Wm. J. Keller & Sons Move The Earth
by Holly Rieser
“We offer full site development services,” said John Keller, Jr. recently at the Colonie Center Mall in Albany, NY. Wm. J. Keller & Sons was putting the finishing touches on another phase of their portion of the project. When the work is completed, the site will hold a new Barnes & Noble bookstore as well as the first L.L. Bean store in New York State.
Wm. J. Keller & Sons was founded in 1931 by the late William J. Keller Sr. the company is currently run by his two the sons John Keller Sr. and Robert Keller. John Keller Jr. and his cousins Kevin Keller and Greg Keller are the third generation in the business. In addition to site work, Wm. J. Keller & Sons builds bridges, and highways. They install deep pump stations and are the emergency contractor for the City of Albany. Their expertise extends to most forms of utility contracting, including storm water management, sewer systems and horizontal boring.
With headquarters are in Castleton, NY, they have satellite offices in Syracuse and Raleigh, NC. They started the North Carolina office ten years ago when one of their superintendents wanted to move south. Business is booming in North Carolina now and they employ three full utility crews. “The biggest challenge is finding qualified personel,” noted Keller. “With no unions, we have to train our own workers. In North Carolina, our crews work year round; we are constantly looking for qualified personnel to increase our capabilities.
“One of the biggest challenges on the Colonie Center project was working around live vehicle and pedestrian traffic. In order to work at the site, they had to redesign the entrances to direct the flow of traffic away from the construction site. There was a rigorous time constraint to get the work finished in front of Macy’s so that the store was accessible during the holiday season. A lot of the work was accomplished in off hours, especially when it required access to the interior of the mall.
Another challenge on the Colonie Center project was the high water table. The project called for an underground detention system to be placed twelve feet below the surface of what was the parking lot of the mall. With groundwater lying approximately five feet below the ground surface the use of well points was essential. “We would set up de-watering in advance of the pipe laying operation,” said Keller. “We planned each segment so that we stayed ahead of the schedule.”
The crew also had to work around or ahead of other subcontractors who needed access to the site. The traffic generated by the subcontractors made the site very busy not ideal for site work. Keller had his crew working ten to twelve hours, five sometimes six days a week on the Colonie project because he wanted to be ahead of schedule. “The weather has been perfect,” Keller said. “We have been able to work through the initial winter months, so that we will have a head start when we resume after the cold weather.”
Turner Construction was the overall contractor for the Colonie Center Mall project. One of the unique features in the mall remodeling was the construction of thirteen theaters. That section was cantilevered over the existing mall. Massive footings were built inside the mall, by Wm. J. Keller & Sons, to hold the weight of the theaters so that they did not compromise the existing structure. These six massive footings are comprised of approximately seven hundred cubic yards of concrete and one hundred ton of rebar.
Keller spends a considerable portion of his time working with three regulatory agencies, OSHA, NYSDEC, and NYSDOT. “We are proud of our safety record,” said Keller. “We have safety meetings every Monday, and we make sure that we cover all the parameters of the current job and answer any questions thoroughly.” Wm. J. Keller & Sons is a union contractor. According to Keller, in the end using union labor saves time and money. “For one thing, union laborers and operators are held to certain standards. They are more likely to know how to run equipment efficiently or plan the work to maximize their skills and time. The unions produce a quality work force. We don’t experience a big turnover. We have some employees who have been with us for over thirty years. Fifteen to twenty years is the average,” he stated.
“A great deal of our equipment is purchased or rented from Abele Equipment excavators, articulated dumps, bulldozers whatever we need. If we don’t already own it, we rent the equipment from them,” Keller said. “I went to school with Jeff Abele, and we’ve worked together for a long time. They provide great service and their equipment availability is superior.” Wm. J. Keller & Sons owns a gravel mine in Schodack, where they produce some of their own aggregate for local projects.
Wm. Larned & Sons Inc. supplied most of the aggregate for this project, some of which came from Wm. J. Keller & Sons own mine. “ Working in the family business is rewarding,” said Keller, “and the benefits of being able to call on the knowledge and experience of the previous generation, are incalculable. I am so fortunate. I enjoy my work, and the challenges of estimating, winning and completing projects continue to be a driving force.”
With the positive attitude and willingness to meet the daily challenges of construction in New York State and North Carolina, Wm. Keller & Sons will “Move the Earth” for a long time to come. For more information on Wm. J. Keller & Sons Construction Corp., contact John Keller at 1435 Rte 9 Castleton, NY 12033, 518-732-7782 (ph). For more information on Abele Equipment, contact Jeff Abele at Abele Tractor & Equipment Co, 72 Everett Road, Albany, NY 12205; 518-438-4444; go online at www.abeletractor.com