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Waters Construction Boasts 50-Plus Years, Father/Son Joint Ownership

Thu March 10, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

These Waters have churned for more than half a century.

These Waters have risen above the standard level on job after job after job since 1960, and even before their incorporation.

These Waters are worth their salt.

Waters Construction, Bridgeport, Conn., was built up by a man who started his labor there at age 19 and was running the place by 20.

The bustling construction company, which celebrated 50 years officially in 2010 (although it probably started a decade before that), has worked on some of the most visible projects throughout Connecticut while it continues to thrive on its long-standing reputation.

A driveway contractor named Al Waters founded the company in New Milford, Conn. Waters ran it for about a decade until a retired New Jersey contractor named Web Kay bought it.

“My father, Terrence B. Smith, went to work for Al Waters in 1958 at 19 years old as a laborer,” said proud son and current Waters President Mario Smith. “Within six months, he was running the company. Web Kay bought Waters Construction in 1960 because he had retired to New Milford and was bored. Given that my father was already running the company, he officially appointed him as President.”

Ready to Buy

By 1963, Web Kay was ready to sell and Terrence B. Smith arranged to buy out the firm.

“You can imagine that even though the company was a small driveway contractor with, maybe, 10 employees, it was very undercapitalized,” said Mario Smith.

To secure a much-needed bank loan, Terrence Smith did a very smart thing with his equipment — making the best use of it without spending a penny on fuel, labor or supplies.

“It was time to arrange for a loan from a local bank. My father invited the bankers to the office to discuss this matter. The office was on the second floor, so my father arranged to have all the equipment owned by the company circle around under the window of his office,” said Waters President Smith. “This gave the appearance that Waters had more equipment than it really had. The bank gave my father the loan that he needed. From then on, he expanded the company from a small driveway contractor to a diverse heavy/highway and building GC contractor.”

The company, still family owned, is a split venture for the still-active Terrence and his son Mario.

“My father and I own it jointly, 50/50. Even though I have six brothers and sisters, and some worked for the company at one point in their lives, none were interested in making the company their career (my father is a little bit demanding),” said the younger partner. “I began purchasing 10 percent of the company in 2004, and purchased 40 percent in 2008.”

Waters maintains an office in New Milford, but its headquarters is in Bridgeport. Smith, like his father, started working for the company as a teen more than a quarter century ago.

A mover and shaker, he took on as much, if not more, than his father did at a similar age.

“I started to work for the company in 1985. I had agreed to work for my father in the summer of 1985 only. By 1986, I was in charge of the work in Fairfield County and had started to build up my own clientele,” said Smith. “The first few years were a bit rough between my father and me, so we decided that it would be better for both of us if I had my own office.” Smith opened up a one-man office in Norwalk, Conn. in 1988.

“Eventually that office grew, and my clientele grew, and the area that I operated in expanded eastward. In 1991, I moved my operation to Bridgeport. Eventually, our work also expanded westward toward New York. I opened an office in Port Chester, N.Y., in 1998, which I then moved to Brewster, N.Y., in 2000,” he added. “At the end of 2003, I closed the office in New York, given the problems with insurance coverage and its issues regarding general liability claims for what should be pure workers’ compensation claims. The work in Westchester County New York was not worth the effort.”

A Road Map of Change

The company has traveled in many directions in the past half-century of splendid achievement. Here is its road map of change:

In the 1960s, Waters was a paving contractor and had a sand and gravel operation in Brookfield. As the company increased its revenues in the early 70s, it started as a general contractor in DOT roadwork, then expanded into sewer work and finally, into building construction by the mid-70s.

“The recession of 1980-81 was difficult in Connecticut, so my father decided to shrink the company, and by 1983, he had wound down the building work. By 1985, he essentially mothballed the heavy/highway work. I started working in the summers in 1978. Prior to that, I had grown up in Italy and moved to the U.S. in 1977, I was adopted by my father in 1978,” said Smith. “In 1985, after graduating from The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, I made a deal with my father to work as a superintendent on several state paving projects for that summer only. I never left.

“By 1989, I restarted our Heavy/Highway division with a $2.1 million project on Route 15 in Fairfield. The number of projects increased in size and complexity. By the mid-90s, we were usually running two large highway projects concurrently, the paving division flourished and had several smaller projects going,” he added. ’Toward the end of the 1990s, we saw some of the federal highway funding shrink, so the company started bidding and building site work as a subcontractor.”

Waters Construction now employs about 75 to 85 workers at peak season and has several divisions within the company.

“We install bituminous pavements and all of the ancillary work that goes with it — pavement reclamation, milling, minor drainage, etc. We construct concrete flatwork, including, occasionally, floor pours. We perform full site work development — earth work, utility work, vertical concrete construction, etc.,” said Smith. “We have a road/highway construction division working primarily for CONNDOT and municipalities. We have started to work for railroad companies. We are currently building a rail yard for Metro North, including track work and catenary work, and mass transit work (such as) building a bus station.”

Waters also performs all its own environmental remediation work.

“We are also re-starting our building division. We built schools, housing and industrial work from the mid-70s to 1982 when my father decided to shrink the company because of the recession. Now we that we are restarting that division, we expect to be a full-service building general contractor by the end of this year,” he added.

Well-Known Projects

Some of Waters biggest projects are viewed by or traveled by tens of thousands daily in populous Connecticut.

“Our first major project was the foundation excavation and utility work at the Bridgeport Arena, a 20,000-seat, indoor multi-use stadium. We eventually did considerable amount of site work at various schools and housing projects,” said Smith.

From 2001 to 2005, they finished the $7.5 million reconstruction of Rt. 15 for the approaches to the Sikorsky Bridge. From 2000 to 2006, they worked on the $9.5 million asphalt pavements for widening of I-95 in Bridgeport.

More than a decade ago, they completed the $13.5 million road and bridge construction and widening of Exit 41 on I-95 in Orange and the $13 million median construction and reconstruction of 10 bridges and resurfacing of I-95 in Fairfield.

From 2010 to present, Waters has been working on the $20 million Metro North Rail yard improvements (environmental remediation, earth work, utility work, track work, catenary and power work, lighting). In 2008-2009, they did the $9 million site construction and environmental remediation for a 425,000 sq. ft. bus maintenance facility. In 2007, they built a $6 million noise barrier and ramp construction on Interstate 95 in Darien, Conn.

“In 2006, we constructed the site work for a major bus depot in Bridgeport. From that point on we started to pursue mass transit work and have completed one small rail job in New Canaan, will finish the bus facility in Norwalk by June and are actively working on the Bridgeport rail yard which will be completed in 2011,” said Smith. “Meanwhile, we are currently constructing a roadway system as a CM on a HUD-funded project in New Haven and are negotiating to build the housing portion of the project as a CM.”

Of its many employees, Smith lauded the loyalty and longevity of Steve Murphy, superintendent (30 years), Robert Poletto, superintendent (31 years), Ray Dezara, master mechanic (30 years), Al Swanson, superintendent (20 years), John McBrairty, paver operator (32 years), Tim Leo, driver (31 years), Charles Tourtillotte, controller/CFO (14 years) and Tim Dexter, operator/foreman (26 years), among others.

More Than Longevity, Integrity

Waters has worked as subcontractors to: O&G Industries, Kiewit, Balfour Beatty, Perini, PCL, Cianbro, Bond Brothers, Tilcon Conn, (Old Castle), Brunalli Construction, Fusco Corporation, Turner, Giordano Construction, Middlesex Corp., Walsh Construction and many others.

“Subs working for us? Pretty much all major subs in the transportation industry in Connecticut,” said Mario Smith.

What makes Waters flourish for so long?

“Our service and integrity, which is a direct result of the hard work and professionalism from all who work at Waters Construction,” said their president. “In the end, it is truly a group effort. We all have our strength and liabilities, and some are naturally more capable than others at certain functions, but no one person can be credited for the success of the whole organization.”

In getting through challenging economic times like the present, diversification has helped Waters enormously. “Every recession, every economic bump in the road, has forced us to look at our business model and adjust accordingly,” said Smith. “The result has been that our company is more resilient and valuable, not because of the successes in good times, but as a consequence of the decisions made in hard times.”

He is proudest of his company’s reputation and hopes Waters will rise up to do more of the same for the next 50 years.

“Work smartly, continue to diversify, seek opportunities in niche markets and grow the experience and competence of the whole organization,” he said.

For more information, go to CEG

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