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New W.L. French Headquarters Showcases Pre-Engineered Design

by: Paul Fournier
W.L. French headquarters built in Billerica, Massachusetts, by Connolly Brothers includes two pre-engineered metal buildings supplied by Star Building Systems and erected by Dave Allen & Co. The 12,000-square-foot office building shown in forefront is flanked by the 48,000-square-foot maintenance building. (Photo by Camille Marren)
W.L. French headquarters built in Billerica, Massachusetts, by Connolly Brothers includes two pre-engineered metal buildings supplied by Star Building Systems and erected by Dave Allen & Co. The 12,000-square-foot office building shown in forefront is flanked by the 48,000-square-foot maintenance building. (Photo by Camille Marren)
One of New England’s oldest building construction companies recently completed a brand new headquarters in Billerica, Massachusetts, for one of the region’s largest earthmoving companies. Beverly, Massachusetts-based Connolly Brothers, a family-owned general contractor established in 1880, designed and built the 60,000-square-foot state-of-the art facility for W. L. French, a family-owned site contractor that employs 250 people and owns 275 pieces of heavy equipment.

According to spokespersons of both companies, it was a mutually satisfying arrangement that resulted in a harmonious project that was in keeping with the owner’s strict budget requirements.

The Connolly team noted they enjoyed working with the W.L. French team as they both share the same passion for multi-generational family business.

“Like W.L. French, Connolly Brothers is a family-owned business. In fact, we nominated them for the Family Business Award last year and were thrilled when they won,” said Jessica French Goyette, Vice President at W.L. French, which is approaching its 50th year in business.

“Connolly is well-known in the commercial and industrial design-build world and understood the approach we wanted to take with our new headquarters. Thanks to Connolly’s expertise and diligence we were able to stay within our budget and achieve our design and construction goals,” she said.

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“I very much enjoyed working on this project,” said Mike Slader, Connolly Brothers Senior Project Superintendent and a veteran of 40 years in the construction industry. “The Connolly design team along with the French companies put in a lot of up-front discussions, making it a smooth construction process.”

Technologies and Amenities
French selected Connolly to design, engineer, and build their new corporate headquarters and maintenance facility on a 22-acre site they owned in North Billerica that was permitted for two buildings. The project called for the construction of a 12,000-square-foot office building and a 48,000-square-foot maintenance/repair building. They were designed to include new technologies, energy efficiencies and a capacity to meet future demands.

The office building, which is approximately 143 feet long by 83 feet wide, features a fitness center, meeting spaces, and collaborative workspaces for W. L. French’s 250 employees. It was designed to promote health, wellness, and productivity in the workplace. The much larger, maintenance facility, with a footprint of roughly 363 feet by 112 feet, has 10 drive-through maintenance bays, three high equipment bays with 5-ton and 10-ton bridge cranes, truck tire carousel, diesel filter cleaning system, truck and heavy equipment wash bay, parts storage, and service management offices located on a mezzanine.

In commenting on the maintenance building, President Bill French Jr., said “This building is equipped with innovative equipment technology that will allow our maintenance crews to improve overall machine utilization, accuracy and efficiency. This will provide us an advantage servicing our contracts and meeting the goals of our projects.”

W.L. French works on a wide range of projects, from excavating a small site for a single commercial company to massive earthmoving on multi-acre sites for major projects. One of the largest ones is the building demolition and site excavation for Polar Park, a $130 million stadium being built by joint venture Gilbane-Hunt to house the triple-A Worcester Red Sox (featured in the May issue of New England Construction). Not surprisingly, French did the site work for its own new headquarters in North Billerica while collaborating with Connolly building construction crews.

A Pre-Engineered Choice
The project building team for the new headquarters included Connolly Brothers, construction manager; W.L. French Excavating Corp., project owner and sitework contractor; CSI Engineering, MEP and fire protection engineering; Medford Wellington Service Co., HVAC; and Rhino Public Relations.

After extensive research, the building team chose a pre-engineered metal building system over conventional steel frame construction for the project, with Star Building Systems selected as the supplier. Using a pre-engineered system provided large, clear span frames for the maintenance facility without having to use conventional cold-rolled structural steel. 

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The office building incorporates an insulated metal panel exterior while the maintenance facility uses traditional metal panel siding combined with a Simple Saver insulation system. Manufactured by Thermal Design, the Simple Saver System is a high R-value insulation and finishing system designed for roof and walls in low-rise commercial metal buildings. When it is installed, there is no need for interior finish work. The system is said to be designed to provide through-fall protection anywhere on the roof that it is properly installed.

Preparing the Site
Prior to project ground breaking, consultants Tighe & Bond completed the design and permitting for the two new buildings and associated site appurtenances that were to serve as the W.L. French corporate headquarters. Tighe & Bond’s work included site design and site plan preparation, together with development, submittal and public presentation of several local land use permits. This involved site plan approval, special permit, earth migration, storm water permit, septic system approval, and Notice of Intent/Order of Conditions. Following permit approvals, the consultants developed construction-level documents suitable for bidding and construction, as well as providing part-time observation during construction.

W.L. French crews began general site and building excavation in mid-2018. By August, building construction had begun with the forming and placement of concrete for the foundation walls and floor slabs. OBI Concrete Forms set the forms and tied in the rebars for footings, walls and slabs. CCS Concrete LLC placed about 1,500 cubic yards of concrete for the entire project, including some 1,400 linear feet of 4-foot-tall by 8-inch-thick perimeter building foundation walls, and approximately 52,400 square feet of slab-on-grade varying between 4-inch and 9-inch thickness. Ready mix concrete was provided by Benevento Concrete while Independent Concrete Pumping employed a Schwing pump to deliver ready mix to the placement crews. The thickest, heaviest reinforced slab occurs in the section of the maintenance building where the largest construction equipment undergo maintenance and repairs.

“This was the most challenging part of project,” said Slader. “There were a lot of lengthy discussions about the design and construction of the floor in the shop. As you can imagine, WLF has some very heavy equipment walking across this concrete floor.”

Assembling the Buildings
Star Building Systems delivered approximately 12 tons of pre-manufactured structural steel components for the two buildings at the North Billerica site. This steel included frame columns and frame rafters, purlins and girts. The structural shapes used for columns and beams in pre-engineered metal buildings differ from those used in conventional steel buildings. Instead of cold-rolled wide flange or H shapes, columns may be formed of welded built-up plate, beams may be replaced by “rafters’ fashioned from steel channels, and bar joists might be replaced by Z shaped purlins.

Pre-manufactured perimeter columns are called frame columns, because they are joined in the field to rafters to form rigid frames that span the two sides of the building at selected intervals (in this case around 18- to 30-feet). These rigid frames integrate columns and rafters, and resist combined shear, axial and bending stresses, allowing no change in the angle between columns and beams. Thus they prevent what is commonly called building drift. Steel purlins are placed on top of the rafters at right angles to support the roofing, which consist of standing seam roof panels. Similarly, horizontal steel girts are connected to perimeter columns to provide a supporting framework for the insulated siding.

As a rule, pre-engineered buildings require few or no interior columns, depending on the span and height of the structures. For the French buildings, there is only a single row of interior columns along the longitudinal center line of each building comprised of hollow structural shapes (tubular steel). This reduction in the number of interior columns is especially helpful to the equipment mechanics and technicians, providing ample clear working spans.

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Dave Allen & Co. LLC of Beverly, Massachusetts, erected the steel frame, siding and roofing of the two buildings. Pre-engineered building components are designed to mate precisely with each other and are labeled to indicate exact locations in conjunction with detailed plans for the erectors. These types of buildings are designed to be fabricated and erected faster with fewer people than are required for conventional buildings. They often use lighter steel to achieve the same load-bearing requirements as conventional steel design through the employment of rigid frames. These pre-manufactured components are shipped to the job site for assembling.

For this project, Dave Allen utilized a Lull 1054 Telescoping Fork Lift with a 54-foot reach and 10,000-pound capacity to erect the steel. The Allen crew also used several JLG 600S Telescopic Boom Lifts to assist with steel erection. Manufactured by the Lull Division of JLG, the boom lifts have a platform height of about 60 feet and a restricted platform capacity of 600 pounds.

More Than a Headquarters
About 14 months after Connolly Brothers started construction on the new W.L. French headquarters, the project was essentially completed. The company officially cut the ribbon on its new corporate office and technologically advanced maintenance building in December 2019. At the ceremony, President Bill French Jr., said “This is more than a headquarters for our company. It represents a lifetime of work for many of our team members.” He indicated that with the new facility the company is better equipped to serve its clients and maintain its reputation for quality and professionalism built up over the past five decades.
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