Toscana Corporation Celebrates 35 Years on Nantucket Island

Tue June 03, 2014 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams


Jobs vary in size — from an average of $10,000 to $150,000 with large site work including house moving projects up to a million plus.
Jobs vary in size — from an average of $10,000 to $150,000 with large site work including house moving projects up to a million plus.
Jobs vary in size — from an average of $10,000 to $150,000 with large site work including house moving projects up to a million plus. The company has evolved one division at a time, changing according to the needs of customers, a vertical market share and ever-tightening historic, marine and environmental restrictions. Incorporated in 1979, Toscana Corporation has evolved into a company that provides a comprehensive package of earth-work services and products on an island south of Cape Cod offering many coastline challenges.

No man is an island, but excavation and site work on the scenic, island of Nantucket has shaped one man — Carl Jelleme, president of Toscana Corporation, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary this summer.

Incorporated in 1979, Toscana Corporation has evolved into a company that provides a comprehensive package of earthwork services and products on an island south of Cape Cod offering many coastline challenges.

Jobs vary in size — from an average of $10,000 to $150,000 with large site work projects up to a million plus, according to Jelleme — and in scope, from excavation to demolition, barging, house moving, shoring up foundations, satisfying marine and environmental concerns while working on residential and commercial projects, and much more.

Customers range from homeowners, which dot the shore, to builders, developers (usually general contractors which hire Toscana for sub work) and municipalities.

Howard, Lydel and the Farm

According to Carl Jelleme, Toscana Corporation began with his father Howard Jelleme and Lydel Rickard, with one truck to move materials from the mainland to the island. Carl Jelleme later bought Lydel Rickard’s share of the company and began an excavation and site work business with one backhoe, a 6-wheel dump truck and a 450 John Deere crawler loader from his father’s farm in New Hampshire.

"I grew up on Nantucket. My dad was a building contractor in Nantucket. When we were kids, he bought a farm up in New Hampshire.

"He bought a backhoe up there, an International agricultural machine, and a John Deere crawler loader 450. He had that up in New Hampshire, on the farm. I had gotten out of college and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do," said Jelleme. "He was kind of slow with his business at the time. He only had a couple of houses to build.

"So, I went to New Hampshire, to get the machinery to work on those buildings. I took the six-wheeler and a trailer and towed them down to the island," said Jelleme. "It’s pretty amazing out here. The Steamship Authority [ferry passage to and from the island] has run in and out since I was a kid, three times a day, every day of the year, with more runs during the busy season. It’s not that problematic to do this [bring heavy iron by boat]. When it’s all you’ve done all your life, it’s all you know and you don’t know any better."

Jelleme added that any machinery that is more than 12 ft. (3 m) wide won’t go on the boat, however, as it is too wide for the loading ramp. "Anything else, anything larger, has to be barged," Jelleme said.

Though he worked jobs with his father from before his company’s inception, Carl Jelleme attended the Thompson School of Civil Technology at the University of New Hampshire.

"I got some background from school, a little from the farm in New Hampshire and a lot of trial and error," said Jelleme.

He spent his teen and early adult years watching other competitors and trying to improve on the work he and his dad did and keeping the machinery running as he served as company mechanic. The Jelleme family hired their first new employee in 1981, and Toscana currently has 38 full-time workers.

Services Change and Evolve

The company operates from six acres of contiguous property accessed from 19 Arrowhead Drive on Nantucket. Toscana Corporation performs site work and excavation, building and home moving, provides ready mix concrete, material sales, construction debris container removal, marine construction, tug and barging and more.

The company has evolved one division at a time, changing according to the needs of customers, a vertical market share and ever-tightening historic, marine and environmental restrictions.

"There are so many wetlands in the mix. It’s a small island, so the work is either close to the harbor, on the beach front or near the ponds or marshes," said Jelleme. "At least half of the projects must go through the Conservation Commission and all through the Historic District Commission. You have to go through the local planning board for larger projects. Everything you plan to do has to be passed by them, right down to the picket fence. There is a pretty broad array of architecture on the Vineyard [the larger island Martha’s Vineyard just to the east of Nantucket], but here, the architecture is pretty much the same."

Toscana is very responsive to the start-and-stop nature of earth-work projects by having a large parcel of land available for mobilizing and de-mobilizing from job sites as required by the customer. On an island where land is scarce, this is truly a unique offering.

The company has a ready mix concrete plant, the maintenance building, two storage buildings, aggregate materials bins, various stock-items, as well as temporary storage for in-transit excess materials from job sites all on its headquarters. Toscana also maintains an additional 1.8 acres off Bunker Road for material storage and for recycling asphalt, brick and concrete.

Jelleme and his staff seized an opportunity during prosperous times, moving homes and other buildings from one spot on the island to another.

"We added the ready mix operation because we were doing the lion’s share of the excavation work. We added the barge service because we were going through so much aggregate material and not getting the service we needed," said Jelleme.

Thus, Toscana began a container service designed for customers who needed a safe, convenient, cost-effective and environmentally conscious way of disposing construction and demolition waste from their job sites.

"There is a high cost for disposal on the island," said Jelleme. "The C&D containers were added to go back on the empty barge."

Containers up to 40 cu. yds. (30. 6 cu m) are provided to customers.

Each container is transported off-island from job sites to New England Recycling in Taunton, Mass., where the materials are separated and recycled.

Toscana employs a team of skilled and dedicated professionals to do this type of specialized work, each an expert in their own fields.

Jelleme said his company’s success is due to "relentless focus" on customer service and operational excellence. The company’s six divisions are complementary to each other.

Other Services

Since the 1700s, structures on Nantucket have been relocated island wide. The building moving division of Toscana Corporation brings more than 50 years of combined structural moving experience.

Toscana Corporation offers many services including:

• Shoring structures in place for foundation repair and leveling.

• Raising buildings for new full basement foundations.

• Raising structures above flood plain level.

• Recycling — moving buildings over the road to a new location for reuse to avoid demolition.

• Moving buildings on site to maximize efficient use of small lots and to protect against continuing erosion.

The company’s extensive supply of steel beams, dollies, skates, cribbing and unified hydraulic jacking systems allow workers to raise and move any size structure in a safe and secure manner.

This is especially necessary in the large amount of shoring work the company handles — tight job sites where vibratory, driven steel sheathing is often needed, along with h-piles with timber lagging and h-piles with steel plates.

Because they are located centrally, near Nantucket’s airport, Toscana can mobilize and demobilize from job sites quickly. The company expertly works in difficult spaces with an ongoing emphasis on maintaining the integrity of adjacent antique buildings.

Toscana Corporation completes septic system installations and replacements, specialized foundation work, below groundwater foundations (cofferdams, tremi slabs and dewatering), basement additions, pile driving foundations and shoring and retaining walls.

New harbor homes need to be shored up, which requires special training, skill, loads of concrete and patience.

"A lot of the projects we work on are harbor front residences. Someone will buy a property with an older home and either move it out of the way, or move it off the site and build their new Nantucket home," said Jelleme. "Back to the Historic District Commission (HDC); there is a height limit on new homes, so it’s either two stories or a story-and-a-half in some areas. They don’t want houses sticking out like a sore thumb. They want them to blend in with the landscape."

"So, the only place to go, if you want more square footage, is down. Well, if you go down, you’re in ground water. We worked on a project that had to go through a number of HDC meetings and the HDC kept pushing the height of the house down. The contractor told the owner ’The good news is, we got your house passed from HDC, but you can’t have a full cellar anymore because of ground water.’ Well, he [the owner] wanted the full cellar — a wine cellar, with a theater, game rooms. He wanted it. So an engineer was hired to come up with the means and methods to give the customer what he wanted."

The house was one of three Tremi slab projects Toscana has done — foundations for residential houses that are below the water table.

"We drove steel sheet coffer dams around the house. We excavate in the wet, basically dredging down to a certain level, then pour 3-to-5-foot thick Tremi slabs into the cofferdam," said Jelleme. "When you are done, it kind of looks like the surface of the moon. The size of these pours range from 600 to 1400 cubic yards. After the pour cures, then we de-water off the top of it, and you basically have an inside-out bathtub. Then, we put a drainage system on top of that approximately a foot of stone. Then, you build a standard foundation on top of that with a waterproof barrier underneath. So, that’s pretty involved for a residence."

Saner Projects, Amazing Finds

Toscana Corporation has worked on less involved projects over the years, like the Public Safety Building for the town, one of Nantucket’s bigger commercial buildings.

The company also helped to build Sherburne Commons, a retirement community/assisted living complex. Toscana performed the road construction, installed utilities, site work for the main building 50,000 sq. ft. (4,645 sq m) and 24 residential cottages.

In addition, Toscana was involved with the Harbor House redevelopment project.

"We took down eight buildings to make way for new hotel residences. We do have a local landfill and it is run, partly by the town and partly by private company. Disposal fees are pretty high. So, we started doing our own. We bring the aggregate in, empty the barge and ship the old stuff out. We put C&D 30 and 40-yard cans on the barge," said Jelleme. "We’ve had the tug and barge for eight years. We’ve been hauling out the C&D for about six years."

You never know what you might find on an island inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years, and European settlers for about 400 years.

"We unearthed an Indian burial ground. We had about half of the excavation done. We were using a 320-size Cat, hauling everything away, and then the Cat operator saw a couple of graves on the side of the embankment. We called the authorities and were shut down for a while, until they determined the site had been disturbed to a point there was no recovery, so they let us continue," said Jelleme.

"A couple of months after that, we cleared a site at higher elevation. We were stripping hardening, a clay/sandy material that is a foot thick or so. We got six inches into that and you could clearly see these shallow graves" said Jelleme. "We stopped immediately when we saw that. They did a full archeological study for a year and then the owner had to move the location of where the new house would go."

Dad ’Huge’ on Quality

When you dig for neighbors on a small island, you can’t hide from your work. Everyone knows where you are.

To that end, Carl learned the best lesson from his father.

"Word of mouth is about 90 percent of our business. Reputation is everything. Our reputation is really our best sales pitch," said Jelleme. "My Dad was a builder and he just hammered this into me since I began working for him as a kid: ’If you tell someone you are doing something at a certain time and at a certain price, you have to do it.’ He was huge on quality. I think it’s true for any business. Provide quality, timeliness and efficiency. Provide superior service than your competitors."

The employees of Toscana live among their clients, competitors and community. They help them in other ways, also.

"We donate to many local services. We donated concrete to the island’s community sailing project. Nantucket Community Sailing is a great organization," said Jelleme. "They teach kids and adults how to sail all summer long. They have a whole fleet of boats. They got a piece of property from town to build a maintenance facility. We gave the concrete for the building."

Jelleme said the company will not celebrate its 35th anniversary.

"We had a pretty big bash for our 30th. We had a big cookout with a raw bar. Thirty-five? I don’t know. Forty, maybe. Let’s get there and we’ll talk."

For more information call 508/228-1418 or visit www.toscanacorp.com.