RSA Union – The Contractor Stands Tall

BriceThe low bidder on the RSA Union contract was Brice Construction Company of Birmingham, and I reiterate that they did an outstanding job.  The workmanship was excellent, the work was well coordinated, and no serious accident occurred.  Ron Blount, the owner’s representative, tended to disagree, and I spent a good part of two years defending Brice from Ron’s wrath and ill-considered punishments.

However, Brice Construction was suffering one glaring weakness:  growing pains.  Sam Dewey was the company vice-president overseeing the project and he assigned a capable, experienced job superintendent named David Hare.  Dewey also assigned an inexperienced, arrogant young project manager named Ry Bailey.  Both Hare and Bailey worked in the construction trailer at the job site.  It was obvious that the Brice hierarchy had great things in mind for the well-educated but green Bailey, and that his role on the Union job was but a stepping stone up the corporate ladder.  Had Ry been content to watch, learn and push paper, the pairing would have worked well.  Unfortunately, Ry was determined to run the job and he was constantly in a squabble with superintendent David Hare.

Even with the unpleasant atmosphere created by the petulant Ry Bailey, the job made good progress and stayed on schedule for the first six months.  That was because Hare knew what he was doing and overrode Bailey’s attempts to interfere.  Finally Ry became so frustrated he demanded that his boss, Sam Dewey, come to Montgomery and settle the dispute as to who was in charge.  Sam faced a dilemma.  He knew the job would run more efficiently and stay on course if David Hare was calling the shots.  He also knew that Ry Bailey would bolt from the company if he was not given overall authority.

Ry Bailey won the day and assumed command of the job.  In retribution David Hare stepped back and put his hands in his pockets.  He knew the inexperienced Bailey would flounder and hang himself.  Thus, for the next year the job stumbled along, drifting further and further behind schedule.  Nothing we said to Superintendent Hare could persuade him to assist Ry and accelerate the job.  Nothing we could say to Ry Bailey would help because he did not have a clue as how to run and coordinate that big a project.

As the contract completion date drew nigh, Ron Blount and I became more and more concerned.  Bronner was a demon when it came to completion time, and the dozen tenants scheduled to move in would be in dire jeopardy if their move dates were postponed.  To get back at Bronner, the Lowder/Aronov forces were poised to exact untold punishments on their departing tenants who stumbled.  What to do?

After some agony, Blount and I called Sam Dewey and demanded that he come to Montgomery and discuss the potential completion disaster with us.  Our meeting took the form of a lunch at the Sahara Restaurant, during which we accused Dewey of creating the situation with his administrative decision to place the inept Ry Bailey in charge of the job.  We reminded Dewey of the heavy liquidated damage provisions in his contract for failure to complete on time, and we outlined the political and financial disasters that were looming for the RSA and its state tenants if he failed to meet the time constraints.

Blount’s and my exhortations of Dewey was not all that unusual.  Construction jobs commonly run behind and architects often make similar demands of the contractor.  What was unusual here was Dewey’s reaction to our tirade.  He actually made corrections to the job management, and immediately determined that, while there was too much finish carpentry work remaining to be done, there were no finish carpenters available to do it.  In the 18 months since the Union had come out of the ground, the construction industry had gone from famine to feast and there were no finish carpenters available for hire.  In desperation over the situation, Dewey called in Brice job superintendents and assistant superintendents from projects all over the state and assigned them to the Union to lend assistance as tool box workers. That ploy would no longer work today, I’m afraid, as the new crop of superintendents are not ex-finish carpenters who were promoted, but rather they are mostly college graduates who have no skill training with their hands.

Sam Dewey and Brice Construction did not meet their contracted completion time.  Ry Bailey had gotten them too far behind.  But they got close enough so that the RSA, the tenant agencies and PH&J all escaped disaster.  Who knows what pain Dewey caused his other jobs, but on my job he stood tall in this saddle.

The irony of all this?  Young Ry Bailey, whose arrogance and management failure had caused the problem in the first place, was dispatched to Florida even before the Union was occupied, where he took over command of the new regional branch of Brice Construction that would handle all Brice work in the State of Florida.  On some days the World War II generation just cannot comprehend the new world values.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Union stories. The rest can be found here.

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