When it comes to doing heavy civil work, few companies in the Chicago metro area have the diverse talents and capabilities of Illinois Constructors Corporation.
Based in the suburban Kane County community of St. Charles, IL, Illinois Constructors takes on large, difficult, fast-track jobs –– primarily for governmental entities –– and brings them in on-time and on-budget.
“For the most part, we don’t do average, everyday construction work like houses, schools, churches or offices,” said Illinois Constructors President John Mackanin.
“Our work tends to be somewhat specialized. We do steel erection, pile driving, concrete work and marine work. We self-perform almost all of it, which we believe improves our efficiency. I have a hard time thinking of any other company around here that does all those things without a lot of subcontracting involved,” he added.
Examples of Illinois Constructors’ specialty work include constructing numerous bascule bridges (mechanical river bridges that open in the middle to accommodate shipping traffic); building a new seawall to protect the Lake Michigan shoreline; and working for the Chicago Park District to remove antiquated docking facilities and replace them with new docks and substructure.
The company also does a considerable amount of railroad bridge replacement work and has installed numerous pump stations to handle highway drainage.
“One of the reasons we’re able to do this type of specialty work is that we emphasize engineering,” said Mackanin. “We have a number of civil engineers on staff, including myself, and we enjoy challenging jobs that require some planning.”
Presently, Illinois Constructors is doing a big job along the Chicago lakefront for the Corps of Engineers.
“Some of the protective seawall structures along Lake Michigan are 70 to 100 years old,” said Mackanin. “Due to the sometimes violent nature of the lake, major sections of the structure have been destroyed over the years and need to be rebuilt. We’re doing about 3,500 lineal feet of shoreline at Montrose Harbor, which is 4400 North on Lakeshore Drive.
“Our work entails removing the existing structure and literally building a new seawall. We use heavy sheet piling backfilled with tens of thousands of tons of stone. Then we cap it all with heavy structural reinforced concrete, which resembles the old limestone that was there,” he said.
Part of the job also involves placing armor stone in front of the wall. “Individual armor stones may weigh five tons or more,” Mackanin explained. “They’re quarried in northern Wisconsin and brought down on barges. We place them one by one in front of the new wall to dissipate some of the lake’s energy.
“When we do this, we’re at the mercy of the weather, so when it’s nice, we’ll work 24 or even 36 hours straight to get the work done. That’s because we know there are going to be other days when we just can’t do anything,” Mackanin added. “Because of all the factors involved, the Lake Michigan seawall is one of the most challenging and interesting jobs we’ve done.”
Illinois Constructors grew out of Schless Construction, a company that dates back to the 1930s. In 1975, Bob Schless and Alan Gray reorganized the firm and incorporated it under the new name.
Mackanin joined Illinois Constructors as general superintendent about four years ago, which was about the same time that Schless and Gray started implementing an employee stock ownership program (ESOP).
Mackanin was named president about a year ago. In January, he oversaw the ESOP purchase of a majority of Illinois Constructors stock, making the firm the employee-owned company it is today.
“Both Bob and Alan still have ownership positions and remain involved with the company, but they were ready to phase out some of their day-to-day duties,” said Mackanin. “The ESOP was a way to ensure that Illinois Constructors would continue into the future.”
It’s also a way to reward longtime employees. “There are a number of people who’ve been with this company for 10 to 20 years or longer,” said Mackanin. “They’ve contributed greatly to the success of Illinois Constructors and with the ESOP, they’ll be able to reap additional benefits from their hard work when they retire.
“I think it also gives our employees a little different perspective than some other construction company employees,” added Mackanin. “Our people know they all have a direct stake in how well we do as a company and that motivates them to do their best at all times. Additionally, when we need to hire someone, employee ownership is an extra benefit that helps us attract topnotch candidates.”
Experienced and Skilled Staff
In order to do these complex, fast-paced and high-profile jobs, Illinois Constructors relies on its talented and experienced work force.
In addition to Mackanin, Schless and Gray, top management includes general superintendent Jerry Culberson, senior estimator Mark Lustig, project manager Phil Ross, and equipment manager Dan Davis.
“It starts with our managers, but certainly doesn’t end there,” said Mackanin. “Our field personnel largely determine the success of each individual job, which contributes to the long-term success of the company. We think our laborers, operators and foremen are among the best in the business. We do difficult work and the conditions can be very tough — like working over water, especially in bad weather — but our guys are able to handle anything that comes up.”
Illinois Constructors employs about 100 people during the busy season.
Versatile Equipment Needed
Due to the diverse nature of the work the company does, Illinois Constructors relies on a large fleet of equipment.
To add to its job site versatility, the company recently purchased a new Volvo 90-hp (67 kW) BL70 backhoe loader from McAllister Equipment Co.
Illinois Constructors was the first McAllister customer to put one of the new Volvo backhoe loaders into service. They acquired the machine through McAllister area manager Ken Peloquin in February, shortly after McAllister introduced the new line.
“Some of our jobs require a little excavation or demolition,” said Mackanin. “We might have to hoist something or just move material around a little bit. The versatility of the BL70 lets us do all that. We’ve used Volvo wheel loaders and our guys have been extremely happy with them. We demoed the backhoe and it performed very well, so we bought it. It’s become a very valuable piece for us and has been a good investment.”
According to Mackanin, Illinois Constructors’ relationship with McAllister was instrumental in the company’s decision to buy the Volvo backhoe loader.
“Ken Peloquin has always been very helpful and he gets us whatever we need. We’ve also been pleased with the parts support McAllister provides.”
In addition to the Volvo backhoe loader and two Volvo L70 wheel loaders, Illinois Constructors also uses a Link-Belt LS-718 250-ton lattice-boom crawler crane and an RTC8022 hydraulic rough-terrain crane.
As he looks to the future, Mackanin is optimistic about the Chicago-area economy and Illinois Constructors’ place in it.
“Honestly, in the last couple of years, it’s become a very competitive industry. In the past, there might typically be only one or two contractors bidding against us, because of the specialty work we do,” he said. “In the last year or two however, that figure has jumped to perhaps a dozen or more. But we believe the economy has bottomed out and we expect to see improvement later this year or next. We definitely think we’re on an upswing.”
Mackanin also said Illinois Constructors’ plan is to grow right along with the increased number of jobs. “Our goal is steady, responsible, manageable growth. I plan to be here for a while and we have many talented young people who want a longtime career here, so we want to be able to offer them the opportunities that growth brings.
“We’ll continue to concentrate on the heavy, civil work we do best, but I think we’ll also try to expand our marketing to include more of the private sector,” he added. “We believe there are companies that could use the services we provide, but perhaps they don’t know who we are or what we can do for them. We hope to reach more of those people as we move forward.”
(This article appears courtesy of McAllister Equipment News)