Founded nearly a century ago, Bolander is a heavy civil contractor based in St. Paul, Minnesota. The company’s specialties include deep foundations, earth retention, slope stabilization, earthwork, environmental work, demolition, and utilities. Bolander can also offer significant design-build capabilities.
“We self-perform approximately ninety percent of our work,” says Demolition Division Manager Evan Mackey.
Bolander’s deep foundations division can install driven piles, micropile, helical piles and caissons – drilled piers – and soil stabilization. With its deep foundation work, Bolander can provide design-build services to maximize the effectiveness of the foundation support system to the specific soil conditions and requirements of the site. Deep foundation work is primarily done “in the commercial sector, generally speaking, in the Twin Cities, Minnesota region,” states Foundation Division Manager Brad Ames.
Demolition jobs are usually done in tandem with general contractors for commercial or large organizations such Xcel Energy or the University of Minnesota. This work includes both interior structural and complete building demolition and can entail extensive pre-demolition bracing and consultations with engineers and clients.
Design-build duties also feature close cooperation with engineers “to help design the best application for our type of work. We look to provide the best solution after evaluating the scope requirements, site constraints, equipment access, engineering requirements and cost,” says Ames.
The company’s earth retention work incorporates sheet pile, sheet pile foundations, soil nailing, shotcrete walls, and more. Earthwork services are performed “generally for commercial construction sites, such as the excavation and fine grading around a new building,” explains Ames.
Environmental assignments cover stabilization and removal of contaminated soil, while slope stabilization aims to prevent erosion, and the company’s utilities segment installs sanitary sewers, storm sewers, and water mains.
“Here in Minnesota, there has been a consistent public investment toward stormwater retention and filtration, instead of sending run-off directly to the watershed. Bolander has installed many systems to help improve stormwater quality,” says Ames.
Of all services rendered, no one segment stands out as the company’s biggest revenue generator. “Ten years ago, you could say earthwork was the biggest revenue-wise. Now all [divisions] carry their own weight so to speak,” says Mackey.
Most of the company’s clients are based in its home state, although Bolander will work outside of Minnesota upon request. The firm demolished the huge, 4,483-foot-long Four Bears Bridge in North Dakota, for example. “When we did the bridge in North Dakota, it was because of an invitation from bridge contractors who knew about us,” explains Mackey. In addition to its headquarters, Bolander operates an office in Rochester, Minnesota and a crusher facility in St. Paul that pulverizes concrete and asphalt to create recycled aggregate products.
Two of the company’s current assignments involve a new soccer stadium in St. Paul and the new Health Sciences Education Center at the University of Minnesota. Both projects have showcased the company’s ability to offer comprehensive services from its multiple segments.
“For the University of Minnesota, we demolished two buildings adjacent to the medical library and the hospital for the construction of the new Health Sciences Education Center. We installed new underground utility systems for storm retention and water and sewer service. We did earth retention for the new building foundation and site excavation. We will eventually do the back-fill and grading for the new building,” says Mackey.
“We did all the bulk earthwork and excavation and wrecked three buildings,” adds Ames of the soccer stadium. “We’re in charge of the utility work. We installed uplift anchors, and we’re performing the site-grading as well.”
Bolander was a family business with a focus on heavy civil contracting right from the start. While the ownership has changed since it was first established in 1924, the company’s grassroots leadership style has not.
Bolander family members “learned from the bottom up, in the field,” and this qualification has been shared by more recent company leadership, says Mackey. “The people who lead the company have always got their hands dirty in the field,” he adds, noting that this ground-level perspective helps account for the company’s longevity.
The company has also thrived thanks to its wide array of services and collaborative philosophy. Larger projects can involve, one way or the other, “all divisions of our company. We collaborate well internally and with our customers. This approach is very unique and efficient and provides results,” explains Mackey.
The firm currently has about 150 employees in the field and twenty-five in the office. The number of personnel has not changed much since last year at this time.
“We’re a union contractor in Minnesota, so we need to run with union employees. We rely on the unions to provide a quality workforce. But beyond that, we want people in the field that have good common sense and a good attitude, who show up to work every day and put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay,” says Mackey.
The Bolander team enjoys a positive and supportive workplace culture. As Mackey says, “I think ‘family’ would be the best way to describe our atmosphere in the office and what we try to promote out in the field as well. We’re here for each other. As a team, we are successful; as individuals, we struggle. We try to promote a family and team effort.”
Bolander also stresses a robust culture of safety with “three full-time safety representatives who help manage training, help answer questions or look into unique situations. We engage with our clients and their safety professionals and their project managers. We’re proactive regarding safety considerations and we have high expectations of our field leaders to keep safety fresh in their minds and keep our guys on track,” says Ames.
In fact, Bolander has earned honors for its safety record. The company was awarded the Governor’s Award for Safety in 2013 and 2014, while the Minnesota Safety Council gave Bolander a Meritorious Achievement Award in 2012, 2013 and 2014 for its efforts in preventing job site injuries. The company has earned industry accolades for the quality of its work as well. In 2016, Bolander was short-listed for the World Demolition Awards in the ‘Contract of the Year: Over US$1 million’ category. These international awards are presented at the World Demolition Summit trade event each year.
Not a company to stand still, “We like to stay engaged with our industry community and keep in touch with possible project partners. [We learn about] industry practices, keep an eye out for innovative machinery or processes,” says Ames.
The Bolander team also networks via industry organizations. These include the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, of which Bolander has been a member since 1935, and the National Association of Demolition Contractors, which Bolander helped found. Additional partners include the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota, and the National Utility Contractors Association.
“We’re a St. Paul company,” shares Ames. “We grow with the community. Being involved with the community has benefits both personally for employees and professionally for the company.”
While Bolander does not always use the same suppliers, the company does keep certain key prerequisites in mind when selecting them. “Our suppliers tend to be on a project-by-project basis,” states Ames.
“Service is a big factor for us, from our vendors and suppliers to our sub-contractors. They have to be there to help us, collaborate with us to come up with solutions and efficiencies to help us not only get the work but do it successfully. That’s an important factor for us,” adds Mackey.
According to Mackey, the company’s biggest challenge at present is competition. “There are only a few large contractors in the metro area here that can provide the level of heavy civil that we do. But ten years ago, there was only one. Now, there are probably four. We’ve got a good team of people, however, and we rely on that … We’re building relationships with customers, general contractors, owners and letting the work speak for itself.”
As Bolander approaches its centenary, the staff does not anticipate radical changes in the company. Ames expects the firm will continue to offer the same types and range of services it currently provides, delivered with the firm’s signature attention to safety and quality.
For his part, Mackey feels that in five years, Bolander “will not be much different. In the last five years, we’ve grown, but we haven’t grown extensively. It’s been a gradual growth, which has been good because it’s been easier to manage.”