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Q&A: Sean Healy on construction, skyscrapers and laser scanners

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Wilmington-based Healy Long & Jevin is constructing a 19-story high-rise apartment tower next to the Temple University campus in North Philadelphia.

Sean Healy is vice president of Healy Long & Jevin, a fourth-generation family construction business based in Wilmington that began in 1891. The company is constructing a 19-story high-rise apartment building for a private developer next to the Temple University campus in North Philadelphia. It is currently adding a new floor to the cast-in-place concrete building every five days. We spoke with Healy about high-rise construction, laser scanners and challenges for the industry.

The company says building a skyscraper is an indicator of optimism. How is the high-rise construction business doing in 2018?

High-rise construction in our marketplace for 2018 is doing extremely well. From Washington, D.C., to New York City, it is tower crane alley. Under construction in Philadelphia is the new Comcast Technology Center, which is the ninth-tallest high-rise in the United States at 1,121 feet and 60 floors. Also the new W Hotel at 15th and Chestnut is under construction and will reach 51 floors. There are at least a half-dozen more buildings over 15 floors that are either under construction or newly finished. It’s an exciting time to see all of the new development.

We started to see real positive traction in 2015. A lot of projects that were shelved due to the struggling economy came online in 2015, and we’re continuing to work through the backlog. Coming into the third quarter of 2018, the amount of new project starts has definitely slowed, but we are feeling positive that the strong economy will help keep things rolling for a while.

Is hiring the biggest challenge for the construction industry right now?

Industry economist Ed Sullivan predicts strong growth in the next couple years but he says shortages of skilled laborers will be a factor. Hands down every contractor’s greatest challenge is finding enough talented manpower to build the projects. It is the hottest topic in our industry and one that every contractor is worried about. Our national construction associations such as the American General Contractors Association (AGC) and the Associated Builders and Contractors Association (ABC) and our local associations like the General Builders and Contractors Association of Philadelphia (GBCA) and the Delaware Contractors Association (DCA) are doing everything they can to recruit and promote jobs in the trades. There are programs that are being introduced in schools starting in the elementary levels all the way through high school.

We are trying to get the message out that a career in the trades can be just as much or more lucrative and rewarding than the typical college path. Ed Sullivan is 100 percent correct. Whether you are building a one-story retail store or a 30-story high-rise, the challenge to find the next generation of skilled and motivated workers is big.

High-rise construction is not for the faint of heart. The challenges grow as the building rises, but so does the sense of accomplishment. It is not easy, and schedules are very intense. You have to have an incredible team and work as a team. Some workers thrive in the high-rise environment, and others do not. The amount of manpower it takes to build a high-rise has decreased over the years because of the modern developments in building systems, technology and equipment, but you still need very skilled people. I am happy to say that we have a number of young, very hard-working people on our projects. We try to give them every opportunity to learn and grow in our company. They embrace the technology and a lot of them are following in their parents’ footsteps. But we still need a lot more young people coming into the trades.

Concrete withstands fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters more easily than other building materials but it requires a large volume of water and cement manufacturing produces emissions. Is the industry doing anything to mitigate that?

Yes, they are. It’s very technical and new, but concrete suppliers are being introduced to methods of producing concrete that will actually absorb C02 emissions. Concrete is the No. 1 building material on the planet, so it is exciting to see the advances to help build in a more environmentally friendly way.

How has laser scanning at job sites changed your daily routine?

Technology is moving at the speed of light in our industry. Laser scanning is one of them. We are seeing a tremendous amount of repurposing of old buildings. The old office buildings of yesterday, where everyone had their own office and huge amounts of space for data equipment and office equipment, has been replaced with large open and shared spaces. The old office buildings are being converted to apartments, condos and hotels.

Laser scanning gives the designers perfect information of what is currently there, so they can design the improvements.This translates to big cost savings, improved scheduling and accuracy. Also, in new construction, laser scanning can verify what has been built is accurate as designed.

What is the greatest improvement tech has brought to the industry in the last decade?

There’s a long list that each trade can cite, but it is of my opinion that BIM (business information modeling) has made the greatest impact. This is a collaborative process that brings architects, engineers and constructors together to model and build a new project. BIM has allowed the designers and constructors to spot issues (called clashes) in the construction design phase (modeling) rather than during construction, where it can be very costly to change. BIM has also allowed contractors to pre-manufacture and deliver large pieces of a project, saving time and money. BIM is the future and will continue to make a large impact
on the industry.

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