Behind the Uniform: Albert Cummings

It’s the background hum in class, the jackhammering echoing students’ early morning caffeinated thoughts, the streets cordoned off and the sidewalks redirected into zigzag patterns.

By now, the constant presence of construction all over campus has become as familiar as the buildings themselves. Students hardly bat an eye when a new gravel pit appears next to their dorm overnight, or a bulldozer trundles down Route 2. But few students are familiar with the people behind all the buzz. I set out to get to know one of the many construction workers that labor to renovate our campus.

In a hard hat and dust-covered jeans, Albert Cummings greeted me with a wide grin and a twinkle in his eyes. Five minutes later, I was in a vest and hard hat myself, caught up in Cummings’ detailed account of his work.

Cummings, who works for Cummings General Contractor, Inc., is the general contractor for the renovation project underway at the Center for Developmental Economics. This two-story, double-layered set of dorms is in its relative infancy, having recently passed project day 50. Having worked on projects such as The Log in the past, Cummings is a seasoned veteran, explaining that each project consists of months, even years of planning in advance. With each project being bigger than the last, this current one is being brought to life by a massive collaborative effort among architects and engineers, supervisors and workers alike. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes, as Cummings notes, “a whole lot of everyone” to see a project like this from the literal ground up. 

He took me on-site to detail this process. It began with a pre-construction “mock-up,” a model that displayed the exact materials and structural design of the project. It ensured that when various inspectors came in, they could understand exactly what the final building would be. “Construction,” Cummings said, “is all about the checks and balances.” From the head of Facilities to the design team, each person has their own valuable contribution, so everyone needs to be on the same page. And in terms of pages, he showed me an entire stack of architectural blueprints with floor designs drawn to absolute precision. No stone went unturned, quite literally,  in this construction.

As for what Cummings does on the daily, he laughed. “I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” he said. Responsible for coordinating all activities on-site, Cummings ensures that everyone has the equipment, materials and instructions necessary to make this project happen. He relays information back and forth so that “the mason never assumes we need a six-inch brick while the architect is asking for an eight-inch,” he said. It’s a lot of multitasking, day in and day out. “I’ll have days where it’s noon and I already have to charge my phone,” Cummings said with his trademark humor. But every time his phone buzzed, Cummings’ eyes lit up, and he was ready to answer whatever question was on the line.

There are times, however, when things don’t go smoothly. When asked about troubleshooting, Cummings smiled. “I’ve always said that Murphy must have been in construction. Because if anything can go wrong, it will,” he said. But technology, Cummings asserted, has been instrumental in making construction better than ever before. As a Williamstown native and a fourth-generation builder for Cummings, “we’ve been in this business for a long time,” he said. In this time, he’s seen technological advancement transform construction for decades. His father had to mix cement and pour foundation by hand. 30 years later, there’s now machinery for that entire process.

Perhaps most inspiring is Cummings’ belief in his work. What the common eye may see as plain concrete, Cummings can already see as the finished product. As he pointed out every part that needed to be poured or framed or wired, his energy was infectious. Ultimately, when asked why, Cummings paused. He thought for a moment. “It’s laying down every brick just right,” he said.  “Brick by brick, I can see the results of my work immediately, and that’s what I get out of this. My grandfather told my father who told me that we’re building something that’ll last much longer than ourselves. That’s what I want to do.”