Blending In, Standing Out

Although it’s not unusual for any construction material company to have to make concessions and adjustments in plant design due to local zoning ordinances,

Steven Prokopy

Although it’s not unusual for any construction material company to have to make concessions and adjustments in plant design due to local zoning ordinances, McHenry, Ill.-based Super Mix, Inc. had to take the added measure of disguising its recently completed Kenosha, Wis., ready mixed facility as a three-story office building. Although the operation is adjacent to an asphalt plant and a farm, the faux office enclosure has opened up the possibilities for Super Mix to build similar plants in more centralized business district locations in rapidly growing markets between Chicago and Milwaukee.

In 2005, when the company was selecting properties for its Kenosha plant, it met with resistance from Kenosha County because of the eyesore potential a ready mixed plant presented. Rather than lose the zoning request, we came back two weeks later with a new design, says Jack Pease, president of Super Mix, Inc. We got an architect to come in and mimic the design of office buildings in McHenry. We tried to make it look like limestone with ornamental finish. Some of the windows are real for light; others are just painted.

The 45-ft.-tall structure features 6-ft.-wide, 9-in.-thick insulated precast sandwich panels from ATMI Precast of Aurora, Ill. Bob Epping, a 26-year industry veteran who runs a Salem, Wis., flatwork business, Creative Concrete, and is a partner in Super Mix’s two Wisconsin operations says, We poured the footings for the panels, shop and office floors ourselves with material from our Burlington plant.

Pease adds, In the end, the enclosure only cost about $10,000 more than a prefab metal building. But we would rather market ourselves at a major interchange at a high-profile location, where we can blend in. Our line of good-looking trucks also helps.

All gravel storage at the Kenosha facility is underground in one of five bunkers, a feature also considered part of making the operation invisible. The only sign that this is a ready mixed operation is its 29 trucks, says Epping. The bunker system has a total capacity of 1,500 tons, and all five bunkers are heated with 5 million-btu forced-air grizzly inserts with 60-hp blower.

The five-acre site includes the batch plant enclosure and adjacent building, which combines a five-bay maintenance shop with high ceilings, plus a two-level portion with batch office on the second level. Additional space is being built out to bring administrative functions to Kenosha from Burlington.

The batch plant is a McNeilus Batchmaster 12 with four-compartment overhead aggregate bin and 200 tons of overhead storage. Materials from the storage bunkers are fed with a single belt line. The fully automatic Keep Full system running all the aggregate bins comes from CommandAlkon. Batch control is a CommandAlkon Spectrum.

The plant also has 380 tons of cement storage across two silos and three compartments, with one silo housing portland cement and the other split between fly ash and slag. According to Pease, most of the company’s house mixes are tri-mixes. Water is held in an overhead surge tank, weighed into a water scale for accuracy, and heated using a 4.5 million-btu Ludell tank.

Batching is done remotely with the use of multiple cameras. Orders are run through a dispatch office at the Kenosha facility, which also handles Burlington plant orders. Pease says Super Mix does not believe in a company-wide central dispatch system. Every two plants has one dispatch office and truck shop, he notes. There’s enough to keep one area manager and a dispatcher plenty busy. We also have a system in place that slides truck distribution. If a western-most plant needs more from the east, we’ll send more trucks from a plant in the middle, and then move the eastern trucks to the middle, if needed.

As northern Illinois’ fourth-largest ready mixed producer (after Prairie, Ozinga, and Meyer Materials), Super Mix has seven plants in its home state: Belvidere, Hampshire, Monroe Center, Rockford, Spring Grove, and Volo, plus a temporary plant in Marengo. The Belvidere and Volo locations have gravel pits, with an additional pit in Richmond. The most recently opened plant in Hampshire has an identical faux office building enclosure, which suits surroundings just off U.S. 90, next to a hotel and restaurant.

Pease says the outgrowth of suburbs between Chicago and Milwaukee has made it a strong market, with most of Super Mix’s work split between commercial and residential work (about 45 percent each, with an additional 10 percent devoted to highway projects) since the company opened in 1990. We’ve found that the Chicago suburbs are reaching closer and closer to those in Milwaukee, he explains. Areas like Kenosha and Racine are growing faster, and our competitors in the area aren’t located in the same proximity to the new growth areas. Many of them are also not automated operations.

The Kenosha Super Mix facility recently poured a FedEx building in Zion, Ill., and the Oak Creek Wisconsin Power and Light project. On peak days, the Kenosha-Burlington team has logged as much as 6,000 yd.

Averaging about two plant openings per year, Pease has long put behind him his 35 years as owner of a public works contracting company Pease Construction, which is now being run by his oldest son. Jack’s youngest son, Tory, works with his father as the project coordinator in charge of setting up each new plant for Super Mix, including a facility in Elburn, Ill., and another with Epping in Janesville, Wis., both scheduled to open in 2007. I figure I can keep up this two-plant-per-year pace for the next three years, says Pease.