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Construction of new medical school building creates opportunities for minority- and women-owned firms

Robert Barnette has taken over operations of Eaton Associates from his grandfather. The firm does drywall and acoustical tile work, and is a supplier for some roofing materials. Photo: Douglas Levere

By GROVE POTTER

Published May 12, 2017

“Having a relationship with UB is very helpful because they have so many projects going on.”
Robert Barnette, Eaton Associates

Kathy Grimm took out a home equity loan, maxed out her credit cards and borrowed from her parents when starting Buffalo Concrete Accessories Inc. 23 years ago.

“If there were 10 stereotypes for starting a new business, I did them all,” Grimm says.

Fighting through those difficult times proved worth it. Grimm’s firm has played a role in most of the major construction projects in Buffalo in recent years, from the Key Center hockey arena to the SolarCity factory and many loft restorations.

Today Grimm is a contractor on one of the premier projects in the city, the new building for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“At the medical school project, we’re supplying masonry mix, water proofing and other supplies. We’re there almost every day,” says Grimm, a graduate of the School of Architecture and Planning. “We handle everything associated with forming concrete except the actual concrete,” she says.

The 10-person company is moving to a larger warehouse on Grider Street and looking to hire more people. Looking back, Grimm has no qualms about her choice to go it alone.

“Since I was starting from scratch, it was hard,” she says. “But if I had to do it all over again, I would do it.”

$52 million in contracts for minority- and women-owned firms

The UB medical school project has been a boon to local contractors, including minority- and women-owned (MWBE) businesses. The participation goal for MWBEs is 22 percent on the project. Through March 31, this has resulted in about $52 million in MWBE contracts for the eight-story building, according to the State University Construction Fund.

The medical school project is energizing the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. It will bring more than 2,000 faculty, staff and students downtown and link them with the bourgeoning medical and scientific community there. The new school also will enable UB to expand each incoming class of medical students from 144 to 180.

Among the minority contractors helping complete the building is Eaton Associates. The company, started by Clarke Eaton Jr., is now run by his grandson, Robert Barnette, also a graduate of the UB School of Architecture and Planning.

“We’re a small construction company, basically doing drywall, acoustical tiles and framing. We also do roofing supplies,” Barnette says. “At the medical school, we’re hanging drywall.”

Barnette says his grandfather negotiated the contract for the medical school work. “He is the one with all the contacts. I have been tagging along with him for the past couple of years.”

Eaton Associates uses union drywall workers and hires from the union hall as needed.

Barnette says doing work for UB has been important to the company.

“Having a relationship with UB is very helpful because they have so many projects going on,” he says. “It’s great to have that rapport with them.”

There at the start

Kathy Grimm, owner and president of Buffalo Concrete Accessories, has been involved in most of the largest projects in the Buffalo area in recent years. Photo: Douglas Levere

The medical school building is the biggest construction project in UB’s history.

UB staff are scheduled to begin moving into the $375 million building at Main and High streets in the fall, and classes will begin there in January. Built above the Allen Street Metro Rail stop, the new medical school building will contain classrooms, laboratories, an expanded patient-care simulation center, offices and a dramatic interior atrium.

“The university is very pleased the medical school project has generated substantial work and thousands of jobs for firms and contractors throughout the region,” says Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration. “We placed a priority on promoting MWBE engagement in the project as part of our UB 2020 strategic planning and our ongoing commitments to the community.”

Before any concrete was poured or drywall hung, Rosanne Frandina, owner and president of Frandina Engineering and Land Surveying Inc., surveyed the site and prepared topographic surveys of all the underground utilities.

“We’re always involved at the very beginning,” says Frandina, a UB graduate in civil engineering who also holds an MBA from the university. She is also one of the few people in the state to hold PE (Professional Engineer) and LS (Land Surveyor) designations.

Holding the women-owned business designation may help in securing some work, Frandina says, “but we wouldn’t be called if we weren’t doing very precise measurements.”