Case Studies

Aberthaw Construction Inc.

Honoring a legacy in construction management

With a long, rich history, Aberthaw Construction Inc. has become a leading premier construction management firm in New England. Located in Lowell, Massachusetts, Aberthaw Construction has been in business for more than 120 years.Year after year, the company has met its clients’ goals while constructing institutional, senior housing /assisted living, retail, hospitality and industrial buildings that enhance prosperity and quality of life, as well as multifamily residential buildings, commercial offices and houses of worship that are sources of pride to those who occupy them.

Founded in 1894, Aberthaw Construction initially established itself in the reinforced concrete market. At that time, the company gained widespread recognition from its construction of Harvard University Stadium in 1903 on a limited schedule of only three and a half months. This was the first major reinforced concrete structure built in the U.S. and is still in use today.

Given the momentum of the time as well as its newfound recognition as a leading constructor of major, notable structures, Aberthaw quickly diversified into dry-dock and shipyard construction, power house construction, manufacturing building construction for textile and paper mills, automobile manufacturing and foundries, and later added institutional buildings, completing the Boston Christian Science Publishing House in 1929.

A homegrown companyAberthaw Construction Inc.

The company lost momentum after World War II due to a decline in activity in key defense markets and was acquired by the fast-growing Boston-based developer Cabot, Cabot & Forbes (CC&F) in 1955. Over the next three decades, CC&F projects became a significant part of Aberthaw’s work and included many notable high-rise developments in the Boston area, including 60 State Street, 28 State Street and 100 Summer Street. All the while, Aberthaw retained an aggressive stance toward non-CC&F work as illustrated by the completion of the expansive Christian Science Center in 1974.

During the slow economic times of the late 1980s, CC&F looked to liquidate Aberthaw due to its declining development load as well as the lack of available outside contract work. It was then that Aberthaw’s president, James Alley, who had joined the company in 1970 as an office engineer and was named its president in 1988, acquired Aberthaw from the parent company and steered it toward the more plentiful, smaller building projects to be found not only in the inner city, but also in the suburban Boston markets.

“He made the decision at that time that the suburban area was a much more fruitful market,” says Justin Tierney, director of business development for Aberthaw Construction. “He also wanted to diversify our portfolio from the high-rise buildings to all user groups which had become an integral part of Aberthaw’s revised business plan.”

Today Aberthaw Construction is an openshop general contractor and construction management firm. “We’re a very diverse company,” says Tierney. “We get involved in a lot of different kinds of projects ranging from multifamily, academic, retail, senior housing, hotels and labs.” In addition to ground-up construction, Aberthaw Construction also completes renovations, tenant improvements (TI) and adaptive historical reuse jobs.

The attention to detail that Aberthaw Construction provides for its clients has enabled the company to thrive in its market for more than 100 years. While the company grows in a disciplined manner, Aberthaw Construction performs both hard-bid and negotiated work for clients “More than 50 percent of our work is done with repeat clients on an annual basis,” Tierney explains. “I think that is one of the best references you can have.”

Aberthaw recently completed a project in Lowell called 110 Canal. The job consisted of a core and shell rehab of an older facility called the Freudenburg Building, which was originally built in 1912 and located in the old mill district. Aberthaw converted the building into a Class A office facility. The job was completed within budget as well as the 12-month timeline.

Another recent conversion that included Class A office space took place at the Enterprise Building in Brockton, Massachusetts. The 62,000-square-foot facility was a rehabilitation project that was converted into a mixed-use development. Aberthaw Construction worked with repeat client Trinity Financial on the job. “We see a lot of mixed-use projects in our market,” says Tierney. “Often you will see a multifamily that will be four stories, wood
frame over a podium and the first floor will be retail space.

A collaborative approach

As a construction management firm, Aberthaw Construction is able to select from a strong network of subcontractors to perform the trades of a certain job. When performing negotiated work with repeat clients, the company turns to strategic partners with which it has established working relationships, and also that have previously worked with Aberthaw Construction for that particular client. “When it comes to hard-bid work, we still turn to our database of subs but also have to be competitive with the pricing,” Tierney explains. “We don’t always carry the lowest number though because we still have to make sure that whoever we use is qualified and can complete the job to our level of quality.”

Tierney has been the director of business development at Aberthaw Construction for just over a year. In his relatively short time with the company, Tierney has found himself in a work environment that he feels is unmatched. “The people here really function as a team,” he adds. “The owners and principals are involved in all of our projects on a daily basis. This gives the client that personal touch from the company.”

Working with a collaborative approach from beginning to end on all projects, as well as giving special attention to detail, has become a staple in the operation at Aberthaw Construction that has contributed to its tradition and long history of success. The current owners and next generation of management will continue to honor the legacy of Aberthaw Construction Inc. for many years.

Published on: May 4, 2016


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