Contractors Build Momentum in the Region

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With 22 open projects, Dawn Inc. is busier than ever.

The Warren contractor is finishing up what CEO Dawn Ochman describes as a facelift to the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Youngstown, a project that includes replacing stairs, landscaping and installing new signage. The firm is preparing to begin a similar project at the nearby Thomas D. Lambros Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.

“Part of it is we had a good bidding season,” Ochman says. The company also does many military projects, she says.

It has five at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base worth a collective $13- million and is doing an $11.5 million National Guard hangar in Mansfield.

In addition, Dawn Inc. – in partnership with AMHighley Co. in Cleveland – is serving as construction manager at risk for the upcoming $25 million renovation of the main building of Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County.

Work on that project is expected to start in August. “That job is going to go through 2022,” Ochman says.

Contractors generally forecast a strong construction season, even with work slowdowns or stoppages related to the coronavirus pandemic, as they anticipate the GM-LG Chem battery plant project in Lordstown.
Nonresidential construction in the five-county region is slightly off last year’s pace but that’s not a situation industry observers expect to continue.

According to the Dodge Local Construction Reports Bulletin, nonresidential construction numbers in the region are up for 2020 year-to-date, $117 million through April, compared with $77 million during the same period last year. The bulk of that, however, is in what is termed non-building construction – streets, highways, bridges and wastewater projects.

This year, the Dodge report shows $24 million in commercial building projects permitted through April, down from $26 million last year. The numbers are what Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, anticipated based on the impact of the coronavirus.

Projects in Pennsylvania are ramping up again after being largely shut down until May 1. In Ohio, most construction did not shut down completely. “There were some projects that were shut down and affected, but for the most part, projects continued to keep going,” Reilly says.

For all of calendar year 2019 – a year that included the start of construction for the $170 million TJX Companies’ HomeGoods regional distribution center – permits were issued for $247 million in commercial construction projects, plus another $183 million in non-building construction.

The shell nears completion at the $170 million HomeGoods distribution center under construction in Lordstown. No completion date has been announced.

Dollar volume typically fluctuates from year to year, Reilly says. “Wait until they book the battery plant. That’s going to throw it completely off from the prior year,” he says.

Final site work and grading nears completion for the $2.3 billion battery plant being jointly developed by General Motors Co. and LG Chem in Lordstown, not far from Old Dominion Freight Line’s $7 million terminal project for which site work is also underway.

Barton Mallow of Southfield, Mich., is the general contractor for the battery plant. The first concrete should be poured this month, says GM spokesman Dan Flores.

Meanwhile, the sprawling $170 million HomeGoods regional distribution center for TJX Companies Inc. is taking shape. Although she would not provide details about work at the site or the expected opening of the warehouse, TJX spokeswoman Erika Tower says company officials “are pleased that we are continuing to make progress.”

The pandemic slowdown is not yet reflected in construction man-hours for the five-county region because of the two-month delay in reporting.
For the Builders’ fiscal year, which begins in October, reported man-hours were 1.814 million, down 1% from the previous fiscal year. One factor in the man-hours not dropping more is the relatively mild winter, according to Reilly.

“Over the next couple months I expect to see those man-hours drop more as the April and May man-hours are reported,” he says.

In Boardman Township, several projects passed site plan reviews last year and have been completed or are continuing, reports Krista Beniston, director of zoning and development.

Those include the recently opened Starbucks café and South Park Square being developed at the former Kmart site on U.S. Route 224, the Sheetz service station being built at 224 and Southern Boulevard, the renovation of the Southern Park Mall and several car dealership projects.

The township also issued a zoning permit in April for the new Meijer store, she says.

Crews are preparing the ground and clearing trees and brush at the site, reports Frank Guglielmi, senior director of corporate communications for the Grand Rapids, Mich., retail chain. “Boardman is an active site and we hope to open there in 2021,” he says.

The first phase of the $4.2 million Canfield Fair Event Center is expected to be complete in time for this year’s fair.

Also in Boardman, Tervo Masonry of New Wilmington, Pa., is just finishing up work at the new Sheetz station, says owner Aaron Tervo. His company also has done work for the renovation at Southern Park Mall, including the new exterior wall that faces the space Sears once occupied.

“We bid quite a few projects, giving them different options on things to do. But they haven’t pulled the trigger on it quite yet,” Tervo says.

The company was shut down from mid-March thorough April. During the pandemic, construction wasn’t considered an essential activity in Pennsylvania.

“We’re really busy right now,” Tervo says. “We have close to 50 people on the payroll.”

Tervo Masonry is finishing work on a new joint electrical training center in Neshannock Township, Pa., where it also wrapped up the Hess Ice Rink. The company just started work on the athletics building at Westminster College and will be working on its Hoyt Science Center.

Adolph Johnson & Son Co. is the general contractor on the Boardman Sheetz project. President Paul Johnson says some health-care and industrial projects were postponed during the pandemic; but work continued on others and the company is picking up other jobs as well.

“It’s not the vibrant business that we expected before the virus hit. But we’re doing OK, all things considered,” Johnson says.

The Mineral Ridge contractor’s workload includes a school project in Warren and a light-industrial building in North Jackson.

“It’s kind of interesting,” he says. “It’s like the small-business owners are the ones that are most interested in starting back up or continuing and the larger ones are the ones that are slower to return.”

Dom Patella, project manager/estimator for Patella Carpet & Tile, Boardman, says this is the busiest time of year for the floor covering installer and retailer. About 70% of its projects are in schools or government buildings, he says.

“We’re pretty steady,” Patella says. “Our plate’s filled but not overfilled. There’s always room for more.”

Many of the company’s large projects are out of town, with jobs in Pittsburgh, Akron and Canton, as well as for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority.

In Howland Township, so far one non-residential project – a nearly $2 million expansion for Liberty Steel – has been permitted year-to-date, reports Kim Mascarella, township planning director. For all of 2019, the township issued permits for about $10.7 million in projects, including the expansion of Avalon Inn and Resort, now known as The Grand Resort.

At the Eastwood Mall complex in Niles, work is ongoing at the new Eastwood Event Center being built by DeSalvo Construction, Hubbard. The event center, which will be operated by Columbus Hospitality Management, is scheduled to open Oct. 1.

“Our contractors have been making good progress on the facility and hope to soon have it ready for the operator we’ve chosen to run it,” says Eastwood Mall spokesman Joe Bell.

At the same time, work is halted on the new Boscov’s department store that will occupy the space previously held by longtime tenant Sears as well as some additional space, he says.

Boscov’s has paused construction at Eastwood to focus on reopening its existing stores, Bell says. “I’m assuming they have some construction needs associated with that,” he adds.

Lencyk Masonry Company Inc., Boardman, has several out-of town school projects underway, reports President Larry Lencyk. Closer to home, it has about 20 jobs, including work for Youngstown State University and CTM Labeling Systems in Salem.

Other local work includes the $4.2 million event center under construction at the Canfield Fairgrounds.

“Right now, we’re pretty much back to almost normal,” Lencyk says. “We’ve been ramping up for about the last three or four weeks.”

Employment is about 125 as of June 10, and Lencyk expects it to soon reach 150. The company is bidding “quite a bit of work,” he adds. “A lot of the bigger projects are still out of town but there are plenty of smaller projects in town to bid at this point.”

Pictured at top: The Sheetz project in Boardman progresses as contractors await two big projects in Lordstown.