Faced with an enormous hive of 100,000 honeybees found in the walls of a renovation project, other general contractors might have called the exterminator.
Not Deirdre Wadsworth, president of Hardypond Construction in Portland.
The renovation involved converting the former Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, in Portland, into 25 moderately priced apartments. Learning of the hive, she wanted to do everything she could to save the bees, given widespread colony collapses. So she halted construction on that part of the building and had the bees relocated to the home apiary of her site supervisor, Andrew Green Jr., who also happens to be a beekeeper.
“People were ready to get out a can of Raid,” she says. “We shut down that part of the job site for a few weeks and did some additional work to be able to safely transfer them. And the honey was absolutely amazing — the best I've tasted in my entire life.”
Wadsworth is not daunted by surprises. In fact, she relishes them as part of the work's fascination. Mostly, it's about innovation to get better results. In the church conversion, now called Clark on Pleasant, Wadsworth and her crew retained many original elements of the historic John Calvin Stevens-designed structure, configuring unique apartments to showcase the original wood beams and a Tiffany stained glass window in the sanctuary.
“It's pretty cool, and it was the one of the first apartments to rent, even though it's one of the smaller apartments,” she says.
Wadsworth began driving a backhoe at age 7. She was helping her father, Bob Gaudreau, who founded Hardypond Construction in 1990 to work on small commercial and educational renovation projects. In 2015, she took over leadership of the company.
Hardypond Construction expects to have $12 million in revenue this year from a range of projects, including renovations, historical restorations and commercial construction.
Clients include Norton Insurance in Cumberland, Sterling Rope in Biddeford and executive search firm Smith & Wilkinson in Scarborough.
Currently, it is building a radiology facility at New England Cancer Specialists and doing interior and exterior rebuilds at the former Foundation for Blood Research, both in Scarborough.
Wadsworth realized early that the job would never be boring.
“I've never had two days that are the same,” she says. “Especially with renovation, you open a wall or put your excavator in the ground and there's always a surprise. It keeps you on your toes.”
Wadsworth, who is LEED-accredited as a professional, also has design and construction certification through the U.S. Green Building Council. As a Green Professional-certified instructor, she teaches employees best practices for creating green and efficient buildings.
She also serves as an advisor with the Westbrook Conference of Totally Trades!, a program of the job advocacy and resource organization New Ventures Maine in Augusta: She's worked with hundreds of girls exploring construction and the trades as a career option. And she's board member for Birth Roots in Portland, providing support for new parents; and YMCA Camp Huckins in New Hampshire.
Like the Totally Trades! girls, Wadsworth was herself a high schooler when she officially began working for the company.
“I was the jack-of-all-trades laborer, the lackey,” she says. “I ran heavy equipment, I filled in, in the field or in the office. I was part-time summers and any day off from school, doing whatever needed to be done.”
She didn't plan to stay, thinking she might go into finance or law. At the University of Denver, she earned a bachelor's in economics. When not studying, she spent a couple of years with The Foreside Co., a home goods wholesaler in Gorham, in sales and trade show management. She also spent a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
After college, her father's office assistant unexpectedly passed away. Wadsworth stepped in, thinking it would be a month or two. Instead, her father suggested she stay on and take advantage of the company's educational stipend. She pursued an MBA in sustainability, first part-time at the University of Southern Maine's School of Business, then transferring full-time to the online program at Green Mountain College, all while working full-time for Hardypond — a grueling schedule perhaps sustained by her passion for triathlon.
On the job, she recalls the learning curve in the office and on-site, working with project managers, overseeing safety improvements, mastering the fine points of estimating and translating blueprints into construction.
“It was an organic trajectory that a lot of people go through when they join a company,” she says. “You work your way up to a certain level of project management, understanding the design aspects and how a project is accomplished with all the moving parts. The easy part for me was the numbers. I had an economics background and an MBA. The hard part was learning how to understand the drawings. That wasn't second-nature. But since I had grown up around it, I knew the terms and I think that gave me an upper hand, to some extent. But I asked a lot of questions.”
When Gaudreau began contemplating retirement, he and Wadsworth initiated a succession plan that installed her as president in 2015, made her majority owner and will see her as sole owner in 2020.
Part of the job is nurturing her father's principles. In addition to the education program, the company has a policy of no layoffs. In 1989, Gaudreau was laid off just before Christmas.
Within days, he started a new company, vowing that he wouldn't do the same to his own employees.
“A lot of construction companies hire in the busy months and lay off in the winter,” Wadsworth says. “We have a commitment to only hire people we know we can keep full-time, year-round. I tell my people, you will not worry about losing a job and feeding your family.”
Under her leadership, the company is grounded in the principles of treating employees and subcontractors like family, ongoing safety training, and having a diverse workforce — 30% of employees are female. Unlike other companies that shift project managers to new jobs before the punch list is complete — a potentially jarring experience for clients — Wadsworth keeps managers on the project through the closing period.
She also pursues the Triple Bottom Line philosophy, learned while earning her MBA. This puts equal emphasis on social, environmental and financial considerations, which translates into building methods that benefit clients and the environment with practices like super-insulated buildings, utilization of advanced framing techniques, avoidance of volatile organic compounds and reliance on local resources.
She promotes the company as a collaborative partner throughout the development process, rather than a hired hand once the drawings are in.
“We seek opportunities to work with developers and owners, to get in from the beginning and create relationships that allow us to do multiple projects over time,” she says.
For example, for the 2015 renovation and addition for Norton Insurance in Cumberland, “We were brought in early, and were able to help the design team, architect, engineers and owner understand the best values they could get for their money,” she says. “Having our eyes at the beginning of the process benefits the end results. That process is exciting, and a lot of fun. And we all create relationships while also creating this great product.”
She expects her work with girls to be a potential conduit for the future workforce, in an industry that's struggling to find employees.
“If you have a shortage, you need to think about nontraditional applicants,” she says. “I'm saying, 'Let's get more females involved.'”