Pieces of Silver

Pennsy Supply relies on planning and scheduling in piecemeal paving of commercial property.

Every paving job has its own challenges, and when Pennsy Supply took on the job of grading and paving the Silver Spring Square Retail Center, they knew scheduling was going to their biggest obstacle. Not only was Silver Spring Square the biggest commercial paving project Mechanicsburg, PA, has seen in years, but the contractor who did the job was going to have to be at the beckon call of the general contractor, paving in whatever bits and pieces were available.

But that didn't phase Pennsy Supply a bit. And now, as the job nears completion more than 18 months after it was begun, Pennsy has met the challenge through experience, extensive planning, and effective utilization of equipment and crews.

"It was tough because we couldn't go in and pave the way we would normally pave," says Frank Smith, project manager. "Because of the nature of the project, with some areas opening before others and because we were working around so many other contractors, we had to pave as areas became available to us. So it was a challenge to maintain the quality throughout the project, but the crews did a great job and we passed all the quality control tests they did."

An Oldcastle company, Pennsy Supply covers central Pennsylvania with six asphalt plants and seven quarries, producing between 900,000 and 1 million tons of hot mix asphalt a year. Barry Harbonic, vice president of Pennsy Supply Construction Group, says Pennsy places 400,000 tons of mix on its own jobs, and sells 60% of the mix it produces to other contractors. He says 40% of Pennsy Supply's paving is roadwork for PennDot, with the bulk of that being large-scale milling and overlay jobs. Most of the paving work (60%) is on commercial projects, so the Silver Spring Square Retail Center fit nicely into its operation. Harbonic says Pennsy employs 500 people throughout its entire operation, 60 of whom work in the construction division, which operates five paving crews, three grading crews, a prep crew, and a production-milling crew.

"With five paving crews you can get an awful lot of work done if you have the material and have the schedule," Harbonic says. "You can lay a lot of material in a day."

Smith says Pennsy runs seven-person paving crews, including a working foreman who runs the leading edge of the screed, a regular screed operator, laborers, and roller operators. The company can select from either 8-ft. or 10-ft. pavers, matching the paver to both the production expected and which paver best suits the job. Each crew also has a 10-ton roller, and each foreman carries a 3-ton finishing roller on his truck.

Unconventional paving
Smith says the Silver Spring job was a challenge, partly because of the duration and partly because of the way it was put together. The Silver Spring job featured grading and paving of roadways and parking lots throughout a large shopping center with anchor tenants Wegman's, Best Buy, and Chili's. Harbonic says work was complicated because paving around the center's out-parcels had to be completed because those stores were opening - while the anchor stores still hadn't been built.

"As those buildings got ready they needed the paving done right away; so we were on call totally at the discretion of the project manager, who needed the paving done to turn the properties over to the client," Harbonic says. "So it wasn't uncommon for us to be placing a base course in some areas while finalizing other areas with a wearing surface."

It also wasn't uncommon to be paving in an unusual direction or in a tight area, so the paving superintendent always had to leave an area to work in and get out of.

"That was a big part of the planning on site, and experience helped a lot with that," Smith says. "Fortunately for us our field superintendents are all former paving foremen so they know how to pave."

Before Pennsy's crews went to work, excavators graded the dirt to plus-or-minus 2 in. Then Pennsy's grading crews did the fine grading before they added and compacted stone and the paving could begin. Once paving began heavy traffic areas received a 2 ½-in. thick base while the base in parking areas was 2 in. thick. The entire job was topped with a 1-in. wear surface.

By the end of the project Pennsy's crews had placed 69,000 tons of stone base and 36,200 tons of hot mix. Harbonic says that paving ranged from as little as 150 to 200 tons a day to as much as 2000 tons a day.

"It's hard to juggle and plan for that, especially in the bidding," Harbonic says. "But over the years of bidding site work you figure you're going to run an average tonnage over the life of the project, so you try to minimize the minimums and maximize the maximums. That's how you're going to make your profit.

"The cooperation among us and the project management team was pretty good, but it was a challenge because many buildings were set back on the site and the out-parcels out front they had to be ready first," Harbonic says. "It was kind of working backwards on the job."

Which made planning and communication even more important.

Scheduling Silver Spring
Pennsy Supply had the construction schedule for the entire job in advance, but with other construction going on at the site, regular meetings kept them on schedule and also enabled them to handle their other clients.

"We were able to service that particular job and still do our other construction and our contractual work, and that was an essential aspect of this job," Harbonic says. "We wanted the job and we knew we could do it, but we had to be able to do it in conjunction with our other jobs. Otherwise it wouldn't have worked out."

So to make sure Pennsy could handle all its obligations, the contractor was involved in a series of regularly scheduled meetings - both in house and with the project manager and client - throughout the duration of the job.

Every week Pennsy would meet on the jobsite with the general contractor, IMC Corp.'s construction manager, and with Regency Centers, the developer, and review the schedule for the next two weeks.

"Once we knew their schedule we'd bring it back to our scheduling meeting and work it in," Smith says.

Internal meetings included everyone involved in Pennsy's Supply's jobs, including Phil Ackley, general superintendent who schedules Pennsy's crews and jobs, a scheduler from the hot mix plants, quality control representative, and even the master mechanic.

"The mechanic needs to be there so we know if we have any equipment problems we need to work around and so he knows what we need and when we need it," Harbonic says. "That way he can make sure that equipment is ready to go for that job or, if he needs to, he can get a piece of equipment in for us."

Smith says Pennsy lays out a two-week schedule as well, modifying it as the days pass. He says the schedule includes plant production schedules, job dates, crew schedules, and equipment schedules "to make sure we don't overload."

Smith says Pennsy uses a large whiteboard to track all scheduled work: dates along the top and the foreman listed on the side, with information on the board including the job, the material required, which paver is assigned, and how many trucks will be needed to deliver mix.

"It's important that you can see your plan and this gives us a good look ahead of where we are," Smith says. "You can physically look at everything and see where you're going to run into trouble or not run into trouble. It gives you a pretty good prospect on if you can make it happen."

Harbonic says the chart is especially helpful for Pennsy's two field superintendents, who handle crews in the field and rely on it to see what work is coming up and to help them plan for it from a crew standpoint.

Smith says Pennsy makes every effort to keep to its plan, but because of the regular planning sessions it has the plan does evolve from day to day.

"We try to keep to it, but we try to leave some flexibility in the schedule too so we can accommodate when a job is delayed or if something falls through," he says.

To keep productivity high Pennsy also keeps some jobs unscheduled so they can fit them in as needed.

Because of the constant communication and regular meetings, Pennsy was able to continually update its schedule, not only getting the work done on the Silver Spring project but maintaining its schedule with other customers.

"We worked around those particular jobs a little bit, but we do pride ourselves on scheduling. We do a lot and we seem to hit our targets pretty well," Harbonic says. "There were times we had two paving crews or even three grading crews out on the Silver Spring site depending on their demands, but we have multiple crews which makes it much easier to do that."