A big project calls for big planning
All are necessary to complete a major construction project on time and to the customer’s satisfaction. And all came into play in the building of the Janesville Gazette Printing & Distribution Plant.
Poor weather and a big delay in receiving crucial steel pillars for the roof over the hall for the new press forced contractors to scramble and rearrange schedules.
But that’s the norm, not the exception, in the construction business, so the general contractor, J.P. Cullen & Sons of Janesville, and subcontractors rolled with the punches to get the job done right and on time.
“The first big thing was that in September and October (last year) we had a huge amount of rain that turned the site into a mud field,” said Chuck Flynn, who managed the project manager for Bliss Communications, the Gazette’s parent company.
“To keep the project on schedule, Cullen had to scrape out all the muck and replace it with gravel,” Flynn explained.
Rearranging work schedules because of rain and delivery delays is “fairly common,” said Joe Martino, site engineer for J.P. Cullen & Sons of Janesville, a business that’s been building major structures for 115 years.
“A good project manager will continually look at the project to re-sequence jobs to make sure it comes in on time,” Martino said.
“We ended up building the offices first rather than the production area,” he explained. “The original plan called for the production area to be done first.”
Weekly meetings with subcontractors kept everyone informed of problems encountered and the solutions developed,” Martino said. “Weekly meetings are critical to the success of projects.”
Among its many major projects, J.P. Cullen & Sons renovated the state Capitol in Madison.
The Gazette project was unusual in that “it’s not every day you put a printing press into a building,” Martino said.
One of the challenges there was that the concrete base for the press had to be “super flat,” Martino said.
“Because the machine had really tight tolerances on the flatness of the floor, it was a lot more strict than regular industry standards for a concrete floor,” said Doug Demrow, Cullen’s job superintendent for the project.
“There was no doing it twice,” Demrow said. “It was done once, and it was done right.”
Pouring the concrete was done in a single day, but it took a week to build the framework and get it in place to meet the floor’s flatness standards, he said.
While the project was the largest Bliss Communications and the Gazette have undertaken, it was no more than a medium-sized job for J.P. Cullen & Sons and many of the more than 40 subcontractors and material suppliers.
The next major hurdle was a four-week delay in the delivery of what is called “high steel,” the 92-foot-long steel beams that support the roof over the press hall, Flynn said.
“We couldn’t enclose the press hall for winter weather, so we took extreme measures. We didn’t have a roof up over the press hall, so we used a one-million-BTU heater and a plastic enclosure,” he said.
The beams were delayed because of a problem at the steel mill, not the fabricator who cut the girders to the correct length, Martino said.
Because the beams—and therefore the roof—were delayed, a crew of five to eight workers from Southern Wisconsin Roofing had to put on the roof in February, sometimes during subzero temperatures, Flynn noted.
“There were some days when it was pretty windy, cold and snowy,” said Eric Kirner, owner of Southern Wisconsin Roofing.
The weather was bad enough that some days no roofing was done. But the workers know how to deal with bad weather, Kirner said.
“We’ve done it before. You just wear the right clothing and take enough breaks,” Kirner said.
Flynn also credited Amp Electric and Hooper Corp., the plumbing subcontractor, for going above and beyond to get the job done on time.
“It was not a big job,” said Mike Peterson of Hooper Corp. “It was by no means a small job, probably about medium.
“The job changes; you have to change with it,” Peterson said. “Anybody who is a contractor on those jobs who thinks they won’t change is fooling themselves.”
J.P. Cullen & Sons’ weekly meetings are fairly standard in the industry, Peterson said.
Without such continual communication, working on a project such as The Janesville Gazette Printing and Distribution Plant would be like trying to get a bunch of people on the same bus without giving them the bus schedule, Peterson said.
“On a job like this, typically you’re always rearranging the schedule,” said Todd Sullivan of Amp Electric. “But it’s typically not as dynamic as this was.”
Sullivan’s company was working on the north and south ends of the 54,000-square-foot building and had expected the concrete floor in the central area would be done so they could move heavy equipment, such as man-lifts, over it.
But because the roof—and therefore the concrete—had not been installed, “it almost turned that into two different job sites,” Sullivan said.
So Amp deployed more equipment than anticipated and wound up scheduling fewer workers than anticipated at the project’s beginning and more at the end to catch up, Sullivan said.
Coordinating deliveries among suppliers was difficult, “but it worked itself out,” Sullivan said.