From a one-man contracting firm launched by Charles Blakeslee in 1844 in New Haven, Conn., Blakeslee, Arpaia, Chapman (BAC) has created an innovative and multi-faceted company that provides engineered construction services in the areas of marine construction, roads and bridges, dams, foundations and other large site structures, conduit construction for utilities, millwrighting and rigging for utilities and industries.
Currently located in a shoreline town located on Long Island Sound in New Haven County, Conn., eight miles (13 km) east of New Haven, BAC has strategically located their team and marine fleet to best service its clients in a cost-effective manner.
"Our clients don't have to wait for us to get mobile; we are always ready with dockage of our marine fleet in New Haven and New London," said the company's president, David Chapman.
The vast number of years and tenure this experienced team brings to the industry is outstanding as their services and completed projects span the full spectrum from public to private sector work. BAC has a portfolio filled with bridges, highways and foundations for power plants, electrical substations and other buildings, and that is just the beginning. The company partners with independent engineers as well as constructs solutions with their very own in-house licensed engineering services team.
With 175 years in business, it only makes sense that BAC would have created a successful organization development methodology for construction projects. This method creates the unique ability to provide sole-source responsibility and an organized approach to sequencing and methods within each construction project. This enables BAC to provide precise scheduling, fast response to estimates and alternative construction methods, and most importantly impeccable cost controls to clients.
"Essentially, our success has one source people," said Chapman.
"We have a great staff including project managers and engineers, and a vast field workforce of outstanding and caring team members," said Chapman. "Our employees are dedicated, loyal and committed to delivering high-quality client projects with exemplary job safety performance. I am always impressed with our team's personal interest and responsiveness to our client's requests. Our repeat client list is always growing. Throughout the company's history, a typical employee's tenure has been 20, 30 or 40 years of service. It is as true today as it was 100 years ago."
When asked what BAC's great strength is, Chapman doesn't hesitate.
"Resiliency," he said. "Companies, in the construction industry or other, don't get to stick around for 175 years without being resilient to the market. We have seen good times and bad, yet we survive and with a little luck we thrive. This is a testament to the people who make Blakeslee a great company."
In the pile driving industry, Chapman says they are known as a company who will get the project done despite any obstacles.
"We have great planning and design capabilities that allow the work to be executed in an expeditious fashion," he said. "When the unexpected happens, we have the resources to resolve issues quickly. We have very dedicated, skilled employees at all levels. This business requires a lot from those who make it an occupation. Long hours, working nights and weekends, long commutes and hard labor in lousy weather. It is not for the faint of heart."
Many changes since 1844
Much has changed in the deep foundation industry over the decades. In the past 20 years alone, Chapman says there is more technology than ever before.
"Some very innovative equipment is now available," said Chapman. "There are piling rigs with high frequency heads to zero resonance vibratory hammers. BAC has invested in an ABI pile driving rig that allows us to drive piles very quickly with minimal vibration or impact. The head on the rig is variable moment and allows the amount of vibration to be adjusted. We have used this machine on projects where driven pile may not have been an option otherwise."
Another big change he has seen is a diversion of design and construction.
"More and more projects have specifications or designs that do not clearly define what is expected, or set out confusing or contradicting design criteria," he said. "This only leads to project problems. It is becoming more important for GCs and CMs to get qualified pile driving professionals on board as early as possible for these issues to be resolved. That is one (of many things) PDCA has done. They have brought the contractors, engineers, equipment dealers and material suppliers into one group so everyone understands what everyone else needs."
BAC also works very closely with PDCA's Education and Technical Committees to help train and teach the industry about the importance of working with pile driving and general foundation experts. Chapman is one of many participants working on a new PDCA educational program known as the Engineers Driven Pile Institute (EDPI), which will help train more people who may one day write these specifications.
As for the numerous projects that BAC has been involved with over the decades, Chapman says he is proud of all of them, although some have been more unique than others.
"Several years ago, we completed a replacement of half a large commercial vessel pier in New London, Connecticut," he said. "The State Pier as it's known is 1,000 feet long and 200 feet wide. The center of the pier is actually an earth berm with a dock built on either side. We replaced one dock with a modern steel pile and concrete deck. The piles were 18-inch steel piles that were only partially filled with concrete. The deck consisted of concrete caps poured over the pile cap to form transverse beams. Precast slabs that were made in Virginia and floated to New London by barge were dropped in place and a concrete slab poured over the caps and planks. We developed a form support system that would be supported by the piles. The system utilized large screw jacks to quickly and accurately align and place the cap beam forms, which saved substantial time on the schedule."
For another project, Chapman says they drove 90-foot-plus H-piles for a foundation for a new gas-fired electrical generation system requiring a few thousand piles in Middletown, Conn.
"Piles were driven in two sections," he said. "The first section was driven with our ABI pile driving rig. A second hydraulic crane then set the second sections while pile drivers welded the splice between the two sections. Two lattice boom cranes were used with diesel hammers to drive home the piles. The ABI rig significantly outpaced the two impact driving rigs. By using this method, we were able to significantly reduce the project schedule."
PDCA membership matters
As a PDCA member since the early 2000s, Chapman says he is honored by membership to have been voted into the position of PDCA vice-president and president for two separate terms.
"Actively participating at that level of PDCA was very rewarding," he said. "I would encourage all contractors to consider serving the association to get to know PDCA and its members better. Members who participate gain a firsthand understanding of the issues facing our industry. More importantly, you will quickly learn how your fellow contractors and suppliers are working to fix or adjust to these challenges."
When asked what the main benefits are of membership, especially for a contractor as established as BAC, Chapman doesn't miss a beat.
"I have been asked this question a lot and two things come to mind," he said. "First, I have learned so much about the industry. After joining, I got involved in the Technical Committee, which was as simple as calling into the committee every other week at 11:00. I was shocked to be on the phone with giants like George Goble, Garland Likins, Van Komurka, Dale Biggers and many others, and yet I was not getting billed for their time. Our project was to work as a team and revise the pile driving section of the AASHTO bridge design manual, which is the guide for designing highway bridges across the country."
As part of the Technical Committee, Chapman discovered how much more there was to learn about pile driving, and how much practices vary across the country.
"As time marched on, I quickly absorbed how much science and art is involved in pile driving design and construction," he said. "I feel PDCA helped BAC become a recognized leader in the Northeast pile driving industry. This is due in large part through contacts made throughout North America by being active in in the association, which gives us access to a forum of experts and training programs. Together, PDCA and its members have helped my company grow and build stronger industry bonds."
Chapman is also quick to acknowledge additional benefits outside of business that he's personally experienced since becoming a part of PDCA.
"The great benefit that I always mention is just how fraternal the group is," he said. "At PDCA, I have made good friends. I once called another PDCA president, Buck Darling, about how to do rock anchors. He invited me up to see a job, put me up in his house and spent the day touring. Another time, my wife and I went to New Orleans. PDCA member Dale Biggers of Boh Bros. told us exactly where to stay, and then gave me a tour of some really fascinating projects at that time when the city was recovering from Katrina. He and his wife took us to a classic New Orleans restaurant. PDCA members are not just colleagues we are good friends."
As for what the future holds over the next two to five years, Chapman says that BAC is expanding to work more out of state.
"For 175 years, most of our work has been in the state of Connecticut," he said. "However, we are looking at doing more work out of state and are seeking more diverse and collaborative projects."
With a trained team at the ready combined with a wealth of referrals, BAC is an attractive company for many engineering firms looking for a strong pile driving partner. Chapman feels that his team is more than capable of meeting trending demands in the pile driving industry, where contractors will be required to provide more support for the final design of projects.
"We feel that we have a great model to facilitate that, especially where pile driving and sheet piling are concerned," he said. "This work really needs to blend science and art, field knowledge and design experience. We have the ability to combine these aspects of deep foundations to make these types of projects successful."
Chapman also sees significant potential for marine work in the not-so-distant future and anticipates that BAC will be busy in Connecticut again, as the majority of the waterfront in New Haven was built in the 1950s and '60s.
"Time has taken its toll on these structures and significant work will be required to maintain or replace facilities. Much of this work will require driven pile," said Chapman.
In all, he is proud of BAC's 175 years in business, and is looking forward to whatever the future will bring to the company.
"The only thing we can be fairly sure of about the future is that it will probably be different than the present," said Chapman. "Blakeslee has always been able to adapt to new challenges. The only thing I know for sure about the future is that we will have a hand in building its foundation."