A Unique Road Contractor with a Rock Solid Future

Rock Solid Stabilization & Reclamation

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Based in Genoa City, Wisconsin, Rock Solid Stabilization & Reclamation describes its core purpose as Supporting Infrastructure Responsibly. The company has worked on everything from airport runways to parking lots, access roads and Interstate toll ways. Rock Solid is proud of its work ethic and the ‘green’ nature of its business.
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Ten years ago this April, Jonathan Pease, owner of Pease Construction, Inc., launched a new venture. This new company, called Rock Solid Stabilization & Reclamation, would specialize in soil stabilization, modification and full depth reclamation (FDR) work. Such methods aim to enhance soil on roadways and reuse existing asphalt rather than just removing and replacing it.

As Pease admits today, his decision was not too popular at first.

“Frankly, a lot of people thought I was crazy for jumping into Rock Solid. I bought brand new equipment just for that company, and we had never been in the industry before except for offering it to customers on the construction side. So, it was a complete gamble. I went with my gut, and here we are today,” says Pease.

The gamble paid off handsomely. A decade after its founding, Rock Solid is one of the leading companies in a burgeoning field that is good for both the bottom line and the environment.

Soil modification involves changing the composition of soil to decrease water content, whereas soil stabilization involves putting cement, fly ash, lime and other additives in soil to augment its properties. The aim is to create a subsoil layer with increased elasticity and strengthened resistance to water absorption, swelling and traffic loading. Full depth reclamation encompasses taking existing asphalt and base materials from a road, pulverizing everything, then mixing in water and stabilization binder. Once compacted, the ensuring blend produces a good road surface base.

Pease began to embrace these methods while running Pease Construction, an excavation and road building firm. His initial motivation was to simply save customers money by finding alternatives to traditional road building methods. Customary techniques center on permanently removing existing soil and pavement, adding stone and aggregate and then laying down new asphalt. After the economic recession of 2009, he began focusing all of his efforts on Rock Solid. Pease Construction became inactive once the company fulfilled its remaining contracts.

At present, roughly sixty percent of Rock Solid’s workload is private sector projects, and the remainder is public sector work. Private sector jobs include “wind farm access roads, parking lots and building pads on new construction and reconstruction sites,” says Mike Cohn, vice-president of Rock Solid. Public sector work is generally Department of Transportation (DOT)-related.

While most of Rock Solid’s assignments are based in the Midwest, the company has worked in over two-dozen states. Since it began tracking in 2010, the firm has processed more than thirty-five million square yards of soil and deteriorating pavement and salvaged over four million tons of aggregate and pavement.

In addition to the Genoa City headquarters, Rock Solid has a shop and yard in Sidney, Montana that had been used to work the oil fields in North Dakota. The company owns its own diverse vehicles and equipment. However, it does lease equipment when workloads increase which gives the firm better control of costs, according to Cohn.

The company employs about eighty-five people during peak months in the summer, and work slows in winter. Rock Solid wants new hires to have an interest in construction roadwork and to be humble, hungry and smart, says Pease, values derived from the works of Patrick Lencioni, the president of The Table Group, and a bestselling author and international speaker. Anyone looking for a job should be interested in working on a team and learning about the company’s road building and preservation methods.

New hires also need to understand Rock Solid’s values which the company takes very seriously. These include communicating in a “timely, clear, open and professional manner with anyone interacting with Rock Solid,” says Cohn.

Rock Solid follows a motto called “butter the toast, from edge to edge.” This stems from the example of a restaurant cook who fully butters his or her own toast at home while the bread is warm, but presents a cold lump of un-spread butter on toast to customers at work. The basic idea is, take ownership of your job and equipment. Put as much effort into work as the cook buttering his or her own bread at home does.

“Safety, quality and production—our daily order of priorities. Safety is always first; quality is second; production is third. We believe production will be there if we’re doing things safely and making sure there’s quality going into the product,” he adds.

Rock Solid is highly focused on safety. The company holds an annual safety meeting while an outside consultant conducts regular safety inspections. The firm is registered with ISNetworld, a global group that collects and verifies safety data to link qualified suppliers and contractors with clients. It is also vetted with Avetta, a supply chain risk management firm that sets prequalifications that contractors, suppliers and vendors have to meet. Rock Solid uses the services of Horton Safety Consultants and PEC Safety for training purposes as well.

“We’re adamant [about safety]. We make sure we do everything we can to make sure the guys are safe every day. We’re always trying to improve safety,” says Cohn.

Certainly, the industry would agree. Earlier this year, Rock Solid won a 2016 Safety Award from the Great Lakes Construction Association. Rock Solid also recently earned a One Year Bronze Award for its low workplace accident and incident rate from ASA Chicago, a nonprofit trade association in the Chicago area.

In addition being safety-minded, Rock Solid represents the ‘green’ side of the roadway trade. “By its very nature, pavement preservation is environmentally friendly,” says Cohn.

If a road or parking lot is crumbling, “you can remove it completely and put it in landfill, bring in virgin aggregate and new asphalt, or you can recycle and replace. So it’s more of a sustainable construction method than total removal and replacement,” he states. “On the soil stabilization side, if you can stabilize some poor sub-grade soil rather than cut it out and haul it away then take stone and haul it in, that’s reducing your use of natural resources on top of taking semis and trucks off the road. So your carbon footprint is smaller. Most everything we do has a green twist to it.”

There is no shortage of major projects on which Rock Solid has toiled. These include a road for the Northern Illinois Medical Center which wanted to build a new service entrance road to the bustling facility. Tests, however, indicated the soil on much of the site was not strong enough to support a road layer. The original plan was to remove the soil up to a depth of two feet and replace it with a layer of stone. Rock Solid had other ideas.

Using soil stabilization techniques, Rock Solid created a mixture of the existing soil and fly ash. This provided a strong base for the ensuing road. The project was done in an environmentally friendly manner that saved the client money.

Rock Solid also worked for Cook County, IL near Orland Park, in Illinois. The county wanted to resurface two miles of worn-out roadway. Ground base conditions meant the city could not just place a fresh layer of asphalt on the road but might have to remove and replace it. Rock Solid took on the job and used full depth reclamation techniques instead of a removal and replacement approach. The 27,000-square-yard project was done in only four days, resulting in time and cost savings and far fewer semi-truck loads of materials than traditional road building methods would have required.

Rock Solid is currently working on a “400-acre Wal-Mart distribution center near Mobile, Alabama. We have multiple wind farms we’re working on, mainly in the greater Midwest. We have some solar projects we’re working on in the Carolinas. We work on a wide range of projects from half-acre parking lots to 400-acre Wal-Mart distribution centers, across the U.S. with an emphasis in the Greater Midwest,” says Pease.

Rock Solid is a member of the Asphalt Recycling & Reclaiming Association (ARRA.org) and has worked with the group to put on live demonstrations of its road building and preservation techniques. Some of the seminar videos are available on YouTube.

Pease wants to see Rock Solid, “continue our internal growth to be able to support infrastructure responsibly—to be most recognized brand and quality contractor in our industry. If growth comes with that, fine. We have been growing, statistically, growing about ten to twenty percent every year, but it’s not like we have to grow.”

As for the past, Cohn says, “honestly, it’s pretty remarkable. When Jonathan started the business, I thought he was crazy. Times were good; we were getting all this work. Why change a good thing? But it saved us because when the economy hit that turn in 2009, we had something else to fall back on. Getting into a specialty trade really saved all of our butts and saved the whole company. The momentum we have now, the way things are going, and the way we can work nationwide is just awesome.”

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 19, 2019, 1:54 PM EDT