He was an unusual student at The Linsly School and not just because he had a hard hat and construction boots in the car he drove to commute from Dillonvale, Ohio, Monday through Friday during the academic year.
Dino Colaianni was graduated from the city of Wheeling’s only private high school in 1985 and already had a full-time job with his father’s construction company that he reported to after school and bright and early each morning of summer vacation. Vincent Colaianni, one of the founding fathers of the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival in the mid-1980s, began his construction career as a concrete contractor in 1963, and during the 1970s Colainanni Construction Inc. expanded to general contractor status.
Dino was named operations manager before his Linsly commencement, and in 1987 the company added construction manager services. Hundreds of projects later, Colaianni Construction is the general contractor for The Health Plan’s $16 million project in the 1100 block of downtown Wheeling.
“My father got me started in the business when I was still in high school, and I believe the first building I worked on was the gymnasium at Mount de Chantal,” Colaianni said. “For the most part I was a laborer on that job because I just did whatever my dad told me to do, but I was also running heavy equipment on that job, too.
“I grew up in the business, so I was pretty confident at an early age that this is what I would do for a living,” he said. “I mean, I pretty much grew up in my dad’s office, so it was all about the construction business every day of my life. I lived it, dreamed it, and that’s where we are today.”
The final steel beam for the 53,000-square-foot headquarters was placed about a week ago as the crews continue to be able to work through a warmer-than-usual winter season in the Upper Ohio Valley, and a fourth-quarter completion is expected. When the employees of the health care insurer move, as many as 325 will relocate from East Ohio to the new building while 80 more will have workspace inside the Horne’s Building.
Colaianni Construction currently employs 35 full-time carpenters, operators, laborers, and cement finishers and hires a multitude of subcontractors. For example, employees of Century Cranes placed that final beam of steel.
It was Dino who managed the expansion to Wesbanco Arena, and his company also constructed Grand Vue’s Park’s new treetop villas, Welty Village, East Coast Metal Products at The Highlands, and several local school buildings. He even had the chance to build a dormitory and the Stifel Fieldhouse on the campus of his high school alma mater.
“It was a really a great experience doing the work we did at Linsly after I graduated because all of the same teachers were still there, and so was the Headmaster, Reno Diorio,” Colaianni recalled. “The other evening my wife and I were watching TV, and the basketball highlights came on, and one of the clips showed the Martins Ferry gym. I told her that it was kind of neat to see the buildings we constructed on the news.
“Getting to do the Health Plan project was really awesome because of what it means for downtown Wheeling and for the people of the city,” he explained. “And the company needed it because, right now, there’s not a lot of work in the Valley. It was great for our guys to get this deal because we had finished the façade on Wesbanco Arena and didn’t have the next job lined up until this one came through.”
He is now the company’s vice president with his mother, Maryann, sitting at the head of the table since his father passed away suddenly at home in November 2014. His wife, Carol, also is a company officer, and the couple have three children, Dino Jr. (25), Mia (23), and Reno (21).
“Every once in a while I think about my father and what he would think about the projects that we have worked on and completed since his death, and right now I think he’s looking down on us and clapping for us,” Colaianni said. “I’m positive he’s very pleased for us, and that feels really good.
“It was tough losing my father because we were very close for a long, long time,” he continued. “So, for the company he founded and built to still be doing as well as we are, well, that means a lot to me.”
In the very beginning of the Health Plan project, Dino encountered a delaying reality beneath the area where a Rite Aid, G.C. Murphy, Howard’s Diamond Center, River City Dance Works, Vocelli’s Pizza, and the Panda Chinese Restaurant once stood. Three sandstone basements, each dating back to the 1850s, were uncovered and needed to be excavated before the land could be carved for the new building’s interior infrastructure.
The removals set back the Colaianni Construction crews about three weeks, but the first privately funded building construction project in more than 30 years is now on schedule and within budget.
Because that’s what Dino does.
“I’ve never really realized what it is about the construction business that makes me want to come to work every day, but that’s how I feel about it,” Colaianni said. “But in this business you have to be afraid to stop, and that’s why you’re always looking for the next job even before you are finished with the one you’re working on. I’m always thinking of our employees and the fact they need to make a living for their families.
“And yeah, the bidding process is a nerve-racking process because it’s important that you’re working as much as you can when the weather is cooperating. Around this area, you really never know what the weather is going to be, so when it’s nice enough to keep building, that’s what we do,” he continued. “We’ve had great weather this winter, and it’s why we are where we are at with the Health Plan building right now. I’m not saying that it’s a walk in the park when it’s 30 degrees out, but as long as it’s safe, we work.”
But for how long? Colainanni’s daughter is a teacher in the Martins Ferry district, his eldest son owns a crane company and has been working with pipeline outfits as a subcontractor, and his youngest son is studying construction in college.
“If they come to work for the company and it looks like they can take off and run with it, that would be great,” he said. “I think that would be neat, but if not, that will be fine also, and that will mean I’ll have to figure out when I’m done with it.
“I’m only in my early 50s now, so when the day comes when I actually think I am done, I believe I’ll know it,” Colaianni added. “But this is what I do, and it’s what my father did, and he went to work on the day he passed away, so who knows about me.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)