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Special Report: Firm stays local to build 'nice little city'

"It's quite a nice little city," said Phil Mastagni, president of Modesto's Acme Construction, as he escorted visitors around Gregori High. "If my dad (Fred Mastagni) could see this, he would really be proud. He started this company with a pickup truck and a shovel."

Gregori High is by far the biggest project in Acme's 63-year history. Acme started on the more than $100 million contract in late 2007. The high school now is ready to turn over to Modesto City Schools.

"We employed 1,500 people during the course of construction, with 200 to 250 people working on any given day," said Mastagni. He said most of those workers were from Northern San Joaquin Valley companies because the school district encouraged Acme to use local firms.

Modesto school district officials "stuck their neck out to pick a local contractor to build this," Mastagni said, noting how Acme's construction "bid was a little higher than the low bid" the district received.

But Acme, unlike some other construction firms, was willing to partner with the district to provide a back-up funding source, which can be tapped if the district needs it. District administrators say their cooperative relationship with Acme also helped control construction costs.

That's why Acme's final bill is expected to be a couple million dollars less than it originally had bid to build Gregori.

Acme Vice President Mike Mastagni, Phil's son, was the Gregori project manager.

Creating the 80-acre campus was a massive undertaking. It included constructing 276,000 square feet in 14 buildings, plus athletic fields, parking and landscaping. Acme also built the well and water system that will serve the school.

"There's your next public utility, right there," Phil Mastagni said while showing off the 360-foot-deep well, water tanks, fire-suppression pumps and backup generator needed for the water system.

But it's Gregori's gym, library, multipurpose room and 95 classrooms that satisfies Mastagni the most. He said his company was able to keep construction on schedule because it divided the steel production contract between two local manufacturers.

Bambacigno Steel of Modesto provided steel for the gym and all the big buildings, while Weldway Inc. of Oakdale provided steel for the library and the smaller buildings.

"Breaking up the steel contract was the key that made this whole project work so well," said Mastagni, explaining how that enabled the steel manufacturers to keep pace.

Some of that steel can be seen in the Gregori gym, where the future Jaguar teams will compete.

"Tell people the first basket ever shot on this court was shot by me, an old Downey High basketball player," said Mastagni.

Future Gregori players likely will learn his name because Acme Construction donated construction of about $150,000 worth of covered dugouts for the baseball and softball fields.

"I wanted to make a contribution to the school that was not financial," Mastagni said. In response, Gregori will dedicate the diamond in the builder's honor. "It's going to be called Mastagni Family Field."

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