Mike O’Brien
Vice President, Gilbane Building Co.
Age: 49
Industry experience: 27 years 

Mike O’Brien has overseen the growth of the Massachusetts and northern New England operations for Gilbane, a Providence-based construction management firm. A Gilbane employee since he joined the company straight out of college in 1993, O’Brien oversees notable building projects ranging from Worcester’s future triple-A baseball stadium, Polar Park, to Hobbs Brook Management’s 225 Wyman St. office-lab project in Waltham and the recently completed Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Lexington. 

Q: How are Gilbane and AECOM divvying up the construction management responsibilities at Polar Park in Worcester?
A: The project is going well and scheduled for completion at the start of the 2021 season, so it’s in full force now in terms of execution in the field. We’ve had a successful track record partnering with them on projects across the country. It was a really good assembly of skill sets. Their area of expertise is definitely on the ballpark side. We’ve done a fair number of projects for our local teams, but not to the degree that AECOM Hunt does.  

Q: Has Gilbane been targeting sports facilities as an expansion area?
A: We’ve certainly engaged in sports venue and facilities markets. We’ve done projects for the Red Sox at Fenway Park for over 10 years, the MGM Music Hall at Fenway Park as well as the 2020 improvements to the park. It’s generally clubhouse upgrades right now. We did the TD Garden expansion over the past year and are engaged to continue into 2020. Over the past year, the work we did was the development of the spaces at The Hub on Causeway that were given to the sports facility. There’s about 70,000 square feet of space at The Hub on Causeway that is actually part of the Garden, and the balance is public spaces, bars and restaurants. The other thing we did was a complete gut renovation of the Celtics and Bruins locker rooms: weight rooms, training rooms and family rooms. Part of the 2020 work is to do the visitors’ lockers over the next off-season. 

Q: Given all of the recent life science expansion in Greater Boston, how does the demand for lab construction change a project compared with traditional office space?
A: This market was Kendall Square and Cambridge and now it’s everywhere: Somerville, the Seaport, and we just did a $300 million project in Norton for Alnylum. That market is very geographically diverse, and that plays into our hand because we aren’t an exclusively Boston builder. We are seeing a lot of core-and-shell office and lab buildings. We’ll build for a developer and the base building will be designed to accommodate future office and lab tenants, such as the one we’re doing for Hobbs Brook Realty in Waltham. Sometimes toward the second or third phase of the construction, the tenant will come in and begin to develop the space. 

Q: How much of Gilbane’s work is in the academic and institutional sectors right now?
A: Higher ed and health care, particularly, has a tendency to be recession-proof, and it’s a very busy market right now. What we did see in the last recession was institutions laying back on spending, even Harvard. It’s the uncertainty that drives the decisions. UMass-Amherst has a continuing pipeline of opportunities, and UMass-Boston similarly. We also work with Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance on two projects right now to replace infrastructure on 12 campuses. 

Q: What technology applications are you widely adopting or researching for potential use?
A: I’ll start with safety, our number one priority. We’re always looking in the area at opportunities. Predictive Solutions is a product that conducts safety audits very quickly. Our goal is to identify safe and unsafe behaviors. This app allows you to do these things. We require our personnel to complete a certain number of safety inspections on a job site each month. At the end of the month, our safety team analyzes the data and identifies trends and areas where we need to change a process, and we’re also looking at the culture on the site. In some cases, maybe a subcontractor is underestimating the expectations for safety on the site and we can have a conversation and improve it.  

Another product is called Spot-r, a wearable safety device. We’re able to send a signal to all the devices in the event of an emergency that requires evacuation. There’s an emergency call button if somebody had an incident. It’s not a tracker. It’s used strictly for the purposes of safety. It also has a gyroscope, so if someone were to have a fall, it sends a safety alert to our staff so people can respond. We had a project in Connecticut where every day we were getting these alerts and our staff would question the workers in the area and went to the auditorium. And the workers used to jump off the stage at break time rather than using the stairs. It recorded them as falling.  

From an execution standpoint, one of our major areas of focus is the use of virtual design, or 3D modeling. We have in-house capabilities and a whole department that’s dedicated to this area. They can scan a space with laser scanners, which is very beneficial, especially when you’re doing a renovation project. The first thing we’d do is go in after demo and laser scan the existing conditions, and that gives us the background for the modeling we use to build the project. In the end, you’re saving on any conflict that would ever come up when you go out and build these spaces. 

O’Brien’s Five Favorite Vacation Destinations: 

  1. St. John 
  2. Turks and Caicos 
  3. Grand Cayman 
  4. Bahamas 
  5. Aruba 

Building Market Share from Schools to Stadiums

by Steve Adams time to read: 4 min