Without funding reform, Maine’s highways will go nowhere. As industry and community leaders, we need to get the message out. by Scott Leach
Narrow place, great bridge. When the old Waldo-Hancock Bridge was found to be failing, the plan to build a replacement was put on the fast track. by Kathryn Buxton
No short-term fix for MaineDOT highway program. Industry leaders assess the fallout from the recent round of the legislative session — and what effect the continued shortfall will have in the long run. by Douglas Rooks
Making the move. George Hall & Sons, three generations strong, moves to new headquarters in Rockland. by Kathryn Buxton
This summer, the MBTA board of directors made an important decision. We voted unanimously to step up the organization’s long-time involvement in the battle for transportation infrastructure funding. This wasn’t a sudden decision. We have been grappling with this issue for years. But with a new five-year strategic plan under our belts and the recent devastating session at the Maine Legislature still fresh in our minds, it was clear, as leaders of our industry and our communities, this was a fight we need to take on.
We know the problem. We have the strategy. Now we need the right weapons to wage this fight. In late June, the board voted to work with Maine Tomorrow to sharpen the “weapons” we will need. This summer, John Melrose and his staff have been working with the MBTA executive committee to develop those weapons. One of the first steps was to gather all of the existing data on the condition of Maine’s highways and bridges — the numbers that back up what we see every day on the job. They offer a bleak picture that is getting darker by the day.
One in every four miles of state roads has “poor” pavement quality — and it’s getting worse every day. As we all know, pavement quality directly affects the entire structure of a road. The longer it is allowed to deteriorate, the more expensive it is to fix. By cutting back on paving and reducing paving surface overlays to ¾”, Maine has been able to stretch its shrinking maintenance dollars this year. But in the long run, these measures will only contribute to the growing backlog of roads that need to be fixed.
10 percent of all Maine roads — its arterials — carry 62 percent of all Maine’s traffic. Investment in these roads is imperative for the safety of our citizens and the future of our economy. Currently there are 168 miles of Maine arterials in critical condition and another 248 in poor condition. At the current rate, it will take decades to address this backlog.
Maine is facing a bridge crisis and the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost us. At best, a bridge can last between 70 to 80 years, and Maine has an alarming number of bridges that are approaching that critical age. The number of Maine bridges 80 years or older will at least double in 10 years, triple in 20 years and quadruple in 30 years. Case in point is the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, the subject of this issue’s cover story. The bridge was 72 years old when its engineers found extensive damage in its cables. The subsequent scramble to temporarily repair and replace the span placed an immense strain on MaineDOT’s resources — financial and otherwise.
Maine’s interstate is 50 years old and needs modernizing. These highways are the workhorses of our economy, with some sections carrying up to 84,000 vehicles a day. And Maine doesn’t have nearly enough funding lined up to address even the most basic needs for these highways in Bangor, Brunswick, Gardiner, Portland and South Portland. With all this work ahead of us, we have done little to address the funding needed to upgrade our interstate. For example, MaineDOT secured only $15 million for the modernization of I-295 in Portland during the last round of federal appropriations. That section of highway alone will require between $160 million and $200 million to bring it up to modern safety standards and meet anticipated capacity demands.
We need to invest now to keep Maine’s economy growing. Strategic investment in our highway infrastructure now will help keep our people employed and our products competitive. Some of the key projects that need our funding now include: the East–West Highway, Aroostook North-South Highway; I-395 extension; Gorham bypass; Wiscasset bypass; and the Lewiston-Auburn I-95 Downtown Connector.
As the legislative session this past spring demonstrated, winning support for new transportation funding could be a long and grinding fight. This is not about one party’s agenda versus another. Both Democats and Republicans rely equally on our highways. It’s about the infrastructure — and investing in our safety and economic future. Too much hangs in the balance for our state if we do not launch transportation funding reform now.
As we move forward on the campaign, we will be asking for your help. We need you to help as we do more outreach to candidates and legislators, and we need you to help generate awareness about this critical issue. We also will be asking many of you to help with raising the funds necessary to fund the campaign. The stakes are too high for us and our economic future depends on a strong transportation infrastructure network. I look forward to working with you on this critical issue.
Cover Story: A Narrow Place, A Great Bridge
The final cable stay has been pulled through its housing on the Verona pylon, and crews have poured concrete for the final section of deck joining the Prospect and Verona halves of the bridge. Crews are at work on the bridge, that has been under construction by Cianbro- Reed & Reed LLC since December 2003, getting ready for its first public unveiling on October 14. That is the day the bridge will be open to pedestrians for a “sneak peak.” Drivers will have to wait until sometime in November or December to test their wheels on the new bridge. The observation tower will open in the spring of 2007.
Meanwhile, the new span already is garnering attention from bridge watchers around the world. Road & Bridges magazine put it at the top of its Top 10 list — the bridge builder’s equivalent of People magazine’s Best Dressed list. The Federal Highway Administration has recognized the project for its innovation. The design features many industry “firsts,” and local businesses and citizens are praising the new structure and the role that it promises to have in the region’s economy.
Design-build on steroids
During the fall of 2003, there was a very real sense of urgency that a new bridge had to be built — and quickly. An inspection earlier in the year had discovered that the corrosion had compromised the steel suspension cables supporting the old bridge, and engineers were not sure that the old bridge could be repaired cost effectively. The Waldo-Hancock Bridge was posted to prohibit vehicles weighing in excess of 24,000 pounds while engineers developed an innovative supplemental cable system. While the old bridge with temporary repairs reopened to traffic weighing up to 80,000 pounds later that autumn, the need to put up a new bridge quickly necessitated what one contractor has called “design-build on steroids.”
MaineDOT selected Figg Bridge Engineers to design the bridge and awarded the construction contract to Cianbro/Reed & Reed — a joint venture of two of Maine’s largest construction firms. MaineDOT and Cianbro-Reed & Reed LLC broke ground on the new bridge in December 2003. Due to the nature of this fast-track design build project, “almost everything on this bridge has been ‘just in time delivery,’” said Kaven Philbrook, MBTA board member and Cianbro/Reed & Reed’s project manager of the unusually high-profile, high-pressure project. The race to complete the bridge meant crews began work on the bridge footings before the design had been finalized. The preliminary design did not have an observatory or an elevator and these two additions were unprecedented, so for “most of this job we have been just one step ahead of ourselves,” according to Philbrook.
Even now, as contractors put the finishing touches on the bridge deck, the engineers, suppliers and contractors are wrangling with the added complexities of meeting necessary codes for public access of the Prospect pylon. “Building a bridge is one thing, but this one has a whole different set of rules,” said Philbrook. Philbrook cited the challenge of procuring safety glass for the three floors of panoramic windows in the observation deck that at 420 feet above the ground must withstand high winds. Just a month before the first public unveiling, Cianbro/Reed & Reed just confirmed that a supplier in Toronto had successfully completed wind load testing on the material, so the three floors of glass panels can be delivered within the next few weeks.
A funding highpoint
Meanwhile, the state was left to figure out how to pay for the new bridge. A mid- 1990s feasibility study had estimated replacement costs at around $55 million. MaineDOT Project Manager Tom Doe is a long-time veteran of bridge construction who had planned to retire before this project came along. He described that estimate as one made in a best case scenario. “Those were mid- to late 1990s dollars and those dollars would have been estimated predicated on a normal construction sequence with a complete set of plans and a competitive bid where the contractor was not bidding the risk,” said Doe. But the discovery of the old bridge’s dire condition had caught MaineDOT off guard and without enough money in the state’s coffers to pay for the replacement.
The emergency situation encouraged MaineDOT and the legislature to try a new form of financing — Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle or GARVEE bonds — to help pay for the bridge
replacement. GARVEE bonds allow states to borrow money against anticipated federal fuel tax revenues. In the case of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, the state did not have enough funds to cover the total bridge cost and all of the current federal funding had been allocated to other projects. The legislature passed a bill to approve up to $50 million in GARVEE financing for the bridge. Governor John Baldacci signed the bill into law in April 2004.
Initially, MaineDOT expected the bridge replacement to cost $50 to $75 million. The price tag quickly grew as the project took shape. There were design innovations and the addition of an elevator and observatory tower. The price of construction materials also rose dramatically, and of course, there was the part of the cost that MaineDOT’s Doe attributed to the “go fast” nature of the project.
The price tag now stands at $84 million, a number that, according to Doe, makes sense. Additionally, MaineDOT anticipates spending another $10-$15 million on dismantling and disposing of the old bridge. “If you took that mid-90s estimate and escalate it to 2006, including the additional inflated costs from construction, then back out $5 to $6 million for the observatory cost — I’d be willing to bet that leaves about 10 to 15 percent for the go fast,” said Doe. No green to be seen
While almost everyone gets breathless talking about the new bridge these days, that has not always been so. When the project was in the design stage, there was a major difference of opinion between what the local community wanted and what would meet MaineDOT’s needs for a cost-effective, lowmaintenance structure. Local residents, who were extremely fond of the old green steel suspension bridge, were hoping the new bridge would resemble the old design with the green-painted steel structure that had been part of the local landscape for so many years. Designers and MaineDOT were favoring a cable stay design that would be less expensive to build and maintain and have a longer life.
A turning point came, according to MaineDOT spokesperson Carol Morris, after the second design workshop. “The theme of local granite played such a big role in the design,” said Morris. She said the idea for an observatory evolved from that historical theme and the fact that the Washington Monument in its day was innovative because it incorporated an observatory at the top.
“That observatory really switched things around,” said Alvion Kimball, secretary of the Bucksport Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the BridgeFest Committee, the group organizing the many events celebrating the opening of the bridge. “Ninety percent changed their minds when the observatory was added. That was a big selling point to the community.”
Praise for the crews
Alvion Kimball says that the area residents served by the bridge are overwhelmingly positive about the process of working with MaineDOT, particularly considering the pressure the department was under to fasttrack construction due to the role the river crossing plays in the state’s economy.
“Townspeople, from Searsport to Orland and every town in between, are pretty taken [with the new bridge],” said Kimball. He also is quick to praise the crews that have worked on the span. “We’ve watched these people work on it for the past two years, and it’s been something. They’re out there every day, rain or snow like the Post Office is supposed to be. We have nothing but praise for them.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t skeptics who have been watching the project with a close eye. Recently, as preparations were made to pour concrete closing the gap between the Prospect and Verona sides of the bridge, several residents blogged on the project’s web site, pointing out that the two halves of the bridge weren’t quite meeting in the middle. MaineDOT spokesperson Morris said that the public’s avid interest and involvement in the project through forums like the online blog have in many ways been a blessing for the project.
“This has been a great opportunity to report what’s happening on the site to the public, to answer questions and get accurate information out quickly,” said Morris. She said she would recommend encouraging public input and questions on high visibility projects like the bridge.
Built to last
While bridges built around the time the original Waldo-Hancock Bridge were expected to last for 50 years, the Penobscot Narrows Bridge is part of a new generation that could stand for a century or longer — and reduce maintenance costs in an era where highway funding is a major concern. Figg Bridge’s design for the bridge employs new technology meant to increase the lifespan of the structure and reduce MaineDOT’s maintenance cost. One example is the inert gas monitoring system that will protect the cable stays from corrosion. After the bridge is completed, all of the air in the cable and its housing will be flushed out and replaced with nitrogen at a pressure of two pounds per square inch. That pressure then will be monitored electronically. Any change in pressure will alert MaineDOT that there has been a breech that needs to be repaired.
Figg also incorporated a unique cradle system for the cable stays into the bridge design. The system uses a stainless steel sleeve to carry cable stays through the pylons so one continuous strand can be used from deck to pylon to deck. The sleeves eliminate wear from strand-to-strand contact. Because strands are anchored on the deck, they reduce the tensile forces on the pylons — in a typical design, cables exert a pulling force on both sides of the pylon. An added benefit is that individual strands can be removed and replaced without compromising the integrity of the bridge structure. While Figg had initially developed this cradle system for a bridge in Toledo, Ohio, Maine — because of the speed in which the project has been built — was the first to actually thread a cable stay through a cradle and will be the first site where the technology will be put to test.
The new bridge will also give MaineDOT the opportunity to test the longevity of different kinds of stays. The department plans to replace two of the steel strands in each of three stays with carbon fiber strands, then measure their performance over time, comparing them with their sister steel strands. MaineDOT’s Tom Doe ranks this bridge among the most rewarding built during his long career. It was only his second designbuild bridge, and he is sure that it will be around for a long time. That will be important to the local and regional economy in the future. “Given that we put the right things in place, this bridge could last 150 or 175 years,” said Doe.
Maine News: No short-term fix for MaineDOT highway program
Investment shortfall affects design, reconstruction and paving
By DOUGLAS ROOKS
When the legislature adjourned in June without approving any new borrowing proposal to fill a $130 million shortfall in the Maine Department of Transportation’s (MaineDOT) highway and bridge program, predictions of a major slowdown in construction were not hard to find. A Governor’s Working Group had recommended finding $30 million in cash and borrowing $60 million to partially fill an estimated $130 million shortfall in the Biennial Capital Work Plan, MaineDOT’s bedrock plan for statewide projects. In all, 143 projects affecting 112 municipalities were put on hold in November 2005.
Despite the Working Group’s recommendations, a supplemental budget agreement concluded among legislative leaders ruled out borrowing, even a proposed revenue anticipation GARVEE bond. So the $30 million — $15 million each from the General Fund and Highway Fund — in the end was all MaineDOT had to work with.
The project restoration list released in early September includes 28 state-only projects, plus another 10 that fall under the jurisdiction of Maine’s four Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, Bangor and Kittery areas. As state officials are quick to note, however, many of the restored projects have been sharply reduced in scope, with several of them converted from reconstruction to maintenance paving. “The needs are staggering,” said MaineDOT Deputy Commissioner Greg Nadeau, acknowledging that even the revised deferral list falls well short of existing and future needs.
What the money does
While a significant portion of the deferred projects received new funding, very few will take place in anything like their original form, said MaineDOT Acting Director of the Bureau of Planning, Dale Doughty. In all, just over $20 million has been returned to the state BTIP plan and $2.5 million to the MPOs; about $5 million went to beef up the paving budget; and the balance to other needs. Two bridge projects have new funding allocated to them — the North Turner West Bridge over the Androscoggin on Route 219 between Leeds and Turner ($4.4 million), and another Route 219 bridge in Leeds ($2 million). Both of those bridges are still in the design stage, however.
Those traveling Route 126 in Pittston also will see a $2.6 million reconstruction project for 2.55 miles of road resume, although it, too, is still in the design stage. Quicker reconstruction should occur on Route 186 in Gouldsboro on a 3.04-mile section selectmen there described as nearly impassable in frost heave season; that project is allocated $2.75 million. And a three-quarter- mile section of Routes 9/126 in Monmouth that lies between two previously reconstructed sections also will be put on the fast track, at a cost of $733,500.
More typical of the project restorations are sections of Route 9 in Sabattus and of Route 109 in Wells. Both were downgraded from major reconstruction projects to maintenance paving. The two Route 9 projects would originally have taken more than $11 million in design and construction funds; they are now allocated about $600,000 for paving, which should last six to eight years, Doughty said. On Route 109, MaineDOT had been looking to spend $7.4 million overall, but will now allocate about $300,000 in new money for paving. Taking this action now, he said, could somewhat delay these road sections’ chances for future reconstruction funding, but given the length of the process, “It isn’t really going to be that long before we’re looking at them again,” he said.
The MPOs took somewhat different approaches to the projects in their areas. The Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee (PACTS) restored six deferred projects and offset construction inflation for four others, using $1.3 million from the state and $325,000 in local funds. The Androscoggin Transportation Resources Center (ATRC) restored three projects with $550,000. The Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System (BACTS) decided to use its $500,000 to beef up seven existing projects, while the Kittery Area Comprehensive Transportation Study did the same with $150,000 for a single project for which the federal funding had been cut.
The overall reason for the deferrals, and the small scale of the restoration, remains the soaring cost of construction at all levels, Greg Nadeau said. “Anything that’s dependent on energy is affected,” he said. “And that includes asphalt, steel, concrete — all the basic elements that go into highways and bridges.” While construction prices have been rising about twice the rate of overall inflation for the last several bienniums, the past two years have seen a huge spike — at least 10-12 percent a year. Doughty said that, before the current work plan, the state calculated that it needed to replace 30 bridges to keep even with deterioration of existing structures, which typically last 50-80 years, and replace them with new ones, designed to last 100 years. It was only building 15, however, and in this work plan will only do six. Estimates for highway construction show similar shortfalls, he said.
”We made our case [to the Legislature],” Nadeau said, “but I’m not sure everyone understood. It’s not just that we’re falling behind with our program, but that we risk losing the value of our previous investments by not maintaining them.”
Turning off the spigot
In interviews with designers and contractors around the state, it is clear the shortfall in the state’s highway and bridge programs began well before the cash crunch that led to the November 2005 deferrals. “We haven’t seen a new state contract in four years now,” said Steve Sawyer, vice president for Sebago Technics in Westbrook and a past MBTA president. His firm is just completing design work for improvements to the Exit 3 interchanges on I-295 around the Maine Mall area, “a nice project” — but that contract was awarded in 2002 and no new design work for the state is in view for his firm.
“We’ve had a healthy amount of private sector work, and that’s helped us,” Sawyer said. He’s been able to keep six engineers busy so far, but is concerned about a possible future slowdown. ”If you were dependent on state work,” he said, “you’d be in real trouble by now.” Sawyer said that outof- state design firms with offices in Maine are reporting the same conditions. “Most of them have reassigned people here to other states, or they’re bringing in work to keep them occupied. There’s just not a lot of new public business.”
He attributes some of the dearth of new design contracts to the funding and logistical emergency created by the need to replace the Waldo-Hancock Bridge over the Penobscot River, a span scheduled to open this fall. “The DOT said it wouldn’t affect the other design projects in the pipeline, but from our viewpoint, it did,” he said.
The story is much the same at Sargent Corp. in Stillwater, the state’s largest excavating contractor and second largest construction firm, after Cianbro. Herb Sargent, president, and Tim Folster, vice president (and immediate past president for MBTA), both say that reconstruction work for the state has practically disappeared from the radar screen.
“We haven’t had a DOT job this year, and that’s unusual,” Sargent said. Generally, he said, Sargent Corp. would be working on a $3-4 million contract somewhere in the state, and perhaps a couple of $500,000- $600,000 contracts, but that’s not happening now.
According to Tim Folster, the last project Sargent was planning to bid on, stabilization of the Penobscot riverbank in Brewer, has been removed from the state list and hasn’t been restored. “We had a bid in on another project and were the low bidder, but they canceled it due to lack of funding. They’ll probably save 15 percent, but get 30 percent less in results.” Folster said that the MaineDOT project list “bounces around some” from year to year, but it has been years since it was this meager. Sargent Corp. monitors the list of available work it might be interested in bidding on over the next nine months, and in just two months this summer, the prospects have shrunk from $100 million in June to $67 million in August. The state anticipated advertising in August for contracts on the new international crossing at Calais, Sargent said, but that, too, has been delayed.
The state has been paving roads this summer, particularly since MaineDOT has concluded that numerous reconstruction projects are just not feasible at the moment or in the nearterm future. Yet even there, the cost of materials has driven down what can be accomplished. In less than four years, the price of asphalt has escalated from $30 a ton to more than $60. At those prices, it is not hard to see why the MaineDOT budget doesn’t go as far. The extra $5 million the department decided to commit from the $30 million provided by the Legislature in June is certainly welcome, and “a big help,” according to Scott Leach, Maine district manager for The Lane Construction Corporation and current MBTA president. “We recognize that it has to come from other areas of the budget and represents a shift in priorities,” he said. Yet he also said that, “There isn’t any question that paving is down significantly, and is not what we’ve seen in the past.” The mileage covered is at least 20 to 25 percent less than in previous years, and other contractors he has talked to are even more concerned about next year.
While gasoline prices have eased in recent weeks, there hasn’t been any similar shift in asphalt prices that are also petroleumdependent. With major state paving projects winding up by Oct. 15 — with additional final coats by Nov. 15 — it’s probably too late to see record costs decline this year, Leach said. Compared with prices his firm used in bids as recently as February, current levels are at least 33 percent higher.
Municipal road projects have tracked the state’s in terms of higher costs and fewer miles. Bangor City Engineer Jim Ring recently reported that his city faced paving costs 55 percent higher than the previous year. While paving contractors have at least some public business to do — unlike many design firms and excavation contractors — there’s no question that they’ve taken a hit. Private customers, by and large, have gulped hard and paid the higher prices. “They need the work to get done,” said Leach, “so they’re willing to dig a little deeper.” With state and municipal contracts, though, there hasn’t been much give. “The budget isn’t there to cope with higher prices, so they’ve just cut back,” he said.
Things need to change
While the immediate situation is indeed grim, Leach is slightly more optimistic about prospects for the next session of the Legislature. “We are getting the word out to the public about what this means, not only for Maine’s own businesses, but for the state of the roads and the economy,” he said. “We do think people are listening, and that should lead to better results.”
At MaineDOT, Greg Nadeau emphasizes that the state will have to do things differently, and that the public will have to be involved for things to change. “The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in almost 15 years, and that means its purchasing power has been cut in half,” he said. “You just can’t keep doing that without cutting into your previous investments, let alone make new ones,” he said. While Maine has indexed its motor fuel taxes, Nadeau notes that the standard being used — the Consumer Price Index — has lagged far behind construction cost increases in recent years. In the short term, borrowing probably will be the main tool, he said. A general obligation transportation bond is traditionally on the agenda for odd-numbered years like 2007, and Nadeau hopes it will be a “robust” proposal to fill at least part of the looming funding gap. He also thinks lawmakers could look favorably on a GARVEE bond that anticipates future federal funds that are “backloaded” in the current federal authorization statute that runs through 2009. With prices increasing at current rates, “You can get dollars now that will go significantly farther than they will in just a year or two,” he said. While not exactly a jump-start on new transportation improvements, such actions could at least keep the construction program from falling further behind its goals. Sebago Technics’ Sawyer said it is critical that MaineDOT be able to restart the process and get projects back into the pipeline that, depending on their size and complexity, can take five to 10 years to bring to fruition. Of the slowdown that occurred well before the current crisis, he said, “For a while, MaineDOT was able to take projects off the shelf that had been in the design phase. From what I can see, they’ve pretty well burned through those and there’s not much left.” Sawyer predicts that companies involved in any phase of construction will have to plan more carefully, now that a housing slowdown shows signs of cooling off the private market as well. “It’s a fickle thing,” he said. “In our business, diversity is the key.”
Douglas Rooks writes, edits and consults for numerous publications and non-profit organizations.
Member News: Making the move
After 57 years of moving earth, George C. Hall & Sons moves its operations to new headquarters in Rockland
By Kathryn Buxton
Things had been gettingcramped at George C. Hall &Sons’ headquarters on New County Road in Rocklandfor some time. President TimHall’s office wasn’t the typical corporate corner office, but a windowless room, little more than a closet, that doubled as a passagewayconnecting the maintenance garage and the other “executive suites” occupied by the company’s leadership.
Still the two generations of founder George Hall’s descendants who run the business weren’t in any hurry to move — until an opportunity came along. That opportunity was the closing and auction of the old Interstate Baking distribution facility just across the way on Pleasant Street. The company bought the building at auction and in January 2006, they gutted the structure that was filled with years of accumulated bread crumbs and other not-so-pleasant reminders of its former life. A contractor completed the renovation and the company officially opened the doors to its spacious new 5,000-square-foot offices in May of this year. Giving a tour of the new headquarters, Jim Hall shows off the trimly outfitted building with spacious offices for Tim, Jim, his twin sons Jamie (treasurer) and Sam (operations manager) and longtime employees Finance Director Jim Frankowski and V.P. of Operations Bill Reinhardt. There is his brother’s collection of Celtics, Red Sox and “Seinfeld” memorabilia (most of them gifts from Tim’s daughter Tori who lives in Boston), a roomy conference room and store room.
“The store room’s bigger than all of our offices put together use to be!” said Hall in a rare expression of pride. Everywhere there are red-painted walls (the official George C. Hall & Sons red), grainy black-and-white photos of the company during its early days and beautiful landscape paintings by family matriarch Marion Hall. Tim and Jim’s mother will turn 90 this autumn and still comes by the office every day to check on things.
After meeting the hardworking, unassuming Hall family, it is easy to understand how they could put off moving from their old and outdated offices for more than 40 years. Personal comfort isn’t as important as getting the job done well.
That ethos has served the firm well since Tim and Jim’s father George C. Hall founded the company in 1949 working out of the family home on Old County Road in Rockland. George began with a single dump truck, a backhoe and one employee. At first he worked a second job on weekends bussing tables at the Samoset.
The early jobs were small residential and commercial projects. Then the jobs got bigger. For almost two decades, the firm did all the stripping at the Dragon Cement Plant. In the 1950s, there were jobs for the Maine Department of Transportation in Biddeford and Bristol; then site work for Medomak Valley High School and Rockland District High School in the 1960s. The company also was contracted to work on high profile jobs such as Samoset Resort and Penobscot Bay Medical Center (1970s); the Route 1 bridge in Thomaston and Rockland and Harbor plazas (1980s); the new Supermax prison, several school projects and the MBNA offices (1990s).
Today the company employs more than 70 year round staff and has a fleet of more than 100 trucks and equipment. The firm also has active pits and has a crushing operation on the site of its 80 plus-acre pit on Beechwood Street in Thomaston (between 25 and 30 percent of Hall’s business is in sales of materials). George worked tirelessly at building the business and rarely took a day off. When he did take time, it usually was to try out a new restaurant or visit an old favorite with his wife Marion.
“My dad’s hobby was this place, and back then there wasn’t UPS and FedEx. So four times or so a week, he’d have to go to Bangor or Portland for parts for the trucks. Mom would go along and they’d have dinner along the way,” remembered Jim. “When UPS came on, it took a long time for him to trust it.”
Knack for real estate
Over the years, George acquired many properties, including several pits. He moved the company headquarters a couple of times, first in 1953 to Water Street, then to 26 New County Road in 1961, then up the street to number 60 in 1964. (The company’s former location on Water Street eventually became offices for banking giant MBNA.) “My dad bought a lot of property back then. He even bought a piece of a mountain,” said Jim Hall, who is the firm’s vice president for maintenance and safety. His father’s knack for spotting valuable property has been realized many times over the years as the company has expanded and added capacity.
George Hall never had the chance to retire and enjoy his investments in real estate and his business. He worked almost up to the day he died, rather suddenly of cancer, in June 1993 at the age of 76. He left behind him a strong business and a legacy for hard work, good business and dedication to family that his children and their children cherish.
“There were some lean years in the 50s and 60s. There were sacrifices made by my parents for their children, but they never said a word,” remembers Tim Hall. “To see this place now with his grandsons working here, Dad would have been ecstatic. He was so family-oriented.”
Today, two generations of Halls run the company. Jim and Tim, who started with the company, helping out when they were still just young boys, remain closely involved with the company’s day-to-day operations. Jim’s twin sons Sam and Jamie work alongside them. Like their father, they grew up in the business working summers in the field learning the trade. They officially joined the company in the early 1990s after graduating college, taking charge of their own jobs and getting to know the business firsthand. Today Sam and Jamie have moved up to management. Jamie is the company treasurer and works with Bill Reinhardt to estimate and prepare bids. On most days, the two still spend a good deal of their time out on jobs, meeting with clients and overseeing jobs. Jamie, who studied business and accounting at the University of Maine, took time off from the family business in his early 20s. He spent some time in Florida, considered graduate school, substitute taught, but came back to help the family business grow and prosper. One of his biggest contributions has been establishing a dynamic job-cost system that tracks and manages expenditures for jobs from start to finish. Since he and his brother have joined George C. Hall & Sons, the business has doubled its volume of work.
“I definitely take pride in carrying on my grandfather’s good name,” said Jamie. Like the two generations of Halls before them, Jamie and Sam work long hours following up on the details and communicating with customers.
High tech tools
Sam Hall also attended UMaine and focused his studies in business. But he chose to study management. He was married and a father when he graduated in 1993, so he opted to join the family business right away working in the field as a foreman. One of his first jobs was overseeing site work for the ferry crew quarters on North Haven.
His management expertise has served the company well since he became Hall & Sons’ manager of operations in 2001. Sam’s responsibilities include the hiring of workers and dispatching equipment and crews to the company’s work sites. That has been challenging this year, as a slow midcoast economy has meant the company has had a higher volume of smaller jobs. Sam recently oversaw the installation of a GPS tracking system on part of the company’s fleet to help manage the flow of trucks and equipment from job site to job site — all from his desktop. This has been a great tool as the company has worked to increase efficiency and guarantee the timely completion of jobs.
“If anything, I like to have the equipment there before the crew arrives. That means less time sitting around waiting to get started,” said Sam. He says one of the most difficult tasks he has is hiring good, qualified workers, although this year he’s seen “a few more resumés come across my desk.” Currently, the majority of George C. Hall & Sons’ work is for commercial and residential developers and municipalities. They just completed work on the roads and underground utilities for a residential development in Wiscasset and site work for the Grace Institute in Tenants Harbor. In early September they began work on the new Medomak Valley Middle School in Waldoboro. In recent years, Hall & Sons did earthwork for Maine Eastern Railroad and MaineDOT, rehabilitating track between Brunswick, Rockland and Augusta and site work for improvements at the Knox County Airport.
Jamie said there is little secret to the company’s success. Year in and year out, the company has earned the reputation for delivering quality work. “With my grandfather, quality was always the number one thing, and that’s something we work to live up to every day.”