Fairfield Inn project leaders eye May or June opening for Williamstown hotel

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WILLIAMSTOWN — After reports of delays and a troubled work site, construction of the Fairfield Inn & Suites appears to be getting closer to the finish line.

The project had been expected to open in June 2018, but has been beset by problems including high turnover, safety code violations and errors in craftsmanship.

"We did have some problems like any other project would, but we have these things under control," said Chirag Thaker, president of Russell & Dawson, the East Hartford, Conn., firm in charge of the project. "This is part and parcel of life on a construction project."

Floors two and three, which hold all the guest rooms, are nearly complete, and work on the first floor is moving forward in "big strides," he said.

Thaker told The Eagle he anticipates that construction will wrap up in May and the hotel to open in June, although hotel owner Navin Shah is hoping for a May 15 opening.

Shah, who also owns the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in Lenox and the Holiday Inn Express in Great Barrington, is working to construct the three-story, 94-room Fairfield Inn at 430 Main St. The 53,000-square-foot building stands about 35 feet high.

He previously has estimated the cost of the Williamstown project at $10 million to $12 million.

Work began in September 2017 with the demolition of an office building that stood on the site.

But since then, there have been problems with framing, plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, according to Ryan Contenta, the town's building commissioner.

"We've had issues just about every step of the way," Contenta said. "And no matter what, we're not going to allow them to open until that building is safe. That's our job."

He contested Thaker's assertion that the problems were routine.

"We've had a lot of inspections because there were a lot of things that had to be mitigated," Contenta said. "That is not typical at projects of this size."

The project also has been hit with violations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Last May, OSHA fined Russell & Dawson, as well as masonry subcontractor Johnson and Surdam Masonry, for six "serious" safety violations. In one instance, workers were trying to disassemble a 37-foot-tall scaffold — that, itself, was a violation because the base was only 6 feet wide — while laborers were working on top of it. The scaffold also was not tethered, as required.

After a one-day inspection, OSHA reported, "Employees observed dismantling a tubular scaffold were not under the direct supervision of a competent person. Employees had removed braces and ties before dismantling and were dismantling a scaffold while it was still actively in use by other employees performing brick laying operations."

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Also, employees were seen working from the top level of a scaffold "more than 35 feet above the next lower level and were not protected from falls by the use of personal fall arrest systems or guard rail systems."

Another violation resulted when no respirators were used while workers cut brick, which lets off airborne crystalline silica dust, according to Ted Fitzgerald, regional director for public affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor.

The firms initially were fined $27,344, but after correcting the violations, the penalty was reduced to $13,672. The fine was paid and the case was closed in October.

Some workers who have been on-site also have reported a number of problems with the project.

Former assistant site supervisor Brian Lillie said there was a cavalier adherence to safety codes, a statement that was confirmed by off-the-record comments from others.

Lillie was terminated from his job with Russell & Dawson at the Williamstown project in February.

"Things were done in an unsafe way, but luckily no injuries resulted," Lillie said.

Generally speaking, Lillie said, there "has been a lot of turmoil" at the site because of high turnover rate among supervisors, subcontractors and in the ranks of laborers.

Thaker characterized these reports as hard feelings from disgruntled employees.

He disagreed with Contenta's assertion that there have been an unusual number of issues with the project.

"And when we have these issues, we make sure we fix them correctly so that is not an issue anymore," Thaker said.

Shah, the owner, said there have not been any significant delays, and that for a hotel project of this size, "it normally takes 14 to 16 months, easily."

Contenta said that during his most recent visits, he did notice increased staffing and an on-site architect who seemed to have a good understanding of what needs to be done.

"They have some supervisors there now that really know what they're doing, including an on-site architect," Contenta said. "It was apparent to me that they're really looking to get things done. That new team is really on top of things."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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