J.M. O’Reilly & Associates, Inc. Teams Up With Habitat for Humanity
Community involvement is a top priority for J.M. O’Reilly & Associates, Inc., based in Brewster, Massachusetts. The professional engineering, land surveying and environmental services firm takes seriously its mission to help others—over the past 15 years, the firm has played some role in the construction of about 60 homes for Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod.
Habitat for Humanity builds homes for families with critical housing needs, using volunteers to construct the houses, alongside the future purchasers. The organization sells the homes with an affordable mortgage to hard-working local families so that they can stay on Cape Cod and thrive in their communities. To make this work, Habitat needs good relationships with local construction vendors and a great team of volunteers. J.M. O’Reilly has stepped up as a reliable professional consultant and has given advice and guidance along the way, as well, says Victoria Goldsmith, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod.
Lending a Helping Hand
President John O’Reilly says that his company provides consulting for all types of work to a range of clients, including homeowners, nonprofits, municipal clients and commercial clients. As part of its services, the firm offers advice in the comprehensive permit process, including permits for affordable housing. That’s where Habitat comes into play, he says.
Much of the work with Habitat involves applications of civil engineering and assistance with design plans, such as help with the conceptual layout of a Habitat development and the permitting process with the organization and its local attorney.
Some of O’Reilly’s work is contributed and some is done for a fee, he says. Among his pro bono contributions is helping with conceptual plans for Habitat. A conceptual plan is needed if Habitat has received donated land or if there is land for possible purchase. If the organization wants to develop an attractive subdivision for affordable homes on a 10-acre parcel, for example, O’Reilly can help Habitat leadership by creating a conceptual layout that allows them to go to funding sources or its board of directors to get the green light on seeking the land.
“John gives us a great price on his engineering services, but beyond that, he’s timely in his responsiveness, so a project flows and doesn’t get stopped because we are waiting on something,” Goldsmith says. “He helps us look at the feasibility of a project by creating or reviewing a concept drawing to see if it makes sense to go forward. We can confer with John on that basis early on in a project and know it will be done and be done correctly.”
Goldsmith says that Habitat doesn’t rely on any single contractor 100 percent, but O’Reilly has been one of the organization’s primary engineers since 2006. “He’s highly reputable in the area,” she says. “Any town we work in, the building departments have confidence in our presentations.”
O’Reilly’s work offers additional credibility to Habitat, Goldsmith says, and often opens doorways for the next project, as well as opens doors for more families to have access to affordable housing.
O’Reilly says that he grew interested in Habitat when a volunteer, Don Dickinson—an architect and planner—encouraged him to help. “His dedication to affordable housing totally impressed me,” O’Reilly recalls of Dickinson, who passed away in 2014. “I’ve been fortunate to work on the Cape; it is a great place to work and bring up a family, but housing is very expensive. This helps families who couldn’t normally afford to own a house here, and I just feel it’s a great way to give back to the community.”
Almost 60 Habitat homes later, O’Reilly says that it is still his first project with the nonprofit in 2003 that stands out. Habitat was developing land for 16 homes in Hyannis, Massachusetts, but they were having trouble getting the engineer to complete initial work. “I took over to assist Habitat in completing the project and received the final sign-offs from the town,” O’Reilly says. “It was pivotal because it was a municipality that wanted affordable housing for ownership, not rental.” Now there are families living in the community who could not otherwise have afforded to own real estate in that market.
Supporting the Community
O’Reilly’s community service doesn’t end with Habitat for Humanity. He also serves on the Nauset Regional School Committee.
“I value the community,” he says. “I’ve had three children go through the local school district, and I’ve served on the board of education. My children have graduated high school and gone on to college, but I stay on the school board because I really do appreciate the educational system here at Nauset, and the community is a big reason for it.”
Sometimes, his community service leads to contracts. He offered to do pro bono work to help restore the historic Crosby mansion in Brewster, near Nickerson State Park. The mansion, completed in 1888, had fallen into disrepair. Volunteers wanted to restore the mansion and redeveloped two residential homes on the property to fund the restoration of the historic home. The home redevelopment led to a paying project to work on the redevelopment on the two residential homes on the property.
O’Reilly is particularly proud to have been a part of a project for Riverview School, a private school for students with special needs in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. His firm provided engineering and surveying for a new performing arts center in 2010.
O’Reilly says that his firm makes it easy for clients by providing a full range of services: creating a conceptual plan; developing plans, including survey, soil testing and analysis, and wetland delineation if needed; and planning and creating a permit plan package.
“We can assist clients in obtaining approval or permit requirements for a project,” he says. “We work extensively with local planning boards and boards of health (for onsite wastewater design and systems).”
He has seven staff members, including three degreed engineers. His most senior employee has been with him almost 22 years.
O’Reilly strives to have a wide client base, working with both residential and municipal clients.
“If the housing market drops like it did 2008 to 2009, my other client base of municipal or nonprofit is there,” O’Reilly says. “Versatility is important, and the diversity of our client base allows us not to rely on one sector of the business.”
No matter the market, O’Reilly relies on his time-tested business philosophy. “I like to treat my clients as I like to be treated when I’m getting services done,” he says. ”Keep the permit path as clean and as expedited as possible. Make sure you listen to the clients, and put your clients in a position that their projects will be successful.”