The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

April 2, 2004

Irked by terminated jobless benefits? Inform Republicans

How to contact your member of Congress

New entry plaza will be the end of Renaissance Center renovation

Price jumps for steel, other materials bite construction

Trades flock to Michigan Tech for new work and renovations

Soo Locks - ever dependable through the ups and downs of great Lakes shipping

Mackinac Bridge construction commemorated

News Briefs

 

Irked by terminated jobless benefits? Inform Republicans

Before the stock market went in the tank a few years ago, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan warned of "irrational exuberance" by people buying stocks, wrongly thinking that the market would be great forever.

Fast forward to last month at a campaign event in California, where a car chassis maker told President Bush that his tax cuts would allow him to hire two new workers this year.

"When he says he's going to hire two more, that's really good news," Bush said, as reported by the Washington Post. "A lot of people are feeling confident and optimistic about our future so they can say, 'I'm going to hire two more.' They can sit here and tell the president in front of all the cameras, 'I'm going to hire two more people.' That's confidence!"

It was hard not for the pundits to snicker over President Bush's irrational exuberance over the potential creation of two jobs, but he doesn't have much to hang his hat on. There have been 2.2 million net U.S. jobs lost during the Bush presidency, who has predicted that the economy will improve sufficiently to create 2.6 million this year alone.

In reality, the nation created only 21,000 more jobs in February, well short of the 183,000 jobs per month that would need to be created to meet Bush's expectations for a recovery in the job market.

"It's hard to imagine a more negative reading of the labor market," said Larry Mishel, president of the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute. "The private sector created no jobs. Wage growth is minimal. Four hundred thousand people dropped out of the labor market."

Bush's rosy outlook on the job market is a good part of the reason the Republican-led Congress has refused to extend federal jobless benefits after they ran out on Jan. 1. During this election year, they are acting as if the job market is improving, but they're getting hit over the head with hard facts. There are 336,000 Michiganians without work - and we're a full point above the national jobless rate, at 6.6 percent. Michigan has the third-worst jobless rate in the nation.

Michigan's construction industry is also reeling, with most local unions having about a quarter of their membership out of work and some with as much as 60 percent unemployment.

But Republicans congressional representatives around the country and in Michigan have consistently refused to extend federal unemployment benefits, which expired at the end of last year.

"Republican inaction and indifference toward our nation's jobless recovery, and our nation's unemployed workers, must end," said Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, D-12th District, who has taken up the cause of extending benefits. "We must act to jump-start job growth and re-start the unemployment insurance program to get families through these tough economic times.

"Since they allowed the program to expire in December, 760,000 unemployed workers have run out of unemployment insurance benefits without finding work."

Building trades workers who are hurting under the GOP's refusal to release additional jobless money may wish to contact their representative and let them know that there are people who desperately need the additional money.

Last month, Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney told Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council delegates "not to bother" lobbying Michigan's Democratic members of Congress about extending unemployment benefits. "They're already on our side; you'd be preaching to the choir," he said.

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How to contact your member of Congress

If you live in a district that's represented by a Republican member of Congress, it can't hurt to let your representative know that there are people suffering because Republicans are refusing to extend jobless benefits.

Following are ways to contact any member of Michigan's congressional delegation - and how to figure out who your representative is.

If you have online access, the easiest way is to click on www.house.gov/writerep. The screen will ask you for your state and zip code (it helps to have the zip code-plus four number). You will then be given ways to e-mail your representative in Congress.

For everyone else, following is contact information for Michigan's Republican members of Congress.

Bart Stupak (D) 1st District - 2352 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-4735

Peter Hoekstra (R) 2nd District - 2234 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-4401

Vernon Ehlers (R) 3rd District - 1714 Longworth Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-3831

David Camp (R) 4th District - 137 Cannon Building, Washington, D.C. 20515. (202) 225-3561

Dale Kildee (D) 5th District - 2107 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-3611

Fred Upton (R) 6th District - 2161 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515 (202) 225-3761

Nick Smith (R) 7th District - 2305 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-6276

Mike Rogers (R) 8th District - 133 Cannon Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-4872

Joe Knollenberg (R) 9th District - 2349 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-5802

Candace Miller (R) 10th District - 508 Cannon Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-2106

Thaddeus McCotter (R) 11th District - 415 Cannon Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-8171

Sander Levin (D) 12th District - 2300 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-4961

Carolyn Kilpatrick (D) 13th District - 1610 Longworth Bulding, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-2261

John Conyers (D) 14th District - 2426 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-5126

John Dingell (D) 15th District - 2328 Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, (202) 225-4071

Michigan's 15 Districts.

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New entry plaza will be the end of Renaissance Center renovation

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The process of transforming the Renaissance Center into the global headquarters of the General Motors Corp. is approaching completion.

Turner Construction, its subcontractors and the building trades are in the final phase of more than $500 million in construction activity at the Ren Cen. The focus of most of the current activity at the complex is the construction of a new entry plaza along Jefferson Avenue, which is putting about 100 men and women in the building trades to work.

Since General Motors purchased the Ren Cen in 1996 and renovations began in 1998, thousands of Hardhats have come and gone on the project, redeveloping much of the center's 5.5 million square-feet of space. The Ren Cen, originally constructed in 1977, is dominated by the 73-story Westin Hotel, which is surrounded by four 39-story office towers.

"The building trades workers have been great out here," said Turner Project Executive Ron Dawson, who is overseeing the job along with Project Manager Charlie Hornacek. "They've done quality work over the years."

The work by Turner gutting and renovating the interior of the Ren Cen is complete, although there are some other miscellaneous ongoing projects by other contractors. The trades have performed a massive amount of renovations inside, including the installation of a new glass-enclosed winter garden facing the Detroit River and re-working the ground floor to make the former circular maze of walkways less confusing and more pedestrian-friendly.

Symbolically, the front plaza is one of the most important parts of the renovation process - Detroiters have complained for years that the Ren Cen was built like a fortress, with heating and cooling works constructed inside tall concrete berms at the front of the complex along Jefferson Avenue. The berms are long gone, the mechanical systems have been moved elsewhere, and the front of the Ren Cen will be much more inviting to the public.

Dawson said work should be complete on the entry plaza by the end of the year.

LONG-GONE ARE THE ugly concrete berms in front of the General Motors Renaissance Center along Jefferson Avenue. A new glass-enclosed entry plaza and People Mover station are being constructed by the building trades in the final phase of the Renaissance Center renovation

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Price jumps for steel, other materials bite construction

"Nobody saw it coming," the Engineering News Record reported last month. "After more than a decade of relative price stability, contractors have been blind-sided by the largest price hikes for materials since the early 1970s."

The price of steel products are up, anywhere between 20 and 60 percent, and increases in prices for lumber, plywood, gypsum wallboard, copper, stainless steel, pipe and fuel are "joining in to pummel contractors," said the ENR.

Contractors across the nation are said to often be refusing to make project quotes good for any longer than 30 days, after which prices are adjusted every month, due to material price hikes.

"This type of uncertainty starts to drive overall pricing because you don't know what you are getting into and you have to hedge your bets," Karl Almstead, vice president at Turner Corp., told the ENR.

In Michigan, Great Lakes Fabricators and Erectors Association Executive Director Jim Walker said the structural steel price hikes are "a great concern of our members." He said steel erection contractors are generally protected by contract clauses which set the price of steel for the time of delivery, rather than at the time the material is ordered. However, he said at least one fabricator that does business in Michigan, Havens Steel, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in part because of steel costs.

With steel prices alone accounting for 5-10 percent of the average costs of commercial buildings, some fear the spike in prices could help slow the rebound for U.S. construction, and put a halt on some projects with very tight budgets.

ENR said it is tracking recent increases of 41% for plywood, 15% for lumber, 17% for ductile iron pipe and 16% for copper water tubing.

The villain in the price surge for steel is China, the ENR said, as that nation has increased its capacity to make steel by 38 million tons, or about one-third of U.S. capacity for one year. The demand from China has driven up the cost of scrap iron 88 percent over the last two years. Domestic demand is also up for steel, but other suppliers in Russia are restricting imports.

Prices are even higher on more expensive alloys used in the automotive industry - some well over 100 percent - which Walker said is a concern because it could affect owners' ability to fund future construction projects. "You can see how steel prices affect us on different plateaus," he said.

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Trades flock to Michigan Tech for new work and renovations

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

HOUGHTON - Michigan Technological University has sponsored major construction projects in recent years, but two ongoing simultaneous jobs are twice as nice for the building trades.

The U.P. university is spending $35 million for a complete gutting and renovation of Wadsworth Hall, as well as lesser work at two other halls. In addition, Michigan Tech is building the new $31 million Center for Integrated Learning and Information Technology, for a total of about $66 million in major construction activity.

"Things are pretty busy on campus, but they're going well," said Mike Wilmers, project manager for MTU's Facilities Management. "The tradespeople have been very good."

Wadsworth Hall, the university's largest residence hall with 1,200 occupants, will be completely gutted as part of this project, which is being led by Boldt Construction. The university built Wadsworth Hall in two phases, with the first completed in 1955 and the second in 1959. This is the first major renovation since the building was completed.

New wiring, plumbing and sprinklers will be installed at Wadsworth. Then, the renovated building will have more rooms with private baths, and there will be additional laundry, study and kitchenette spaces spread throughout the building.

"We need to make the life, health safety, and accessibility improvements," said Bill Blumhardt, director of facilities management at the university. "But we also need to meet the demands of our marketplace. We are primarily a residential campus and outdated facilities can turn away prospective students."

Meanwhile, the Center for Integrated Learning and Information Technology is being built by general contractor Miron Construction and about 100 construction workers. The center will house the departments of Computer Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, and Physics and would integrate related program elements.

The project will include renovation of the existing 80,000-square-foot Van Pelt Library and the 112,000-square-foot Fisher Hall, with construction of a new 140,000-square-foot addition that would link the two existing structures. The library will have 50 public computers and will provide wireless computer access. A digital studio is planned that will allow students and faculty to integrate information from print, the Internet, sound recordings or film into their work. The entire project is expected to be complete next January.

Michigan Tech, founded in 1885 in the Keewenaw Peninsula, is included in the top-50 public national universities in U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges. The university has 6,000 students and has been rated the safest college to attend in Michigan.

The Huskies embrace the cold weather on campus with an annual winter carnival, but Wilmers said spring and warmer temperatures won't come early enough this year. The Center for Integrated Learning and Information Technology project is enclosed with Visqueen, allowing work to proceed through the winter, but the heating bill for January was about $22,000.

"Obviously,Visqueen isn't much of an insulator," Wilmers said with a laugh.

CHECKING PLANS for the Wadsworth Hall renovation at Michigan Tech are Pauline Miller and Ted Wahtola of IBEW Local 219.

THE CENTER for Integrated Learning and Information Technology at Michigan Tech has been enclosed in Visqueen this winter. The plastic is a poor insulator, which was not an inexpensive consideration in the chilly Keweenaw Peninsula.
Photos courtesy of Michigan Tech/Ryan Rizor

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Soo Locks - ever dependable through the ups and downs of great Lakes shipping

SAULT STE. MARIE - The 21-foot drop in water levels from Lake Superior down to the lower Great Lakes vexed British, French and native fur traders in the 1600s and 1700s, who were forced to portage their canoes and animal hides around the St. Mary's River rapids.

Eventually, the ingenuity of man found a way to navigate around those rapids through a system of canals or wooden locks that mechanically raised and lowered vessels. The British first constructed a 38-foot-long wooden lock in 1797 as a passage around the rapids - but it was destroyed during the War of 1812. Other locks and canals followed, beginning in 1855.

The lay of the land hasn't changed much at the Soo over the past 300 years, and the need for locks to make the waterways navigable hasn't changed, either. Long-gone are the wooden locks, and the "modern" locks that are in place today have provided tremendous service over the years, even though the oldest is 90 years old.

The current system of locks is No. 2 on the list of the state's top 10 civil engineering projects of the 20th Century as designated by the Associated Underground Contractors, with the Mackinac Bridge at No. 1. The locks were also added to the roster of National Historic Places in 1966.

The locks that are at the Soo include the Davis (built in 1914, 1,350-feet long by 80 feet wide), the Sabin, (1919); the MacArthur (1943) and the largest, the Poe (1968, 1,200-feet long by 110-feet wide). Only the Sabin is no longer in use.

"Given the conditions they work in and the amount of their use, the locks are in very good condition, and they're very reliable," said Stan Jacek, Soo-area engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over the locks.

The Poe Lock took six years to build, and is the only lock ever constructed between two operating locks. The Poe Lock is also the only indispensable lock - it handles the largest freighters and about 70 percent of shipping traffic through the Soo. A mechanical breakdown for any length of time would be disastrous for Great Lakes shipping industry

Michigan congressional representatives have been lobbying for years, unsuccessfully, for the estimated $225 million to pay for construction of another lock the same size as the Poe, which would replace the Davis and Sabin Locks. Jacek said the new lock won't be constructed any larger than the Poe Lock, because that would lead to the construction of bigger freighters, which would negate the use of the Poe as a backup lock.

Repairs and maintenance to the Poe Lock must be done during the winter months, when there is no shipping. In the past five years, building trades workers have performed more than $5 million in renovations on that lock. This winter, aside from small Homeland Security projects such as the installation of better lighting, maintenance activity for the building trades has been minimal.

Ships transport an average of 83 million tons of cargo a year through the locks. The most common ship-borne product to move through is iron ore, at an average of almost 50 million tons per year.

"Certainly there is no other lock complex like this in the world, with four locks set up side by side," Jacek said. "We've been very fortunate not to have any major shutdowns over the years, but a lot of that is because of good maintenance."

THE SECOND-LARGEST lock at the Soo, the MacArthur, is constructed in May 1943. (Photo courtesy Army Corps of Engineers)

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Mackinac Bridge construction commemorated

At 1 p.m. on Friday, May 7, the Mackinac Bridge Authority and the Michigan Department of Transportation will host a special ceremony and unveil a new coin honoring those responsible for building the Mackinac Bridge.

The "Mighty Mac" is a five-mile-long, 552-foot-tall state and national icon that has linked Michigan's two peninsulas since it opened on Nov. 1, 1957. The one-million-ton bridge was built in only three years by 350 engineers, 3,500 bridge workers and 7,500 other people who were employed by various quarries, mills and shops.

"Clearly, thousands were responsible for construction of the Mackinac Bridge," said William H. Gnodtke, chairman of the bridge authority. "We want to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of construction and recognize the people who played a part in this wonderful accomplishment."

A limited supply of commemorative collector coin sets honoring the workers will be available for sale at the 1 p.m. ceremony. The new coin is the fourth in a series of bridge toll coins, or tokens, customers can use to cross the bridge. The event will take place at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace or, in the event of inclement weather, at a site to be determined.

"The Mackinac Bridge is a critical part of Michigan's multi-modal transportation system and our state's economy," said MDOT Director Gloria J. Jeff. "Since the workers are the ones who made this possible, we encourage all families affiliated with the construction of the bridge to contact the Mackinac Bridge Authority as soon as possible for information about the ceremony." The authority's phone number is (906) 643-7600.

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News Briefs

Hunter safety program scheduled
The 8th annual Hunter Safety Program hosted by state Sen. Deborah Cherry in conjunction with the Flint Area Building Trades is scheduled this year in early May.

Two classroom lessons will be held, on Monday, May 3 and Wednesday, May 5, from 6-9:30 p.m. at Grand Blanc High School (cafeteria), 12500 Holly Rd.

A shooting range lesson will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Grand Blanc Huntsman's Club, 9046 Irish Rd. in Grand Blanc. Free refreshments follow.

This is a free Michigan DNR-certified program, and all supplies and safety equipment will be provided. Other sponsors included the IMI Children's Recreation Fund and the Mid-States Bolt and Screw Co. Gifts will be provided to all program graduates.

To register, go online to www.senate.mi.gov/cherry and click on "hunter safety program," or call (866) 305-2126.

Biker charity run set for May 1
The Flint Area Building Trades are among the sponsors of the fifth annual Motorcycle Charity Run slated Saturday, May 1.

The cruise for bikers will benefit the Industrial Mutual Association's Children's Recreation Fund, which supports recreational programs for kids in mid-Michigan.

The event begins with registration at 9 a.m. at Rocky's Great Outdoors on Bristol Road, with stops at Shiawasee Sports, Ray C's in Lapeer and Tim's Dead Creek Saloon. Riders will meet at about 4 p.m. at Crossroad Villages Mill Street Warehouse for a barbecue dinner, prizes and live music.

"We are very excited that the Flint Area Building and Construction Trades Council will be sponsoring the Motorcycle Charity Run this year," said Doug Weiland, executive director of the IMA "Our committee members have really energized this event and gotten the community involved by bringing in new sponsors. We are very thankful to the building and construction trades council for all of their hard work on this event."

The entry fee for the run is $15 per driver and includes the drive, raffle prizes, barbecue dinner, prizes and entertainment. Additional riders are $10 per person. Registration on the day of the event is $20 per driver and $15 per additional rider.

For additional information or to register, call Kaygie Goggins at the IMA Children's Recreation Fund, (810) 249-7058.

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