The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index

November 26, 1999

Record year expected again for construction Activity in U.S.

Lions bring outdoors inside with Ford Field design

Help wanted: group seeks to match trades jobs with applicants

Schools again excluded from state inspections

Wide-flange beams still enjoy wide usage

Final beam goes up at WSU law school

BUILD Fund ready to build union with pension dollars




Record year expected again for construction Activity in U.S.

With the end of the year on the horizon, prognosticators are starting to roll out their crystal balls for the construction industry. Their preliminary finding: 2000 won't be much better than this year - not that there's anything wrong with that.

"The consensus forecast is for growth to slow to a minimum while contracting volume remains at record levels," said the Engineering News Record.

The F.W. Dodge Division of McGraw-Hill predicted that the value of all U.S. construction contract awards will inch up only 0.3 percent to $429 billion in 2000 over this year. That minor nudge higher would still bring a record year for building. Dodge reports that total U.S. construction outlays increased 70 percent since the building boom began in 1992.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is much more optimistic - it sees construction activity advancing 4.4 percent over this year's level. Construction increased nearly 10 percent from 1998 to 1999.

"Commerce assumes a very small federal deficit and modest inflation rates, which should lead to lower interest rates and a fairly good macroeconomic climate for construction," said Patrick MacAuley, the department's chief construction economist.


Lions bring outdoors inside with Ford Field design

It's first down and ten to go for construction of the Detroit Lions new stadium. Well…actually it's first down and the length of a football field to go.

The Detroit Lions held a ceremonial "bricklaying" on Nov. 16 for construction of their new 65,000 seat stadium, Ford Field. The program, which brought together more than 300, including Lions players, politicians, media, and other interested parties, was held in the old Hudson's warehouse off of Adams Street in Detroit, which will be incorporated into the design of the new stadium.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something special in Detroit," said Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr. "When I was a kid in Detroit we were known as the City of Champions. We'll do our part to bring that feeling back to Detroit."

The $300 million stadium will replace the 25-year-old Pontiac Silverdome. The stadium in Pontiac is still a great venue to watch a football game, but a dispute over terms of the lease and a strong desire by the Ford family to bring the team back to Detroit prevailed.

To be constructed just east of the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park, Ford Field will be built under a structural steel-supported, permanent dome. Plans call for an entire wall of the old J.L. Hudson's Warehouse to make up the south wall of the stadium, and house120 suites. Other portions of the warehouse will be used for offices, retail and restaurants.

"We wanted to create a stadium design that was unlike any other in the country," said Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr. "We wanted to build a stadium with the best sight lines, and with tremendous character. The warehouse brings a portion of the outdoors, indoors."

The stadium, which will occupy 1.3 million square-feet of land and is expected to be completed in July 2002. Approximately 300 to 400 construction workers will be consistently employed on the project.

"We're a 298-year-old city, so we appreciate thoughtful preservation and re-use of things that are old," said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. "It's nice to see the old Hudson's warehouse is part of the plan. We recognize the Lions as an important partner with the city, and we're proud and excited to have them back."

FORD FIELD, the new 65,000-seat domed stadium unveiled by the Detroit Lions, will use a wall of glass to bring in plenty of natural light and the old Hudson's warehouse on the south side of the stadium to house luxury suites.

ON HAND AT the ceremonial bricklaying for the Detroit Lions' new Ford Field were Lions defensive lineman Luther Ellis, center, flanked by Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin and GDBTC President John Hamilton. Ellis read the invocation at the ceremony, and was good enough to remember the safety of the workers who will build the stadium in his prayer.


Help wanted: group seeks to match trades jobs with applicants

Don O'Connell
Managing Director
Great Lakes Construction Alliance

Detroit's booming construction market, estimated at $10 billion within the city limits alone, is generating tremendous career opportunities for its residents. Yet there are many hurdles that must be overcome if more workers are to don steel-toed boots and hardhats.

The Skilled Trades Roundtable, held Nov. 10 at IBEW Local 58, highlighted current efforts to recruit more minority and female construction workers from Detroit neighborhoods.

Sponsored by the Workforce Preparedness Partnership and the Detroit Workforce Development Board, and assisted by United Way Community Services, the workshop also highlighted the need for more effective partnering between the southeast Michigan construction industry and a broad range of public agencies.

Participants included representatives from the Great Lakes Construction Alliance (GLCA), who, in turn, represent the Great Lakes Fabricators & Erectors Association (GLFEA), Greater Detroit Building Trades Council (GDBTC), and Operating Engineers Local 324 on the alliance's board of directors. Also represented was the City of Detroit.

Superficially the solution to the problem appears simple. Current statistics indicate that while many suburban areas are scrambling to find workers, unemployment in Detroit is still running at a recessionary level of 7.2%.

Unfortunately, as the roundtable pointed out, poverty within the city generates difficulties that often bench potential job applicants. David Smydra, group executive of staff departments for the City of Detroit, said city residents are in great need of support systems. Many require educational help to qualify for job openings. In addition, until they've earned enough money to become independent, they'll also need help covering vital job related expenses, especially transportation.

And without access to extended child-care services, single parents are forced to rule out careers in the industry.

Yet, Smydra stressed, today's investment in development within Detroit is generating a vast potential for building an expanded middle class. It's too good to ignore. Ways must be found to take advantage of it to ensure the city's long term health and prosperity.

"The city simply doesn't have enough middle class residents," he said. "We need more African American contractors, more women contractors; more minority contractors."

Money from investors outside of the city is flowing into such projects as Comerica Park, the new stadium for the Detroit Lions, the three permanent casinos planned for the riverfront, and the Campus Martius project. The challenge remains to translate that $10 billion in investment into jobs for Detroit residents, to increase career opportunities for minorities and women.

Present trends indicate the "window of opportunity" for Detroit's surging construction market has at least a three- to four-year life. And, if we do things right, these opportunities in construction could continue for eight to ten years, if not longer. Looking beyond the city, construction in southeastern Michigan over the next three to four years may encompass some $30-40 billion in projects.

The GLCA is working with the city and organizations such as the Detroit Works Partnership to identify and address many worker recruitment and development problems. The alliance publishes a directory of construction union apprenticeship programs and serves as a clearinghouse for telephone and fax inquiries.

It can refer potential job applicants who need to enhance their reading or math skill levels to pass apprenticeship entry examinations to adult education programs. It also administers drug testing and safety training programs to enhance project site safety.

On the horizon, the GLCA is working with the city to develop a state-of-the-art construction jobs fair for high school students, to be held next spring at the Cobo Center. With the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce we're developing a construction employment opportunity website, part of the chamber's effort to generate a "virtual career fair" on the Internet.

The GLCA is continuing its GARDE (Gender And Racial Diversity Excellence) Award program, to promote minority and female workforce development in southeast Michigan construction.

The vast majority of construction in the city is performed by business and industrial concerns. In response, the alliance is planning a "CEO Summit" of the city's top 10-15 purchasers of construction services. The summit will create a forum for change that can be driven from the top down to enhance construction industry workforce development.

GDBTC Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin reported that over the past decade the organized construction industry in southeastern Michigan has made some progress in minority and female recruitment. Minority enrollment in 21 construction apprenticeship programs stands at 16.3% and female enrollment is at 5.46%. Among journeymen, about 10% are minorities and 1% are women.

Devlin said "there has been a 180-degree turn-around in hiring policies" because the industry simply can't afford gender and racial bias.

John Hamilton, a GLCA co-chair and president of Operating Engineers Local 324 - as well as the GDBTC - outlined the investment his union has made in Detroit's development, both in real estate and community groups. With the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters, the Operating Engineers recently purchased the former First Federal Building in downtown Detroit. Currently it's undergoing an extensive renovation, demonstrating a $22 million investment in union pension funds in the city's rebirth.

To draw attention to construction careers the operating engineers has been sponsoring career development billboards and television and radio advertising. It sponsors the Detroit Works Partnership and the Greater Detroit Partnership. It also heavily supports the Michigan Fair Contracting Center, which monitors compliance with the state's prevailing wage law on construction projects. Hamilton's local is also a sponsor of the Black United Fund of Michigan, the Red Cross, and the United Way.

All of Michigan's construction unions have similar community involvement efforts. Even so, as Great Lakes Fabricators and Erectors Executive Director D. James Walker Jr., observed, there's only so much the organized construction industry can do.

Walker said because union contractors are organized, they have the ability to work together and to partner with community groups to positively impact these issues.

Construction unions provide other socially valuable benefits, such as comprehensive health insurance programs, enhanced skills training, and retirement benefits.

These work in combination to assure that unionized construction workers can make positive contributions to their community while never becoming a burden. Yet many open shop contractors do a poor job in providing a similar level of benefits, if they provide benefits at all.

"You should welcome the use of union construction on your projects," Walker said at the meeting. "What owners should be encouraged to do is to look at the value union contractors bring to their projects, rather than place so much of an emphasis on price."



Schools again excluded from state inspections

Here we go again.

State Sen. Christopher Dingell earlier this month continued his fight for a bill that would require state construction inspections of school buildings. The bill would include school buildings and higher education institutions in a new uniform state building code.

Senate Republicans rejected the House-passed bill and sent it to a conference committee. The reason for the rejection: some Republicans prefer a plan that would still implement a statewide school construction inspection code, but would allow local school districts to opt for local inspections instead.

Legislation to strengthen the state law governing school inspections has languished in the state legislature for more than a decade. The State of Michigan has stronger laws on the books governing prison construction than school construction. Currently, only the fire marshal has any jurisdiction over school construction.

"Senate Republicans are endangering the lives of school children across Michigan by repeatedly refusing to include schools in the state construction code, "Dingell said.

While this is the third time Republicans have refused a bill to include school inspections in the state construction code, there seems to be a consensus to get the proposition made into law. Compromise legislation isn't expected until spring of next year.



Wide-flange beams still enjoy wide usage

By Marty Mulcahy

As the 20th Century draws to a close, this is another in a series of articles on building projects, milestones and changes in the construction industry during the last 100 years.

It's said that good design never goes out of style.

That adage certainly applies to the use of wide-flange beams in structural steel buildings and bridges. The simply designed, elegant I- and H-beams revolutionized the way buildings were constructed throughout this century, and today, there probably aren't any competing materials on the drawing boards that will knock off the supremacy of steel-beam framing in commercial and industrial buildings.

Michigan State University Civil Engineering Professor Frank Hatfield, said the wide-flange is "a near-perfect beam solution."

"Here is one of the most commonplace items on a construction site, but people never stop to think how important it is to the building industry," he said. The wide-flange design, he said, is optimized for bending while retaining strength, and has brought about reduced labor costs and has allowed for a better quality control through pre-fabrication.

The construction industry has come a long way in 130 years, when steel was in its infancy. Until 1870, very little steel was produced in the world. Production of iron was much more mainstream, and it had a number of uses, especially in manufacturing railroad rails and railroad car wheels. But most buildings were still relatively small and made from stone, brick or wood.

SUPERIOR STRENGTH, light weight, and adaptability have made the wide-flange beam one of the all-time great material designs in the building industry this century.

Skeleton iron and then steel framing originated in Chicago in the 1880s after the city's great fire. The first skyscraper, the 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago, was constructed with iron and steel framing. At the same time, technological advancements to the elevator also made taller buildings possible.

Soon steel beams - steel has a lower content of carbon than iron - became more prevalent, as designers found it to be more malleable, stronger and less brittle than iron. Between 1870 and 1880, U.S. steel production grew from 42,000 tons to 1.2 million tons.

Engineers soon found that riveting plates and angles together to form H-shaped beams made for a stronger section, but architects were still limited in designing tall buildings.

Then, an English-born inventor named Henry Grey developed a process for rolling wide-flange beams into a uniform thickness in the 1890s. A plant in Germany adopted the method, but U.S. plants were slow to catch on.

In 1907, Bethlehem Steel President Charles M. Schwab gambled the company's fortunes on the notion that the nation was ready to go on a building binge using the single-piece, H-shaped girders. Schwab spent millions of dollars to build a plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that heated and pounded out wide-flange beams. "If we go bust, we'll go bust big," Schwab said.

The first beam was rolled out in 1908, and a new era of true skyscrapers was born. For the first time, building engineers and architects knew they had a predictable, reliable framing material, and they could easily specify the size and length of girders they needed.

Through the years, steel beams have been joined primarily by welds, rivets and bolts. In the 1950s, bolts began replacing rivets, for a number of reasons. The installation of rivets was much more labor-intensive - a crew of four or five was necessary. Rivet installation was also very loud, and tossing hot rivets often proved to be a hazard.

Hatfield predicted that more efficient steel erection and connection techniques - featuring the use of slotted steel and fewer bolts - will become more prevalent in building design. Nearly 100 years after the first wide-flange beams were manufactured, "they still have tremendous advantages," he said.

Jim Walker, executive director of the Great Lakes Fabricators and Erectors Association, agreed.

"Steel has flexibility, strength, cost advantages, and allows for flexible scheduling. It can be hidden or exposed. I think steel will continue to be the framing material of choice for some time to come."


Final beam goes up at WSU law school

Expansion of the law school at Wayne State University moved a step closer to completion Nov. 1, when iron workers topped out the structure.

The 57,000-square foot annex to the existing law school is being erected in place of a recently demolished building that went up 30 years ago - it was deemed "temporary" at the time.

"We've had good weather, and everything's going well," said Rick Winarski, project superintendent for construction manager Barton Malow. "I know everybody's busy, but we've had enough people to man the project so far."

The $12 million addition will house mock court rooms and a 150-seat auditorium. Some 30 tons of steel will go into the building. Midwest Steel, Dumas Construction Services and Silva have been involved with the steel on the project.

Some 40 trades workers are on the project, which is expected to wrap up in September. "We're moving right along," said Dumas Project Supt. Dave Wood. "Now were on to setting the decking, pouring the floors, and building the stairs."

This project is part of a new round of construction that's changing the look of the Wayne State campus. The school is spending $132 million to finance new construction, repair and maintenance on the campus.

IRON WORKERS who helped top out the expansion of the Wayne State University Law School.



BUILD Fund ready to build union with pension dollars

Michigan has another path to building union.

The BUILD Fund announced last week that it has opened up shop, and it's billed as another source for tapping labor and pension fund money to construct projects with union labor.

The Building Union Investment and Local Development Fund will complement existing national-based plans that use union pension funds for real estate developments.

"The BUILD Fund is open to pension plans wanting to use a portion of their assets to generate market-driven competitive returns, union jobs, and economic growth in their jurisdictions," said Tim Nichols, co-founder of the fund and former secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building Trades Council.

Nichols said the fund's niche is in backing smaller projects that would be "complementary" to established investors of union pension dollars operated by the AFL-CIO and Union Labor Life Insurance Co.

"The BUILD Fund earns returns for participating pension funds by investing in institutional quality rehabilitation, or to-be-built industrial, commercial and residential projects located in areas served by participating pension funds, using 100 percent union labor," said Scott Woosley, the fund's director of investments.

Currently, investors in the fund include the outstate Laborers, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 9, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 7, Zone 3.

For more information about the BUILD Fund, contact Labor-Management Trust Advisors, LLC, at (248) 637-2443, or 3155 W. Big Beaver, Suite 216, Troy, MI 48084.




AGC predicts more of the same
The nation's union construction sector is growing, but isn't overtaking the open shop. Wages are starting to climb slightly for all construction workers, union and nonunion. And skilled worker shortages remain a concern for the entire industry.

Those items topped the agenda last month at the Associated General Contractors Midyear Meeting in Chicago, as reported by the Construction Labor Report. It was evident that the nation's construction industry is healthy, but the contractor group, made up of union and nonunion contractors, sees some challenges for both the organized labor sector and nonunion shops:

  • The AGC expects that unions will continue to gain members - but so will the open shop. Market share for either side will not change significantly in the next few years. Unions represent about 20 percent of the U.S. construction workforce.
  • The Construction Labor Research Council's Robert Gasperow told the AGC that the 1990s have been a decade of missed opportunity for labor unions to expand their influence. For unions, "there is lots of room for improvement and expansion," he said.
  • Federal legislation that would benefit the nonunion sector is spinning its wheels. The national AGC adopted a resolution opposing the Clinton Administration's proposed "blacklisting" of contractors that are federal labor law violators. "If the federal government succeeds in this effort, the states will follow," said AGC Executive Vice President Stephen Sands.
  • AGC representatives also reported the Davis-Bacon Act is unlikely to be changed in the current Congress, the "anti-salting bill" is not likely to be approved by lawmakers and a measure that would restrict union-only project labor agreements has been stalled.
  • Pay increases for craft workers "are not keeping up with craft shortages" said Jeff Robinson, of PAS Inc., a construction industry observer. However, he said pay increases for both union and nonunion workers have been above average for all industries over the last several years. Pay increases in construction have been just above 3 percent each year in the last few years, but that percentage is climbing.
  • Negotiated wage-fringe increases in 1999 for unionized workers was $1.18 or 4 percent the first year; $1.12 or 3.8 percent the second year, and $1.24 or 3.7 percent the third year. Gasperow also told the Construction Labor Report that contract lengths of four or five years are becoming customary.

Big Tobacco gets a victory
Other building trades pension funds will probably be less likely to take on Big Tobacco, after the Arkansas Carpenters Health and Welfare lost a bid in court to have tobacco companies reimburse their plan for medical payments covering smoking-related treatment for plan participants.

The lawsuit by the Carpenters fund contended that tobacco companies conspired to hide the true dangers of smoking. U.S. District Judge James Moody dismissed the suit, and said the fund itself had no standing to bring the claims. He said the proper litigants would be the individuals affected by tobacco use.


The Building Tradesman Current Issue | Back Issues Index