Fresh Faces and New Functions

Fresh Faces and New Functions

You could mark O&G’s entry into the business of tenant fit-outs for corporate clients with the two-story renovation of business law firm Murtha Cullina in 2009. On the 29th and 30th floors of the tallest building in the state, CityPlace 1 in Hartford, 36,000 square feet were remade and refreshed: handsome casework, custom paneling, wooden curtain walls, acoustical ceilings, efficient lighting, with new flooring, new wall finishes, and new office spaces. Crews worked to successful completion as other firms conducted their business, uninterrupted, on the floors above and below.

Many other corporate fit-outs have followed, of all sizes and complexities, many of them for marquee clients (see page 5). Some projects have completely demolished and repurposed spaces – manufacturing for the modern office, for instance. Others have reworked existing interiors into new forms with improved functions. Some build-outs have relied on conventional construction techniques, and others have installed customized pre-built modular wall systems. Each one has been executed with skill and a focus on serving clients with excellence.

We profile two of O&G’s most recent tenant fit-outs here: the first for America’s second-largest parking company that began with an enterprising twenty-something man in Hartford, the second for a global provider of integrated intelligence for the financial service industry in a sleek new Norwalk headquarters.

LAZ Parking

In the heart of Hartford – a perfectly appropriate location for a company that loves its employees, just check its website and see – on the 13th and 14th floors of One Financial Plaza, the Gold Building, Alan Lazowski has positioned his corporate team in handsome new spaces in a Class A office tower.

Lazowski is the Chairman, CEO, and founder of LAZ Parking. The notion that he could turn parking lots into a big business, alongside a pair of equally upbeat and tireless friends, came to him as a young man hired to park cars as a summer moneymaker. A touch of kismet still covers the enterprise: two friends serendipitously parking cars in Boston and LA, teaming up and building a car parking business that they determined had to be different from any other anywhere because of the high value they place on all people.

A few decades later, with LAZ Parking thriving, Lazowski formed another partnership and bought the Gold Building. He wanted to create a striking new home for LAZ Parking there, rich with vivid “LAZ blue” accents and demonstrating in glass, drywall, and concrete his love of his team. The spaces would convey the “LAZ mojo” – one mantra is “we check egos at the door so everyone wins,” another is “create opportunities for employees and value for our clients,” another is “never ever give up.” That mojo, the LAZ Way, has grown the business into the second largest, fastest growing parking company in America with, unsurprisingly when you witness how they value people, the highest employee retention.

O&G’s Scott Macey was the superintendent in charge of the eight-month renovation, working with Tecton Architects and the LAZ project team. It could not have been a better client-builder fit. Macey is easy to approach. Instantly likable. He exudes warmth and professionalism the first time you meet him. “I want everybody happy,” Macey says. And how does he accomplish that? “I follow an O&G motto which goes, “Make sure your client sleeps at night.’”

“I want everybody happy,” Macey says. And how does he accomplish that? “I follow an O&G motto which goes, ‘Make sure your client sleeps at night.’

Scott macey, O&G Superintendent

LAZ Parking’s corporate offices, with their newly connected floors, is 40,000SF of meeting rooms, office spaces, and ample common areas. (An aside: studies of people in organizations have confirmed what we all would intuit, that the “random collisions” of people in common areas who otherwise would not interact lead to lots of good things for companies, not the least of which is creativity and camaraderie.)

With demolition already completed on the 13th and 14th floors, “I walked into a blank canvas here on day one,” says Macey, “and I was on site every day until the final punch list item was checked off.”

O&G project manager Ray Wiley, having worked in both military and civilian construction for nearly 45 years, brought wide-ranging experience in corporate fit-outs to his oversight of the project. “Building out a space consistent with branding and the corporate image is an exacting thing. There are lots of bits and pieces, and lots of detail work involved from colors to architectural details. They all convey an image and it has to be right. LAZ and Tecton created an interesting parking garage feel especially in common areas with unfinished concrete flooring and exposed ceilings and parking striping on the floors and graphics at the elevator lobby.

Our priority was to get all the work right, get it coordinated and completed on time, and turn over the space on the schedule. COVID interfered at the end but Scott still met the time frame.” The eight months of build-out unfolded uneventfully for Macey and his crews, though not without the challenges that come with working around occupied spaces and above street level. There was the logistics of sharing the building’s single freight elevator with all the other tenants and coordinating the timing of deliveries of materials so as not to impact them. Without any other way to the 13th and 14th floors – no construction crane alongside the building as you’d see with brand new construction – materials had to specify that would fit that elevator. Noise levels were monitored out of respect for tenants above and below. Building a staircase to connect the 14th floor through the executive suite to the 13th floor through its dining area – there had only been an elevator or emergency egress stairwell before – was one of the largest undertakings and the noisiest. Macey planned demolition and any other loud construction work for weekends and overnights.

“The biggest thing with tenant fit-outs is being hands-on with the owner, the architect, the interior designer, and the engineer,” says John Humes led O&G’s Special Projects Group through which most tenant fit-outs are run. He talks about budgets versus design wishes: “You sit down and talk, as the builder. You have a budget and you have to make suitable suggestions to keep the intent of the design intact but stay within budget. I ask, ‘What can you do without that will save us enough to put back in for that special feature you really want?’ It’s always a bit of a tug of war but it’s a good one to have. You only run into problems when you don’t talk to the designers and owners and make decisions based on what you think.”

Work was complicated when LAZ and the original architect parted ways and Tecton Architects, with whom O&G has frequently collaborated, came aboard. Humes, Wiley, and Macey found themselves spinning plates, keeping the project moving ahead here, then there, as new drawings would issue from Tecton.

Macey looks back with satisfaction. “There were a few hiccups, mostly tying in the new mechanicals and making sure they were compatible, but there always are small things. It’s inevitable. Jane Davey and Marcia Lazowski from LAZ, and Nina Lapinski of Tecton were always easy to talk to and excellent to work with.”

“We’re just thrilled with the space,” says Davey, LAZ Investments’ Director of Acquisitions and Asset Management. It was the first time she had managed a construction project. “I appreciate working with the O&G team and I can’t say enough about Scott. We’re a hands-on bunch, there are plenty of chiefs and not many Indians here. Scott always worked with us, with a smile.”

Factset

FactSet is another business success story, a provider of integrated data, analytics, and systems for financial firms seeking a competitive advantage when investing their clients’ money. FactSet has offices in 22 countries serving asset managers domestically and abroad, but their Norwalk offices, just off the Merritt Parkway, would be their flagship corporate showcase.

Because of particular expertise, O&G was chosen for the buildout team at FactSet. O&G was selected by second-tier subcontractor Greenbox, a Connecticut-based interior construction firm, and modular wall supplier. O&G would be its factory-certified installer for the custom walls made by DIRTT Environmental Solutions (or simply, DIRTT). The architecture and interior design firm for the project, Perkins Eastman, had specified a prodigious number of these sophisticated modular wall units – 4,995 linear feet worth.

DIRTT, clever shorthand for “Do It Right This Time,” delivers modular wall systems that are specified by designers and architects, engineered and built in DIRTT’s factories based on plans and field measurements taken at the project, and shipped to those sites rapidly, sometimes in days, with the intention of “fitting the base building perfectly.” These custom, modular DIRTT walls carry their own power, data, and security cabling and come in environmentally friendly UV-cured designer finishes.

“DIRTT approached us some time ago,” recalls Humes, “and asked if we would be interested in becoming one of their union installers. I particularly liked the fact that they train all installers the same way at their own sites.” O&G invested in the certification, sending superintendent Kevin Robichaud and carpenter foreman Paul Jefferis for training in the controlled environments of DIRTT’s Calgary and Phoenix factories.

From June 2019 through January 2020, Robichaud and Jefferis ran their twenty-person (give or take) crew every day but Sundays. They started early, at 4 AM, to minimize any noise impact on another business in the space below. They worked ten hours a day installing DIRTT wall units in FactSet’s five floors and penthouse common areas, across 60,000SF of office space. In addition to almost a mile of DIRTT walls, O&G crews also hung three hundred doors.

As Robichaud explains it, all the prep work – the running of service cabling (electrical, data, security) and construction of ceilings, conventionally built adjoining walls, and a raised floor system – was performed by other contractors before the DIRTT wall work could proceed. As the wall units arrived from the factory in the order of need, their aluminum frames were assembled, stood in
place directly onto the carpet or hard flooring, leveled, and plug-and-play internal cabling connected to the feed. TVs and sound systems were installed next and lastly, the walls were closed with finish wall panels that DIRTT calls tiles. Where there were decorative glass walls, and there were many, glass was slid into the waiting aluminum frames and secured with tight-fitting rubber trim.

“There were over 100 TVs between 32 and 100 inches. Those were installed on the media walls,” says Robichaud. “Many of the offices and conference rooms also had at least one entire wall that was an interactive whiteboard.”

While most DIRTT walls were installed smoothly, there were those that needed rework. This is to say that because the units ship built to plans and field measurements, they are what they are. And when the field conditions changed and no longer matched the drawings (an adjoining wall being an inch or two closer to or farther from the spot where the DIRTT wall was supposed to fit, for example) the wall unit could not be nudged, trimmed, shimmed or cajoled to fit. Compounding matters on occasion, while a wall unit was being remade, work with the other units that fit to it could not proceed, so crews recalibrated and jumped ahead to push the work elsewhere.

Greenbox had a designer at the site for most of the project. Robichaud appreciated her responsiveness: “She worked closely with Paul and me, resolving issues that popped up along the way.” Robichaud, Jefferis, and their crews pushed hard, doing whatever they needed to do to make up for time lost beyond their control – “We had to be savvy,” says Jefferis – so they could execute a quality installation and finish on time for the owner.

Robichaud sums up the FactSet effort: “We had solid working relationships with Greenbox and the prime contractor’s people on site. After all the months of long hours and the hectic times and the adjustments the final product is beautiful, a modern office space that’s very impressive to see, something to be proud of.”

“It’s sad.” So says Jane Davey about the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on LAZ Parking’s spiffy new digs. “We’d outgrown our old offices, we wanted this beautiful new space, and it’s hard now to see it so underutilized. We’ve got lots of open spaces for collaboration between our team members, but we’re only seeing 15 to 30 people here on any given day.” While most employees at LAZ Parking and FactSet are working remotely, what awaits them when restrictions left – happy creative encounters, camaraderie, the energy of a busy office – will happen in handsome and highly functional spaces that pave the road to their
next level.