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For local contractors and workers, 'Building Brown' a boon

The site of the new Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts building is bustling with sound, and there are hard hats everywhere. Inside the construction site office, a sign reads: "The Five Stages of a Construction Project: Enthusiasm — Disillusionment — Panic — Search for the Guilty, Punishment of the innocent — Praise and honors for the non-participants."

Near this sign, a long sheet of paper plastered along the wall reads: "27 weeks to go." Construction has been omnipresent on campus since many of us arrived — and is slated to continue long after many of us are gone.

‘Born a builder'
The passion that James Sisson, senior construction manager for the University, has for building began with the influence of his grandmother, who was the daughter of a ship builder. Sisson began his career during college, and "it evolved after that to where it is now," he said.

Sisson facilitates the University's capital projects and supports project managers. "I mitigate the disruptions caused by construction such as traffic, dust and noise," he said.

Sisson, a resident of Providence for most of his life, has 35 years of experience in all kinds of construction. "I was a born a builder," he said.

Work for Sisson and the construction workers he supervises usually starts at 6:30 a.m. and runs until 6:30 or 7 p.m. When a work site is close to a residence hall, Sisson said starting time is moved back to 8 a.m. to "diminish the noise levels for students who want to sleep."

If he's not monitoring various projects or overseeing building progress, Sisson is making sure people can get from point A to point B. "I update maps on the Web site so people can navigate their way through campus. I make sure everything is going along smoothly," he said.

Still, construction doesn't come without its obstacles. "The biggest challenge for me personally is not so much the technical aspects of the job but getting people to work together well enough to bring the project to completion," he said. Sisson said the "human factor" is also difficult to supervise, whether it is managing money, dealing with contractors or making sure everyone is cooperating with each other.

"We're trying to put more people to work to finish projects on budget, on time and within reason," he said.

Though the University is already "a destination," Sisson said Brown's building initiative is also making the campus "more beautiful."

To Sisson, a career in construction is both fun and gratifying.

"For me, it's knowing that you're part of something significant. The most enjoyment I get is when I see buildings being used for their designed intent. It's satisfying when you see people using the spaces," he said.

Coming home to the Hill
For Michael Guglielmo, assistant director of project management, College Hill is no foreign turf. The Rhode Island School of Design graduate, trained in architecture, "ended up at Brown as a marriage between the design side and contracting side," he said.

As any young architect, Guglielmo said, his goal as a young student was to design skyscrapers. Now, with more than 20 years of experience in construction, Guglielmo manages and controls phases of project design and construction management.

"This can involve hiring the architects, soliciting architects, soliciting construction mangers and working with agencies such as the fire department and the building department. I also work with facilities operations and the guys and girls who will maintain the facility once it's constructed," he said.

Guglielmo's time in the office consists of a minimum of 50 to 55 hours a week, where he spends the majority of his days in meetings related to construction budget, design and schedule. Outside the office, though, Guglielmo finds himself working through his BlackBerry.

"There is always constant communication," Guglielmo said.

Guglielmo said the University does a lot of outreach with community groups such as the Building Futures program, which has brought several young construction workers to projects at Brown. "The Building Futures program allows younger individuals who want to get into the building trade to gain experience. They learn the responsibility and safety involved with working on construction sites," he said.

With an aging workforce of the most skilled workers nearing retirement, Guglielmo said that programs such as Building Futures are crucial to "transfer knowledge to the next generation of workers."

The new generation

Tim Sanders and Orlando Gomez, who have lived in Rhode Island for most their lives, are two of the many young workers participating in the Building Futures program.

The program — designed to provide career training opportunities in construction for low-income adults in urban areas, and specifically from Providence — has partnered with Brown since the renovation of J. Walter Wilson, and has remained for work on the Joukowsky Institute for Archeology and the Ancient World and the Granoff Center projects, Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Quinn also mentioned that the University will continue this partnership through the construction of the new Medical School building in the Jewelry District, the Metcalf Chemical Laboratory building renovation and construction of the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center and the Jonathan Nelson '77 Fitness Center.

"I always worked with my hands," Gomez said. He worked in construction independently before going to school and the Building Futures program then helped him get into the union, he said.

Sanders became involved in construction through different programs. "I got into construction through a program called Youth Build. The people who worked in Youth Build also worked with the program Building Futures," he said.

Starting at age 16, Sanders worked on roofing and then moved on to carpentry. He also worked on interiors in banks.

"I was trying to get into the union at that time and then found myself here," he said.
Gomez, a pipe fitter, and Sanders, a laborer, are both in their twenties and have already begun to learn the rules of the trade.

"In the beginning, I was doing excavations and digging the hole for the (Creative Arts) building. Now I'm doing whatever the general contractors need," Sanders said.
The University has allowed Gomez and Sanders to earn the experience necessary to succeed in the construction trade. Both young workers are currently continuing their labor at the Creative Arts Center building site.

Under the Building Futures program, both Gomez and Sanders said their ultimate goal was to be well-rounded in all facets of the construction trade.
Putting people to work
Sisson emphasized that the University plays a significant role in terms of local employment with its ongoing construction initiatives. "In the institutional market, including hospitals, universities and the bio-med field, there's not a lot of building going on. Through careful decision-making, the Corporation kept these projects on line and adjusted to the economy," he said.

According to its Web site, the University is the sixth-largest private employer in the state. Of the $67 million spent on construction last year, $35 million went to Rhode Island-based contractors.

Sisson said the University not only provides employment within the state but draws workers from Massachusetts and Connecticut.

"It not only goes for the guys on the ground," Guglielmo said. "It's also the suppliers and people who work in the supply houses. It could be the iron shop or the roofing contractors. The initiative keeps a lot of people busy."


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