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Solid Foundation

This company is positioned to continue reaping the benefits of careful expansion & solid management.

April 20, 2011  By Treena Hein

Positioning itself as a completely integrated materials and
construction company has helped the Karson Group of Carp, Ontario (near
Ottawa) develop into a key player in the Eastern Ontario construction

With a new asphalt plant in place and the population in the national
capital region continuing to grow, this company is positioned to
continue reaping the benefits of careful expansion and solid management.

In May 2010, Karson Asphalt Paving opened a new double-barrelled drum asphalt plant that can produce up to 500 tonnes of hot mix per hour. It is fully automated and requires only four employees at most at any given time. (Photo courtesy of Karson Group)


Positioning itself as a completely integrated materials and
construction company has helped the Karson Group of Carp, Ontario (near
Ottawa) develop into a key player in the Eastern Ontario construction


The company started in 1973, with a 22-year-old Bill Karson delivering
stone and gravel for local quarries. In the next few years, he expanded
and bought his first sandpit and limestone quarry. Throughout the
1980s, Karson continued to build the company, growing its aggregate
business and adding excavation and road construction services. With the
purchase of a batch plant and asphalt pavers and rollers in 1997,
Karson became a fully integrated road builder from quarry to finished
road. The Karson Group now specializes in road construction, paving,
site development, utilities, aggregate production and equipment rental.
It was purchased by Aecon Group in 2007.

Karson Aggregates
Karson’s limestone, sand, granite and topsoil are drawn from the
company’s seven gravel pits and four quarries, with 200 million tonnes
of reserves available. “We pride ourselves on providing high-quality
products and top-rate customer service,” says Rick Levitsky, aggregate
sales manager. “We are very diverse in our product range. We have
extremely capable production and quality control departments that can
consistently produce limestone for roads, sands for concrete or
asphalt, topsoil for landscaping – and even USGA-certified golf course
materials.” Karson’s non-calcareous sand provides excellent drainage
for golf greens because it’s very uniform.

Karson also offers several different types of crushing spreads. “We use
Cedar Rapids horizontal impact primary crushers and Canica vertical
impact secondary crushers for limestone in our Ottawa-west quarries,”
says production manager Emerson Jones. “The Canicas give us the cubic
particle shape that our customers require.”

The company’s east-end quarry is situated in a much more abrasive rock
formation, one that demands a ‘jaw and cone’ set-up. Quarry manager
Rick Baker prefers a Hewitt Robins 42×48 jaw and has had good success
by following up with Metso Nordberg secondary and tertiary cone
crushers. For recycling, they have a compact tracked line-up. “This
highly portable Metso setup employs a LT105 primary, an HP 200
secondary and an ST 358 screener,” says Jones. “When hooked together,
the three units work as a single process. Each unit syncs with the
other electronically.”

The company’s sand division uses primarily Powerscreen equipment, which
feeds Eagle Iron Works classifying and dewatering plants. “Powerscreen
has always performed well for us and we see Eagle Iron Works equipment
as top of the line,” says Jones.

Karson Material Engineering division is responsible for developing a
myriad of mix designs for ever-more demanding asphalt specifications.
It then follows up with design-to-placement testing. Under the
leadership of quality control manager Cameron MacDonald, the lab has
one of the highest ratings that can be obtained in the CCIL (Canadian
Council of Independent Laboratories) certification process.

Karson Konstruction
The construction arm of the Karson Group is made up of three
inter-related businesses: asphalt paving, commercial site development
and infrastructure construction. “The site development portion of the
business is extremely important,” says vice president Glenn Falls.
“About half of the site development that we do for hospitals, shopping
centres and other large commercial developments is procured by
invitation-only. This shows the confidence and appreciation that our
clients have for the quality of our work.” Falls sees the construction
arm as a perfect complement to Karson’s aggregate business. “You might
say that we are our own best customer,” he explains.

The construction division handled 60 projects in 2010, 18 of which are
carrying over to 2011. A major project was an extension of Terry Fox
Drive, a six kilometre four-lane ring-road that connects Kanata South
and Kanata North (suburbs of Ottawa). “In addition to the usual
engineering and construction challenges, this project required a
tremendous amount of environmental consciousness,” says Falls.
Butternut trees, American ginseng and Blanding turtles were some of the
sensitive flora and fauna Karson had to manage in completing the

All Karson employees and sub-contractors attended an educational
seminar so that they could recognize and know what to do if they should
encounter these and other species.

“The City of Ottawa planted 622 butternut trees to compensate for the
25 that had to be removed, and a group of botanists from the University
of Guelph were employed to harvest and relocate the ginseng to a
protected area,” notes Falls. Karson erected a fence along the entire
stretch of road to prevent turtles, snakes and frogs from entering the
construction zone. Falls says that upon completion of the road,
permanent fencing will be erected on both sides, with outlets leading
to box culverts that will serve as underground ‘critter crossings.’ All
crossings will be lined with twigs and soil, and also feature vertical
shafts in the medians to allow light to enter. Operations manager Wade
Clouthier and Site Superintendant Dave Mohr agree that this project
sets a gold standard for construction and environmental consciousness.

New asphalt plant
In May 2010, Karson Asphalt Paving opened a new double-barrelled drum
asphalt plant. It consists of five 300 ton silos, eight cold feed bins,
two RAP feed bins, a mineral feed silo, five vertical 25,000 gallon AC
tanks, two 130 ft. Mettler Toledo scales and a 90,000 cfm bag house.

“We built the new plant to stay competitive in an ever-changing
market,” says Bob Storie, construction manager. Karson’s older 5-tonne
asphalt batch plant was built in 1977, and could provide only small
volumes and limited storage space. “The plant can produce up to 500
tonnes of hot mix per hour,” notes Storie. “It’s the largest and most
versatile plant in Eastern Ontario, and is fully automated, requiring
only four employees at most at any given time.”

Equipment manager Norm Gorra did his homework before choosing Astec for
the plant. “We chose Astec for several reasons but primarily because of
their after-sales commitment,” he says. “In addition to on-site audits
and training, Astec is able to log on to our control system and
troubleshoot problems. This has proven to be a valuable service.”

With this new plant, Karson can now produce every type of asphalt mix –
from standard for smaller roads to Superpave for major highways and
warm mix for environmental considerations. “Making warm mix asphalt
saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas production, eliminates smoke and
odour and extends the paving season,” says John Ouderkirk, plant
manager. “The plant can also process reclaimed asphalt pavement, which
is now a requirement for many paving projects.”

People first
The Karson Group places great value on its 275 employees, demonstrated
by the fact that it was named one of the “50 Best Managed Companies in
Canada” for 2006. (This awards program recognizes excellence in
Canadian-owned and managed companies with revenues over $10 million.)
Karson was recognized in particular for having achieved sustainable
growth, for the creation of full-time employment for an increasing
number of people, and for a reputation for quality performance. The
tradition of excellence continues. For the last 3 years, Aecon Group
has been solidly placed in the top 15 of Canada’s 50 Best Employers.

Karson has a simple philosophy when it comes to people. “We believe
that if we treat our co-workers with respect, they will respond
positively,” says Erwin Schulz, vice president of aggregates. “This
philosophy is reinforced by Bill Karson and is the primary reason why
we have such low employee turnover. We have many employees who have
been with Bill since the beginning, and many who joined as we expanded
are still here. We like to think that working at Karson isn’t a job,
it’s a way of life.”

Karson has a big soft spot for local kids. When you walk into any of
their offices, you will see walls adorned with many pictures of hockey
and ringette teams that the company has sponsored. “Kids are our future
and we can only hope that when they finish school and are looking for a
career, they will remember us,” says Schulz. The company is also a
major sponsor of the Carp Fair and local charities. “Our community is
an important part of who we are and we are proud to support local
venues,” Schulz adds. Karson also donates to the University of Ottawa
Heart Institute and the Royal Ottawa Hospital, and is proud to be
associated with these world-class health- care providers.

By providing a workplace of choice and becoming an innovative
integrated materials and construction company, Karson is sure to
continue to reap the benefits of hard work and solid planning. “We plan
to continue providing quality work and good jobs for the Ottawa area,”
says Schulz. “Bill Karson built a great foundation to thrive on.”

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