[caption id="attachment_22033" align="alignright" width="1000"] Jack Healy and his son Sean run Healy, Long & Jevin. // Photo by Ron Dubick[/caption]
by Kathy Canavan
Healy, Long & Jevin, a concrete contractor sandwiched between an Irish bar and a defunct-roller-rink-turned-used-Lexus dealership under the Elsmere bridge, is currently constructing the most expensive residential building in Philadelphia.
The father-son company is building 500 Walnut, whose uncompleted penthouse with unobstructed views of Independence Hall has already sold for $2,003 a square foot, a city record.
Healy is building the Incyte addition on Augustine Cut-off, and they've just signed to construct Christiana Care's $260 million maternity addition.
Tom Scannapieco, the developer of luxe 500 Walnut, said there were two reasons he
chose Healy to construct the glassy high rise with robotic parking that retrieves cars in 90 seconds: "We liked the people,'' he said. "And we liked the fact that they embraced some new technology that we thought would work for our building."
[caption id="attachment_22034" align="alignright" width="1000"] The Healy-built high rise at 500 Walnut St. is a tough job because the building is sandwiched next to the Penn Mutual Building and Independence Mall is a neighbor. // Courtesy of Healy, Long & Jevin[/caption]
The people are the Healy family from Wilmington, in construction since great-grandfather John E. Healy in 1891, cousins to Ellen Kullman of DuPont, sibling of T.J. Healy of the Healy Media Group, parents of Megan Corey, co-owner of Shop Mamie, and in-laws of Joe Corrado of Corrado Construction and Bill Freeborn of the Delaware Contractors Association.
Sean Healy, 44, and his father Jack, 69, are the dictionary definition of easygoing. Jack Healy and his retired partner Bobby Long came up with the company slogan: "Do It in Concrete." ("Everybody takes it the wrong way," Sean Healy said. "We get requests for our T-shirts from all around the world. Oh, yeah.")
Whether he's talking with employees or suppliers or subcontractors, Jack Healy said he puts himself in their place: "You have to preserve relationships. It's really just having a good attitude toward people. We'd rather switch than fight. Now, we can fight. I'll guarantee you that. But we like to work with everybody. I always tell people we're not in the construction business - we're in the people business."
The third name in the business title is Mike Jevin, who bought into the business but died before he could start work. They kept his name on everything.
Father-and-son doesn't mean mom-and-pop. Healy is a union contractor with 140 employees. Their large jobs run from $5 million to $20 million, and, to them, a small job is one under $100,000.
The technology that wooed Scannapieco is newborn tech that didn't exist when Jack Healy started his company in 1978 with the contract to build Delaware Correctional Center - smart machinery, Tekla 3-D modeling software, and computer programs for contracts, estimation, engineering and accounting.
Jack Healy said his son and a crew of young, tech-savvy guys really run the show now. With laser floor profilers, pumps that shoot 200 yards of concrete per hour and Tekla to spot problems before they happen, the concrete business is clearly no longer set in concrete.
"When we start a job, we need to keep moving on that job," Jack Healy said. "If we have to stop for details or engineering problems, that doesn't happen. Tekla helps us to look ahead and ask questions of the architects and engineers weeks or month in advance."
The software and the people who know how to use it with precision add 30 percent to 40 percent to the overhead, Sean Healy said, but they level a big bump that didn't exist when his father started the business.
"The design documents were much, much better years ago when the architect used to draw the entire building. We used to be able to hand over a blueprint to a superintendent, and he could build the building," he said. "Now you have multiple people designing things and they aren't communicating on a regular basis. We have to use tools to figure out where all the shortfalls are in the building design."
When developers hire architects for a lump-sum fee rather than on time and materials, often the documents are incomplete, he said: "Time is money. A developer might want to build that building as soon as possible, so, a lot of times, those documents might not be as complete as they could have been. I understand the process. Time is money. We get that. We fill in the gaps."
When construction money was flowing here in the '80s and '90s, Healy built Manufacturers Hanover Plaza, Wilmington Trust Center and MBNA's flagship Bracebridge Building on Rodney Square. When the homegrown market got bumpy, the Healys took smaller jobs. "Our industry is full of peaks and valleys. We started going after smaller jobs seven or eight years ago. It improves our bottom line but it also keeps our guys trained and qualified," Sean Healy said.
They also sought mega jobs in neighboring states to keep their crews working. "For the economy being bad, we kept a lot of Delaware people working. They might not have worked in Delaware, but we were able to keep our employees working because we went where the work is," he said. "And we've build a lot of really cool things in the mid-Atlantic area."
The result: The company is now a regional player known for doing heavy-duty work, difficult foundations and high rises in tight spaces. They compete with the Philadelphia's biggest dogs - Madison Concrete, builders of Wells Fargo Center, and B. Pettrini and Sons, contractors on the new Comcast Center.
Their current jobs include the University of Pennsylvania's Pearlman Center and Kennedy Health's new building in Cherry Hill.
The most challenging is 500 Walnut - a luxury glass tower in a tight space on a busy city street near Independence Hall. "It actually stares right down on the birthplace of our country," Sean Healy said. "We have five or six dedicated people on that job and all that they do is pore through the details to make sure we don't miss anything, because, when things do get missed, then we have to fix them, and fixes get very expensive. Concrete's not like wood. You can't pull it off and re-cut it. If you mess it up, you have to rip it out. We don't own an air compressor and a jackhammer because if we buy them that means we admit defeat. If we ever have a problem, I rent them."
The quickest big build was the undulating 300,000-square-foot dorm building at Rowan University that took seven months from groundbreaking to finish in 2016. ("There wasn't one square wall in the entire building," Sean Healy said. "It looks like the Phillies' "˜P.' ")
[caption id="attachment_22035" align="alignright" width="1000"] This Healy-constructed dorm building at Rowan University has nary a right angle. It's shaped like the Phillies' "P." // Courtesy of Healy, Long & Jevin[/caption]
"We have a staff of young, very smart people working for our company," Sean Healy said. "We don't have just the old pipe smokers anymore. We have these young guys who are really, really smart. We're kind of setting ourselves up for the next 38 years."
The company roster includes a full-time safety director. Crews start each job with a brief safety talk because an average day may include lifting a beam four feet thick and 50 feet long. "We do like the most hazardous contracting you can insure for," Sean Healy said. "Our safety manual is really our profitability manual. That's the kind of non-human side. The human side is we want all of our employees to go home the way they came and see their wives and kids at night."
[caption id="attachment_22036" align="alignright" width="1000"] Crew members prepare the base for a concrete section of the Rowan University dormitory project last year. // Courtesy of Healy, Long & Jevin[/caption]
As the year ends, Sean Healy is optimistic: "We're seeing a lot more development happening now, a lot more plans and buildings under design, than we have in a long, long time," he said. "The economy just feels a lot better."
Sean Healy said he's hoping his kids will someday follow him into the company where he wanted to work since he was a high school student helping out with Adventure Aquarium build in Camden.
His own father held him off for 10 years his college graduation. Jack Healy told him to find something else to do for a while. He gained valuable experience working on a dot.com that went bust and entering the management-development program at MBNA, but he returned raring to start. Now, he's all in. When he sees a problem, no matter what he's dressed in, he'll get in with the crew and rake concrete.
The Healys work together in an office on their property under the bridge, encircled by a meandering chain link fence that corrals a field of surplus parts, steel rods, concrete beams and an errant highway divider.
"My father and I share an office together and it's really awesome," Sean Healy said. "He's just a lot of fun to be with, and he brings a lot of experience to the job. A lot of times there's be family problems within a company, but we get along great and we have a lot of fun together. I don't see him retiring - ever. I've got the fifth generation sitting at home. Hopefully they'll continue the tradition."