Anthony Maracic, Vice President of Northeast Operations at Champion Painting Specialty Services Corp. (CPSSC), explains lessons learned from his company's recent project recoating the Tribeca Bridge in New York City (as featured in this new CoatingsPro Magazine case study).
Maracic also shares highlights from his 40 years in the protective coatings industry, as well as tips and tricks for the next generation of coatings contractors. See below for a complete transcript of this recent podcast episode.
For more information, contact: CPSSC, www.championssc.com
Ben DuBose: Tony, good morning. How are you?
Anthony Maracic: Very good. And you?
BD: Cannot complain at all. Glad to be on with you. I think a good place to start, Tony, if you could, just introduce yourself, your role at Champion, and tell our listeners a little bit more about your experience in the industry.
AM: My name is Anthony Maracic. I’ve been in the industry now for 38 years. I started as an apprentice back in 1983. Worked my way up to journeyman, foreman, superintendent. And in 1990, my father and I started our own company. We thought it would be easy, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. Between the bonding and financing, we found it very difficult, and we ended up merging with a much larger commercial company. I was there for 25+ years before joining Champion about 4 years ago. My role with Champion is I’m in charge of all the roads and bridges throughout the Northeast and now heading towards West as well. All the bridge painting, overpasses, structures, all fall under my team.
The Tribeca bridge was one of the first projects that we received when I joined Champion. It was a project that was bid numerous times, but it was never awarded. One of the main reasons we felt it wasn’t awarded logistically, it was kind of a nightmare. The main purpose, or the main function, of that bridge, is to provide safe access for the children that attend Stuyvesant High School. Going from the eastside of the westside highway over to the high school. The westside highway is basically a highway in the middle of Manhattan, or I should say on the west side of Manhattan, where you have speeding traffic, you have trucks, buses.
That was one of the challenges along with the height restriction of the bridge itself. Clearance was an issue because you had truck traffic that was going up and down the westside highway, which would supply supplies to Manhattan. When it came out again, my team and I sat down and we said, “We have to come up with a way.” Previously, we were looking at rapid deployment. I guess everybody else was as well. We knew we had to come up with a platform, some type of platform that we can perform the work and still allow traffic to flow and to keep the job on schedule. Doing it lane by lane under a 5-hour closure would probably take two years.
What we did was I contacted Davy Passucci, who is the chief engineer for SafeSpan, and we sat down. Another challenge on that project is it’s a tubular structure, which, according to Davy, really doesn’t support a lot. But putting his head and his team and our team together, we came up with a tube system that we were able to attach to the underside of this bridge, which only reduced the clearance by 6 inches. That allowed us to build off of that platform and then continually work, uninterrupted, while traffic continued to flow.
At that point, we knew we were getting into winter months. Now we had to come up with another plan. The specification and the surface prep was an SP-3, with a spot SP-11, but your containment system is basically a Class 3P containment. We knew that wasn’t going to work, so we brought our engineer down, and we came up with a design to enclose the entire bridge in a Class 1A containment. That would allow us to introduce heat as needed. It also would allow us to put in air filtration because once we started spraying — it was an epoxy coating with a urethane topcoat, which does have a nice odor to it. This building being attached to a high school, that was another challenge. By encapsulating the entire bridge and able to put in airflow, we minimized the odor that was going into the school and the kids walking through the pedestrian walkway.
BD: How did you guys overcome the seasonality concerns of it? I’m sure a lot of people that are listening are thinking New York City in the winter months. Of course, you can read the article, “Bridge to Tribeca,” at www.coatingspromag.com for more about it. You mentioned the system that you guys set up, the enclosure apparatus. How did that play into keeping the area warm enough to where you could coat in New York in the winter?
AM: We didn’t expect to have such a harsh winter as we did. Our engineer, which he designed our outrigger system — [it] was used to attached the tarps to. We used double-layer airbag material, which was strong enough and thick enough to hold the heat in place. What we brought over were three units, a million Btu each. We pumped it into the entire containment, and we were able to maintain 55–60° F during the entire operation. Outside, the temperature was in the teens.
BD: That’s pretty impressive.
AM: We didn’t expect it to drop that [much] because we got spoiled for the last few winters prior. The lowest it got was in the 30s, 40s. So we figured we were fine. What made it a little more difficult was the specification called for, as I said, an SP-3 and an SP-11. We had to scarify the entire surface because the paint was on there since the bridge was erected, and I think that was early ‘80s. They weren’t sure what the condition of the steel was. We knew it was bad, but there were some areas that were still intact.
Part of our plan was to hit the entire structure with a 5,000-psi power washer with a turbo tip on it. What this would do is scarify the entire surface as well as uncover any unsound coatings. When we were done, it almost looked like it was a total removal project. That’s how bad the paint was. The paint was just hanging on. When the owner came in, they were kind of shocked. Shocked and pleased, because if we would have followed the specification, all we would have done was go up there and abrade the surface and overcoat it. In a short period of time, all that paint would have fallen off. That was a godsend. It also helped us, and it sped up the production, and it turned into a much better job than anticipated.
BD: Had they done other overcoat jobs? You said this was built in the mid- to early ‘80s. Is the work they had done in the past — was that just an overcoat and that’s what they were expecting you all to do as well?
AM: They tried to. Originally, when it came out, they did specify some blasting, the first few times. The biggest fear, again, was they couldn’t shut the bridge down because of the school. It was the only access to the school. So they tried to change the spec to minimize the surface prep and to be able to continue to keep the school open. They ended up getting almost a complete paint removal anyway, which worked out in their favor. On both sides of the bridge were these staircases — tremendous staircases which provided access up to the bridge. Which was another challenge because we couldn’t shut them down, yet 20% of the steel was on the staircases and it needed the same surface prep.
What we had to do was, during Christmas week, while the school was closed, we put pipe scaffold around the entire entryway on both sides, pumped in heat, and did the total removal and reapplication of the coating just in time for the kids to come back to school. That was another challenge that we had. The owner happened to be a really good owner to work with. They were an active partner in the project, which made it real good, because as new ideas, as we came up a new ideas, they were very receptive to the change. In some cases, a specification’s a specification, and the owner expects you to follow it, regardless. But this owner was really good, and they realized the challenges that we had and they had, and it turned out to be done way ahead of schedule. The product came out a lot better than anticipated by the owner.
BD: It sounds like, from your perspective — correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like that, arguably, the biggest part of this was that enclosure device that you put together. Without that you would have run into the same limitations that we’ve talked about, historically, with not being able to truly do that kind of prep. Is that a fair assessment, that basically that unique apparatus that you put together with SafeSpan was sort of the key to making this all work?
AM: Yes, it was. It was between SafeSpan and our engineer. Champion, the way we work, we depend on — we have a tremendous team with so much experience. Ever time we get a job, regardless of what it is, and once we are notified that we are the low bidder and we are getting the job, I bring my entire team down, which was my scaffold installers, my containment guys, my engineer. We look at the job, and I explain how I looked at it and what I envisioned. They take that and they look at it, and they find ways to make it better, make it safer, make it easier. I’d love to take the credit for this, but I have two guys that work for me, and we call them the Dynamic Duo. Two brothers, Anthony and Milan Ivankov, and they’ve been with me for about 35 years. These guys are tremendous. They had the foresight to see this. They had the foresight to see the winter’s coming in and how we can do this without any interruption. Between them, my chief estimator, Tom Brennan, who is tremendous, and our engineer, they put all this together. They came up with this plan, and it turned out to be the right way to do it.
BD: Roughly, how big is Champion, and where are you all based?
AM: Our home base is in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. We have offices in New York. We have an office in Alaska. We have an office in Indiana. We just opened an office in Guam. We are in the process of opening an office in Georgia. We have grown. I would say, since I’m here going on four years, we’ve kind of doubled our business almost every year. But we’ve doubled our business in a very strategic way. Champion believes in people, employees, team members. As we are able to get new team members to join us, that’s how we grow our business. Some companies buy other businesses. We grow within. We find good people that want to come onboard, whether they’re epoxy floor people, and then we’ll bring them on board, and then we’ll start that type of business. Everything is done within. We’re a complete team-oriented business. Our offices interact daily. That’s what makes Champion what it is today. Our team.
BD: How much does the past experience on those types of jobs — you mentioned that you have a particular emphasis on roads and bridges — how much does that help ease the fear of clients? Obviously, there’s a million things they are trying to balance. They are trying to get the best performance on that bridge, but then there’s the traffic, the logistics, all those other things. How much does your past experience on these types of projects play in? I know there’s a bidding process and everyone wants the best bang for their buck. But how much does your past experience and the fact that you can point to, say, I guess for a future project you can point to the Tribeca bridge and say, “Look, this is something that I’ve done successfully” — How much does that help you in getting these jobs?
AM: It does help, getting prequalified for these projects. On this particular job, they called in the low three bidders. We had no idea in what order we were. We were asked to make a presentation on how we were going to perform this job, handle all the challenges with the schools, the traffic. We sat down there, and we gave our presentation. After each company gave their presentations, we were notified that not only were they accepting us with our price, but they really felt very comfortable with our plan going forward and the experience of our team. So for this particular job, I think my experience and my team’s experience was very helpful in securing this project.
BD: By the way, to close the loop on the Tribeca Bridge, I believe they went with a polyurethane topcoat, right?
BD: Why was that the choice? In terms of the coatings solution, why did that make the most sense for that particular environment?
AM: The paint system was a spot epoxy. Full coat of epoxy and a urethane topcoat. The bridge sits right in the center of the westside highway where the sunlight — it’s in sunlight all day long. With the urethane and the UV protection, it was the right choice for that bridge. Of course, the protective is all in the epoxy coatings. With the amount of paint that came off, they actually received two full coats of epoxy and then with the urethane topcoat, which gave it the retention of the color and the protection against the UV.
BD: I assume the client’s feedback — you touched on this earlier — it sounds like the feedback has been pretty positive. How is it holding up? How long has it been since you all did that project?
AM: We started it in October of 2018, and we completed it in April of 2019.
BD: How’s it holding up in the two years since?
AM: Besides the fact that it’s a white bridge and it gets a little dirty, it’s like it was done yesterday.
AM: And the client was extremely happy. They actually asked us if we did any other work besides painting because they would love for us to get involved with more of their projects. That was a nice compliment.
BD: As we wind down the podcast, I want to transition to what we do — these rapid-fire questions with our guests to perhaps just shed some more light on your story but also it might be relatable to another contractor listening. Tony, I think a good place to start, earlier we talked about your experience in the industry. How did you get started off down this path? Did you always know that you wanted to go into painting? What was it that, early in your career, put you down this particular route?
AM: My father was a bridge painter. While I was starting college, I fell in love, wanted to get married, and needed a full-time job with benefits. I convinced my father to take me on as an apprentice with him. That was some 40 years ago. Needless to say, I never got married to that young lady, and I ended up marrying into the business.
BD: You’ve been doing this 40 years. What’s your favorite project over that time? Or do you have one, for that matter?
AM: The 59th Street Bridge that connects the borough of Queens into Manhattan. It was a bridge that was bid in 2004. It was the largest paint contract ever bid and awarded in the country. It was $167 million paint job. It was for 8 million square feet of complete SP-10 and a three-coat system. It had towers. It had the interior of the towers. It had trusses. It had flat steel. It had everything that we work on in this industry in one project. It was a five-year job. I bid the project. I ran the project right to the very end. It’s one of my pride and joys.
BD: How did it actually take to execute? I know you said five years. How long did it take you guys?
AM: The project, we finished it probably — it took four and a half years, and then again punch lists and signoffs. 8 million square feet is a lot of square feet.
BD: Of course. It’s good that you finished ahead of schedule, just like the Tribeca Bridge. I know you all finished a couple months early on that. I’m sure the cherry on top of the sundae in a lot of these jobs is if you get out of there early, right?
AM: Yes, and the beauty is we were working for New York City DOT, who’s also a very active partner in their projects, which helped expedite the submittal process, changes. Again, it was a team effort. When there’s a team effort between the owner and the contractor and the consultant, it just makes things move a lot quicker and it gives for a much better project.
BD: The last one I’ve got for you. You’ve been doing this 40 years. You’ve had a lot of lessons over that time. Any advice for somebody new to the industry that’s listening right now as far as how they should potentially start off their careers?
AM: The best advice I ever received was: Steal everything with your eyes and your ears, and listen to everybody because even the apprentice on the project could have the right idea.
BD: I think that’s a great perspective. Tony, anything else you want to add as far as — I guess it can be your own thoughts, the Tribeca Bridge project. If anyone listening has questions for you or for Champion, how can they potentially get in touch with you guys?
AM: Our website is www.championssc.com. Our phone number is (954) 462-9079.
BD: Sounds good.