Rendering by R3A Architecture
By Brian C. Rittmeyer
Originally posted on Oct. 18, 2023, on triblive.com
Softball bats will be the first thing produced at a new manufacturing plant in New Kensington.
Components for satellites are the second.
Production for both will begin next year at Re:Build Manufacturing’s facility in the New Kensington Advanced Manufacturing Park, formerly the Schreiber Industrial Park along the Allegheny River in New Kensington and Arnold.
Work to renovate a total of 175,000 square feet over four buildings previously used by Siemens has been underway since April, before Gov. Josh Shapiro came to Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh on May 1 to announce the $81 million investment.
Work on the project’s first phase is about 30% complete, said Dan Baird, senior manager of operations for Re:Build, during a tour of the facility Tuesday while contractors were working. Two of the four buildings are scheduled to be habitable in January while work continues on the other two.
“I think we’re making great progress,” said Victor Mroczkowski, executive vice president of operations and the general manager on the site.
Crews were working throughout the buildings, inside and out, Tuesday. Mascaro Construction is the general contractor.
Some windows have been removed while others have been filled in. Brick is being repointed, floors are being repaired, and space for a truck dock was dug out.
The buildings will have new floors, walls, insulation, HVAC and electric, Baird said.
Getting enough power to the buildings has been the biggest hurdle. Baird said Re:Build’s power needs will only increase over time, and they have been working with West Penn Power on overcoming that challenge, which he said is doable.
Baird conceded it would have been cheaper for Re:Build to construct a new facility rather than reuse what had once been part of Alcoa’s New Kensington works. But using an existing location is part of the idea as Re:Build seeks to bring manufacturing back from overseas.
“Part of the vision is reclaiming existing manufacturing spaces,” Baird said.
An excavator was inside one building Tuesday, demolishing a no-longer-needed office space. Nearby is a small, new building, 60 feet by 20 feet, where the first production will take place rolling composite material into softball bats, Baird said.
Making the composite bats there is appropriate, as Alcoa had made aluminum bats there in its time.
Production is expected to start in March.
“Right now, there’s a massive market for them, and they’re not made in the U.S.,” Baird said.
Other products are in the planning phases, he said.
Calling it a “quick-response manufacturing site,” Baird said Re:Build will have the ability to change gears to accommodate different projects and work with different materials. They could work short term on a prototype, take on a project for several years or — possible with the bats — produce things on a permanent basis.
“We want to be able to turn things around almost on demand,” he said.
Baird, a native and resident of Murrysville, has been with Re:Build since May. He will manage manufacturing in New Kensington.
He is among 10 people, the leadership team, who have been hired so far.
A hiring blitz will start next year, with 100 workers expected to be at the site by the end of 2024. A total of 300 full-time jobs are still expected to be created over three years.
Re:Build currently has 13 jobs in New Kensington listed on its website. They include quality engineers, manufacturing positions, and business operations and human resources managers.
“This continues to be a great venture,” New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said. “Re:Build continues to make progress both in terms of the facility and hiring. The goal of hiring at least 300 of our local people is so great for our city and the entire Alle-Kiski region.”
Jonathan Andrews of New Kensington was hired by Re:Build in June as an engineering manager. His father, Edward Andrews, had worked for Alcoa in New Kensington.
“It’s going to be a huge benefit to this community,” Andrews said. “The kinds of work we’re going to be doing here is really going to build a new set of skills in the workforce in this area that no one else is. We’ll train the workforce to work with automation — not be replaced by it.”
Baird said Re:Build has been working with local workforce development boards and groups at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State New Kensington.
Re:Build is among employers scheduled to be at a PA CareerLink job fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at 1150 Fifth Ave. in New Kensington.
Baird said Re:Build will work with JV Manufacturing, a tool-and-die shop in Harrison, on an apprenticeship program.
Melissa Vecchi, vice president of JV Manufacturing, said they expect to start as early as January.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity. It’s great what Re:Build’s mission is and what they’re trying to do for our country,” she said. “We’re looking forward to partnering with them.”