Precise, Efficient Demolition
Robles 1 Demolition Contractors continues tradition of excellence
For Saul Robles, Vice President of Robles 1 Demolition Contractors (Robles 1), your word is gold. “When my dad started his demolition business, Robles & Sons, Inc., in 1964, there were no formal agreements—just handshakes.” Though the demolition industry has evolved a great deal since those early days, that level of integrity never wavered through the generations of the Robles family and remains at the heart of Robles 1 today. “If we say we’re going to do something, we do it,” Saul says.
Headquartered in Cibolo, Texas, the family-owned company provides demolition services for general contractors serving commercial and industrial clients, hospitals, schools and municipalities. “From San Antonio and our newest office in Round Rock, near Austin, we serve customers in Texas and New Mexico,” says Isela Robles, President and wife of Saul. Robles 1 is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Texas Historically Underutilized Business (HUB).
The company’s suite of services includes interior and exterior demolition, selective interior demolition, demo on or near historical structures and selective structural demo, where the company removes structural supports and shores up load-bearing walls in preparation for development. Projects range in size from $100,000 to $1.5 million and often involve multiple phases over the course of a development project. “We do a lot of work for schools and might have two years’ worth of contracts and carry out that work in five phases,” Isela says. With a team of 65 employees, Robles 1 has nine crews in San Antonio and two crews in Austin. “We’re able to pull in team members from San Antonio when needed for larger projects in Austin and the surrounding area. We work together to meet the needs of our general contractors, whatever the project size,” says Adam Robles, Operations Manager and son of Saul and Isela.
Minimizing its Environmental Footprint
According to Adam, the days of the wrecking ball are all gone. “Demolition is very precise nowadays. When we remove a building, we’re paying close attention to the direction of the wind so debris doesn’t carry, and we’re manipulating our movements so the building falls in a specific way. We keep a very clean site.”
And when it comes to building components, the rule is waste not, want not. “We take the time to separate out and recycle everything that we can, including brick, aggregate, concrete and ferrous and nonferrous metals like copper, aluminum, steel and tin. The money that we make from selling those materials to recyclers is then used to offset the cost of new tools, safety gear and equipment maintenance,” Adams says. Recycling is also the right thing to do, asserts Adam. “Recycled concrete can be turned into recycled aggregate for new foundations, and bricks can be reused or crushed for use in a variety of products.
“We keep materials out of the landfill, and we minimize our environmental footprint.” He adds that in Austin, recycling is mandated for buildings over 5,000 square feet. “To receive a certificate of occupancy for a new construction project, general contractors have to prove that a certain percentage of the demoed building has been recycled. For these projects, we log the type of substance, weight and recycling destination for these building materials.”
Innovations in technology are not only making demolition projects more efficient, but, more importantly, new technology is creating a safer work environment, according to Adam. “When you’re demoing these tight interior spaces, if a concrete column falls or the wall shoring gives way, people could get hurt. Robotic excavators can work in these potentially dangerous spaces with the operator remotely controlling the machine at a safe distance. To us, it’s worth the additional upfront cost to keep people safe.”
Adam cites an example of a project for Austin Community College District. “The college had purchased an old building and needed the interior gutted for renovation. We shored up the structural supports and then demoed all but the concrete beams and columns using a mini electric excavator that was remotely controlled. It was slow, tedious work at times, but we accomplished the project in the safest way possible. Now, word has gotten out about our robotic capabilities, and we’ve received more projects as a result.”
In addition to the use of robotic equipment, Robles 1 invests in other tools and equipment that help to keep employees safe. “Employees wear Kevlar sleeves that protect them from cuts and abrasions, and we purchase only the best tools that not only make employees’ jobs easier, but also keep them from getting hurt,” Adam says.
The company is proud of its Experience Modification Rate (EMR), which is under 1.0. “Our safety manager is OSHA 500 certified,” says Isela. Employees receive classroom and field training. “Our safety manager will bring a scissor lift or a boom lift to the office to give newer employees hands-on training.”
Leaps and Bounds
Saul recalls the early days of demolition working for his father when he drove a truck with no seats. “I sat on a five-gallon bucket,” he muses. But it wasn’t just the early years that brought challenges “There were many lean days when we sold surplus materials from the yard just to survive,” Isela adds.
Originally from El Paso, Saul began working full time at Robles & Sons at the age of 14. “It took my parents a few months to figure out I had dropped out of school,” he says. As his father’s business grew, Saul and his brother, David, started a San Antonio branch in 1996, and Saul assumed the role of President. “By 2006, I was tired and needed a break, so I sold my interest in the company back to the family.” But Saul missed the demolition business, and in just two years, he partnered with his brother, Danny, to form Robles 1. “I know this business inside and out. Everything I ask the guys to do, I’ve done myself,” Saul says. Danny and Saul called the company Robles 1 to differentiate the business from his dad’s company and because the pair were now operating solo in South Texas.
The company has grown by leaps and bounds, and Isela recently took the reins as majority owner and President. “I oversee everything but estimating,” she says. Over the years, Isela has worked in a variety of administrative roles for both Robles & Sons and Robles 1, including accounting and contract administration.
“Three of our four boys, Adam, Justin and Matthew, work for Robles 1 now. I look forward to continuing to grow the company so one day we can pass it on to our children and grandchildren,” Isela says.
Challenging, Rewarding Projects
Isela has many favorite projects and is proud of the company’s ability to work in sensitive and secure locations, including in airports and on military bases. At USAA Financial Center in San Antonio, the company is going the extra distance to stay out of the day-to-day fray. “We’re removing 48 escalators across the mile-long building. We come in at 6 p.m., work through the night and are gone by 4 a.m. Employees don’t even know we’ve been there,” Adam says.
The company is accomplishing the task in four phases, removing 12 escalators at a time. “Our work space is very limited, and everything has to be taken through the parking garage. We’ve had to chop the escalators into pieces that are easier to maneuver and have designed specialized carts that can handle the weight of the escalators. We put a lot of crazy ideas on paper and then work with the project engineer to make sure our ideas are feasible,” he says.
A project at the Bexar County Courthouse in downtown San Antonio tested the company’s precision. “The client needed us to remove a five-story building built in the 1970s that was in close proximity to the courthouse,” Adam says. The historic courthouse was completed in 1896 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Using cranes and robotic excavators, Robles 1 took the time to shore up and protect each floor before demo operations. “That way, if anything fell, it would fall away from the historic building,” Adam explains. The team successfully accomplished the project in a little over three months without a single blemish to the courthouse. “We were front and center in downtown San Antonio for all to see. It was such a rewarding project.”
When not taking down structures, Robles 1 is hard at work building community. The company raises money for and financially supports organizations that advocate for foster children and that provide scholarships to area students. “My dad set that giving mentality in motion when I was younger,” Saul says. “He would build houses for orphanages in Mexico and showed me the importance of giving back.”
As the company continues serving community and helping customers, one thing is certain. The family loves what they do and appreciates their team of loyal, hardworking employees. “These people are family,” Adam says. “Half of these guys have been with me five or six years. They take care of our customers, and we take good care of them. They all have families to support, and we work hard to provide them with stable work.”
“This company started with a borrowed truck and tractor and a few borrowed guys from my brother’s business in El Paso,” Saul recalls. “Today, we have a fleet of 50 trucks and specialized equipment and a host of stable, long-term projects that give our employees job security.”
Adam concurs. “We have come so far,” he says. “Demolition is in our blood. I wake up in the morning, and it’s not work. I love what I do.”