Fontaine Bros. Inc.
- Written by: Ivy Carter
- Produced by: Joe Atwood
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
Good things come to those who wait, which is exactly why the team at Fontaine Bros. Inc. (Fontaine Bros.) refused to compromise on quality craftsmanship, integrity or customer service when the economic downturn hit. Instead, 80-year-old Fontaine Bros. opted to wait things out. The Fontaine Bros. team made smaller, broader sacrifices to protect its much-valued employees and positioned the company to pounce at the right opportunities. After all, Fontaine Bros. began in the midst of the Great Depression. The team at Fontaine Bros. is capable of surviving downturns with patience, determination and a shared sense of responsibility to work in the best interests of both loyal employees and trusted customers.
Brothers Eudore and George O. Fontaine founded Fontaine Bros. in 1933; not only to build a better future for the Fontaine family, but also to build a company that proudly supports the growth and development of strong communities. The Fontaine brothers eventually passed ownership to the second generation, with Ray Fontaine and George O. Fontaine Jr. taking over in the 1940s.
After Ray and George, tradition did not end, as Lester Fontaine guided the company through the ’80s and early ’90s. Fast-forward almost 80 years since its founding and Fontaine Bros. remains a family-owned and -operated company with headquarters in Springfield, Mass. The company is currently steered by David Fontaine Sr., president of Fontaine Bros., and Chris Fontaine, executive vice president of Fontaine Bros.
Fontaine Bros. evolved from a primarily residential company focused on home building to one of the most respected industrial and commercial contractors in Massachusetts. The union-affiliated company also happens to be one of the few remaining general contractors and construction managers with enough manpower to self-perform a considerable portion of any given project with the help of its own skilled tradespeople.
The fact that Fontaine Bros. can self-perform many parts of any project sets the company apart from the competition. The team at Fontaine Bros. most often serves as a project’s general contractor, as the company boasts crews both ready and able to tackle demolition, concrete, carpentry and masonry project components. The experienced team understands how to build a structure, and thus can manage and sequence its construction more efficiently and cost-effectively. Fontaine Bros.’ longevity and reputation in the commercial and industrial markets ensure subcontractors understand that any project led by the team will move forward with precision.
“We value our people and we believe in treating them right, and we have been able to retain the best employees for many years,” asserts David Fontaine Jr., project manager and LEED AP at Fontaine Bros. David Jr. says that Fontaine Bros. counts quite a few employees who have been with the company for 20 years or longer, both in the office and amongst the field staff. David Jr. considers this to be one of the company’s keys to success in a tough marketplace where union-affiliated professionals always have the option of seeking employment elsewhere with equal compensation.
Perhaps a good example of Fontaine Bros.’ commitment to its employees came in the wake of the most recent economic downturn. Instead of cutting back on office staff or chasing after jobs at margins that would force the company to risk sacrificing quality craftsmanship or service, management decided to simply sit back and sweat it out.
Fontaine Bros. cut back hours to just four-days-a-week for the slowest month, but avoided layoffs within the office. In addition, crews kept busy with the help of a few long-time clients that recognized the time was right to move forward with capital improvement projects.
Specifically, Western New England University stepped in with a $40 million project to build the school’s Center for the Sciences and Pharmacy in 2009. According to the university, plans for the new facility were still on the board when the economic downturn hit. Instead of shelving the project for another few years, Western New England University’s board of trustees opted to invest in the institution’s future. The university tapped Fontaine Bros. to oversee the building’s construction in a swift 15 months. Fontaine Bros. signed on as construction manager and also self-performed the carpentry, masonry and concrete components on the job.
The 127,000-square foot building opened in 2010, housing the university’s biology, chemistry, physics, neuroscience, psychology and pre-pharmacy programs in an environmentally conscious space. Though the project team chose not to pursue LEED certification, the building incorporated many green features, including photovoltaic panels, low-e glass and high-efficiency fixtures. Green building is nothing new to Fontaine Bros., and the company’s resume includes both LEED-certified buildings and the nation’s first net-zero energy transit station in Greenfield, Mass.
Never a Dull Moment
“Once the market turned around, we managed to pick up close to $200 million in work within six months because we were ready and waiting for it,” explains David Jr. Part of that sum included a $55 million contract to build the new Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Mass. “We didn’t have any bad work on the books, because we had been patient, and we were able to comfortably pick up the work we had been waiting for through the downturn,” explains David Jr.
Minnechaug Regional High School serves students in both the towns of Wilbraham and Hampden, Mass. Locally based Mount Vernon Group Architects supplied the design and the local Massachusetts branch of ARCADIS joined as the owner’s project manager. Fontaine Bros. bid out six other competitors on the project, breaking ground on the 241,000-square foot building in September 2010.
The school opened for the academic school year in fall 2012, equipped with a host of energy-efficient and state-of-the-art HVAC, electrical and lighting systems controlled remotely by a building manager. The systems also allow the school district to monitor utility usage and costs, making adjustments as needed in real time. Students now occupy the building, though the Fontaine Bros. team will remain on site through most of 2013 to demolish the older high school and complete the parking and athletic fields slated to go in that school’s place.
The project became one of many that the team at Fontaine Bros. landed in the academic sector that year. The company would follow the project at Minnechaug with contracts for the renovation and addition of Burgess Elementary School in Sturbridge, Mass., as well as the new Freeman-Kennedy School in Norfolk, Mass. Later, the team tackled East Bridgewater Jr. and Sr. High School and West Springfield High School.
Fontaine Bros. also wrapped up work in 2012 on the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science Center at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass. The independent college preparatory school enlisted the help of Fontaine Bros. to build the 48,000-square foot building in conjunction with Centerbrook Architects and PMG. The new building is hoping to achieve LEED Gold certification by replacing two older buildings on campus and boosting the space available to math and science programs by 129 percent in addition to sustainable building features. The Berkshire School is one of several private clients that Fontaine counts as a repeat customer, having completed several projects at the school over the years.
Fontaine Bros. has plenty to celebrate considering the team managed to build a considerable amount of momentum in 2012. No matter where the next opportunities lie, the company will never venture far away from the quality craftsmanship, professional integrity and customer service that have carried Fontaine Bros. Inc. through 80 years and four generations.
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