Descending the narrow steps into one of New York City’s most infamous and widely-anticipated construction projects – East Side Access – it’s hard to imagine the enormity and intensity of the project currently being built 150 feet beneath the streets of midtown Manhattan. East Side Access has been in development since 2006 with plans dating back to the 1950s, which makes it one of the most delayed construction projects in America. However, there is one team of workers that, since being brought on board in 2017, is surpassing all expectations, shattering glass ceilings, and running circles around deadlines: Creative Construction Services.
Former Local 45 member Hanson James is the skilled tradesman behind Creative Construction, a minority-owned construction company that he founded in 2005. Hanson got his start in the union, dedicated his time to becoming the best at what he does, and went on to become CEO of his own company which now employs about 70 people. While he loves his work, he says it wasn’t always easy.
“When I started my business, there were some people who said I’m not going to make it, but I had a game plan.” Despite the naysayers, Hanson stood true to his union work ethic and went on to build major projects like the Jet Blue terminal at JFK, John Jay College, South Ferry train station, and now East Side Access.
Hanson said he and his team of 20 union carpenters faced a huge challenge in terms of coordination and materials, but he had every confidence they could get it done.
“We are a small minority company and it was a challenge for us,” he said. “There were those that said we couldn’t do it because of the size of the project – we’re talking about almost 200,000 sq. ft. (that’s 3 ½ football fields!) of metal pan ceiling and aluminum, the logistics of securing the materials then transporting it, and making sure it worked. So far, we brought out almost 1,080 crates of materials. But we were able to get it done.”
During construction, Hanson and his team became so efficient and streamlined, they had to wait for all the other trades to catch up.
In terms of the work they are doing, Foreman Russel Ross says they’re doing a bit of everything, but mostly ceilings.
“There are four dome ceilings, two caverns, eight train lines, 47 escalators, 22 elevators, and more than eight miles of tunneling,” he said.
Hanson explained how the scaffolding system being used on the tracks, which is set up on wheels the width of the train tracks and can be wheeled down the tracks to access the high points of the tunnel walls and ceilings, is an invention they made on another project. “Now, everybody uses that scaffolding. We should have patented it,” he said.
The ceiling tiles over the train platforms need to be anchored in place in order to counteract the trains’ velocity. Otherwise, when the train leaves the station, so do the ceiling tiles.
“Everything has to be measured exactly. When you’re doing the precast on the mezzanine level, it must be precise. You can’t go half an inch off because the ceiling is square and you can’t put a rectangle in square,” he said. “We are carpenters. We deal with accurate measurements.”
Our members’ contribution to this project is immense and it shows. David Quatmann, general super intendent of general contractor Tudor Perini, said the Creative Construction team is doing an exceptional job.
“They’re ahead of schedule. They’re waiting on other contractors now, which is how it should be. No one is waiting on them. I think the relationship we’ve created with them is a good one. There’s a lot of trust between the two of us so I think that moving forward we’ll try to make sure they’re on the next project with us,” he said.
Michael Gallagher, Local 157, a foreman for Creative Construction, said how working on this project is like being a part of history. He encourages his union brothers and sisters on the job to not take the experience of creating what will be an architectural wonder for granted.
“I tell them, this is a historic job and if you’re lucky enough, you get a job like this once in your career. Be proud of what you’re doing. You’re going to take your kids to see this. This is a historic job and you are part of it.”