforts to continue the search. Once all remains were identified of those missing, officials began steering their focus to determining what could have caused the collapse. Since then the building has continued to be in the limelight, as many of the building’s records that would help investigators learn why the building fell could not be found, and the not-so-easy conversation over the fate of the site has started to take place. Here’s a quick summary of what is known:
People living in Surfside Condos, which were completed in 1981, had previously voiced their concerns about the structure of the building they called home, so the collapse does not come as a surprise for some. After a DEA building collapsed in Miami almost half a century ago, taking the lives of seven employees and injuring 16 others, two Miami counties instilled new regulations requiring buildings that have stood for 40 years to be investigated for any problems. Since Champlain Towers South was in one of these counties, their mandatory 40-year inspection took place in 2018.
When the condo was inspected by engineer Frank Morabito in 2018, he identified that there was a flaw in the original construction of the building that was causing structural damage. Morabito mentioned the main issue was that the pool deck and outdoor planters had been “laid on a flat structure.” Since there was no slope where the pool stood, standing water was not able to drain off the pool deck. Instead, the water would sit on the waterproofed concrete until it evaporated. At the time of inspection, the water-proofing concrete had failed, causing the water to seep through resulting in “major structural damage to the concrete slab below these areas.” The report also pointed out distress and fatigue in the concrete, columns, beams, and walls of the parking garage below the pool area.
Morabito’s report said that “failure to replace the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially.” He could not predict that this may lead to the collapse of the building, however he said that repairs to the concrete were needed for “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building. The waterproofing and structural issues of the condo were never addressed by the owner’s association.
Fast forward to 2019 when a neighboring luxury tower was being built. Residents of the Champlain Towers South condominium complained that construction would often cause their building to shake. This led to a resident and board member of the condo association, Mara Chouela, voicing her opinion that workers were “digging too close” to the property. She said they “have concerns regarding the structure of our building.” Just 28 minutes later, official Rosendo Prieto responded to Chouela stating that “there is nothing for me to check.”
There is no concrete evidence that construction of the condo’s neighbor contributed to the collapse of the building, and it is still unclear if the lack of action from the owner’s association was a major factor in the building’s collapse. Cassie Stratton, a resident who was inside the building during the collapse, reportedly told her husband on the phone that she saw the pool cave in first, backing up Morabito’s claim that the waterproofing of the pool was necessary to maintain the structure of the building.
The fact remains that residents were concerned for the structure of the condo, and they felt as if no one took the necessary action to redeem the structural integrity of the building.
The city of Surfside hired a structural engineer, Allyn Kilsheimer, to inspect the site and determine the cause for the buildings collapse. Kilsheimer says it is “maybe not an individual cause, but two or three things that contributed and/or caused this failure.” While the pool could have been a major issue to the structural problems, it is still unclear and there are many theories that will be examined.
In addition to hiring Kilsheimer, another group was hired to lead the charge to uncover what caused the collapse since this was such a big case. The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) will be working constantly to investigate the situation. They say that “a fact-finding investigation of the building performance and emergency response and evacuation procedures will likely result in significant and new knowledge or building code revision recommendations needed to reduce or mitigate public risk and economic losses from future building failures.”
Like many others, we have been wondering what caused this to happen. Matt Knight, Senior Estimator at D&B Construction, has been working in the industry for over 20 years. He has been involved with the construction of many large, well-known buildings, including the 9/11 Memorial.
Matt did not do any research, but from what he saw “the building collapsed from the bottom up,” which makes him think “there would be structural cracks in the floor, columns, beams, etc.” As we know now, these structural cracks were found by engineers and deemed to be a major structural concern prior to the collapse of the building. Much like Allyn Kilsheimer, Matt believes that it is likely there are multiple causes for the failure of Champlain Towers South.
One of the theories that Matt believes had a big role in the building’s collapse was the fact that the condo had been sinking at a rate of two millimeters per year from 1993 to 1999. Scientists also discovered evidence of other areas nearby sinking as well. Matt says that one of the most important things when constructing large buildings is to make sure you are building on good soil. Since the condo was slowly sinking, Matt believes they likely “built on unsuitable soils and never got the compaction they needed.” He notes that if soil is not properly compacted so that it is suitable for the building, everything else will eventually fail. “If you are building from the ground up your soil underneath is, of course, most important,” he concludes. For now, Matt is waiting to learn more about what caused the failure once the investigations are conclusive.
At the end of the day, the collapse of Champlain Towers South was a tragedy, however Matt tries to look at how the industry as a whole can learn from what happened. “Usually a lot of good things will come out of a catastrophic failure. For example, we learned a lot from 9/11, and today those World Trade Center Towers are not being built the same way,” he says. Matt believes the industry will learn valuable lessons from this, and it will improve how we are constructing buildings overall. He would not be surprised if there will be changes for older building’s codes, especially around that area. Matt also proposes the idea of a new law emerging from this that would make building owners, when aware of structural damages, either make the repairs or move everyone out until they do.
While we wait to learn more, one question many still have is whether or not limitations on technology when the condo was built play a factor in the failure of Champlain Towers South? When the condo building was constructed in 1981 many of the rules and regulations that we have today were not in place. Miami was also known for “slipshod construction,” and in some cases they were known to take the look-the-other-way approach when enforcing building codes and regulations. While their construction practices were not nearly as good then as they are now, they also did not have access to the technology we have now.
Specifically, VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) and BIM (Building Information Modeling) are tools that Matt says, “could have helped if they had it during original construction”. BIM is a tool for 3D modeling and data input of physical objects, while VDC uses BIM models to plan the construction process from beginning to end. Watch a video to learn more about VDC and BIM here. Using technology like BIM and VDC essentially allows you to build the entire project virtually before building it in the real world, which can decrease cost and time put into a project while also increasing safety. We may often take technology like this for granted, but it is interesting to think about what the world of construction would have looked like in the 80’s if society had access to these technologies that we can now use every day.
D&B is interested to hear your thoughts. Do you think new technologies will help to prevent disasters like the one in Surfside? What policies and procedures do you think should be put into place to help increase safety and avoid disasters such as this from happening in the future? Let us know in the comments below!
The Reserve at Rivers Edge will include 260 luxury apartment homes being built in Summerdale, PA. Located on the property of this new development is the Enola Miller House, a historic home beloved by the community. Before starting construction of this future multi-family apartment complex, efforts were made to preserve this important historical building.
Our VP of Business Development, Drew Bell, says “It’s not always about tearing down and building new in construction. There’s special occasions when preservation is worth the stress, fatigue and cost. We take pride in being good stewards in the communities we work. The Enola Miller house is a source of history and pride in Enola, Pa. D&B is proud to be part of the team preserving this iconic house for future generations to come.”
Planning, preparation, and a whole lot of heart from people across many organizations went into the move of the historic Enola Miller House in Summerdale, Pennsylvania, especially from the Historical Society of East Pennsboro, who has advocated for the preservation of the home for many years. As the oldest standing home in East Pennsboro Township, it was added to the Cumberland County register of historic places in 2018. The home was the birthplace of Enola Miller, which the town of Enola and the Enola Rail Yard were named after. Moving a historic home built in 1841 and weighing over 400 tons is about as daunting as it sounds. Here’s a look at how D&B Construction (the general contractor), Metropolitan Companies (the developer who bought the land in December 2020) and Wolfe House & Building Movers got the job done:
According to Barbara Gertzen, member of the Historical Society of East Pennsboro, “the struggle to develop the Summerdale property has been going on for over a decade.” There have been multiple plans in the works since 2009 from developers that would build on the land where the Enola Miller Home is. Instead of relocating the house, they planned to destroy it.
However, members of the community and the Historical Society of East Pennsboro had other plans for the fate of the Enola Miller House and thankfully the current team developing the property listened.
Once the preservation of the Enola Miller House was for certain, countless hours of preparation took place from many individuals. A completely man-made gravel path roughly half a mile long was constructed by Schlouch Incorporated. Building this temporary path that the house would travel took roughly three days to complete.
Additions that were added to the 180-year-old home also had to be removed from the original stone house so crews could disconnect the building from its utilities and reinforce the windows and doors to prepare the home for its 1,300-foot uphill journey. The old foundation needed to be excavated and removed so it could be replaced with oak timbers known as cribbing, which provides support to a steel grid structure that helped protect the home throughout the move. Hydraulic jacks were then placed under the cribbing to lift the building onto huge dollies.
The move was so tedious that it even had to take place over the course of more than one day. On April 5th, the electric company, PPL, removed overhead high-voltage lines that crossed over the route. The home also needed to travel over a ditch in order to reach its new foundation.
Wolfe House & Building Movers did the heavy lifting – quite literally – for this historic home. The most difficult part of the move was something beyond anyone’s control: A substantial amount of rain resulted in steel plates needing to be placed along the route in order to safely move the house. Because of this, it took about four hours to move the first 100 yards on the first day of the move. The moving crew started around 8 AM on Tuesday, March 30th and finished around 5:30 PM.
Robert Sauder of Wolfe House & Building Movers, shares a bit that goes on beyond the scenes leading up to the actual moving day: “There is a lot of planning with the steel work and some of the details of the move and understanding the structure. We don’t have an exact amount on the total number of hours that were spent on the project. A dozen guys have worked several weeks, whether doing the work or preparing.”
Thanks to a press conference that took place due to efforts of the Historical Society of East Pennsboro, over a hundred people came to watch the move take place, including news crews, neighbors across the street curious as to what was going on, and members of the community who cared about the beloved Enola Miller Home.
No pressure for the moving crew, right?! When asked if they ever get nervous before performing such a move, Robert said: It’s all about having a good plan and having people with experience. That’s what we have here. Guys that have done this all of their life. They are multi-generational people doing this, so they’ve grown up with it. Understanding the concepts take a lot of the fear of things going wrong out of it.”
Robert said the size of the crowd usually depends on the type of building being moved, as well as the publicity that the building and move receives. “We have some where there is no one and other’s where there are full on barbecues with family and friends watching,” he says with a laugh. “The Enola Miller House did have a lot of community involvement in trying to preserve a piece of the community, so it created a fair amount of interest. Historic projects generally have more interest in it to make the preservation happen. That in turn created a lot of people wanting to see it actually happen. It’s a nice community and working with D&B Construction and the others have been really good,” Robert said, as he reflects on this particular project. He also enjoyed the opportunity to work closer to home, as Wolfe House & Building Movers has completed moves throughout the country and even internationally.
Once the Enola Miller House reached its new foundation, there was still several weeks of work left to complete. Randy, D&B Construction’s Superintendent in charge of this jobsite, said that the basement was just recently poured. Exterior site work on the Enola Miller House is starting soon now that the three phases of the foundation work is complete. Member of the Historical Society of East Pennsboro, Barb Gertzen, says “The HSEP extends our thanks to D&B Construction for their great work constructing the new foundation for the EMH in its new location so that it will stand securely for at least another 200 years!”
Randy is in charge of overseeing the construction of The Reserve at Rivers Edge, a luxury apartment multi-family complex being constructed on this 50-acre lot. Site work for this started shortly after the move of the Enola Miller House was complete. The first of 13 buildings began about four weeks after the sitework.
The preservation of the Enola Miller House was the third building and second historical structure that Randy was involved with moving. Reflecting on the last few months of work at the Summerdale Property, Randy says: “The local community was very concerned about the future of the house. There was a sigh of relief from the majority of them when they heard we were moving it and not tearing it down. We heard from quite a few of the local residents over the past few months. Everyone had their favorite stories to share.”
One such resident was Sheryl, who has lived in Enola since age 10, even living on the same street that the Enola Miller House just moved to. Both she and her husband, Jack, graduated from East Pennsboro High School and came to watch both days of the move for seven hours each day. They even brought their cute dog, Ginger, along. Sheryl and Jack have close ties to the house, reflecting on the time that the house was up for auction and they even considered purchasing it.
She and her husband were there when the Enola Miller Home reached her new foundation, cheering with the rest of the crowd. “I was glad they were moving it. I was a little upset it had to be done, but through watching the move and everything… I just think she’s an old lady that’s found a new home, and she’s going to be very happy. I like her new spot.”
Thanks to the Historical Society of East Pennsboro for providing detail about the history of the Enola Miller House as well as historic photos from their collection:
The Historical Society of East Pennsboro (HSEP) was founded in 1999. The following members of the Historical Society of East Pennsboro (HSEP) took the time to provide their insights on the history and significance of the Enola Miller House: Jim Leonard (Executive Director of the HSEP for 14 years), Jim Hertzler (Vice President of HSEP), Ron Blauch, and Barb Gertzen. These individuals and one other board member of the HSEP, George DeMartyn, make up the “Save the Enola Miller House” Subcommittee, which was founded in 2017. Each Subcommittee member has longstanding ties or developed deep connections to the Enola Miller House (EMH) through their affinity for historic preservation projects or extensive public service to the residents of East Pennsboro Township and Cumberland County.
Q: What was the Subcommittee’s involvement with the Enola Miller House move?
A: Ms. Gertzen wrote numerous “Letters to the Editors” of both Harrisburg’s Penn Live.com and The Carlisle Sentinel in the years leading up to the relocation of the EMH. She renewed her efforts in the months prior to the March 30,, 2021 move of the house.
Recognizing that media coverage of the EMH’s relocation was crucial to jump-start a fundraising campaign to restore the EMH (a major component of the Subcommittee’s work) led Subcommittee members to organize and highly publicize a press conference held on Friday, March 19, 2021. Messrs. DeMartyn, Hertzler, and Leonard were joined by a Wolfe Brothers representative at the press conference, which was held across the street from the EMH.
These articles greatly increased public awareness of the move so that well over 100 bystanders and Township representatives were on-site on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, the day of the move. As dawn broke over the EMH at its original site for the final time, personnel from Wolfe Brothers and D&B Construction began last-minute preparations for the relocation operation. Mr. Hertzler’s outreach to numerous public officials and members of the media ensured that all local print and video news outlets were on-site for the move.
Q: What was it like to watch the move of the Enola Miller House happen? Is this the first time you ever saw a house being moved like this? Was it what you expected?
A: All Subcommittee members were on-site the day of the move and remained through most of the move. It was exciting to watch – although certainly bittersweet for us – considering the exhaustive effort Subcommittee members made trying to keep the EMH on its original site. Despite losing that battle, we felt we won the war since the house was being relocated – rather than demolished – which is an outcome that tragically has occurred with other area historic landmarks.
To the best of our knowledge, none of the Subcommittee members witnessed a move like this before. The actual relocation occurred at a slower pace than most of us anticipated, and a slight delay when the EMH became stuck in soggy ground and lost a few tires made for some breathless moments, but we were impressed with the competence and professionalism of Wolfe Brothers House & Building Movers (Subcommittee members agreed that we are fortunate that Wolfe Brothers was contracted for the move since most of us were confident in their ability to move the EMH safely).
We were particularly grateful that D&B Construction had their drone aloft to record the move. Aerial footage of the relocation will be an invaluable part of the Society’s historical records of their new headquarters.
Q: Why is it important to preserve houses such as the Enola Miller House?
A: The Enola Miller House stood as silent witness to these and many more pivotal historic events that altered the area and impacted the lives of numerous generations of residents of Enola, East Pennsboro Township, and Cumberland County. The EMH represents a dwindling number of structures that can trace their history through the earliest years of a community’s development and through dramatic transformations in the area’s economy and its residents’ lifestyles.
Was saving and working to restore and preserve the Enola Miller House worth the effort? It is if we care about the generations that follow charting their path forward with an appreciation of the past. The mission of the Historical Society of East Pennsboro lies in preserving artifacts, documents, genealogical records, and mementos of residents of the three villages of East Pennsboro Township: Enola, West Fairview, and Summerdale, and the many other community neighborhoods, businesses, and office areas that now make up a bustling and diversified 21st century community. The House is a meaningful symbol of the area’s history connecting current Township residents to individuals who preceded us, while offering lessons and reminders of who we are to those who will follow us. The Enola Miller House not only serves as a tangible reminder of our collective history; it also provides a crucial “sense of self” for the community, which is certainly worth celebrating and preserving.
Q: What’s in store for the future of the Enola Miller House?
A: The Society is raising funds and developing plans to restore the EMH as a museum to display memorabilia related to the memory Enola Miller and her family, as well as relics related to the heritage of the three villages comprising East Pennsboro Township – especially the area’s historic connection to the growth of the world-renown Enola Rail Yards.
Perhaps more importantly, the Society plans to restore aspects of the House that convey a sense of what life in the 17th century was like. The original portion of the House on the first floor was a common room with a walk-in fireplace that occupies virtually the entire northern wall of the main room (one of the Society’s first orders of business is to uncover and restore this impressive walk-in fireplace). This fireplace – located in a central room of the homestead – not only provided heat for the family but was also a gathering place where the family cooked and ate their meals. Unlike today, separate dining and living spaces were unheard of.
“A ‘Green’ building is a building that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment. Green buildings preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life” (WGBC). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Green or LEED construction is changing. The U.S. Green Building Council, creators of the LEED certification, plans to promote healthier and safer air quality indoors with adjusted certification criteria incentivizing the creation cleaner air systems. In 2021, there will be more building materials and components that help get LEED certification. One interesting and somewhat new development is a form of self-healing bio-concrete. This is a compound of concrete and bacteria that produces limestone when exposed to air and water, which helps with the impermeability of the surface. It costs around $240 per cubic meter. For reference, normal concrete usually costs between $200-$300, making it still cost efficient. Green building will continue to grow throughout the next decades and new technology and policy will come out to reinforce it as time goes by.
The construction industry is rapidly moving towards modular materials because of its cost and time efficiency. Modular building is anywhere from 20% – 50% faster than traditional construction. It is also around 20% more cost efficient to build modular instead of traditional because of the reduced labor and time costs. Modular building also cuts the waste output almost in half due to optimal fabrication and pre-planned units. Everything is built off the construction site, which reduces the challenges of regular construction such as weather, limited working hours, and space. Overall, modular building is great for symmetrical and repeating buildings where sections can be made and stacked or attached to each other easily like in apartment or office buildings.
As it should be, safety is a huge trend in 2021. The old workplace safety system focused on recognizing problems and fixing them after someone gets hurt or a problem occurs. The new system getting pushed in the industry is based on prevention through education and training and recognizing issues before anyone gets hurt. This is why we have our Safety Committee meet monthly to discuss different topics of safety. Another large change in the safety category is better technology with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). With more women entering the field, there is an increased awareness of the need for PPE to properly fit all employees to ensure safety. In addition, because of the COVID-19 pandemic there are policies across most companies including D&B that promote safe environments using masks, social distancing, and sanitization. When the pandemic hit, our team implemented a sign in and sign out sheet at every job site, making it easy for us to accurately perform contact tracing in the event that someone developed COVID-19 symptoms. D&B will continue to enforce this rule across all job sites moving forward. Learn more about our safety standards here.
Multi-family construction is one of the fastest growing sectors of the commercial construction industry. Because of the lack of inventory in the housing market and changing demographics, multi-family construction is in high demand and will continue to grow in the following years. More people are looking for smaller, more affordable homes and condominiums with less maintenance than a normal single-family house. Research shows that 33% of people who are reaching age 55 are on their own. This is much different than what was the case 20 years ago. Currently D&B has multiple multi-family jobs under active construction and in the pre-construction phases. Throughout my internship, I shadowed the construction of The Reserve at Gring’s Mill, which you can view here.
Written by: D&B Intern, Alex Wolf
Alex culminated this list based on what he learned during his time at D&B. He is a Senior at Wilson High School who began shadowing various D&B employees in September of 2020. Alex will be attending Virginia Tech for Architecture in the Fall. “My internship experience at D&B made me realize that I want to pursue a career in residential remodeling and construction,” he explains. “I gained a lot of knowledge about the construction process and enjoyed being able to see entire construction projects from start to finish.”