A Soupcon of Theory to Provide Context:
You may not be familiar with the history of ‘quality control’ as a means of ensuring that a product, whatever it may be, fulfills its intended purpose; is worthy of the producer; and is a joy to own and use.
In the early days, quality control discipline took place through inspections. It began by inspecting/testing the product before delivery. If problems were found, the product was sent back for corrections. Eventually, inspection steps were inserted at various mid-points in the production process, so that corrections could be made before the defect was embedded deep within the final product, and possibly wasteful further production steps were made.
A ‘total quality revolution’ took place decades ago, and was the major impetus behind vast improvements in auto manufacturing, enabling Japanese auto builders to eventually leave traditional US auto manufacturers in the dust.
The fundamental principle involved in this transition was that you don’t inspect quality into a product, you build it in. The focus changed from finding defects in the product with greater efficiency, to eliminating them in the first place by appropriate methods of defect elimination and process improvement. Every phase of a product, from design engineering to materials purchase, came under the purview of this philosophy. ‘Continuous measurable improvement,’ and wide use of metrics became standard management terminology.
Eventually, because they had no choice, US manufacturers got on board, and we think most would agree that cars produced in the last few decades are vastly superior in all regards to the vehicles we grew up with. Quality of design, quality of manufacture, and quality of materials have all improved by leaps and bounds, and reliability and durability have increased as a result.
Exciting News to Report:
In a Press Release received at Other Side offices today, we learned that a new building contractor calling itself Construction Fiasco, Inc is setting up operations here in Brunswick. It was recently founded by the Cheatham brothers, Howie and Dewey, shown in the photo above that accompanied the release. Stimulated by the announcement, we contacted the principals to provide additional background for this report.
“We see Brunswick as an opportunity rich market for our specialized skill set,” Howie told us. “We’re mindful of the stringent demands of the Brunswick community, and that’s why we’re diligently pursuing TRS Gold Level Certification,” Dewey added.
“Traditional contractors have promised quality work to get a contract, and some have even gone so far as to have an on site ‘clerk of the works’ during construction to see that things are done right. Our approach is unique; we come in after the job is done, the project has been delivered, and the building has been occupied. We renovate quality in. Others may think it’s too late, but it’s never too late to make things right. That core principle drives every aspect of our business model,” said Katie Ann Ching, CFO of the new firm.
“She’s something, ain’t she? Everyone calls her ‘K.A.’ around the office,” chimed in Howie.
“There’s no truth to the rumor that we may be affiliated with other local builders,” K.A. assured us. John (Johnny Protocols) Richardson, she told us, backs up the claim, suggesting anyone who would say such a thing has a hidden political agenda.
We asked what the local business opportunities looked like to the firm, and Dewie gave us these examples.
“First, take The McLellan. We see real opportunity here, with hidden quality problems and obscenely expensive to operate mechanical systems.” He referred us to this background info on the building (http://www.oaconstruction.com/mclellan-building.aspx):
This three-story, multi-purpose building is home to Bowdoin College offices, conference rooms, computer training labs, art studios, photographic dark rooms and storage space. The building is fully air-conditioned and features high-efficiency windows throughout.
Challenges to construction included the presence of coal ash on the site, leftover from the days of steam locomotives. The team had to encapsulate the ash before construction could begin. Then, steel piles had to be driven into bedrock to support a foundation that included 118,000 pounds of steel reinforcement to ensure structural integrity.
Set in a predominantly residential neighborhood, the shingle and clapboard building, with its intricate window trim, blends in well with its surroundings.
He sent us some photos that reveal the kind of ‘aftermarket’ opportunities Construction Fiasco will home in on.
“You know the old saying about high-efficiency windows and intricate window trim…..as our CFO, K.A. Ching says, you can’t expect these things to last forevert, and just how long do you expect to be able to see through them?”
“Next,” he told us, “there’s the Cooks Corner Fire Station.”
“This building was designed to last,” Howie added, referring us to this descriptive info:
The challenges: This project was the result of a design competition, sponsored by the Town of Brunswick. Ouellet Associates stressed the importance of longevity—constructing a building that could serve the community into the next century. To meet these goals we selected durable building materials that will require minimal maintenance.
(We confess to being in a quandary as to what ‘into the next century’ might mean when you build a facility in 2005/2006, but why pick nits?)
One man’s longevity is another man’s opportunity we suppose. Apparently some ‘anomalies’ have surfaced at the Fire Station, as described in this report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/219739118/Wright-Pierce-report-on-Cooks-Corner-Fire-Station.
“Besides fixing those problems, we think the kitchen could use some updating to make it show better, and it’s not up to date with the latest fire codes. Besides, the color scheme doesn’t reflect the chicest decorating trends, and we think it’s important to keep staff morale as high as possible. So we’re proposing a new palate to bring crew quarters into this decade.”
Dewie went further, adding “we’re proposing to be put on retainer to deal with problems at the new Police Station, once the inevitable occurs.”
“We’re looking for a proven local business consultant and a prominent, connected attorney to help us set up the deal,” he noted. “We’ll even pay to have our company logo added on Brunswick Taxi vehicles.”
The Cheathams cited missed opportunities in the past that drove them to conceive this opportunity based enterprise. They mentioned the local Post Office, which has spent at least 6 months on front step repair and ramp replacement. “We would gladly have spread that work out over a longer time frame…say a year….to allow local residents to become more familiar with our work. And it would have given us more time to meet our new neighbors.”
They also emphasized the importance of making critical renovations before buildings are demolished.
“The Old High School got away from us; we were just a germ of an ideal when it went down.”
“But look at the lesson the town learned with the old Times Record Building. They bought it for $1.3 million, and quickly realized it would need a good half a million in improvements before it could safely be torn down and the site cleaned up,” the Cheathams pointed out.
“Now the town wants to tear down the Jordan Acres School, but it’s in no condition to be safely demolished. You can’t risk the health and welfare of your employees in a job like this. We’re confident we can repair the major structural and cosmetic problems to ensure a safe and TRS certified building removal,” Howie said.
The brothers have their eyes on the Federal Street municipal campus as well. The existing Rec Center and now vacated Town Hall are slated for the wrecking ball to make way for a new building to house CEI offices.
“We see it as a matter of community self-esteem to have both buildings in tip-top shape before they’re wiped from the earth. Proper staging and curb appeal are ultra-important when undertaking such an operation in a historic down-town neighborhood. The buildings deserve to be treated with respect, and the neighbors as well. Letting go, closure, and all the other civic anxieties come into play. Done right, we think it can be handled as a celebration of Brunswick’s Downtown vitality, complete with appropriate festivities.”
“As you can see, our plate is pretty full right at the git-go,” K.A. Ching said, “but we’re already incorporating HBS School, the High School, and Maine Street Station buildings into our long range strategic plan. It’s only a matter of time before our kind of expertise becomes a necessity, and we want to partner with the community as closely as we can.”
“That’s why we’re busy pursuing an unfair advantage in these important community pursuits. In matters like these, where civic identity and esteem is at stake, it’s important not to let the recklessness of the competitive free market distort priorities.”
The firm is using all the local influence available to them to push for a $600,000 initial grant from the Brunswick Development Corporation, well known venture capital source for those with the right connections.
“We promise that our use of those funds will provide local jobs, and the more we’re given, the more jobs we can create. The sky’s the limit from what we can see,” the CFO reminded us.
Suddenly warm memories of MRRA creating 17,000 jobs at the old Naval Air Station came rushing back.
As we ended our conversation, the Cheathams told us they were thinking of “Construction Now, Quality Whenever” as their corporate motto. “How do you like it,” they asked.
We allowed as how it certainly seemed to capture the essence of Brunswick, at least in one important area.