J. P. Carrara & Sons, Inc., (JPC) a third generation family-owned company, emerged from humble beginnings to become a leading fabricator of precast/prestressed concrete products, ready-mixed concrete and aggregates in the northeastern U.S. The company does everything from the extraction of raw materials to delivery of finished product.
‘Humble beginnings’ sounds like a cliché, but really there is no way around it. J. P. Carrara & Sons, Inc. did indeed begin humbly in the 1940s when Italian immigrant Joseph P. Carrara purchased an old concrete mixer truck to pour foundations for his barn building business in Vermont.
His grandson, Joe Carrara, now company president recalls, “I was fairly young when he died, but I do remember him well. He was a classic, hard-working immigrant, working six and seven days a week. He only had a sixth-grade education, but he was a super hard worker, and he had a lot of good common sense. He was able to grow his business successfully and when his college educated sons joined the business they took it to the next level.”
In addition to the ready-mix concrete plant in North Clarendon, sons Paul (Joe’s father), Robert and Richard opened two more in Middlebury, Vermont and Crown Point, New York and several quarries to produce their own aggregate, with crushing operations in Middlebury and Rutland.
Ready-mix concrete, however, is not without certain limitations. It is used to pour foundations but is limited to travelling a ninety-minute radius from the plant. When travel time is longer the quality of the concrete can be compromised. Working with ready-mix is time-consuming for general contractors because they must wait seven to fourteen days for it to cure before proceeding with construction. Its use is also limited by temperature and climate.
On the other hand, precast and prestressed concrete, which is poured and cured in a factory-controlled environment before being transported to the construction site has fewer of those limitations and offers many advantages.
Although it was developed in England in the early twentieth century and was used extensively in Europe, there was little interest in North America until the 1960s. But J. P. Carrara & Sons were not about to be left behind when the industry moved in that direction. In 1970, the company opened a precast division in Middlebury, with an emphasis on architectural precast products and, a few years later, expanded to include the structural precast/prestressed market.
The company is now a precast/prestressed leader in the New England region and offers a diverse line of products including eight foot-wide Dynaspan hollow-core plank for floor and roof deck systems, beams and slabs for bridges, components for parking garages and other precast building solutions as well as ready-mix concrete and aggregate. It also operates a retail outlet for masonry supplies.
J. P. Carrara & Sons, Inc. is in the hands of the third generation and is led by Joe Carrara as president, his brother P. J. Carrara, Jr. as vice president, his cousin Bob Carrara as treasurer and Bob’s sister Christina Carrara as secretary.
“We divvy it up,” Joe Carrara says, “and we’re not big on titles because we’re still a hands-on, family business. Bob handles the administrative functions out of his office in North Clarendon, and he and Christina have a ready-mix operation that they run with aggregate production as well.” There are also 120 employees, including some lead foremen who have been with the company for over forty years.
P. J. manages the ready-mix concrete and aggregate divisions as well as managing the “shipping of all our precast components, which can be a logistical challenge when the product is a 150 foot-long 200,000 pound bridge beam,” he says. “We have specialized remote-controlled steerable dollies to augment our fleet of tractor trailers. Oversized loads require route surveys and permits, escort vehicles and police escorts for each state you travel through.”
As president, he manages the precast and prestressed facility in Middlebury. JP Carrara & Sons is the largest bridge product fabricator in New England. “Accelerated bridge construction (ABC) is an important means of construction for the DOTs now, and we’re proud to say we’ve helped develop that market.”
He explains how time-consuming it is to use conventional methods to replace bridges. “With traditional construction methods Contractors have to demolish the existing structure, pour in place new footings, abutments, wing walls, approach slabs, erect steel beams, form and pour the deck and then wait fourteen days for it to cure. With accelerated bridge construction we precast all the components ahead of the Contractor’s scheduled start of demolition and the Contractor erects the components and opens the bridge to traffic much faster,” he says.
“In 2004 we were involved in the very first ABC project in our region, a prototype project with the Federal Highway and New Hampshire Department of Transportation, spearheaded by a structural engineering professor at the University of New Hampshire. We constructed the prototype, and eventually over time all the New England states realized the advantages of the construction method and began implementing it on their own projects. It’s a huge savings because the impact on the public is greatly reduced. In the past, the traveling public often had to deal with extensive detours for months while a bridge was under construction, and there’s a cost associated with that.”
The 115-foot single span bridge in Epping, New Hampshire was erected on site in only eight days. That and a post-tensioned spliced girder bridge, spanning over 350 feet across the Wallkill River in Middletown, New York are just two examples of what the company can do with precast and prestressed concrete.
It was also the first precast fabricator in the market area to utilize self-consolidating concrete (SCC) on DOT projects, “something we developed with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, with the other regional DOTs accepting its use shortly thereafter. The mix utilizes a chemical admixture that makes the concrete highly flowable without aggregate segregation, so it self-consolidates without having to use a vibrator when pouring. It works well in congested forms where there’s a lot of rebar, prestressing strands and embed plates; it’s very flowable and reduces air bubbles on the face which provides a better-looking product as well. We use this mix on almost all products except hollow core.”
Hollow core plank, fabricated in Middlebury under the trade name Dynaspan, are precast/prestressed concrete components used as structural floor or roof deck systems. They are cast with continuous voids that run the length of the panel, which reduces their weight and prestressed, making them exceptionally strong.
Competitors also produce hollow core but they make it in four-foot widths, whereas Carrara fabricates it in 8’ and 8’3” widths, the widest in New England. Why does this matter? As Carrara explains, “we have half as many pieces to install in the field and half as many joints to grout, and the extra width can accommodate larger mechanical openings without the need for supplemental steel support.”
Because of its versatility, and because it is finished with a smooth bottom or top surface, it is equally well-suited for finished ceilings or ‘carpet ready’ floors in commercial buildings of up to twenty-eight stories. The demand for Dynaspan is so great that the company is fabricating over one million square feet of it a year.
Concrete planks measuring 8’ wide and 36’ long can be challenging when raised by conventional cables and slings. This process, in addition to being time-consuming and labor-intensive, increases the likelihood of chipping and spalling the bottom edges of the plank. But that does not happen with J. P. Carrara and Sons which utilizes vacuum lift devices, rated for up to fifteen-ton picks, to lift the plank and set it in position. These lifts are also used at the plant to remove the planks from their forms, stock them and load them on trailers prior to transportation.
So exactly where is all this hollow core plank going? Among other places it can be found in the recently completed Assembly Row Block 6 and Block 5A in Somerville, MA, the Yotel Hotel Seaport Boston, MA, 1350 Boylston Street Boston, MA, and in every state in the region.
Another part of the precast and prestressed operation at Middlebury involves fabricating total pre-cast buildings, not just hollow core ceilings and floors, but wall panels with architectural finishes, brick inlay or colored concrete or aggregate or sandblast finish, as well as columns and stairs. Among recent projects are the Rochester Elementary School; Autumn Harp manufacturing; integrally cast granite fascia panels for the I-95 bridge in Providence, Rhode Island and train platform slabs with stamped tactile warning strips for the Rensselaer Rail Station, Rensselaer, New York.
Also precast are all the components needed for stadiums and arenas, including the bleacher sections, columns and wall panels. “We’ve produced them for many of the colleges and universities in the region,” Carrara says, “and we’ve also been involved in the major ones in our market area including components for the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the Patriots.”
Carrara grew up working in the family business during summer vacations. “I did everything from running equipment to labor to drafting. I went through all the phases,” he says. He then left for Boston to study civil engineering at Northeastern University. “When I graduated, I wanted to work elsewhere for the experience, so I worked on the Big Dig in Boston as an engineer, which was a large infrastructure project in downtown Boston, and then I transferred to New York City with the same design firm and worked for a year on the Long Island Expressway HOV expansion project. Then I got married and moved back home. That was twenty-eight years ago, and I’ve been here ever since.”