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Game for the challenge

CPM Constructors takes home a prestigous Build America Award for the first-of-its-kind tidal power generation project in Cobscook Bay

By Kathryn Buxton
 
To hear Peter Krakoff and Paul Koziell tell it, coping with the bitter wind cutting through the Martin’s Point Bridge job site on a recent spring morning is nothing compared to running a construction site from a barge a mile offshore in far downeast Maine.
 
Still, Krakoff and Koziell admit the project currently underway, constructing a replacement bridge to connect Portland and Falmouth, has presented its share of challenges – relatively high traffic levels on an active construction site, challenging specs and close public scrutiny of the project by residents of the two communities linked by the bridge.
 
And of course, that scrutiny began long before CMP Constructors lifted a single shovel on the project. So, noted Krakoff, when there is a change of plans, when someone wants to change the type of barrier, increase lighting or change specs for railing, the challenge is managing expectations on the part of all the parties and keeping the project on time and within budget. The bridge serves nearly 16,000 vehicles a day, as well as sport fishermen, cyclists and runners. Cost is a key factor on the project: CPM and its partner on the project, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, were the lowest of five bidders. Their winning bid for $23.5 million was more than $2 million below the next lowest bid and nearly $17 million under the highest bid submitted, according to MaineDOT.
 
“Everyone comes to a project with a list of wishes and needs,” said Krakoff of the design-build project that broke ground last fall. “Our challenge has been to work within the framework given to us by MaineDOT to deliver the best bridge possible within cost.”
 
If Krakoff’s analysis of the Martin’s Point Bridge project appears to be tightly scripted, the support for the bridge’s design, has been enthusiastic. The design includes two traffic lanes, as well as a 10-and-a-half-foot-wide multiuse pathway for cyclists, pedestrians and runners and platforms for fishermen. “It looks like it’s going to be great,” Bicycle Coalition of Maine Communications Director Brian Allenby told the Portland Press Herald in a story about the final design unveiled to the public.
 
One year ago
 
One year ago, CPM had a very different challenge in its sights, a project that brought the company not only local, but national acclaim. CPM was on location in Eastport, building the first of what is hoped to be a series of tidal turbines for Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), an innovative energy generation company located in Cobscook Bay. Earlier this year, the project was cited for a Build America Award from the Association of General Contractors of America and a Build Maine Award from the organization’s local chapter, AGC Maine.
 
Koziell and Krakoff said that CPM, which has been constructing bridges and other marine infrastructure projects since its founding in 1985, relished the challenge. “Most marine infrastructure projects typically are found in calm, protected locations. This project called for the opposite,” said Krakoff.
 
The real challenge, said Krakoff, was beginning from scratch with an idea to build something that never had been built before. “In most jobs, a builder gets a set of specs, but for this one we wrote our own set of specs. ORPC basically said, ‘How are you going to do this?,’” said Krakoff.
 
The project was actually spread between three sites: fabrication of components for the 93,000-lb. base support frame and chassis took place on land in Newport, Maine; the components were assembled on shore in Eastport; and finally, the tidal generation unit (TGU) and its base structure was towed out to the third and final location, a mile off shore in open water. It was that location that provided the project’s greatest challenge.
 
There Koziell said, CPM crews faced just about everything nature could throw at them: water temperatures ranging from 38°- 51° F from March to September 2012; 20-foot tides; pea soup fogs; rough seas, changeable New England weather and ocean currents running at up to six knots per hour.
 
Krakoff said those conditions, and in particular, the region’s famously strong, high tides, necessitated a rigorously scripted construction schedule during which crews, including hardhat divers, had only 45 minutes at slack tide to complete critical project tasks when the ocean current slowed to just 1 knot.
 
“This was a real challenge, and it easily captured our attention full-time,” recounted Koziell. He said that everyone on the project pulled together to contribute. “There were about 15 people on the crew at any one time – from crane operators and the boat captain, mechanics and riggers to the foreman and the divers – all sitting around brainstorming to get it done. It really was a team effort and everybody stepped up and everybody’s input was important.”
 
The brief window for underwater construction required crews to perform a comprehensive “dress rehearsal” for each major event. Those tasks included: driving 10 70-foot pilings into the bay floor to support the base structure and turbine unit; laying the 4,000 feet of data and electrical cable underwater that would connect the turbines to the electrical grid; placing and bolting the base structure to the pilings; and lowering and securing the turbine to the base. As construction on the project continued through the summer, crews became increasingly adept working underwater and within the time constraints set by Mother Nature, eventually being able to drive two piles from the barge within one day.
 
“Projects like the Cobscook Bay are few and far between,” said CPM CEO Eldon Morrison who founded the company in 1985. “I am proud to say our team overcame the project’s many unique challenges using creativity and Maine ingenuity.”
 
An eye for talent
 
The company started, like so many success stories, as a one-man operation and succeeded thanks to Morrison’s gritty determination and sharp business acumen and his ability to attract topnotch talent. Foremost on that list of talent is Morrison’s long-time partner and former MBTA President Millard Pray who retired in 2008 after 23 years with the company (Pray is a former MBTA president and has a named scholarship in his honor, established through a generous donation by Morrison and supported by donations from fellow MBTA members). Both Morrison and Pray were born in Maine – Morrison grew up in Perry and Pray in Belgrade – and the company they built together certainly is marked by a particularly Yankee brand of pragmatism and creativity.
 
“Eldon and Millard had different styles, but they both were 100 percent dedicated to the company and its employees and to advancing the industry,” said MBTA Executive Director Maria Fuentes who has known and worked with both on advocacy issues.
 
Krakoff, who has played an instrumental role in the company’s growth and success, joined the firm in 1989 is another key hire. His attention to detail and knowledge of the construction process has made him invaluable not only to CPM, but to MaineDOT, and he frequently is called to consult for the department on constructability of various projects.
 
Morrison attributes his success as an entrepreneur to the example set by his father, who by turns was a farmer, a fisherman and a gift store owner. His unique management style has left an indelible mark on the company that places a high value on individual contributions. He describes his hands-off management style this way: “You hire good people, and you let them work.”
 
“We’re non-structured. It doesn’t matter what your job title is, you’re given a lot of autonomy, and you do what needs to be done,” said Koziell. He noted that succeeding within the company culture is easier for some than others. “Some people flourish, and some fail miserably.”
 
CPM recently marked another milestone with Koziell, Tim Ouellette, and Stacey Morrison, Eldon’s daughter, taking over ownership of the company. Eldon holds the position of chief executive officer for the company. Koziell and Ouellette oversee the day-to-day operations, aided by a team of talented construction professionals, including Bruce Surek, Andrew Kittredge, Andrew MacPherson, Joseph Ricci and Sean Griffin. Other key personnel include a core of experienced superintendents – Wade Keith, Bob Cote, Danny Veno and Rusty Clement – who together represent more than 75 years with the company and “help form the backbone of the company,” according to Koziell.
 
Make-it-or-break-it
 
The benefit of placing such a high value on common sense and creativity has earned the company a solid roster of high profile infrastructure projects that have seen CPM thrive during the recent recession that has taken a disproportionate toll on the construction industry. CPM has been able to keep its core staff of 100 busy on projects including work for Central Maine Power’s transmission system upgrade; a series of bridge rehabilitations on I-295; rehabilitation of a stretch of Route 1 in Wells; the Eastern Trail Pedestrian Bridge over the Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk; and the Route 302 bridge over the Connecticut River between Woodsville, New Hampshire and Newbury, Vermont.
 
Krakoff remembered the make-it-or-break-it moment in that job, when he and Morrison did a fly over of the project site as they were preparing to put in a bid. The bridge is on a busy east-west interstate route, and keeping it open to traffic during construction was a critical component of the job.
 
“Here’s the Route 302 bridge and here’s a railroad bridge right next to it and we both said, ‘Why don’t we use the railroad bridge as a temporary bridge?’” recounted Krakoff. “It was risky, and we could have left a pile of money on the table if we hadn’t been able to convince the state of New Hampshire to let us use an old 1905 railroad bridge for highway traffic.” 
The gamble paid off, and the project was recognized with a 2009 Build America Merit Award.
 
‘Coolest job ever’
 
There was reconstruction of the historic Cribstone Bridge connecting Bailey and Orr’s islands in Harpswell. CPM was the contractor on the job to reconstruct the one-of-a-kind bridge originally completed in 1928 and built from granite slabs from local quarries.
 
“That was the coolest job ever,” said Krakoff, who described the process as almost like taking a step backward in time. The goal was to recreate the original bridge, and that meant getting dispensation from the Federal Highway Administration to maintain the two-lane bridge’s original width of 18 feet, and bringing all the replacement stone in by barge from a staging area at the Taste of Maine Restaurant in Woolwich. CPM also hired a master craftsman from Scotland to teach its crews how to cut and shape stones to replace broken slabs from the old bridge. CPM’s work to recreate the historic bridge won kudos within the industry and the project received a 2011 Build Maine Award.
 
Staying engaged
 
If there is one hallmark characteristic of the company, it is a profound sense of engagement that keeps them on task until the problem at hand is solved. That can be seen not only in CPM’s project list, but also in its commitment to the industry and the communities where it works.
 
Both Eldon Morrison and Millard Pray were well known for their contributions to industry. Pray, a long-time MBTA board member and president of the organization, was instrumental in the establishment of the MBTA Educational Foundation. The company also founded the CPM Constructors Scholarship at AGCMaine and the Dianne A. Morrison Foundation at UMaine for medical research. Morrison also is known for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of the construction industry and served as president of AGC Maine. In recognition of those efforts, AGC Maine gave Morrison its highest honor, the Major Achievement in Construction Award.
 
The new generation of leadership has continued that tradition. Stacey Morrison was the first woman chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine. Koziell is currently serving as MBTA’s secretary-treasurer, and Ouellette is treasurer of AGC Maine. And the company has maintained an admirable record of safety, winning national and local awards for keeping its workforce alert and prepared to handle worksite hazards.
 
The company also prides itself on the solutions it finds that humanize the infrastructure it builds. Whether it is bike lanes and fishing platforms on a design-build bridge connecting Falmouth and Portland, investing in a boat school and fortifying a pier in Eastport, where CPM built the tidal generator or finding an innovative traffic solution for a small town on the New Hampshire-Vermont border, the satisfaction CPM staffers have received from a job well done has been made all the sweeter – and humbling – by industry recognition for their achievements.
 
“Here we are with these competing projects with massive budgets like the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti and we win with this little project in Eastport, Maine,” said Krakoff. “It was like going to the Academy Awards,” he added with a hint of incredulity in his voice. “This is the construction industry’s Academy Awards.”
 
“Don’t trip on the red carpet,” said Koziell.

 

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