Black Construction Corp.

The island of Guam has a long history with the U.S. military that dates back to World War II. So does Black Construction Corp., the largest construction company in the western Pacific Ocean. “Black Construction has been here for 52 years,” declares Leonard Kaae, senior vice president and general manager. “We started in June 1958 on a joint venture to construct 1,000 houses for the U.S. Air Force and have remained here on Guam since then. So we have a long history of building not only military projects but also other projects for the government of Guam and private projects for owners.”

Military installations are located across the island. Andersen Air Force Base, a large facility on the northern part of the island near Yigo, is close to a U.S. Navy communications station. This is near the location of the proposed new base for the U.S. Marines, which will relocate approximately 8,000 personnel from their air base in Okinawa, Japan. Additional military improvements on Guam include a U.S. Naval station on the south central part of the island. 

That transfer by the Marines may mean a lot more business for Black Construction. Among the expected projects are approximately $10 billion in proposed military construction, Kaae reports. 

A new Marine base built on Guam would include headquarters, mess halls, training and medical facilities, hangars, runways and hardening of existing facilities. Infrastructure improvements expected on Guam include highways and a new hospital. 

Kaae surmises that major competitors on Guam also would bid on such work along with up to 10 companies from the United States, Japan and Korea. The company has done work not only on Guam, but also for the Republic of Palau and has had an office in the Philippines for the past 50 years.

”We have a strong commitment to the region,” Kaae emphasizes. “We also are committed to our clients in providing the highest level of quality with the utmost concern for the safety and health of our employees, while ensuring that we provide in the true spirit of a partnering timely performance and work to meet the budget of a project. In short, we strive to provide excellence in all areas of our operation.”

Drone Hangar

A recent project completed in 2009 is a unique $43 million, 73,000-square-foot hangar at Andersen Air Force Base that is designed for the Hawk unmanned drone aircraft, which is piloted remotely from the ground. Although the company usually self-performs from 80 to 90 percent of its work, this project required as many as 10 subcontractors because of the specialized requirements of the facility.

“The U.S. military also has special contractors who execute specialized work for them,” Kaae points out. Besides the communications and electronics requirements, the hangar must be air conditioned to maintain a humidity and temperature that is favorable to the plane’s electronics.

The hangar took approximately 18 months to build and is constructed with reinforced concrete. It has a clear span of 316 feet between abutments. “This is the second one that we’ve built of a similar structural frame in the last five years,” Kaae points out. That first $32 million hangar, which also was at Andersen Air Force Base, was completed in 2005 for the B2 stealth bomber and won multiple awards.

For the Hawk hangar, existing fuel lines had to be relocated and contaminated soils mitigated. An existing injection well had to be closed. “An injection well is a vertical shaft,” Kaae explains. “Because of the porous nature of the limestone geology here, injection wells are used to drain water from the surface. The surface runoff drains into the well, and eventually percolates down into the limestone strata.”

Ring of Fire

Despite its location on the Ring of Fire – a rough circle of volcanic activity on islands and continents around the Pacific Ocean – Guam has no volcanoes, and its geology is not volcanic rock like Hawaii. “The geology of Guam is primarily limestone,” Kaae notes. “So at one time, Guam was part of a reef.

“The existing limestone has some pretty good compressive strength qualities,” he asserts. “So as a result of that, we have foundations on both ends of the hangar that are close to 4,000 tons per abutment of dead weight concrete. That provided the actual foundations for the arch. It’s very solid.”

A geotechnical evaluation is performed for projects like this, and the soil is probed for voids by drilling holes in it. “Limestone strata can be known to have voids within the makeup of the geology, and by probing, you identify that,” he relates. “There’s a theoretical volume you would have for the diameter and depth you would drill, and if you exceed that, you know you have a void there. So you fill up that hole with grout until it can’t take any more grout, and hopefully you’ve fulfilled the requirements of filling that void.”

Hangars in Guam usually are concrete because they must withstand severe typhoons. “You can have winds here exceed 200 mph,” Kaae maintains. “It can be a normal occurrence. The annual rainfall is 150 inches per year. So it can be very challenging in terms of scheduling work during the rainy season, which begins in June and ends in November.

“Additionally, Guam is within the Ring of Fire, so it is subjected to earthquakes,” he adds. “Everything has to meet the highest seismicity requirement, which is zone 4. So there are certainly some challenges associated with design requirements when you design and build something here on Guam.”

Prices of major materials and commodities did not change significantly during the hangar project, but Kaae thinks fuel costs may begin to increase slowly when the military construction buildup gains momentum. “Fuel has a significant impact on the pricing of materials throughout the world,” he points out.

Like most islands, Guam has to import practically all its construction materials. “Everything is transported to Guam,” Kaae concedes. “Nothing is manufactured here except ready-mix concrete, and even then, cement is imported.”

Self-Performed Success

On many projects, Black Construction self-performs a large percentage of the work. “Most of our work is design/build, and in a lot of respects we remain a general contractor,” Kaae admits. “We’re still executing 80 percent to 90 percent of the total contract amount.” 

The company can install air conditioning, plumbing, kitchen systems, all major mechanical work including fuel systems, water and sewer systems and wastewater facilities.

Black Construction also has its own electrical division that can install high-, medium- and low-voltage systems, telecommunications and controls. It does civil and structural work. 

“We have the largest equipment fleet and the largest construction cranes in the region,” Kaae asserts. “Its value probably exceeds $20 million in replacement value. We have a tremendous asset base on the island of Guam and throughout the region.”

The reason for this self-reliance dates back to the company’s founding. “It all started with the original beginning of Black coming out here and the lack of a subcontractor community,” Kaae relates. “So we developed a self-reliance of executing our work in all aspects of the project that has carried on through our history. We still maintain that same level of self-reliance.” The company does subcontract landscaping, asphalt paving, painting and roofing membranes.

Future Goals

Despite its more than 50 years of accomplishments, Black Construction Corp. still has goals to meet. “We hope to grow as a company and be part of this overall military program so we can provide services,” Kaae says. “We’re also striving to be recognized as one of the U.S. military’s go-to contractors and achieve Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) voluntary protection star status under the OSHA administration.”

OSHA’s VPP promotes job site safety and health by establishing cooperative programs at workplaces among management, labor and OSHA, according to the organization.

Black Construction Corp. has a strong commitment to using the services of small businesses. In 2006, the company won the Dwight D. Eisenhower award for its support of small businesses. “It’s a very prestigious award,” Kaae stresses. “It was a significant honor for Black Construction to have won it.”

The construction business is one in which managers strive to keep learning regardless of how much experience they have, Kaae says. “We learn new techniques every day in every project we work on,” he acknowledges. “In just moving forward with either new technologies, new materials or with types of equipment that we use, everything is a learning process. 

“This is a very dynamic business,” Kaae adds. “Every day is a new day.”

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