By the time most tenants at Bell Works push through the revolving doors to start their day, dozens of tradespeople, still wearing their hardhats, are already eating lunch in the cafe. Transforming the 80’s interiors of Bell Labs into the modern, dynamic spaces for the current and future tenants at Bell Works is a full-time endeavor. “Tradespeople are here nearly around the clock,” says Michael Farrell, account executive and on-site manager for Structure Tone, the international firm tasked with overseeing the entire construction operation at Bell Works.
Structure Tone is at the leading edge of construction management, with extensive experience with big-vision-large-scale projects, but it’s Farrell and his team who are on-site and responsible for coordinating the day-to-day building trades operations and construction work at Bell. “Sometimes, there’s as much going on here at night as there is during the day,” he said. “The first day shift comes in at 7:30 a.m. and heads out around 3:30 or 4 p.m. Then the first night shift of workers come in around 6 p.m. and the last shift wraps up about 6 a.m. the next day.”
It’s an impressive feat of organization, coordinating all the moving parts needed to keep Bell Works growing. The work required for scheduling and record-keeping alone are Herculean tasks. Farrell says it’s made much easier thanks to the incredibly professional, cordial and hardworking team that has come together on the project. “As construction manager, I’m fortunate to be working with great professionals, including teams from The Garibaldi Group, Alexander Gorlin Architects, Mancini Duffy, NPZ Design and our principal engineers, Becht Engineering, and Stantec. And of course, there’s Somerset Development. Ralph (Zucker) and David (Schreiber) and Tom (Michnewicz) and everyone in their offices have made this whole enterprise, not only possible, but actually, fun. It’s a dream team, really.”
As the photos demonstrate, the interior of the iconic masterpiece by renowned architect Eero Saarinen looks different every day as workers retrofit the older, secluded offices into modern open workspaces, complete with everything a tenant needs to take full advantage of improved work practices and efficiencies thanks to technology.
And these transformations are happening while companies like Spirent and MetTel — as well as boutique firms sharing coworking space in Vi Innovation Hubs like Nicholl Field Design and Silver Style Pictures are all carrying on their workday. At least half a dozen teams are actively working on site and Farrell and his team coordinate everything from the demo of old spaces, to installation of new electric and plumbing, to delivery and setup of furniture for each space. It’s a balancing act; new tenants are excited to move in and current tenants need to be able to continue their work in a fully functional, professional space — without significant disruption.
BURSTING THROUGH THE 9-5 CEILING TO GET IT DONE
A crew of over 250 people, including management and tradespeople, are completely overhauling six floors of office, retail, restaurant and meeting space is being completely overhauled. These professionals are work nearly around the clock, six to seven days a week many weeks and nearly every day during the year. Structure Tone has been on site since the end of June 2016, and since taking over as construction manager, the pace has picked up, substantially. Michael’s 16-18 person team works, “Hand in hand — in real time — with the developer and the real estate teams,” he says. “Everything is coordinated and — so far — everything is coming in on time and on budget.”
And there are a couple of things that have worked in favor of the goals for being ‘on time and on budget’. For one thing, Farrell says that the symmetry of the mid-century architectural notable is brilliant in its elegant simplicity, “It doesn’t take long to wrap your head around the bones of the place.”
In fact, the building is is up for consideration for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and to qualify there are some very specific guidelines to follow as the structure is rehabbed. “Honestly, that’s one of the aspects of this job that’s proven how amazing Ralph is as a leader” Farrell said. “He’s so dedicated to preserving and honoring the legacy of this building…he’s asked his team to move mountains and work with us to make that happen.”
Then, there is all the extra time and resources necessary to coordinate the salvaging and reuse of many of the materials. “It comes with its challenges,” Farrell said, “but from a sustainability perspective, it’s well worth it.”
As Farrell walks through the atrium, he watches workers on ladders, moving around in future tenant spaces, working on wiring or walking through the building end to end in pairs talking to each other about the next step of their project. “One of the best things about this project, I think, is that many of the people working on and in the building are people who live right in Monmouth County. This isn’t just another job for them. It’s personal. The work they do here makes their home community a better place to live and work and that’s important to them.”
MOVING ON UP: FROM VISION TO REALITY
This increased activity at the metroburb in Holmdel, NJ, is sparking strong reaction from people who’ve followed the Bell Works project from the very beginning.
Lynn Septoff, a member of the David Ellis Events team who was on-site in early 2016 to help set up Cafe Bell, came back recently when the company hosted a pop up event. She was overwhelmed by the changes, “I was here, maybe a year ago ago, and it felt so different. It wasn’t a ghost town, but there were mostly construction workers and just a few people hanging out in the space where we were setting up the cafe.”
Now the cafe is busy from early morning until 2 p.m. with tradespeople, tenants and visitors. During the lunchtime rush the line is sometimes 20 people deep. “Back then I thought, ‘I don’t know if they can pull this off.’ But now — Wow!”
Bell Works has marched through its early life as a concept — an inspiration — and is firmly engaged in the next phase of its growth — the hustling, bustling, buzzing reality of Bell Works, working.
And what’s next? “Crews are working now on constructing a rooftop terrace — it’s going to be gorgeous,” Farrell said. “We’re upgrading all the entrances soon. Also happening now, the lower level, which we’re calling ‘event space’ — we’re rehabbing the conference center and lecture hall. Stay tuned. It’s only going to get more interesting.”