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Skurka Family Continues Construction Tradition in Rhode Island

A family's long history in the industry has prepared them well for the future.

Tue January 13, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

There are a few favorite family stories that Mary DePrete tells about her father Frank Skurka.

Frank Skurka, grandfather of David Skurka, owner of Skurka Construction of West Warwick, founded one of the first excavation and construction businesses in Pawtuxet Valley, R.I., in 1938.

Looming Date

Frank’s parents were born in Poland and landed in Coventry, Conn., before he moved to R.I. David still remembers him.

“I used to go with my grandfather while I was still in diapers. I used to drive the truck with him.”

“He would buy one piece of equipment at a time. He would deliver the loom,” said Mary DePrete, David’s aunt. “My mother and he would shovel the loom onto the truck and that was their date on a Saturday night.”

Frank Skurka drove professionally, socially and patriotically.

“During World War II, he delivered guns and ammunition, strong arms they called them, between Fitchburg, Mass. and a designated point in Rhode Island in this little dump truck he had, making the runs at night,” said DePrete. “Every week, I don’t know how many days a week. At one point, after he’d been doing it for a while, they’d give him this metal box that was maybe a few inches long, by about 12 inches deep, and they would tell him to put in the back seat.

“Nobody would tell him what it was. Years later, he discovered that was the payroll. He didn’t know he was transporting the money,” said DePrete. “If he didn’t know what he was doing, he couldn’t say anything about it and he couldn’t get robbed. They told him, ’Be very careful of this box.’”

Frank Skurka’s honest deliveries led to more driving with heavy iron equipment and every sort of truck. Soon, his son, David’s father, Milton Skurka, worked for him. The younger Skurka started his own major construction business in 1968 and ran it for nearly half a century.

“My father Milton was in business for 48 years and did very well for himself,” said Skurka. “He taught me a great deal.”

Since he was a teen in the 1970s, Skurka worked summers, after school, weekends and even before school learning how to dig.

Grave Digging

The first thing he learned how to dig is surprising.

“Well, before school, when I was 14, or 15, I would dig graves,” said Skurka. “The cemetery was right across the street. The guy would come over and say, ’I’ve got a grave to dig tomorrow. Can you dig it for me?’ I liked the digging part, but I didn’t care much for the job.”

A West Warwick native, Skurka has never left his hometown. A graduate of well-regarded Bishop Hendricken High School, Skurka’s father’s business was literally in his backyard.

“I was always around it. I was 15 or 16, helping on jobs, supplying full help,” said Skurka.

David’s father Milton had retired in April 2013, but David had already started his own company, Skurka Construction, on Jan. 22, three months before.

Carving his own niche in the Valley, many customers knew him from his years of work beforehand.

“They appreciated our work. All of our jobs are word of mouth and referrals,” said Skurka.

Headquartered out of their home in West Warwick, the next generation of Skurkas provide all types of services, including utility work, site work, excavation, sewer and septic installation and repair, foundations, paving, flat work, plowing, drainage and clearing trees.

“We’ll take anything,” said David Skurka, Jr., who works full time with his Dad.

Fourth Generation

David Jr., who also graduated from Bishop Hendricken High, is the fourth generation in the family to go into the business. His brother Jonathan also works summers when needed. Together, they are the core of the company.

The Skurka fleet includes a Cat 315, a Cat 420 E, a John Deere 624 loader, a mini-excavator, a vibratory roller, an asphalt roller, two tri-axle dump trucks and several service trucks.

Skurka Construction recently completed two high-profile jobs at notable Rhode Island locations.

“One of the most interesting jobs was at Quonset Air Base in North Kingstown. We did a deicing pad, deicing tanks, did the drainage, installed a 25,000-gallon holding tank. There was a cement pad we prepped. It was 220 feet by 240 feet,” said Skurka. “We did that all this summer. It was very challenging. The water table was at three feet and we had to dig down 24 feet.”

The general contractor for the Quonset Air Base job was Trac Builders of Providence, R.I.

“It was a pleasure to work with Trac owner Bill Tracey on this job,” said Skurka.

Another job, familiar to the thousands of drivers traveling Rt. 37 (Post Road) in Warwick, was at a noted car dealership, Balise Chevrolet.

“For the Balise work, we did 7 to 8 acres of their lot. We built the Chevrolet dealership building. We had to finish up the Nissan building, which was adjacent (started by another contractor),” said Skurka. “We ground up the parking lots, put up a 22,000-square-foot building. We did all the site work, drainage, water, sewer, curbing. We had to put up 80 light pole bases, over 10,000 feet of trenching.

“We did that job from April 13 through November 18. In the last stages, we put in retention ponds, drainage, spreading the entire loom.

“We did the whole nine yards,” said David Jr.

General contractor on the Balise Chevrolet work was New England Construction.

“If I could, I wanted to give special thanks to Jim Demas, facilities director for Balise. Every time there was a problem, we solved it together on site,” said Skurka.

“You can’t get to the Quonset site from the highway, but driving by the jobs we’ve done gives you a nice sense of pride, especially Balise,” said Skurka. “We get all sorts of people calling us and telling us, ’What a nice job.’ We picked up work from seeing that other work [at Balise].”

Two upcoming projects include installing a commercial septic system in the Westerly, R.I. area, and a drainage project in West Greenwich.

Friendships Forged

Many friendships like this have been forged along the way. One that has been terrific, Skurka said, is with Joe Pariseault of Pariseault Builders.

“Joe has helped out from day one,” said Skurka. “He’s been one of my best friends for 30 years. When I started out on my own, he was one of the first guys to help us, giving us our first two jobs.”

Such recommendations have started since Skurka set off on his own in January of last year. A former customer of his father’s offered him two lucrative contracts the very next day after he incorporated, beginning in March of that year.

“I might not have gone into this business if it wasn’t for my boys. It’s a hard career,” said Skurka. “I started this for them. I wanted them to have something, and I had so many contacts in the industry, There was also the inspiration of someone telling me I couldn’t do it,” said Skurka.

He commends his estimator/office manager Mark Hoffer for his diligence. A small family operation where he often subs for general contractors, Skurka hires local sub-contractors on larger jobs. One such sub, which he has worked with since they were teens, is Steve Magiera of Magiera Landscaping, also in West Warwick.

“We’ve known each other since we were kids. He’s helped us out through thick and thin,” Skurka said.

So have his sons, especially David, who began in the construction industry as a child, just like his Dad did.

“I ran a machine, a dirt roller, a whole summer when I was very young,” said David. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Jonathan helps out in summers and in extreme winters.

“We do a lot of snow plowing together, David, Jonathan and I, and we really enjoy that,” said Skurka.

Skurka also serves on the board of Utility Contractors of R.I. and Rhode Island Independent Contractor Associates (RIICA).

“We try to improve the working environment and keep up with all the rules and laws and regulations that are changing every day. We meet once a month and try to solve the world’s problems,” Skurka said.

Surprisingly, Skurka said the hardest part of his job is not long hours or meeting deadlines, or the physical labor, but paperwork.

“I hate it. Everything has to be checked and double checked and perfect and you have to have documentation for everything and that’s not my favorite thing to do. That’s my son David and Mark’s job. I’d rather just run the machines.”

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