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U. formalizes construction partnership with nonprofit

Organization trains workers and provides career opportunities in construction

The University will partner with local nonprofit Building Futures in all future construction projects valued over $5 million, administrators announced Jan. 23.

The partnership was formalized as part of a memorandum released at the topping-off ceremony of the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching, formerly known as Hunter Laboratory. Previously, the University worked with Building Futures on a case-by-case basis.

Building Futures is a pre-apprenticeship training program with a stated mission of providing low-income Providence citizens with the skills and opportunities to pursue careers in the construction industry. The nonprofit was co-founded in 2007 by current director Andrew Cortes with leaders from Providence Plan and Build RI.

The University first partnered with Building Futures in 2007 for the construction of J. Walter Wilson. Since then, the nonprofit has been involved in 15 projects at Brown.

After the University contracted with Building Futures on a few different projects, “the mystery went away and working with Building Futures was easy,” said Stephen Maiorisi, vice president for Facilities Management.

Building Futures approached the University for a memorandum of understanding so it could institutionalize the partnership and move away from a project-to-project basis, Cortes said.

So far, the organization has placed over 130 individuals, mostly female Providence residents, in 12 trade unions, Cortes said. Based on the city’s demographics, about 85 percent of Building Future’s graduates are non-white, he added.

In its early stages, Building Futures had enough grant money to get started but needed help placing workers, and the University was in a position to provide jobs, Maiorisi said. “It has been a great thing for Brown to be able to help Building Futures get off the ground,” he added.

“The agreement signifies Brown taking a proactive step in not only addressing their own economic needs in the future but in integrating the social values of the University in how they go about their business,” Cortes added.

The University has spent almost $1 billion over the past decade on renovations, though it has recently reduced spending while President Christina Paxson outlines her strategic plan for the next several years, Maiorisi said.

Still, there are a number of construction projects in their early stages, including renovations of Keeney and West Andrews, in which Building Futures will play a role. The University and Building Futures settled on the $5 million threshold because “it was a comfortable number for both parties to go through paperwork and begin placing people,” Maiorisi said.

While smaller-scale projects do not always lend themselves to long-term jobs, any project over $5 million in scale should suffice, Cortes said.

The majority of Rhode Island’s construction force is over the age of 55, and the percentage of younger workers is on the decline because most apprenticeships and trade unions take years to complete, Cortes said.

Andre Isom, a graduate of Building Futures, has worked on multiple projects on campus, including the current renovation of the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching. Isom said he has stayed in contact with most people in his class at Building Futures.

“This agreement opens up doors for a lot of good people to get out there, prove they can be hard workers and provide for their families,” Isom said.



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