Our next, and much larger project was in Queens, an 800-apartment complex on Woodlawn Avenue near the main thoroughfare of the borough, Queens Boulevard. The complex included a small strip mall. By this time, Joe Blitz had gone over to Paul’s shop and David and Norman had hired a man to replace him. They thought this replacement guy was terrific because he had a blog in which he proudly displayed his construction licenses from 48 states. David and Norman presumed that he had supervised construction in all those states, but I didn’t buy that logic; I guessed that the reason this man had so many licenses was that he hadn’t been hired a second time in any one state a sure sign of only marginal competence. Eventually I came to believe that he had obtained some of the licenses at a distance, taking exams by mail. How did I figure this out? Well, he wasn’t very good. He’d given out a subcontract based on an estimate that even I, a relative neophyte, thought was wrong, and he had then been surprised when the job wasn’t brought in on time or on budget. His so-so competence actually provided me with another opportunity, as it was a void that my uncles could recognize and that I could fill. I was given sole charge of a portion of the complex, a small strip mall section adjacent to the FHA complex.
As construction tasks go, this was a very small one, but as with all such tasks it had to be done correctly and efficiently. I recognized this as a significant challenge, and responded. It was certainly an opportunity for me to learn by doing, and to go beyond being an observer. Now I was an overseer, and people listened to me, in part because I was a Tishman, an owner and not just a hired assistant.
I liked the job more when I had greater responsibilities, and that’s what the strip mall job did for me; I helped with the design, awarded contracts, supervised the construction, processed permits, etc. Though small, the job entailed every trade: carpentry, plumbing, electrical, roofing, excavation, foundations, and the like. I took to going to the site on weekends just to see it when it wasn’t busy. This was helpful, among other reasons because my presence there on weekends enabled me to see a few things going awry.
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Contractors, whether a general contractor or subcontractors, submit bids, have them accepted by the owner and partially paid for, and then must deliver the work for the amount of money in the bid. This arrangement means that they always have an incentive to shave here
One subcontractor at the strip mall, an excavator and foundation man, tried to save money by not properly dealing with a huge boulder dug up on the site. The correct procedure was to break it up into pieces and cart it away. This guy buried it right in the midst of the structure to be. Had I kept to a regular, weekdays-only schedule, we might not have known that the boulder had been buried until too late, when the structure had been erected over the burial site, which would have made removal of the boulder almost impossible and surely very expensive. But I found the burial site on one of my weekend visits, and we then revised the structural framing to be supported around the boulder.
The finding presented a good lesson for me, namely that someone representing the owner should be present at a construction site at night and on the weekends. Those are the times when the people who have the equipment to move boulders, or to deliver very large items to a construction site, will have the opportunity (and the equipment and the personnel) with which to reverse the burial activity or to abscond with the items they had previously delivered to the project.
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