Founded in 1920 as Corson & Gruman Co., the family-owned asphalt contractor in Washington, D.C., paved and operated asphalt plants in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., for its first 50 years. In the 1950s, Arthur Cox, son-in-law of William Gruman, took over operating Corson & Gruman. Arthur Cox, Sr. purchased the company eventually, becoming the new owner.
It was during the early 1970s when Corman Construction, Inc. was formed as a new company with an emphasis on utility construction.
"Then, in the 1980s, heavy civil road and bridge capabilities were added to our scope of services, along with an opportunity to enter into the pile driving foundation market to support the civil operations," said Corman president Chase Cox.
"Soon after, we branched out and formed two new divisions: bridge and utility. The company also moved from Washington, D.C., to Maryland in 1980 where we opened up a new corporate headquarter office in Annapolis Junction."
In the 1990s, Arthur Cox, Sr. handed ownership over to his sons, Arthur and Bill, who assumed leadership. Arthur's son, Chase, joined the company in 2003 and, in 2016, became president of Corman Construction and Corman Marine Construction.
Two vice president/general managers support Cox, each overseeing an operational group. These two groups are divided geographically: mid-Atlantic, which is between the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia markets and includes the marine operations group; and Southern, which is between the North Carolina, Richmond, Tidewater and Central Virginia markets.
The 2000s and today
"In 2003, Corman purchased the assets of the Martin G. Imbach Company, a private marine construction firm who, since 1921, served in the Baltimore Harbor for clients, such as US Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Port Administration, Exxon, U.S. Coast Guard, Dupont and Bethlehem Steel," said Cox. "This was our entry into the marine pile driving business."
Today, the company, which has been a PDCA member for many years, has 400 employees in four facilities corporate headquarters in Annapolis, Md., which houses the main equipment facility and support functions, including finance, IT, human resources, contracts and offices for the mid-Atlantic and marine groups. The southern group operates out of Colonial Heights, Va., with an equipment and yard facility and an office in Chesapeake, Va. The company's marine group has offices, equipment and port facilities in Baltimore, Md., on Curtis Bay.
Specializing in bridge, highway, marine, dredging, utility (water and sewer), underground and support of excavation construction, with an emphasis on self-performing pile foundation construction, Cox says the marine group also specializes in marine pile driving and dredging.
"We service up and down the mid-Atlantic region, including Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and North Carolina. Our primary geography is Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.," said Cox.
The deep foundation industry has seen tremendous changes over the past century. In the last 20 years alone, Cox says upfront and foremost, safety has become a key value for the industry and PDCA.
"The difference isn't only in how we manage a worksite to keep everyone safe, but also enhanced pile testing techniques to avoid the pitfalls of failing piles," he said. "The quality of the materials has improved greatly from better steel to the use of pre-stressed concrete piles. And, environmental sensitivity considerations play a larger, significant role in how we design and construct the work as a means to protect the environment."
Cox says safety is Corman's most important core value and implementing safe work practices and ensuring employee and general public well-being is their highest priority.
"Our Corporate Safety and Health Program includes policies/procedures that govern safe work practices to prevent injury, occupational illness and property damage, outlines the safety and health responsibilities of all involved, implements plans for safety and health education, training and monitoring to promote identifying and eliminating hazards and/or unsafe acts and identifies and addresses environmental concerns."
Corman has an 11-core safety training class requirement for managers, engineers, superintendents and foremen catered to the transportation construction industry, including CPR, first aid, fall protection, excavation, rigging/signaling, manlift scissor/articulating, scaffolding, confined space, OSHA 30-hour, crane safety and guidelines for OSHA Inspection.
While the advancements in the industry are impressive, attracting and retaining dedicated and talented employees in all trades at all levels remains a big challenge.
"Even with increasing wages, there are not many up and coming individuals interested in pursuing a career in the foundation or construction industry. There is a stigma with many thinking the profession suffers from a lack of sophistication. With constant, major advances in technology, this is clearly not the case. As a group, we are not funneling this vision towards today and tomorrow's high school and college students. Changes need to be made as our industry presents opportunities and promise for tomorrow's leaders."
Corman has been involved in hundreds if not thousands of projects over its vast history. While all of them are notable for different reasons, Cox mentions two recent projects, the first one being the Main Pumping Station Diversions, Division I in Washington, D.C., which was completed this summer.
This DC Water | Clean Rivers design-build project provides control and consolidation of flow coming from combined sewer overflow structures and is immediately north of the Main and O Street Pumping Station. It is comprised of a 100-foot long below-grade surge tank, two sewage diversion structures, flow channels, vent and odor control facilities and internal flow elements inside an existing 100-foot deep tunnel shaft.
"We designed most of the excavation support, including 48-inch diameter secant piles and a combination king pile/sheet pile system with three levels of internal bracing," said Cox. "There was also a 72-inch diameter FRP sewer pipe excavated under an active arch sewer inside a liner plate tunnel."
Two reinforced concrete diversion structures were constructed atop active 100-year-old arch sewers (16 feet and 12 feet wide). Excavations for these structures were 25 to 30 feet deep.
"The diversion chambers take rising stormwater overflows over a series of weirs and into cast-in place concrete channels leading into a 100-foot deep shaft and tunnel for treatment at the DC Water Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant. Existing utilities, including water and electric services, were relocated and protected during construction."
The project is on a congested urban site in downtown Washington, D.C. There were strict dewatering standards, which required water to be quantified and tested for pH and turbidity prior to discharge. Designs for temporary excavation support were subject to restrictive load and ground movement criteria and geotechnical instrumentation devices were installed throughout the project limits to continually monitor ground movement throughout the project duration.
Another project that Corman is especially proud of is the Reconstruction of Berths 1-6 Phase 2, Berth 4, at Dundalk Marine Terminal in Baltimore, which was completed in October 2016.
This Maryland Port Administration project is at the Port of Baltimore, considered one the nation's busiest ports. After 80 years of being subjected to the harsh marine environment, Berth 4 (a general cargo receiver where goods are unloaded and stored onsite until transport) was failing and needed to be replaced. Railroad access to the wharf was no longer available due to weakening conditions, and the docking area needed to be deepened to accommodate the deeper draft ships transporting general cargo and paper pulp products.
"The new Berth 4 was constructed near an active storage facility," said Cox. "To keep it in service throughout construction and secure it from ground movements, a new 700-LF king pile retaining wall was driven in front of it. It was installed using 106 HZ10-80M beams placed seven feet apart and interconnected with 105 AZ14 x 770 sheet pile pairs. Ten-inch PVC pipe sleeves were built into the king pile concrete cap to house the 145 soil anchor tendons augered 125 feet deep and grouted into place prior to tensioning to secure the wall. After securing the king pile wall, the old Berth 4 was safely demolished."
The new wharf is 70 by 700 feet long and consists of 306 24-inch, pre-stressed concrete piles. Piles were driven in bents of six piles each to support 51 concrete pile caps and 350 precast deck slabs were set on top of caps and locked in place with a 10-inch concrete topping slab. The wharf fascia wall was constructed with cast-in-place concrete and incorporates 12 200-ton ship mooring foundations, new water and electric service and a fender system to protect it from ship traffic. The new wharf includes two new rail spurs and is topped with over 40,000 sq. ft. of 120mm interlocking concrete paving blocks.
Before constructing the berth, there were test pile procedures using seven 24-inch concrete piles, which were handled and driven with a 275-ton Terex crane on a barge. Corman dynamically tested seven piles to verify load capacity followed by a Statnamic test to determine the axial compressive load. An explosive charge was detonated in the Statnamic apparatus equal to 880-kips. They then measured the pile displacement and analyzed the deflection versus static load curve to determine failure load.
"Pile caps were originally cast-in-place," said Cox. "We proposed precast and worked through the design with the precast supplier and Maryland Port Administration engineers. The concrete pier caps were prefabricated offsite and then transported by barge and installed by Corman's 4100 Ringer Crane. By prefabricating the caps, we drastically reduced the amount of concrete placed in tidal areas and minimized the amount of concrete needing to be barged to placement sites."
As for the what the future holds for Corman, Cox says that in the next two to five years, the company will increase its attention and strength on marine and water/sewer projects, expanding in the types of work within its markets and geographical reach.
"We will also continue to focus as a 'Best in Class' general contractor in our core mid-Atlantic territory as we have for nearly a century."