Landing the Big One
There was no panic among the staff at Murton Roofing Corp., Miami, when they won a 1.2 million square foot roofing job at the new Dolphin Mall nearby. Even when faced with labor shortages, damage from other trades, and 60 change orders just for the roofing, Murton Roofing stayed on course and delivered a quality roof with a 12-year, no-dollar-limit (NDL) warranty to boot.
Diving InJim Murton, president, seems born for this project. The third generation roofing contractor moved to the area in 1975 from Cleveland and started his own shop in 1992, “when it was more favorable for smaller guys.” The operation had an alliance with his brother’s company in West Columbia, S.C., and by the time his company started the Dolphin Mall project last February, it was no longer the scrappy upstart. At the same time, both Murton Roofing companies became founding members of the national roofing concern Tecta America Corp.
Murton has paid his dues and now enjoys his desk job, but can’t resist getting into the nitty gritty details of a project. He’s able to blend a national focus with his own regional realities, like labor. For instance, he avoids leasing laborers even in such a tight market because of the company’s focus on production. “If I add 20 more laborers to the project, my squares per man day go down dramatically,” Murton explains. “There’s no way we can make money just by putting guys up there.”
He would like to see a laborer/journeyman ratio of 2 to 1 on the job, but doesn’t always make it. Other companies have 7 to 1 ratios, but he prefers getting the best workers up to speed as quickly as possible. In fact, his foreman on the Dolphin Mall, James Scardina, is 28. “We’re giving the younger guys opportunities to move up quickly, otherwise we lose them,” says Murton. “It all comes down to how fast you can train them.”
He remembers the union training system up north, but organized labor is sparse in the south. He has worked with Miami-Dade County, which was considering certifying journeyman roofers like they do for plumbers and electricians. That measure hasn’t materialized, so Murton Roofing spends a lot of Saturdays getting one crew at a time up to production speed. That way, they focus on the 40-hour workweek, reduce overtime on the job, and still make aggressive production schedules like the ones dictated by the Dolphin Mall developers.
Another matter in the labor division was the fact that the developer carried worker’s compensation for the project; accidents were to be reported directly to the developer’s insurance company. That’s an approach that Murton is seeing on one out of every five jobs now, particularly since Florida has been pursuing WC fraud more aggressively. In 1997, the state set up a task force to investigate fraud regarding WC insurance premiums, complete with investigators that have arrest powers.
Murton Roofing’s regular insurance needs are handled through Tecta, which can use its 1,200 employees to negotiate better deals with carriers. The company’s experience modification rate is low, so Murton isn’t sure if the Dolphin Mall job is saving him anything. Still, when the marching orders for a safe workplace come from the top, that can make a safer — and more productive — enterprise. Free trucks were even used as incentives for companies with a perfect safety record.
Large ScaleThe immense scale of the project doesn’t become clear until the parking lot full of trucks comes into view and these are not shoppers. Hundreds of workers are on the job at any given time — Murton even arranged for some of his subcontractors to work at night — as they move about with an economy of motion. It’s quite a symphony to get all the trades to work in harmony, especially when everyone is acutely aware of the incentives and penalties. Because of its size, the Dolphin Mall project required contractors to separate the work into three self-contained projects. The idea was that if contractors ran it like three different jobs concurrently, the 13-month production schedule would be more easily met. Color-coded ID badges were monitored to ensure compliance.
Smaller sections of the roof were subbed out like 120,000 square feet of shingles and 6,000 square feet of tile. The company’s own sheet metal shop handled the 42,000 square feet of metal roofing, with the balance being GAF SBS modified bitumen with a mineral surface. That was installed over a vented base sheet fastened to a lightweight concrete deck.
Because there were oceans of roofing and only three hatches in the entire project, the GC left enough open spaces inside the buildings for big cranes to deliver materials. The fact that the lowest parapet wall on the perimeter was 37 feet off the ground made logistics even more complicated. Crews — as many as seven at one time — had to be careful about the live loads so pallets were spread out on 12-foot intervals and ramps were built to traverse the extensive network of expansion joints.
Those expansion joints were just one area of change orders. Originally there were only 700 feet of expansion joints but Murton Roofing — along with the roof consultant Jack Brown retained by the owner — eventually got the go-ahead for about 7,600 linear feet. About 60 percent of the overflow scuppers in the specs were in the wrong locations to adequately handle the summer deluges that Miami experiences; in fact, half of the new ones were installed in the wrong location. They also recommended that a vertical wall on the roof receive an elastomeric coating instead of just a plain stucco finish. When coupled with 42 skylights, repairs by other trades and countless penetrations, the change orders could have killed any profit margins. “We had a lot of change orders in the project and we had to do them in the same duration,” says Scardina, who credits the GC with facilitating the approval process. “I’ve never seen a contractor take that kind of consideration. It’s one of the smoother projects I’ve had with so many change orders.”
The inevitable changes were addressed up front when a unit price was set for items like drains or flashing anchor penetrations. Tenant penetrations were minimal and there were actual fields of roofing with no interruptions so lots of squares could be finished in a workday.
Murton Roofing has come a long way from being one of 20 roofing contractors at the pre-bid meeting. As the economy starts to tighten, the company is glad to have caught such a big project in its own backyard. This catch of the year just may be the last big one for awhile.