Demolishing the Old
A.L.M.S. knows that destruction opens pathways for new beginnings
Jack Cutrone, Owner and Managing Director of A.L.M.S., has known for a long time that he enjoys working hard—and working for himself.
His journey began when he started earning his own money at age 14 as an employee of a supermarket and as a grass cutter for a local landscaper. It eventually culminated in his founding A.L.M.S., a Long Island-based demolition, excavation and concrete contracting company.
The Early Years
Cutrone dreamed of owning his own company since those early teen years where the entrepreneurship seed was sown. “It never sat well with me, being managed by others,” he says. “I started reading more and getting into authors who got me interested in choosing my own destiny.”
So, he started his own endeavor at age 19—buying part of an established landscaping business with funds he’d saved and money he’d borrowed from an uncle.
There were challenges, of course, but the first phase of business ownership led Cutrone to form practical and productive business practices. He believed that learning by doing gave him hands-on experience that taught him more than any business degree could.
Grass Isn’t Always Greener
When Cutrone bought the landscape business, it came with existing clients. However, the clients’ properties were geographically spread out, so he spent a lot of potentially billable time driving and not actually servicing as many lawns and gardens to make his sales grow. Over time, he built up areas between clients and consolidated his service area to position his company for better profitability.
He says that first experience taught him a good lesson: “Never buy a piece of someone’s business, because they are going to sell you the bad piece.”
Over time, he decided to try something beyond landscaping. Cutrone wanted to be in a more regulated industry, he says, noting that in landscaping, client-pricing averages didn’t always keep up with inflation and the need for expensive equipment.
“In 2008, a mower might cost $6,600,” he says. “Years later, that same mower is $9,800, but you’re working for 10% less.”
To develop a more profitable future, Cutrone moved into construction in 2018. He liked that he could become competent in specialized skills and set himself apart from his competitors by advancing his own professional development.
“Anyone can buy a mower and start a landscape company,” Cutrone says. “But what we do now, in construction—you’ve got to understand how to read blueprints, you have to have property insurance and the correct equipment—that dynamic makes it harder for just anyone to jump in. There are safety regulations and rules. You’re not just competing with a guy in a pickup truck.”
Acquiring as much hands-on construction experience and knowledge as he could became his mission. More structured learning was part of that strategy as well.
Cutrone earned myriad certifications: Procore construction management software; Excavation Training and Education; Supported Scaffold Supervisor; Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) 30-Hour course; Site Safety Training (SST) Supervisor; and New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) Flagger certification among them.
Demolition has implied danger throughout its history. Thankfully, explosives aren’t commonly used in demolition anymore; but that doesn’t mean that risks don’t exist in the field.
According to OSHA, typical hazards include burns, electrical shocks or electrocutions, falls, roof or structure collapses, chemical exposures and injuries from falling objects.
That’s because, in terms of composition, buildings may not be as they appear. According to OSHA, dangers may lurk if changes in building design are introduced during construction or if unapproved modifications were made as that structure was in the process of being built.
Cutrone’s extensive safety training is something he applies to every work site, every day. “In demolition, you never know,” he says Though he feels fortunate so far and has not been on a project with injuries reported, “it can be one false move that causes someone to get hurt,” he says. That’s one reason why his company goes above and beyond federal safety requirements.
“We require full PPE (personal protective equipment) on every site. There are instances where OSHA states that there is no overhead hazard, but we still require a hard hat,” Cutrone says, adding that A.L.M.S. workers are provided with new gloves every day, as well as earplugs, safety glasses and safety vests.
He’s become an advocate for work site safety, first and foremost, in the way he operates A.L.M.S. and in how he manages employees. It’s important to him that his 13 full-time crew members and temporary workers all go home safely.
“Everything has to be done and documented. We have regular safety meetings. We preach it and practice it,” he says. “Safety is our No. 1 priority.”
Grounds for Achievement
Winston Preparatory School opened in the fall of 2018, in Dix Hills on Long Island. A.L.M.S. handled interior demolition. “We gutted a cellar and part of the first floor so they could renovate and add an elevator for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access. It was all done on time and on budget,” Cutrone says.
Cutrone is especially proud because the building is “where great work is being done with children.” The school serves students with learning differences such as Asperger’s and dyslexia, with a big part of the program focused on building kids’ resilience, independence and self-advocacy.
“In one summer, we helped get this important school completed,” Cutrone says.
Winston Preparatory School was an inspiring, organized project. But other jobs present opportunities for the construction crews themselves to learn, he says.
Anticipating the Unknown
A.L.M.S. scrutinizes project plans as early as possible. Cutrone works with the general contractor to strategize solutions to potential problems ahead of time to avoid having to switch gears.
“Change order. I hate to hear that phrase,” states Cutrone, emphatically.
But there are still projects that will throw construction teams into unexpected loops, requiring resilience, creative problem-solving and commitment. A courtyard redevelopment project at Amsterdam Vale, an Upper West Side apartment complex, presented one such challenge, Cutrone says.
“We were told it was all dirt, but when we started working, it was nothing but boulders underground,” says Cutrone, “buried deep” in a congested, busy city setting. He says that about 600 cubic yards of rock had to be exported out of New York City at significant expense, with the hauler, design team, A.L.M.S., and the general contractor working together to minimize effect of the resultant delay.
The Amsterdam Vale project contained the kind of complication that can just crop up during a project, Cutrone says.
He notes that dealing with such challenges solidifies strong partnerships, which ultimately strengthens collaborations even more—and not just for that particular project. Crews connect with the same general contractors and design engineers on different projects all the time, learning from one another and making clients’ visions a reality.
“We’ll pick their brains and get their thoughts,” Cutrone says. “With contractors, engineers and architects, we have job experience and they have book experience. It’s best to work together and blend those two for a really successful project.”
Bigger Goals in an Uncertain Future
Cutrone would like to do more demolition of entire buildings, he says, along with building more multistory structures from the ground up.
He also wants to do more hiring. With a labor shortage, A.L.M.S. works with agencies and local groups that connect individuals with careers. Cutrone says they hire and train on the job.
“We just put a 20-year-old to work recently. We taught him how to work with rebar and how to cut concrete. He’s a well-rounded employee and will soon be able to do anything.”
As New York City braces for a new and uncertain future, Cutrone is confident in his team’s ability to adapt and to remain resilient. “We’ve learned a lot through the years,” he says. “We know how to change gears and keep going.”