Sean O’Connor is Senior Vice President and Operations Manager for Hunter Roberts

Sean O’Connor is Senior Vice President and Operations Manager for Hunter Roberts, one of the tri-state area’s top construction management films with more than $15.2 billion in projects booked since its founding in 2005. Sean is a seasoned construction professional with over 24 years of experience with particular expertise in various markets including Higher Education, K-12, Interior Renovations, Commercial, Retail, and the Public Sector. In the following interview, Sean talks with BTEA Executive Vice President Patrick Wehle about some of the most recent jobs Hunter Roberts has completed, including the City’s first design-build project.

 

BTEA: Tell us about Hunter Roberts and the type of work that you do.

Hunter Roberts is a construction management, design-build general contractor. We’ve been in existence now entering our twentieth year and we pay a lot of attention to making sure we diversify the markets that we work in. We do a tremendous amount of healthcare and residential work, both rental and condo. We do commercial interiors, major renovation and retrofit of existing facilities. We do out-of-the-ground commercial, although that market has slowed substantially over the last few years. Sports facilities. Warehouse and Industrial has become a big market for us over the last three to five years as well. Lastly, data centers is a market we’ve put a lot of focus into recently. As a firm, we’re between 350 and 400 professional staff, and our offices are located in Manhattan, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, but we’re always looking for opportunities that are outside that geographic area as well.

 

BTEA: What are some of the projects that you have recently completed or that are underway that you would like to highlight?

We are nearing completion on a 250,000 square feet reclad and major core and shell infrastructure upgrade, as well as interior fit-out for District Council 37 at 125 Barclay. We have a team completing a multi-level warehouse in Red Hook. We just recently finished a charter school and are in mid-construction of another charter school in the Bronx. We have some great partners in healthcare, where we are working on multiple campuses throughout the five boroughs. NewYork-Presbyterian, Mount Sinai, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and Staten Island University Hospital are just a few of the facilities we are currently working on. In the public sector we are in the final stages of completing two projects for the NYC DDC, both of which were design-build. We are working with the NYC EDC on several waterfront coastal resiliency projects, as well as several other marine upgrade projects. In the residential market we just recently topped out on a project on Jackson Avenue, and we have several other mid-size residential projects in Manhattan that are in construction. In New Jersey we are in the foundation phase of a residential tower in Jersey City at 55 Hudson, and we are midway through the construction of a 351,000 square feet warehouse in Mansfield. Little Island is a project we completed several years ago that received a lot of attention. That was a great project for us, and one that is being enjoyed by many New Yorkers daily.

 

BTEA: The Queens parking garage in Kew Gardens was the first design-build project that was undertaken by the city. Could you speak about your approach going into that project and what was unique about it?

This was a lump-sum, design-build project, first of its kind for the NYC DDC. The design-build RFQ and RFP phases allotted sufficient time to review the Basis of Design provided by DDC to conceptually develop our design with our team of architects, engineers and other consultants; budget the project to ensure we were in the cost range identified in the design-build RFP; and take a pause to meet with DDC and their team to present draft versions and ask critical questions that ultimately allowed us to submit a comprehensive and responsive proposal that could be reviewed by DDC. The DDC was an active participant throughout the process, responding to questions and requests for clarifications within the guidelines outlined within the RFP Documents, as well as scheduling periodic check-ins with all prospective design-build teams bidding on the project to allow for questions to be answered and clarifications to be made to ensure the end product was meeting expectations. It was an interesting process, and one that required a great deal of communication and teamwork to get to a point where a design-build proposal could be submitted. Throughout the entire process the DDC and their team of professionals were fantastic to work with. This design-build model is new, and there were times throughout construction and post-construction that we needed to meet and come up with solutions to challenges that arose. Each and every time a solution was generated it was the result of a cooperative team approach between our design-build staff and the DDC’s team. It was a learning process for everyone. The DDC has been open to feedback and were quick to pivot to solutions when needed, and the next design-build project should be even more successful based on the lessons learned during the Queens Garage and Community Space project.

 

BTEA: Looking back on this design-build process, how did it differ from how it likely would have gone as a design-bid-build project?

Schedule and budget were improved through the design-build model. Once Hunter Roberts was released, the approvals and agreements were in place, so we were able to quickly transition into the construction phase due to the specialty contractor involvement we had during the proposal stage. The DDC had a firm understanding of our design, and the project was not bogged down by change orders and claims. We communicated daily with the DDC and their team, and as the design-build CM we controlled our own destiny. With all aspects of the process, from design to permitting to contractors, we were able to focus on safety and a quality build, without the impacts of waiting for design changes.

 

BTEA: When it comes to doing a design build project like this one, what are some of the lessons you learned that you would apply to future projects?

Early involvement of the key specialty contractors was critical. Having MEPs, civil, foundation and structural specialty contractors with the expertise and experience to partner with Hunter Roberts and coordinate as we designed made for a much more efficient and productive build. Certainly something we will continue to do is strengthening our relationships with the specialty contractors that have an interest in design-build. The experience of our architect and engineering partners, along with the relationship we have with them, is important and makes for a successful project. The hard work we put in as a team early in the process is the foundation for the construction phase and what allows our specialty contractors to build safely and be efficient and productive in their work, which ultimately leads to a quality build.