NEWBURYPORT -- Joe Riccio, senior operations manager for Zampell Companies, is used to tough projects, but the past summer presented the 45-year-old with something unique.
Zampell, which is headquartered in Newburyport, was the firm chosen to provide scaffolding for the U.S. Navy's $15 million restoration of the USS Constitution. project.
Virtually everyone involved had memories of Old Ironsides as a kid, said company vice-president Brian Zampell, a Wenham native who had toured the ship at the Charlestown Navy Yard when he was growing up.
"We were really excited to get this kind of job," he said. "We were just happy to go down there; we felt like a little kid going around there."
For Riccio, "it wasn't just so much of an issue of 'Wow, we are here.' It was just how grand of a ship it really is when you take it out of the water."
Zampell and Riccio's experiences this summer showed a different side -- or more to the point, bottom -- of the 218-year-old frigate, which was dry-docked in Charlestown.
"When we bid the project, the ship was in the water," Riccio said. "So we couldn't get a really good idea of what we were exactly up against until it was actually in the dry dock with water drained."
The company has worked in and around power plants, boiler rooms, submarines and a host of other vessels over the past 49 years. But as Riccio stood beneath the dry-docked Constitution, he said, the enormity of the project -- as well as the historic implications -- really sunk in.
"It's really impressive," he said. "It really gives you the scope of how big that ship really is. Most of it is underwater. You see the mast, you see the top deck, and that is pretty impressive when you see it sitting in the water. But once you get to the bottom of the dry dock where you are actually about 40 feet below the top deck, then you get an idea of how big this thing is. It is all clad with copper. It's just an amazing spectacle."
With about 20 employees surrounding the ship's hull with scaffolding, Zampell was able to finish the project safely, and ahead of schedule. There were no surprises, Riccio reported -- "no sunken treasures, nothing like that."
The scaffolding the company erected -- 228 feet-long, 60 feet wide and 45 feet tall, with work platforms every 6.5 feet in height -- will protect the Navy craftsmen during Old Ironsides' restoration, which is expected to last three years.
The work recently won Zampell an Eagle Award for Excellence in Construction from the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.'s Massachusetts chapter.
"The company is really proud of our employees and the job they do," Zampell said. "It is a very complicated scaffolding job, because you have to go around all kinds of different curves and everything else. As much you plan for it, how can you really plan to scaffold the USS Constitution? But those guys went in there and knocked it out."