Minority, Women and Local Firms Get "Innovative" at Columbia

When Philip Pitruzzello, Columbia University's vice president for Manhattanville development, had less than four weeks to renovate space at 646 West 131st Street for the relocation of his 20-person team, he called colleagues at the Columbia MWL Construction Trades Management Certificate/Mentorship Program for assistance and because of the opportunity it presented. 

The mentorship program - which began in 2008 and provides classroom instruction, one-on-one assistance, and contracting opportunities for minority, women-owned and locally-based (MWL) businesses - connected Pitruzzello through a competitive bid process to Innovative Building Solutions, LLC, a minority- and women-owned, New York City-based general contractor looking to work with Columbia.  Pitruzzello knew he had chosen the right construction partner when Innovative brought in material and started working the same day as the project kickoff meeting. 

"We had less than four weeks to complete the project since the University had an immovable relocation date for Philip's team," said Jean Gauthier, partner at Innovative.  "So we got started right away."

Besides the tight timeframe, other challenges the project posed included having a tight budget and continuing the University's commitment to being green.   The project team reused furniture, doors and other existing materials, saving both money and the environment.  

"This project was about making a very small budget go as far as possible while being environmentally responsible and supporting the University's objective of working with our MWL firms in the mentorship program," said Pitruzzello. 

"We started by creating a unique project team linking us, the client, to our project managers and then creating a liaison with the CBSC team to insure the communications was seamless with Innovative," Pitruzzello stated. "We created a tight circle of engaged stakeholders to increase our chances of success in a very, very short timeframe."

In addition to working with Innovative as the general contractor, the University built on its long-standing commitment to MWL businesses by working with several other MWL firms-from the movers to the electrical and mechanical contractors-on the renovation and relocation project.  Another firm in the mentorship program, Deb Romain Consulting, provided the wayfinding signage. 

"Thanks to Innovative, our other construction partners and the project team, which included Joe Bolano, Yelena Goldenberg, Mike Azzopardi, Sheena Jones and Frank Giannelli, the move was seamless," said Pitruzzello. 

Innovative is entering the 2nd year of the two-year mentorship program, which is a unique partnership involving departments from Columbia University and the City of New York.  Entering its third year, the University is ahead of schedule to enroll 100 MWL firms over five years in the pilot program.  Enrolled firms have received more than $7.8 million from construction-related work from Columbia to date.

"The best thing that we as a University can do for a contractor is make an opportunity available," said Columbia University Facilities Executive Vice President Joe Ienuso.  "The best thing a contractor can do is leave good work behind."

That's why Gauthier's proudest moments on the project were the compliments he received about his work.

"The best feeling I had on this project is when people said to me ‘Great job.  We want you to come back and do more work,'" said Gauthier. 

 Jean and Juana Gauthier (third and second from farthest right) of Innovative Business Solutions with Columbia University Executive Vice President Joe Ienuso (center) and members of the Columbia University project team after signing their names to a wall,  signifying that they stand behind their work.