Those who are waiting for the grand re-opening of Madison Beach Hotel are going to have to wait a little bit longer. The building is literally under wraps this week as workers on the construction site placed sheathing on scaffolding on two sides of the building so that they can replace insulation, the project manager says.
In other news, the hotel's celebrated executive chef, Francois Kwaku Dongo recently accepted another job at the Riverside Hotel in Greenwich, CT.
In the meantime, the state Department of Labor says four subcontractors were issued stop-work orders for a variety of labor violations, including not paying workers and "mis-classifying workers as independent contractors with the intent of avoiding their obligations under federal and state employment laws covering such matters as workers’ compensation, unemployment taxes and payroll reporting." Some of those issues have been cleared up, including the payment of $40,000 in wages to a subcontractor's employees, and others remain outstanding, the state Department of Labor says.
Lou Carrier, the president of Distinctive Hospitality Group, which has been managing the construction project for the hotel since July 2011, said he was not aware that there were outstanding stop work orders in effect. He did say that the hotel owners' decision to replace the insulation is "one of the smartest things" they could do. The new and improved insulation will make the hotel warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, he said.
"It was no small decision, that's for sure"
"It's the smartest thing we've done. You've got a brand new building, it's ready to go and now you're doing this. It shows the commitment of the owners in making this building the absolute best it could be. It was no small decision, that's for sure. The fact is that the R value, the insulation value, had the opportunity to be more substantially fortified. We realized this when everybody got hit by the hurricane," he said. "That brought up the question of whether we wanted to do something stronger on the Sound side of the building. And, ultimately, it was a quick decision, because it's going to be a year-round resort. This is a property that has legacy value for the Duques family [which owns it]. Rick Duques lives here [in Madison]. He wants it to be a showcase."
Carrier said there was no problem with moisture in the existing insulation, or other problems but, rather, the extensive rework of the outside of the building was prompted by a desire to improve the insulation.
"Madison has been very stringent about meeting the codes and the building inspectors are very, very involved," he said.
New executive chef could be named next week
Carrier said the executive chef, Francois Kwaku Dongo, decided to move on to a job at the Riverside Hotel in Greenwich, CT, because he was concerned about the timing of the opening of the hotel.
"He's not going to be working at the hotel," Carrier said. "He just finally made his decision in terms of the timing of the opening. The other thing, too, he lived quite a ways away from the hotel, so there were personal reasons too. It made sense."
Carrier said the hotel hopes to be announcing a new executive chef next week.
Hiring for openings underway
Distinctive Hospitality Group (DHG), based outside of Boston, MA, owns the other three hotels it manages. According to an online profile, those hotels are the "Crowne Plaza-Natick, the Hampton Inn Conference Center, both located 15 miles west of Boston, the Holiday Inn Somerville, located near Boston city center." Carrier said Madison Beach Hotel, for them, "is sort of a unique situation," in that it is the only hotel they manage that they do not own. He said before they were retained last year, it was an owner-controlled project.
"Our big mission here is to establish this property as one of the seminal hospitality experiences in New England," he said. Given that, DHG is going to take the time now available to hire employees and make sure they have the right training, he said. "We need to take the time to do the recruitment and training, so that we have the right service culture," he said.
The hotel likely will hire between 50 and 80 people, with some of those slots being seasonal, he said. "Obviously, there will be a seasonal peak, but our goal is to have as many full-time people as possible."
"We wanted to make sure we weren't going to lose one day of work"
He said one of the reasons the hotel is now being tented is so that employees can continue to work through bad weather, if it hits. "We wanted to make sure we weren't going to lose one day of work" he said. "We have a commitment to open at the beginning of may. The construction crews can work no matter what the weather. We also have portable heaters so if it's a cold day, the guys can still work."
Carrier said he did not know that there were any outstanding problems on the project with the state Labor Department. "My understanding was that anything outstanding or anything that came up has been rectified," he said. "So that's news to me." He referred additional questions about the labor issues to the general contractor on the project, GBC, based in New Jersey.
An employee who answered the phone at a GBC office in Patterson, NJ late Friday confirmed that the company is working on the Madison Beach Hotel project, but said he was not the right person to answer questions about specifics. He said he would try to track down the correct person and have that person call back.
Labor department problems outstanding
Gary K. Pechie, the director of the state Department of Labor Wage and Workplace Standards Division, said department records indicate that some of the problems dating from November 2011 have been cleared up, and that others remain outstanding.
On Nov. 28, 2011, four contractors were cited for violations at the Madison Beach Hotel construction project. "Stop Work orders are levied against companies that misclassify workers as independent contractors with the intent of avoiding their obligations under federal and state employment laws covering such matters as workers’ compensation, unemployment taxes and payroll reporting. Stop Work orders result in the halting of all activity at a cited company’s worksite, as well as a $300 civil penalty per incident for each day the company does not carry workers’ compensation coverage as required by law," according to a release from the state Department of Labor.
"We did some stop works where we found some companies were mis-classfying workers as independent contractors, and some companies did not have workers compensation in Connecticut, so there were dual violations. We did find four companies in that situation. We also found one company who did not pay employees," he said. "That contractor did end up paying $40,000 in back pay. We are still reviewing the files for an assessment of fines."
Some subcontractors addressed problems promptly, others did not
When the contractors were cited, he said, they were prohibited from doing further work at that site until the problems were rectified. Other contractors would have been able to continue work, so the stop-work orders would not have affected the entire project, he said. "We just shut the work down at the worksite for that particular company," he said.
The four contractors involved were Earth Environmental Consultants and Homeguard Environmental Services, both of Connecticut, and Indianapolis Construction of Indiana, and R and T Painting LLC of New Jersey, according to state Department of Labor records.
Pechie said Earth Environmental Consultants didn't have workers compensation coverage for Connecticut, but that they faxed their policy in right away and "got back into compliance very quickly." He said the company had just one employee there, working on an hourly basis. "So that wasn't like a big problem," he said.
Back wages paid
Homeguard Environmental Services was cited for failure to have workers compensation, and for misclassification of independent contractors. Pechie said department records indicate that Homeguard is still in a stop work status.
R and T Painting had similar violations and also appears to remain in a stop work status on the project, Pechie said
Indianapolis Construction was cited for a failure to pay back wages of $40,000. "They did get the back wages paid," Pechie said. The company was also cited for workers compensation violations and misclassification of workers as independent contractors and Pechie said it appeared as though the company was still in a stop-work status on those issues. Indianapolis Construction was the only company cited for failure to pay back wages, Pechie said.
"A real commitment to the town of Madison"
Carrier, from Distinctive Hospitality Group, said that, despite the repeated delays, that the project will come out right in the end.
"The property is really going to be a prideful landmark in Madison," he said. "There's been so much in the way of personal attention that's been given to this. This is a real commitment to the town of Madison and to the larger community. This has been a terrific project to be associated with. It has that added dimension. It's going to be a piece of the community for many generations to come. There is such an enthusiasm about what we're doing. It'll just be stunning."
Carrier said they hope to start inviting members of the community in around the beginning of April to see the hotel, and that he's confident the hotel will be open at the beginning of May. The hotel originally had hoped to have everything finished by early 2011. The opening was later moved to May 2011, and the opening date been moving ever since. The latest target announced was March 2012. The hotel hosted several weddings and events during the summer and fall of 2011, operating under a series of temporary certificates of occupancy from the town. A permanent certificate of occupancy has not yet been granted.
This story was edited at 9:04 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 to add information about the executive chef.