For example, Local 638 members have worked on many large residential complexes, but they are not used to working on occupied spaces, says Richard Roberts, the union's business-agent-at-large. "We made changes to our labor agreement to show the end-user that we're flexible on the schedule for the residents," he says. These changes include agreements on shift work and a no-strike provision, he adds.

To lessen the project's impact to the community, the crew built a confined compound on the cooperative's grounds to house workers, Gillen says.

Project scheduling is also important to keep work flowing smoothly without affecting occupants, says Maurice Curran, VRH vice president of operations and project executive. Late last year the team discovered that "each apartment had a little nuance that we had to deal with," he says. This included fixing holes and uneven molding.

In response, VRH developed a project schedule, a punch list and shared lessons learned, adding more time to tackle such complications going forward.

Streamlining Tasks

To save time and help streamline installation, FW Sims began using piping prefabricated off site at its own factory in Babylon, N.Y., late last year for most of the installation work.

The company also decided around the same time to start work sooner rather than later on the ground floor of the 21-story, double-core building No. 2, Gillen says. The two sections of this building, which contain 44 sets of risers, are connected by a common lobby.

"Doing the ground floor first connects all of the risers together, so when it's time to test for leaks and other malfunctions, this allows for 10 tests to take place rather than 44 individual tests," Gillen says.

On the worker front, the cooperative and TTFR had some issues of their own to tackle. Initially, they had hired a general contractor, which in turn hired a mechanical contractor for the first three buildings of the project. However, they soon "realized that the mechanical contractor was the 'highlight' of the project after some issues," and they wound up replacing the mechanical contractor with FW Sims after a bidding process.

FW Sims then hired VRH as GC, Worsham says. "Our goal was to solicit an interest of large mechanical contractors who are used to working on big, vacant projects," Worsham says. "Performing a project of such a big scope on an occupied facility is an unprecedented approach. It's more of a renovation than a new building," he says.

For VRH, which has a 20-plus-year working history with FW Sims, the situation was unusual, Curran says. "We're usually the construction manager that hires mechanical subcontractors," he says. "But they [FW Sims] got this opportunity so they approached us."

The project has also attracted the attention of other New York City cooperatives. Worsham says that the complex has received calls from others asking for details on how to tackle such a project. "This can open up a whole new market for us," he adds.

New Opportunities

Roberts also says there may be new opportunities for steamfitters. He says that the many residential New York City apartment complexes that date from the 1950s and 1960s have piping in "desperate need" of repair or replacement. "We believe that there is tremendous room for growth in the residential sector as building owners and property managers are faced with aging mechanical systems that need to be replaced," Roberts says.

Meanwhile, the Penn South project is ahead of schedule and on budget, Worsham says. More importantly, he adds, there has been little disruption to occupants.