Keeping sharp eye on details
Jeff Dome, Clerk of the Works for the Greenfield High School project, outside the construction zone. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Jeff Dome, Clerk of the Works for the new Greenfield High School building, looking over the blueprints. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — Jeff Dome had barely taken two steps inside one of the rooms being constructed at the new Greenfield High School when he paused, stopping to look at a red valve set up against one of the walls.
“This is new,” said Dome, lingering to examine the valve and how it connected to the rest of the system that is becoming, slowly but surely, the new $66 million Greenfield High School.
As the project’s clerk of the works, it’s Dome’s job to notice and document the small details. The 61-year-old Shelburne resident is on site full time and reports to Construction Monitoring Services, the firm hired by Greenfield to manage the project and look out for the town’s interests.
So while masons, electricians, plumbers and other laborers continue their work on this portion of the new high school, which is scheduled to open its doors in September, Dome walks around with a watchful eye and a digital camera in his pocket. If he sees something that doesn’t match the plan designs, or something that isn’t up to the highest quality standard, he alerts construction supervisors immediately.
Dome understands just how much residents are counting on him to be their eyes and ears on site. Not a week goes by without him hearing from someone about the bungled Greenfield Middle School construction from two decades ago. That project was completed two years late, $6 million over budget and mired by lawsuits, contract terminations, unlawful spending and an investigation by the state inspector general’s office.
“It’s very hard to forget it,” said Dome. But changes in state law since then, he said, have required towns to hire a project manager (like Construction Monitoring Services) and to bring in a construction manager (Shawmut Design and Construction) earlier in the process to take responsibility for the design and assume more financial risk.
“Since the middle school debacle happened,” he said, “the whole set up of ... a project like this has changed. That situation really couldn’t happen again.”
The phrase “on time and on budget” has been the popular catchphrase of late at Greenfield High School Building Committee meetings. Dome said he has really found that to be true.
In Shawmut Design and Construction, the company hired to manage all construction operations, he’s observed a company that addresses any issues immediately and keeps Dome in the loop.
“They’re managing the schedule well, they’re managing the (subcontractors) well,” said Dome. “These are all people who care about what they’re doing. They’re going to make sure this turns out well.”
A construction career
Dome, whose family emigrated from the United Kingdom when he was 5, always enjoyed building things — starting with an idea and turning it into reality. But it wasn’t until he took a job as a laborer in Boston one summer about three decades ago that he realized he wanted to pursue a career in construction.
“I watched how a barn in the middle of the city was converted into a living space on Beacon Hill in Boston,” he said. “That was so fascinating to me that I just started learning the trade and then I started moving up from there.”
Dome has taken on various roles since, including carpenter, general contractor, construction manager, site superintendent and clerk of the works. In his mid 30s, he enrolled in University of Massachusetts’ “University Without Walls” program to study design.
He’s run his own construction management company, Dome Design/Build, for the past 10 years. The Town of Greenfield hired Dome to manage several small projects, including the re-roofing of the Greenfield Middle School — a direct result of the botched construction project.
All of his experiences, but especially those as a builder, help him now as clerk of the works. He’s the person that has feet in two camps: the actual construction on site and the construction administration that is planning and running the project. He has to be familiar with all the trades, even ones he’s never worked on firsthand.
All the while, Dome is looking around to see if all of the small jobs on this big project are up to quality standard, which also involves coordinating with outside agencies that also monitor the project and test materials. Detailed plans, often on giant sheets of white paper, fill his construction trailer on the Greenfield High School site.
“Every piece of steel out there has been drawn on a separate page and is numbered so that every piece fits together like a jigsaw puzzle when it arrives on site,” said Dome.
“There are a million moving parts and they’re all up in the air being juggled at the same time,” he said. “(But) there’s nothing haphazard about what happens here.”
Phase one nearing completion
Dome followed the early stages of the Greenfield High School project with interest and applied for the clerk of the works job nearly one year ago. He had never worked on a project this large, something that Construction Monitoring Services inquired about during his interview.
“My answer was this: ‘A construction project, no matter what the size, is always a very sequential set of events using different trades. On a larger project, it’s just many more of those in a more staggered fashion. So it’s the same thing, just on a larger scale,’” said Dome.
The sequential set of events has indeed happened: a new two-story building has emerged from a parking lot. It is scheduled to be completed this summer so that teachers and students can use it in the fall.
Construction crews have completed the interior walls on the lower floor and are working now to close up the upper floors. Some areas have ceilings while others allow a naked view of the mechanical systems that are being assembled through the school: sprinklers, fire alarm cords, electrical wires and pipes.
Welders are installing seismic restraints on walls in case of an earthquake. Other workers are focusing on working on rooms on the upper floor, like a large group instruction classroom that will have stepped risers like in a movie theater.
Outside, under the cover of plastic tents, masons continue their work on the building’s brick facade. Propane heaters make the working conditions comfortable, like this was just another room inside the building.
Work will need to be finished by the summer so that the interior building can be furnished and the outside cleaned up for the new school year.
But even when the building opens its doors in September, the full project still has over a year before completion.
Over the course of the next school year, construction crews will demolish the existing high school and build new portions of the school in its place. When the two halves of the puzzle are complete by September 2015, the auditorium will be the only thing that remains from the old school.
Work will happen during the school year with students still using portions of the current high school in the months and weeks leading up to demolition, which adds a new layer of complexity for construction workers.
“It’s a more challenging project going forward but that’s what makes it interesting,” said Dome. “And those of us who are builders like that kind of challenge.”