Skanska grads ready to change the world

Skanska USA accountant Sheryl Morgan, Community Board 7 member Ozzie Brown, Skanska USA Civil Northeast assistant CFO Edward Johnston, Project Hire program director Glenda Self, Skanska USA construction manager and Building Blocks course director Rufus Van Thompson, Skanska USA field administrator Lisa Wolf and Skanska USA senior director of diversity James Threadkill applauded the 2009 graduates of Skanska’s Buildings Blocks construction management course at Bronx Community College. Photo by Allen Spatz

Since 1993, when Jose Rosa woke from a coma unable to walk or remember, the former building superintendent and plumber has been rebuilding his life, block by block. He’s relearned to walk. He started an HIV-AIDS outreach program at Bronx Lebanon Hospital. He went back to school.

And on Thursday, November 12, Rosa graduated from Construction Management Building Blocks, a free course at Bronx Community College offered by Skanska, the giant construction firm.

“Construction management positions aren’t usually open to Latinos and blacks,” the Norwood resident said. “Thanks to the course, my foot is in the door.”

Each graduate of the course had his or her own reasons to enroll. Rosa chose Building Blocks because he has construction experience but is unfit for hard labor. Wakefield resident Paula Martin, 40, enrolled because she and her husband want to bid on larger construction contracts. They run a successful 35-year old family firm.

“We want to bid on $200,000 jobs,” Martin said.

Buildings Blocks is in its fourth year, its second in the Bronx. The course equips small business owners to perform better, use modern technology and bid on larger contracts.

Stockholm-based Skanska is one of the largest construction firms in the United States and is responsible the ongoing renovation of the United Nations. In the course’s first three years, Skanska Building experts taught Building Blocks. But Rosa and Martin also learned from Skanska Civil experts, who build tunnels and bridges, water filtration plants and roads.

Rosa and Martin won’t win construction contracts at the new Yankee Stadium, the Gateway Center or the Croton Water Filtration Plant in Van Cortlandt Park; those are complete or nearly complete. But there are more Bronx developments to come – a planned shopping mall at the Kingsbridge Armory, for example.

Some Building Blocks graduates run maintenance or security firms, and may be able to bid on contracts at the Gateway Center or the new Yankee Stadium, Community Board 7 member and 2007 course graduate Ozzie Brown said. Too often, developers offer construction, maintenance and security contracts to small firms from outside the Bronx, and argue that Bronx firms, minority-owned firms in particular, aren’t qualified.

CB7 okayed The Related Companies’ plan to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory on the condition that it offer contracts to Bronx firms. Brown thinks the Skanska course, which touches on job estimating, bidding, safety, bonding and green construction, will help.

Small firms often struggle to bid on mega developments; the process is tough and esoteric. Building Blocks offers business owners a strong foundation and Skanska plans to take its effort a step further, Skanska construction manager Rufus Van Thompson said. The firm will check up on and pitch jobs to course graduates. Thompson has no doubt that the 2009 graduates will succeed.

Rosa loved the course for its tips on green construction methods. Thanks to Building Blocks, Martin will never over-estimate a job or sign a questionable contract again.

“Things we did before were no-nos,” Martin laughed. “The course has helped us immensely.”

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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