There are self-taught contractors and then, there is Alan Ouellette.
Most diggers learn from the ground up. They find the earth itself — with its slabs, rock formations, pitfalls, mineral deposits and undetermined foundations — to be the ultimate test. But about 20 years ago, Ouellette, president of A O Construction Inc. Attleboro, Mass., studied for the state tests that established the parameters of the industry before digging his first holes.
Helping Out Mom
In 1993, Ouellette taught himself a new trade when his Mom needed a favor.
“I was never in the excavation business but my mom needed a septic system and I wanted a new direction in life,” said Ouellette. “I said ‘let me research this.’ and I called the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM). and asked them for study materials. I studied and took the test to be a septic installer.
“I bought my first backhoe — a 1979 John Deere 410. I taught myself how to operate it by clearing the back lot at my mom’s house. I took drafting way back in high school, so after learning how to design a system by reading the RIDEM rules and regulations, I designed and installed my first system and got a successful inspection. I’ve been installing systems and doing site work and expanding ever since.”
Two years later, in 1995, Ouellette founded A O Construction in Pawtucket, R.I., before moving operations to newer, bigger headquarters in Attleboro, Mass.
A O Construction specializes in excavation, site work, septic systems, demolition, ledge removal, utility installation, curbing, etc.
, for the commercial and residential markets.
The company team is comprised of operators with more than 30 years of combined experience. Capable of running the more than 300 tons of available equipment, Ouellette’s crew demonstrates an expertise that will ensure your job is completed in a timely and professional manner.
“The diversity of our equipment enables us to take on virtually any project — from simple grading to breaking up mountains of ledge,” said Ouellette. “Our equipment is well maintained by our in-house mechanical team.”
The company’s past projects have been both commercial and residential.
“We have worked extensively on site development for commercial projects, including foundations, water, sewer and drainage. Our residential work includes creating large subdivisions and working with homeowners on smaller projects,” he added. “We also can design and install your septic system from start to finish in Rhode Island or Mass.”
A O Construction Co. also is a licensed Orenco Advantex Bottomless sand filter installer.
The Son Also Rises
A small firm, with only three employees, the self-taught father is now the proud teacher of the next generation to come aboard — son Michael.
“We put out a tremendous amount of work for only three people,” said Ouellette. “We’re a small company, but my son Mike, a chip off the old block, has become a big part of the business. He dug his first trench for me when he was eight years old. Others have come and gone over the years. I’d be lost without my son.
“This business will be his when I retire. He’s now 23 and, at 23, he’s had his CDL license and Massachusetts and Rhode Island hydraulics licenses for years,” he added, confirming that the next man in the Ouellette family is as much of a go-getter as his father was while still a teen.
Besides complete excavation, site and septic work, A O has added some new wrinkles to their services.
“We recently added a chipper for when trees are in the way. It saves time and money to keep this in-house. We still sub out large tree jobs. This is just for convenience on certain jobs. We also added a gravel screener,” said Ouellette.
A O consistently gets jobs in two states, as some of its recently-finished job projects confirm:
• Completed site work for the Russell’s Mills Fire Station in Dartmouth, Mass., for Coletta Contracting.
• Completed site work for the Bigelow Day Care conversion in Somerville, Mass.
• Completed site work for the John Quincy Medical Center in Taunton, Mass., for Nadeau Corporation.
• Completed site work for the Wickford Package Store in Wickford, R.I., for Cobalt Construction.
• Completed site work for the addition to Attleboro Enterprises in North Attleboro, Mass., for Nadeau Corporation.
• Completed demolition and site work for the new pool at Abbot Run Valley Swim Club.
• Completed site work for Phase 1 (last year) and Phase 2 (this year) on the Rustoleum building in Attleboro, Mass., to upgrade the industrial production rooms for Nadeau Corporation.
• Completed exterior site work for the Salvation Army building in Woonsocket, R.I., in order to bring in a new fire line to upgrade the building to install a sprinkler system for Cobalt Construction.
• Completed site work to upgrade the electrical service at the Honeywell building in Woonsocket, R.I., for Cobalt Construction.
• Numerous residential jobs in between all these commercial projects, such as septic systems, foundations, water lines, etc.
Bottles and Rustoleum
Being so small, A O Construction has a terrific safety record. “Safety is very important. We try to always recognize when a situation can become dangerous and take steps to protect our workers and the public,” said Ouellette.
Job after job, his little firm, has gained a fine reputation.
“Service, fair price and good work means we have many repeat customers and we have great references,” he added.
Ouellette can never be accused of living in a glass house, but he’s worked on a few, and found even more unexpected glass in and around the grounds of older properties. After all, you never know what you might find undisturbed a couple feet under the earth’s surface.
“I do have an extensive bottle collection mostly from installing septic systems on older homes,” he laughed.
But other things can shatter besides bottles and Ouellette has been up to any unexpected challenge.
“One very challenging sewer connection I did was the complete design and installation of about 800 feet of sewer line with various manholes in the Lincoln Industrial Complex in Lincoln, R.I.,” he said. “We had to do a vertical tap on a 24-inch main NBC sewer trunk line, four-feet into the water table. We used special vanguard shoring and kept the hole dry with a Vac truck. I have great pictures of this job.”
Never one to let any equipment rust, Ouellette said his most interesting project involved Rustoleum.
“Yes, the Rustoleum project in Attleboro, Mass. We had no idea what we were getting into with the unknown conditions of subsurface demolition to accommodate new footings for the new processing vats,” he sighed. “The existing piers went down over four feet and were reinforced with rebar, but all had to come up for the new configuration.
“We did it during the summer (factory) shutdown and it was hot and humid. It was quite a challenge to bring the project in on time working double shifts for Nadeau Corporation,” added Ouellette.
Like most contractors, A O has had to adapt to challenging economic times through competitive pricing and great performance, as well as one major modification.?
“I made the leap from residential to commercial when the economy tanked in 2006. I have a great office. My monitor is 42 inches and I have a separate digitizing station for cuts and fills and takeoffs,” said Ouellette. “I even have a 42-inch color printer, as I was spending a fortune in print reproduction. I owe my good leads to ‘The Blue Book’ and ‘Bidclerk.’ I have developed most of my commercial connections through these leads.
In September, A O began work on an important project, the new septic system for the New England Institute of Technology’s golf course in East Greenwich, R.I.
“We’re teaming up with Rick Pezza from Green Wastewater Solutions out of Warwick, R.I.,” he said. “I’ll do all the excavation and leach field construction, ledge removal, asphalt patching and landscaping, and Rick will handle all the tanks and pumps.”
Beyond sand traps on the course, a couple of challenges have already presented themselves.
“Where the tanks are installed is a steep slope with ledge outcroppings,” said Ouellette. “We’ll most likely have to hammer out the ledge to install the tanks.”
But in all work challenges, Ouellette acknowledges the companies he’s worked closely with.
“I have developed great relationships with several great companies: — Nadeau Corporation, Cobalt Construction, Coletta Contracting, Rick Pezza of Green Wastewater Solutions and Seaver Construction,” said Ouellette. “I mean, we are all in this together.”
For more information, visit www.aoconstruction.net.