Water Main Break Disrupts Pavement Maintenance Project
BY Sandy Lender
Project managers know to expect the unexpected, but some surprises on the paving job put scheduling in jeopardy. For Gabriel Contractors of Amsterdam, New York, Inc., the unexpected came in the form of a water main break 9 feet beneath an otherwise normal parking lot reconstruction project.
Shortly before the crew was to begin paving a 13,900-square-foot parking lot for AGT Services Inc. of Amsterdam, owned by Mike Bresney, some rotted steel straps far below the surface gave way. With 5 inches plus of standing water swamping their newly placed and graded crusher-run sub-base, the Gabriel Contractors team had a mess to fix that wasn’t part of the original bid.
Enter the problem-solving team of Laborer/Operator TJ (Theodore) Schrom, Laborer/Operator Aaron Robinson and Vice President Kristi Vertucci to keep scheduling on track while delivering quality for the client.
The water line was buried exactly 9 feet under the existing, deteriorated parking lot pavement, Vertucci explained. “Here in Upstate New York, the requirement is only 4 to 6 feet minimum to be buried,” she said. “So it’s crazy that it was positioned much further down, yet still broke. It was basically two steel straps around saddle clamps of 10-inch main rotted off; the rot over the years just got worse. And the fact that we were compacting/vibrating the base did not help what was already a disaster waiting to happen.
“The rupture was directly underneath where we were already working,” Vertucci continued. “We had prepped the site with crusher-run sub-base, graded and re-graded, and were in the middle of compacting the last two passes closest to the grass side of the property.”
Get the Job Moving Again
Having a major setback in the middle of a project means delays, which Gabriel Contractors couldn’t afford at the end of October. With the paving season nearing its end and back-to-back projects lined up, the team needed to resolve the problem and get the parking lot job completed quickly. That meant there was no time to assign responsibility.
“Because the water main was located on the business owner’s private commercial property, the City of Amsterdam was not expected to make the repair, nor was held liable,” Vertucci said. “Instead, responsibility fell on the owner’s shoulders. Even though that was the case, we didn’t wait for permission to proceed with emergency repairs. Rather, we chose to jump right into action because it didn’t matter at the end of the day whose fault it was or whose responsibility it was to fix it. If we wanted to be able to complete the job we were contracted to do, we had to make sure this was resolved regardless. Plus, we wanted to prevent the situation from getting any worse than it already was.”
Of course, the first step was to stop the flow of water onto the project.
“The City of Amsterdam did offer to aide in helping to locate the water shut-off valve in the industrial park when it couldn’t be pinpointed because of grass overgrowth,” Vertucci said. “They also stood by with extra pumps and four to five workers in case anything got out of hand and we needed more manpower.”
“Thankfully for both the city and the commercial business owner, we were already on site prepping the parking lot to be paved as per bid contract,” Vertucci said. “However, we were not initially prepared for that kind of unexpected service at that exact moment. By that, I mean we were literally on the last two passes of vibrating crusher run, so we had already sent our dump trucks down to the local asphalt plant to get loaded. We ended up dumping three 21-ton loads of blacktop in order to switch gears and be able to start pumping out the entire swamp of a parking lot; so we could then dig with a trackhoe and by hand to find the main.”
Gabriel Contractors used all its own dump trucks on this project.
They dug more than the 9 feet to reach the main.
“We had to dig down 12 feet to be able to successfully gain reach around and under the water main to completely replace it.”
Elbow Grease and Expertise
Getting the parking lot cleared for re-work took time.
“We ended up using three commercial grade high pressure water pumps to drain all water from the parking lot to the culvert pipe nearest the main roadway; this took approximately four hours alone and did not include the digging time necessary to sufficiently re-prep the lot. There was a minimum of 5 inches of water in some areas; other areas went over a couple feet.
“We ended up having to haul in 18 yards of bank run sand and 61 additional tons of crusher run to remediate the area,” Vertucci continued. “From there, we used over 20 tons of Type 3 asphalt to level the area prior to paving with top course. Next, we used another 36 tons for true & level, and finally 160 tons of Type 6 top.”
Ensuring the water situation didn’t create subbase problems for the surface was on her mind, of course. That’s where the additional 42 tons of crusher-run material came into play.
“We just made sure to haul in ample crusher-run base; which ended up consisting of 42 tons extra. We placed and compacted in lifts in a 20 by 30-foot area so that there would be little to no chance it would affect the top courses.”
The subbase is a point of pride for Gabriel Contractors and part of its warranty concern.
“We always warranty our jobs for 1 year from completion date. The only time we do not warranty a specific job is if the person or company chooses to go against our advice and provide and place their own subbase. We cannot warranty something we had no hand in making or placing ourselves.”
All in Good Time
“Our schedule this year was complete insanity,” Vertucci shared. “We didn’t know how long it would take to fix the water main but we knew we couldn’t afford to be delayed by one more day because it ends up pushing back our entire end-of-season schedule by at least a week if you look at it overall. And since this happened at the end of October and our local asphalt plants are usually closed around the week of December 11, we were already cutting it close for completing the rest of our scheduled work for 2020.
“Not to mention, we were already behind almost two months from our normal season start date because of COVID-19 and local lockdown requirements here in New York and in our city. By time October rolled around, we still had 36 jobs yet to finish (both residential and commercial) with no extra time to spare (also because it got cold quick up here). All that being said, we ended up with 24 jobs remaining that we could not get to by end-of-season because of the weather getting too cold, plant breakdowns, other commercial job delays, and so on.”
Despite the delays from issues outside of their control, the Gabriel Contractors crewmembers gave management plenty to be proud of.
“In terms of the crew, our main crew of eight employees ended up working a continuous 48 hours straight to resolve this debacle,” Vertucci said. “Of course, we made sure to take breaks in there to make sure our guys were hydrated, fed and physically able to work through the night. But we were impressed that all our crew chose to stay even though we told them whoever was unable or uncomfortable to stay was free to go home to rest. We worked through the night into the next morning and were the first in line to load up at Cushing Stone Company asphalt plant.”
Not only was Vertucci proud of the crew’s commitment to solving and completing the parking lot job, she was proud of their finished product.
“We were genuinely happy with the outcome; especially considering how easily it could have turned into a fiasco because so many factors were working against us that day. We were thankful and proud of our crew for stepping up like they did when they could easily have walked away and within reason. We were able to be one of the first dump trucks in the plant the morning after the break; which means we had nice hot asphalt mix instead of sometimes cold material considering the weather. And that alone made the mat lay beautifully. From the point at which the water main was finished being changed out and all sub-base was replaced, that was the moment where we were able to look at each other with a small sigh of relief and re-focus our energies to get the job done.”
While everyone on the job worked hard to get the job done, Vertucci saw the determination of Schrom and Robinson as noteworthy. “They really went above and beyond working non-stop with no complaints, and did not once ever falter or think twice about helping out no matter how long it took. They stayed the entire night actually in the base of the unfortunate crater that was created from the water main, and helped to hand dig around the area wherever the machine could not get.”
The final product reflects the commitment Gabriel Contractors has to giving the client a quality pavement and gives readers a primer on surprise project management.