Hassell Construction Co. Inc.

Hassell Construction says its experienced work force is an important asset. Like all construction firms, the economy is the biggest challenge Hassell Construction Co. Inc. is facing, Executive Vice President Joe Rebecek says. “There are less jobs available and the prices are down,” he says. “We’re working on slim margins so we really have to watch our projects and manage them properly.”

The company is a full-service general contractor that focuses on the heavy highway and civil work markets. It provides services such as drainage, excavation, dirt work and highway paving in a 60- to 100-mile radius around Houston. A majority of its projects is in the public sector, but it also performs private work for developers.

Being cost-efficient is the easiest way for the firm to remain successful in this market, Rebecek says. “What we’ve done is we’re focusing on being more cost-effective with the resources that we have,” he explains. “We’re making sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, [and that] our spending is legitimate.

“The company recently purchased an automated grade control system for its machines which will not only increase production, but will eliminate excessive material waste,” he explains. “A new slipform paver was also purchased to keep pace with the ever increasing demand for higher production and lower costs.”

‘Lean and Mean’

Like most firms, Hassell also cut some of its overhead and tightened its belt. “We’ve trimmed back to be lean and mean when it comes to operations,” he says. “We’ve reduced our forces to match the amount of work that we have.”

This is also important because most projects now are awarded on a competitive basis. “We don’t have the opportunity to do negotiations,” he explains. “Everything is competitive bid. We have to be the lowest bidder – it keeps us on our toes. We have to keep making sure we have the lowest cost and we take advantage of whatever we can as far as the market to keep prices low and competitive.”

However the company has some advantages that its competitors can’t touch, most notably the wealth of experience of its management team. For example, Rebecek has 45 years of experience in the industry and CEO and founder Jim Hassell has 55 years. Sons Phil Hassell, president, and Mike Hassell, vice president, have between 25 to 30 years of experience each, and daughter Shawn Potts has 12 years experience as the company’s office manager and corporate secretary.

“Some of our field people have 30 years of service with the company,” Rebecek adds. “We have a company where people like to stay. They are dedicated to the business and enjoy the work that they do. We treat them fairly and we have a good atmosphere for the workman. They are a very integral part [to the business]. Dedicated employees are the best tool a company can have. Without them, the best laid plans would never be accomplished.”

Maintaining the Flow

In July 2009, Hassell Construction completed a 0.75-mile long underpass intersection at FM 1960 and Kuykendahl Road in Harris County for the Texas Department of Transportation. The $18.5 million project took two years to complete, and was performed in a joint venture with bridge contractor NBG Constructors. The scope of the project included upgrading the intersection by passing Kuykendahl Road under FM1960, thus eliminating one of the most congested intersections in Harris County, Rebecek says.

The logistics of the project itself were challenging, Rebecek notes. The company had to excavate to 25 feet down for the underpass. “When you go that deep in the Houston area, you’re bound to run into something,” he explains. For example, the firm discovered many unknown utilities but nothing significant enough to delay the schedule – all the milestones having been met.

The intersection was also in a congested area, so the company had to maintain the flow of traffic and ensure lanes were open, Rebecek adds. “We had to work with the traffic plan to make sure the traffic flow was maintained as it was before,” he explains. “We had so many phases and we had to make sure that the public had a safe place to travel and that our workmen were protected.

“There was a lot of coordination required with the local entities to make sure everyone was informed as to the project schedule,” he adds. “There was a mutual effort in getting the project done in a timely fashion.

Hassell Construction also recently completed several projects: Bailey Oiler Drive, Kirby Drive, Barry Rose Road and Cullen Boulevard for the city of Pearland; Edgebrook Drive, Brown Huffsmith Road and FM 1485 for the DOT; and Kingsland Boulevard and Queenston Boulevard for Harris County – each of which were upgrading existing roads to major arteries with medians, left turn lanes and signalization, he notes.

A Bright Future

Hassell Construction was founded in 1976 by Jim Hassell as a utility contractor that performed work such as underground utilities and storm and water lines. In the early 1980s, the company began performing concrete pavement work and became a heavy highway and civil general contractor.

The company will continue to enjoy steady growth, Rebecek says. “We don’t want to be the biggest out there, but we want to have a company that is known to be good at what it does,” he says. “We want to provide a safe work environment and a good living for our employees and give our clients a dollar’s worth of value for every dollar they spend. We strive to perform our projects in an expeditious manner meeting the required deadlines as well as completing them within or under budget.”

Mike Hassell says he envisions the company to continue being family owned and operated. “We’ve been in business for a long time,” he says. “We’re in this for the long haul, not the short term. I would hope that it would go to the next generation – either one of my kids or my brother’s kids. It’s a tough industry to work in, but I would like to see some of our kids take the company and run with it.”

Phil Hassell says the key to a successful project is a spirit of partnership between the owners, suppliers, subcontractors and the general contractor. “We want to approach each project with the owner knowing our goals are the same, completing the project in a timely fashion within budget and ending up with a product everyone is proud to have been a part of,” Hassell explains. “We expect our vendors and subcontractors to be as dedicated to the project as we are.”

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