Case Studies

Classic City Mechanical Inc.

Utility professionals delivering major resources and supporting big industry

Natural gas has become a major fuel for multiple end users, from home heating to the energy that keeps the lights on at industrial plants, and is increasingly becoming a potential pathway to reduce fossil fuel dependency as a bridge to a low-carbon future. Getting the fuel through the proper channels and to the source is now more important than ever, and utility construction companies help make it possible.

Classic City Mechanical Inc. (CCM) has been a full-service utility construction contractor since 1974 and is now a major player at the forefront of this big industry boom. “Natural gas is a very strong component of the U.S. economy and its production, collection and distribution has created a lot of jobs,” explains Trent Gibson, second-generation CFO of CCM. “Everything from drilling new wells, collecting and processing the gas, building transmission and distribution pipelines, down to the appliances being installed in homes across the U.S. have seen a boom due to the capacity, convenience and low cost of natural gas.”

The emergence and evolution of a major market

Headquartered in Winterville, Ga., CCM has served the Southeast for nearly 40 years. Gibson’s father, Ted Gibson, established CCM in 1974 originally as a mechanical, heat and air contractor. “When my father got out of the Marine Corps with a degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech, he expanded the company into South Carolina and North Carolina during CCM’s first four years of business,” recalls Gibson.

“We quickly switched into servicing gas and utilities, initially working for natural gas companies performing cathodic protection [CP] and corrosion control on steel gas lines in Georgia,” adds Gibson. “My father also performed HVAC and plumbing installations when CP work slowed down.”

CCM’s CP work eventually evolved into performing gas line installations for utility companies and has been the firm’s main facet of construction for almost 35 years. “Now, CCM is primarily a utility construction company delivering underground water and gas lines,” explains Gibson.

Second-generation leadership

Gibson has seen the transition and the strong emergence of the natural gas boom firsthand after being with the family-owned company full-time for 15 years. “I worked for CCM throughout summers in college and came on as a project manager after grad school in 1999,” he shares. “I took over operations in 2005 from my father.”

With a mathematics undergrad education and a master’s degree in corporate finance, Gibson has been groomed to run a business from the start. “Since taking over, we have diversified into water line construction, phone and cable construction, directional drilling, paving and a small portion in disaster relief,” he notes.

Serving the Southeast

Today, CCM serves major clients from Florida all the way to Maine. “Our contract work in natural gas is on the rise because it’s a cheaper, cleaner alternative being put into more operations, from Charlotte, N.C., all the way up to Bangor, Maine; right now is the time to switch,” shares Gibson.

As other states jump on the natural gas bandwagon, CCM has expanded across the Southeast. The contractor is currently licensed in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maine. “Our main markets are: Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Maine,” reveals Gibson. “We currently have ongoing projects in seven states and CCM employs approximately 90 professionals.”

Redefined focus

Before the recession, CCM was operating primarily as a new construction contractor, but the economy forced the firm to redirect its focus. “With the housing bust, we had to redefine, moving into renewal and replacement projects and contracts,” shares Gibson. “Most of our current work involves replacing gas and water lines that range in age from 50 to 100 years old around the Southeast.”

CCM works with utility companies and municipalities as a prime contractor, delivering an extensive range of in-house service, including natural gas distribution, transmission and service, underground electrical power installation, telecommunication conduit and cabling, joint trenching, leak detection and repair, CP, pipe coating, appliance conversion and installation, bridge pipeline rehabilitation and installation, directional drilling and water distribution installation and repair.

“For the most part, we perform everything in-house,” remarks Gibson. “If a project requires more resources than we have then we occasionally subcontract asphalt paving and directional drilling.”

Gibson ensures the team only works with the best when subcontracting out work for projects. “We have four or five trusted contractors we use for directional drilling and other specialties,” he continues. “Once we know and trust a subcontractor, we stick with them.”

One of CCM’s most trusted subcontractors is HARDROCK HDDP (HDDP), a specialized rock drilling company. When CCM encounters rock in gas projects, the team relies on HDDP’s extensive knowledge in directional drilling, pilot holes, back reaming and pulling product. HDDP manufactures its own steerable percussive directional hammer system, rock bits and rock push reamers.

Maintaining for tomorrow

CCM’s trusted teams get things flowing smoothly from point A to B. From the well, natural gas goes into gathering lines. Like branches on a tree, the lines become larger as they approach the central collection point. A gathering system utilizes one or more field compressors to move the gas to the pipeline or the processing plant, which removes impurities, such as water, carbon dioxide or sulfur.

From the gathering system, natural gas moves into a transmission system. These large-scale transmission lines are comparable to the nation’s interstate highways, moving large amounts of natural has thousands of miles from producing regions to local distribution companies. Many major interstate pipelines are looped; there are two or more lines running parallel to each other in the same right of way. This provides maximum capacity during periods of peak demand.

CCM maintains and repairs this critical network, which like many other forms of U.S. infrastructure has deteriorated over time and use. “We hold many annual service work contracts and do annual replacements, renewing old, antiquated gas lines,” describes Gibson

CCM works in North Carolina, Virginia and Maine under annual service contracts. “In these instances, gas main and service orders are distributed to our crews for construction on a daily basis,” explains Gibson. “We perform new construction and replacement work as needed by the utility. It’s a stable stream of income, but also comes with the difficulty of expanding and contracting in order to meet the utility’s current needs. When the housing bubble burst, we were required to bid more projects since our service workload took a substantial hit. We moved to 80 percent bid, 20 percent service work, but now we’re almost back to normal, with about 80 percent service, 20 percent bid.”

Minimizing damages and service interruption

It’s CCM’s job to go in and replace natural gas and water mains on a larger scale while minimizing damage to existing utilities and without disrupting current service. In three years, CCM replaced 75,000 feet of gas and water mains and 1,200 service sites for the city of Danville, Va.

“The difficulties of these kinds of projects are that almost 100 percent of the work is constructed in city streets, and therefore, asphalt has to be removed before pipe can be installed and then it is replaced by our crews,” details Gibson. “Due to age of the city and the existing infrastructure, we encounter and cross many abandoned utilities along with current ones.”

Not only does CCM go below for cities and municipalities, the company also serves the U.S. Army. At Fort Stewart, Ga., CCM’s crews installed 45,000 feet of gas main to serve military houses, offices and maintenance buildings.

“It was probably one of the best projects we have completed in my years with the company,” recalls Gibson. “Working with the prime contractor, Walbridge Aldinger [Walbridge], we installed the pipeline quickly and efficiently while dealing with the multiple facets of the entire project and the multitude of subcontractors also working on-site.” The U.S. Army and Walbridge emphasize safety first and foremost and CCM was able to work with no lost time or injuries on the project.

Burning bright in a dim economy

Despite a rocky road with the housing crash and other economic factors, CCM is refocused and on track for future growth. “The recession was a killer,” admits Gibson. “When the housing market went down, new construction of subdivisions where we were putting in a lot of pipe disappeared. We had to focus on replacement and renewal projects to make up for it.”

Furthermore, the team strives to find new avenues for sustained success. “We’re also doing more water projects and this diversification has helped us get through,” adds Gibson. “The housing market is not what it was five years ago, but it’s better than it was two years ago and overall, I think there’s a positive outlook.”

CCM continues to be a big proponent of the development of the natural gas industry. “As long as the supply of gas in the U.S. is high, the cost will remain low and drive the demand for more gas line installations,” explains Gibson. “Hopefully this can continue since we are very focused on the gas markets as a company. Natural gas is nowhere near being fully utilized as it should, so I think growth in our market will remain as long as we don’t encounter another recession or housing bust.”

Gibson says CCM wouldn’t be where it is now without a trusted team. “CCM would not be in the position it is in without Arlis Barber, David Bennett, Nick Cole and Marty Minton, who manage our field operations,” he says. “Also, our accounting and human resource staff, Julie Barnett and Kim Butler, provide substantial support for our field personnel and myself. The CCM team is strong and built from the ground up. Our motto is: Utility Professionals Since 1974.”

For Classic City Mechanical Inc., even after 40 years in business, work continues to flow as fast as natural gas lines deliver viable resources across the country.

Published on: July 21, 2014

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