Superheroes of Structural Contracting
McAuliffe Contractors, LLC takes on the impossible
When a structural job seems almost impossible, it’s a “McAuliffe job,” says Tom McAuliffe, President of McAuliffe Contractors, LLC. “We do what others can’t and go where others won’t,” he adds.
Headquartered in Kenilworth, New Jersey, McAuliffe Contractors provides residential and commercial structural contracting services throughout New Jersey. Services include structural framing and restoration of damaged structures, foundational strengthening, emergency shoring, underpinning, grouting and invasive investigations.
“We might be called in by a realtor with a home inspection report and a tight closing deadline or a homeowner whose house is settling,” McAuliffe says. “Other times, it’s an engineer or general contractor who’s encountered structural issues during a renovation or construction project.”
He says McAuliffe Contractors has seen it all. “We’ve dealt with cracked foundations that result from loose soil, sill plates in 2-foot crawlspaces eaten by termites, and other structural repairs needed in extremely small spaces others can’t get to,” McAuliffe says. “Our guys do tough work. We take pride in the quality of our wok and in our attention to safety.”
McAuliffe Contractors is a certified installer of the Chance® Helical Pulldown Micropile (HPM), which is used to provide foundational stability in locations with weak soil. The company was one of the first to test this technology with GRL Engineers, Inc. and even won an award from Chance Foundation Solutions in 2016 for its installation of the deepest HPM—137 feet.
One of the company’s first residential projects using this technology was on a house that was less than 10 years old. “The foundation had been laid on improper soil,” McAuliffe says. “The project entailed dismantling the entire foundation of the first floor of the house to drill micropiles 20 to 30 feet under the house. We did the demolition, the pile installation and structural carpentry and finish work. When we finished, you couldn’t even tell work was done. We take great care in protecting your home and causing as little disruption as possible.”
McAuliffe Contractors’ second job was one that no one in the company will ever forget. “To stabilize a six-story apartment building in the Bronx, we had to do HPM underpinning at a time when it was banned in New York City. Before we could even start the job, we had to go through extensive testing and engineering to get the project approved through the Department of Buildings,” McAuliffe says.
In another New York City project using micropiles, the company had to figure out a way to gain access to the foundation. “There was no easy way to get access to the work area, which was below the water table in an elevator shaft. We ended up modifying a machine to make it fit inside the tight space, fabricating legs to support the equipment,” he adds.
Using a custom gantry crane to lower the equipment into the elevator, the team descended onto the work area, which was located at the bottom of the elevator shaft. They then disassembled the drill rig and shuttled the equipment into the workspace, piece by piece. While the drill rig, power pack and grouting equipment are normally located in close proximity, due to the tight working conditions, drilling and operations were in separate locations. “We had to communicate by radio between those located in the workspace below ground and those at surface level. This remains one of our hardest jobs and one that we still talk about today,” McAuliffe says.
Another project involved working in a large sewage treatment facility with 10 to 15 tanks—each as large as a football field. “One of the tanks, which was located in the middle of this field, had started settling. The project required a massive crane to transport all the equipment we needed for the job. We worked for two weeks inside that tank,” McAuliffe says. Other treatment facility projects have involved traversing a series of pipes and customizing equipment to fit hard-to-reach spaces.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” McAuliffe says. “I’ve purchased brand new equipment like a mini-excavator and essentially cut it in half to engineer a solution.”
The company used one of its customized excavators on a project for NJ TRANSIT’s light rail system. “We converted the pile design and layout of a transit platform into a faster, lighter system,” McAuliffe says. “To do this, we had to perform the majority of the drilling from the street level, 15 feet higher than the platform. Since there was a wall between the operator and the driller, we communicated over headsets.” Though the project initially involved shutting down transit operations at night, McAuliffe Contractors was able to complete the project during the day with no interruptions in service.
Structural Carpentry and Framing
In addition to deep foundation work, the company specializes in structural carpentry, custom framing and structural restoration. “We install beams and supports where others say it’s impossible,” McAuliffe says. Case in point: the St. Walburga Monastery, home of the Benedictine Sisters in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The client approached McAuliffe Contractors about the restoration of its church’s ornamental, load-bearing columns, which had rotted at the base. “The sisters were told by other contractors and engineers that the columns would need to be completely replaced,” McAuliffe says.
McAuliffe Contractors devised a solution to preserve the church columns. “We lifted the columns up in place, and installed custom shoring brackets and custom concrete bottoms for each column,” he says. “We not only saved these historic columns from destruction, but the project cost less than replacing the columns.”
For Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, McAuliffe Contractors shored up a 4-foot-thick brick wall with five stories of load. “We’ve done this with a couple of different schools in Newark, New Jersey, where the load-bearing brick walls were originally constructed in the mid-1800s and needed to be removed for larger rooms,” McAuliffe says.
The company was on the forefront of using carbon fiber-reinforced polymers (CFRPs) to provide additional strengthening in restoration projects. “One of the projects where we used CFRP was in the subterranean boiler room of a school in the Tenafly borough of New Jersey,” McAuliffe says. “The concrete ceiling had deteriorated, but since it was a tight space with four to five large boilers and lots of plumbing and pipes to work around, we couldn’t use traditional steel reinforcements. Our solution was to repair the ceiling with a cement-reinforced CFRP, restoring strength and stability to the ceiling.”
Prolonging the Life of Structures
McAuliffe got his start working with his father, John, who owned a custom cabinetry and homebuilding business in Roselle Park, New Jersey. “I started doing this work in grammar school—way younger than most. By high school, I was spending my summers out in the field with the other laborers,” he says. In addition to general homebuilding services, his dad also did structural restoration for a local pest control company. “We’d replace structural components like beams and sill plates. That’s where I learned how to shore and lift a house,” McAuliffe says. Since he was the smallest on the crew, McAuliffe was the employee of choice for working in small spaces. “The guys would send me into crawl spaces or to dig under a porch with a coffee can,” he recalls.
When his dad gave McAuliffe the reins on his first project, he proved his readiness and ingenuity. “My dad sent me and a couple of laborers to hand-dig a foundation. He was old school and was against me renting an excavator. I did the math on it, though, and decided to go with the excavator. I got that foundation dug in one day. When I came back ready for inspection, my dad looked at me funny since the project was supposed to take a week. But, he was impressed and started trusting my input from then on,” he says.
A year after McAuliffe graduated from college, his dad, who was sick and in the hospital, encouraged him to take over the company. McAuliffe registered the company as a limited liability company in 2003 and began going after larger structural projects, including commercial work. “There is a real necessity for what we do. So many homes and buildings are aging and beyond their life span. We’re here to help carry those buildings into another 100 years,” McAuliffe says.
A Rare Breed
With a team of 15, McAuliffe compares his employees to superheroes. “Each person has a particular specialty and is the best at what he does. It takes a certain kind of person to succeed at this type of work. These guys are a rare breed. They are super dedicated and incredibly talented,” he says.
He cites one employee, Nelson Rojas, who started working with McAuliffe’s father in the cabinet shop when just a teen. “Nelson’s been with us more than 30 years. He taught me how to shore and lift a house. He can just look at a house and tell you where the load paths are. When engineers and inspectors review his projects, their jaws will just drop at how spot on his work is,” McAuliffe says.
Often working in tight spaces, McAuliffe Contractors takes safety very seriously. “We have an in-house safety expert and weekly mandatory safety meetings,” McAuliffe says. “Every day starts with safety checks. We’re not only ensuring our safety but making sure we’re protecting our customers and their property.”
An avid skateboarder, McAuliffe readily gives back to community youth. “These kids in Newark got permission to build a skateboard park, but the city didn’t give them any money. We donated leftover materials and even helped with installation on the weekends. So far, we’ve helped with two of these parks,” he says.
After Hurricane Irene, the company pumped out flooded basements and repaired collapsed walls at cost or pro bono. “We did a lot of emergency shoring work for emergency responders, and we helped to rebuild a flooded hall for the Kenilworth Borough PBA,” McAuliffe says. The Kenilworth Borough PBA, a local chapter of the New Jersey State Policeman’s Benevolent Association, works to maintain good working environments for its members and supports many civic groups and organizations.
McAuliffe is committed to his community and to what he does. “I’m proud of what we do at McAuliffe Contractors,” he says. “We do what it takes to get a job done—whether we’re customizing a piece of equipment to fit in a tight space, coming up with a creative way to preserve a historic structure, or employing a cutting-edge process or material to shore up a structure. We save clients time and money and do things the right way.”