Even with the nation’s tough economy, there have been some bright spots. At least, that’s what Tom Casson, owner of Casson Construction in Jacksonville, Ill., has found.
Many Midwest farmers are having one of their best years ever, and that means they need new buildings or are taking the opportunity to renovate older buildings. And that benefits Casson’s business. So does what Casson says is a unique situation in his town.
“We have four state institutions: a prison, a school for the deaf, a school for the blind, and what used to be a state hospital and is now called a development center,” he says. “We haven’t been hurt as much as other areas of the country.”
Casson Construction has been in business for 40 years or so. Casson had gotten his start in construction in his hometown of Alexander, where he worked with three carpenters until he went into the Army in the early 1960s.
“I got out of the Army in 1967 or ‘68 and took a job with a fire company. You were on 24 hours and off 48, and I needed to find something to do. So I started building houses,” Casson explains.
“But we eventually got out of the housing business around 1980; it’s less than ten percent of our business now.”
Making the transition
When Casson recognized the need for versatility, he transitioned to a combination of metal buildings and post-frame buildings.
“The high interest hurt the economy in those days,” he says, but found that having the ability to do more kinds of projects was an advantage. Frankly, he says, metal was easier in tough times.
“With metal buildings, the owners pick out the colors, how big they want the building to be, where to put the doors, especially if it is commercial” he says. “It’s not as complicated as building a house. Metal buildings are pretty cut and dry.”
Today, his company is mostly focused on light commercial, renovations and post-frame buildings.
One of the more frequent renovation projects he’s been doing lately is installing bi-fold doors on farm buildings.
“The equipment keeps getting bigger and bigger, and the buildings need bigger doors,” Casson observes.
The largest combines, he explains, are about 20 feet wide and 14 feet high, and the doors need to be large enough to accommodate them.
“We put up a lot of 14-foot sectional doors, many of them 25-feet wide. When you have a door that wide, it is a pretty big job,” he says.
Changing with the times
The company employs between 10 and 15 persons, depending on the season and the workload. Even though most of his projects are small, Casson does occasionally tackle larger buildings, like the 33,000-square-foot warehouse he is currently working on or a 44,000-square-foot tire distribution center he build recently in Springfield, the state capitol, which is about a half-hour drive from Jacksonville.
“I have regular customers,” Casson says, “and I do a lot of work for them.”
Many of the commercial buildings Casson constructs are metal buildings. “At one time I used to manufacture trusses and such myself, but we’ve gotten away from that and buy it ready made,” he says.
However, renovation is an important focus of Casson’s interest these days.
The Jacksonville area has a number of industries in the vicinity, many of them old buildings that need renovation and restoration work.
“There was an old lumber yard that failed,” Casson says, describing one of his projects. “We took the main complex, about 78,000 square feet, and turned into a Farm and Home store. We put a western style front on it. The place was in really bad shape, but we turned it into a nice building. That’s one of the better renovations we did.”
“We fix siding, fix the roof, fix post- frame buildings,” Casson recounts.
Some old, some new
In addition to the renovations, Casson Construction does a lot of maintenance work on buildings. He estimates that the company works on 20 maintenance or renovation projects a year, with six to eight new projects a year.
One of his maintenance jobs is replacing metal roofs on older buildings. On the day he spoke with Rural Builder magazine, Casson’s project for the day was patching the metal roof of a 50-year-old house.
“The old metal on the roof has gone to heck,” he laughs. “It really should be replaced, but we’re patching it.”
The problem with metal roofs, he says, is not with the quality of the metal, but actually with the area surrounding the nails.
“The area around the nail holes start to rust and begin leaking,” he says. “And the boards rot, and the tin begins to fail.”
Casson adds that one reason he’s been so busy with metal roof replacement on post-frame buildings is
because of the high number of ice storms in his Illinois region.
“Back in late ‘07 we had an ice storm that really taxed a lot of buildings with the amount of weight. None of the buildings failed, but they were on the verge of falling in. We went inside, jacked up the trusses, and got things back to the way they are supposed to be,” Casson recalls.
At 68, Casson looks back and says that the industry has been good to him over the years. One of the nicer parts of his job today is that his son, Tom E., works with the company.
With the Jacksonville area economy looking so good, it appears that Casson and his son will be busy for a long time.