Pulling Together

As we were wrapping up this issue, the country was going through a tumultuous election in the midst of a pandemic. Our November-December issue typically focuses on government and municipal projects, and as we compiled these stories spotlighting successful public projects it was hard not to reflect on the nation’s highly polarized political environment.

According to roof consultant John A. D’Annunzio, public projects are typically a solid and dependable sector of the roofing market, and he outlines tips for successfully bidding and executing public projects in this issue.

Want to make sure you get paid at the end of the job? Working for a government entity can mean that it’s impossible to file a lien or sue in civil court, so check out the article by David Keel and Richard Anderson of Cotney Construction Law, who detail ways contractors can protect themselves and make sure they are compensated when the work is done.

This issue profiles government and municipal projects of many different types, including low-slope and steep-slope work, both retrofit and new construction. Several of them involved complex roof replacements in facilities that were open throughout the duration of the project. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the roof on the 300,000-square-foot United States Post Office General Mail Facility was replaced with a modified bitumen system while mail processing at the facility continued 24-7. In Owatonna, Minnesota, restoring the city’s historic administration building included installing 29,000 square feet of synthetic slate — and a detailed safety plan to protect workers and members of the public.

In Sevierville, Tennessee, a community center’s roof was replaced with metal-over-metal retrofit, which cut costs and minimized safety concerns. During a new construction project nearby, a butterfly standing seam metal roof and metal wall panels were installed on Sevier County Utility District’s new multipurpose facility.

D’Annunzio, who has been a roof consultant for more than 30 years, begins every pre-construction meeting by saying, “Nobody wins unless everybody wins.” His point is that the fate of the general contractor, roofing contractor, architect, engineer and consultant are all intertwined. All of them will benefit if they work together and the project is successful. They will all suffer if the project fails and ends up in litigation.

“Nobody wins unless everybody wins.” Not a bad motto for running a roofing project. Not a bad motto for running a government, either.

Interesting Times

“Stay safe.”

“Take care.”

“Hope you are healthy and safe.”

Work correspondence has taken on a different tone in the last couple of months as events have been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s touching. People have been so kind in their responses. It puts me in mind of the gruff but friendly desk sergeant in the 1980s TV series “Hill Street Blues,” who would end every pre-shift meeting — no matter how chaotic — with this reminder: “Let’s be careful out there.”

When I emailed safety expert Richard Hawk to thank him for his column in our last issue, he responded, “There is a centuries old Asian saying that is both a blessing and a curse: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ It fits now, huh?” 

It does. The business landscape and most work environments are changing rapidly. In this issue you’ll see case studies and technical columns, as well as several articles geared specifically to coping with the coronavirus pandemic as the roofing industry continues to fulfill its indispensable role in maintaining our infrastructure.

This issue contains advice for employers coping with the fallout of COVID-19 from Benjamin Briggs and Elliot Haney at Cotney Construction Law. You’ll find tips from contractors like Ken Kelly of Kelly Roofing and Steve Little of KPost Roofing & Waterproofing, who had to come up with creative solutions to meet new jobsite regulations and keep business flowing. You’ll also see the story of a roofing manufacturer that found a way to help meet critical shortages of medical personal protective equipment.

Duro-Last CEO Tom Saeli told me how a team of employees at Duro-Last came up with the idea to use the company’s materials and equipment to make medical gowns and masks for area hospitals. He also assured me his company was doing all it could to ensure employees manufactured the equipment safely — including maintaining social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting the plant and equipment, providing masks and face shields, and taking everyone’s temperature.

At Roofing, we are committed to maintaining our role as “the industry’s voice” through our glossy print issue and digital edition, as well as our website and e-newsletter. Tom Saeli noted Duro-Last was sharing its story in the hopes that it would inspire others to help. If you have a story you’d like to share, please let us know.

And hey — let’s be careful out there.

Duro-Last Quickly Retools to Manufacture Medical Supplies During Pandemic

Duro-Last reformulated its flexible PVC membranes and retooled equipment to manufacture medical gowns and masks to help hospitals facing equipment shortages. Photos: Duro-Last

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold, hospitals all over the world found themselves facing critical shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). The state of Michigan was hit hard by the virus, and as news of critical supply shortages hit the media, team members at Saginaw, Michigan-based Duro-Last, Inc., came together determined to figure out a way to help.

According to Duro-Last CEO Tom Saeli, the group quickly developed a plan to manufacture medical PPE. “The genesis was that a small group of employees got together — people from engineering, sales, manufacturing, and R & D — and they were well aware of the crisis and the dire need for medical personal protective equipment at the hospitals. They got together on their own accord and came up with the idea to try to make medical gowns and non-surgical masks using our materials, processes and equipment.”

The meeting happened on Friday, March 20, and the group continued to work on it the next day. “On Saturday, they called me and said, ‘We’re making these because we know there’s a need,’” Saeli recalls. “I can’t take credit for any of this.”

Saeli, a member of the board of trustees at Beaumont Health, was in the perfect position to connect the team with the hospital. “We are well aware that Beaumont was the epicenter of the crisis in southeast Michigan for COVID-19 patients,” says Saeli. “I called them on Saturday, told them what we were doing, and the rest happened very quickly.”

Initial designs for masks and gowns were based on photos and schematics in the public domain. “Our people went up and down I-75 with gown and mask designs over the next few days, and they really nailed down a design that worked for Beaumont. By the following Friday, we were manufacturing product.”

Meeting a Need

The company, well known for manufacturing flexible PVC roofing membranes, converted equipment normally used to make roofing products for another use. “We have some very creative, clever people,” Saeli says. “Because we do so much custom fabrication, we were able to retool some of our equipment to manufacture this design for gowns and masks.”

The non-surgical masks, made from polyester and PVC, are washable and reusable. The gowns are made from flexible, transparent PVC and can be sanitized and reused.

The membrane itself was reformulated. The hospital gowns are made from flexible, transparent PVC that is 6 mils thick. The gowns are water- and fluid-repellant, and they can be sanitized and reused. The masks, made from polyester and PVC, can be washed and reused. Feedback from the hospital has been overwhelmingly positive. “There’s a big demand,” Saeli says. “We’re getting calls from all over the country for gowns and masks. There is also a trend for wearing masks in everyday life, including at jobsites, so the demand is just going to continue to increase. We are manufacturing 24 hours a day right now at our Saginaw plant, and it’s keeping more than 60 people employed.”

Duro-Last is looking to expand the capability to its seven plants across the country, but profit is not a motivator in this case. “We didn’t enter this for financial gain,” Saeli says. “We aren’t making a profit on this. We just did it because we saw a need that had to be served. It does help to employ some people, which is great as well. But the profit we are getting is an emotional profit, if you will. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to be doing right now.”

The tight time frame to get the designs approved and equipment ready was probably the biggest challenge, according to Saeli. “It was the fastest product development I’ve ever seen,” he says. “The team just powered through any issues that came up. The mindset of our employees is to be very entrepreneurial, which goes back to our founder, John R. Burt. We are unique in our industry. We are the only ones who do custom fabrication. We’ve got a very entrepreneurial spirit that we encourage all the time. The DNA of our business is to take on challenges and come up with new ideas.”

As the products are being made, the company is taking precautions to ensure they are being manufactured safely. “For the last five weeks, we’ve been practicing social distancing,” Saeli notes. “We’ve been taking everyone’s temperature with a thermal forehead scanner when they come in and throughout the day. We clean and sanitize all of our equipment. We had our plant professionally disinfected. We are trying to do everything in our power to protect our employees.”

Duro-Last is encouraging other companies join the fight. “We had a call with SPRI, which includes many manufacturers in the industry, including our competitors, and we spoke with 25 people from around the county to tell others what we did, share our design with them, and encourage other companies to get involved any way they could in their local markets.”

The company is sharing the news with the media for the same reason. “We wanted to demonstrate to others that if a roofing manufacturer could do something, everyone else should look at it as well,” Saeli says. “We are sharing our story to encourage others to jump in and help any way they can.”