Nearing the finish line

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There’s a light at the end of the construction tunnel at the Citizens Bank Campus off Greenville Avenue. And given the bank employee’s response to the project’s progress during an open house held there last Sunday, the campus will soon have several thousand appreciative workers who look forward to calling Johnston their home away from home.

According to Mike Knipper, head of property at the development and an executive vice president at Citizens, more than 2,600 employees signed up for the two-hour tour event. Employees and their families got a firsthand look at the impressive and sometimes overwhelming facility, which is now only a few months away from completion.

While thousands attended the event, traffic on Greenville Avenue and inside campus property was minimal, with most vehicles parked out of view in the now completed parking garage.

Highlighting the visit, however, was a walkthrough of Citizens’ state-of-the-art and expansive contact center, where more than 800 employees will soon provide assistance in a call center environment that can handle over 30,000 telephone calls a day. More than a half dozen call center employees, who Knipper called his “hotshots,” met with the Sun Rise to explain the work they do and shared their excitement over their new office space – excitement that may soon spill over into a boon for Johnston.

Lilia Murphy, a process improvement analyst at Citizens, explained that the call center handles various types of calls, from retail calls from customers looking to inquire about balances, funds availability and overdrafts, to branch support calls, where banking center colleagues can call for assistance with questions or customer issues.

“Monday and Friday are our busiest days in the contact center, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays are usually our slimmest days. Usually on a Monday we’ll probably get about 35,000 calls in the retail contact center,” said Murphy. “We typically handle a retail call in about 350 seconds.”

Employees for the contact center, which will be open around the clock every day of the week, are moving from their existing facility on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston. Many compared the differences between the two buildings as a dramatic change.

“It is an awesome feeling to know we’re coming here. It’s very exciting, and I think I can probably speak for all of us in saying that coming here it’s like night and day,” said Joel Arias, a Contact Center manager. “To be in an environment like this, where most of the lights are now off but it’s still bright in here, it’s filled with natural light. The ambiance and being in a new facility with the views and the overall atmosphere, it’s amazing. To know that we’ll soon be here every day is very refreshing.”

Ann Lussier, also a Contact Center manager, has been with the bank for 39 years and has seen many changes during her tenure.

“I’ve done so many different jobs. I started out as a teller, then I worked on some conversions where I worked with branch support, and I liked to help customers,” said Lussier. “There’s been lots of changes, always making improvements, and it’s always been good.”

Call Center employees can be considered “front line” workers, and callers to the center may not be having the best of days if they’ve lost a debit card or have found fraud on their account. But with a new facility provided by the campus, employees feel that their arrangements will provide a better experience for both themselves and the customers they serve.

“It will help sustain the current talent that we have and it will help bring in new talent,” said Martha Gibson, a premier banking specialist and Contact Center advocate. “It makes you feel comfortable to know that you have job security. What they’ve put into this will help with new talent and keep the old talent, for sure.”

Beth DeGrange, a business analyst, said her family members want to work for the bank after taking the weekend tour.

“My daughter came for a tour today and after seeing this she said, ‘Where can I apply,” she said. “The architecture is stunning and the office space is just beautiful. The technology here is just on point.”

When asked if the employees will stay in town and try out Johnston’s businesses, restaurants and stores, the answer received was a resounding yes.

“We’re all Rhode Islanders, more than five minutes is a long ride for us,” said Murphy. “Do you think we’ll want to go all the way to Warwick? No, Johnston is like two seconds away. I’ve already marked out all the Johnston restaurants I want to try.”

What’s up next

“We’re right on schedule, and things have turned out as we’ve planned,” said Knipper. “I think for me, personally, what I didn’t think would be is the excitement you see here today.”

From a construction standpoint, Knipper said he was “amazed” that nothing can really be seen around the campus, other than Route 295. He said that the campus feels like an “island unto itself.”

Johnston’s own Central Nurseries has put in a tremendous effort planting thousands of trees, bushes and decorative plants in an effort to restore the scars caused during construction. Knipper highlighted the fact that most vendors at the project were local to Johnston or Rhode Island. He said the work at the site would have never occurred without the support and direction from Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Joseph Polisena.

“This is what happens when a state actually wants something and wants it to happen,” said Knipper.

Construction work on the Route 295 on- and off-ramps is now nearly complete, and Knipper said that they are scheduled to open on June 27. Should any issues arise during the Department of Transportation’s last inspection, that deadline day may be adjusted by a few days.

Work on Greenville Avenue, tearing up the road from Greenville Avenue toward Atwood Avenue, began on Tuesday, and the road will be repaved, painted and finished by July 13.

August 14 is the scheduled ribbon cutting for the campus, and on Monday, August 20 the first approximately 500 employees will begin working. Employees will move in during the following weeks in increments to work out any kinks that may arise.

“By the first week of October, I believe, is when we finish moving everyone in,” said Knipper.

Local leaders react

Sunday’s tour was attended by Governor Raimondo, Mayor Polisena and Town Council members Robert Russo and Robert Civetti, amongst others. Each was impressed by what they saw.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s amazing. They’ve made a huge amount of progress in a short amount of time. It took a team effort, the mayor has been fantastic and moved mountains to make this happen. My team has been on it, the Department of Transportation helped with the ramps,” said Governor Raimondo, who spoke with about 100 families while on the tour. “Citizens is going to be a great community partner, and this campus will be available to the public with soccer fields available to the community. It’s a huge success story and creates thousands of jobs, so I’m bursting with excitement.”

Councilman Russo said that the facility is “very impressive” and that the company brings another level of professionalism into the town. He was excited at the prospect of interns from the town being able to get their feet wet at the campus. Russo also mentioned the environmental efforts made by the company in remediating the dump that was on site and creating a green building.

“I think this is a home run,” said Russo. “I think this is going to be an impetus for other businesses to come here because it brings confidence. Citizens Bank is spending hundreds of millions of dollars here, so something has to be right.”

Councilman Civetti seconded Russo’s thoughts.

“It’s amazing what they’ve done to the property, and I know we’re not all the way there yet, but once the additional facilities are completed, I think it’s going to be great,” he said.

Mayor Polisena added that the development is “truly great for the town.” He said that such a development will incentivize people to move to town and that having more than 3,000 people come to town daily will provide multiple business opportunities. He also highlighted that the public will be able to use the grounds at their leisure. The mayor also drew attention to infrastructure improvements in the form of water and sewer lines.

Polisena added that Citizens is responsible for paving the road to Salina Avenue, but that he and Councilman Russo have spoken with the DOT and that the road past Salina will be attended to. He also addressed nearby residents’ concerns.

“We feel the pain of the people who live here. We understand construction has been a pain in the neck,” he said. “Like all good things that will eventually come, all bad things end.”

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