Stepping into Greatness
Chappelle Mechanical, Inc. offers legacy of service and integrity
Chris Chappelle began his apprenticeship early in his life, thanks to his stepfather, Don Pizzolato. At the impressionable age of 13, Chris began working alongside his stepfather, learning about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), mechanical, plumbing and fire sprinkling. Don, along with business partner Pat Devito, taught Chris everything he knows. They lit a spark that ignited in 2005, when Chris founded Chappelle Mechanical, Inc., a small business enterprise and certified contractor with the New Jersey Division of Property Management and Construction.
Today, Chris continues to keep his business centered on family and employs his two sons—Christopher as a Foreman and Jonathan as Estimator. His wife, Lisa, supports in the office, and stepbrother, John, works in the field. But blood isn’t a requirement for being considered family at Chappelle. All the company’s employees have been with the company for years, and Chris continues to partner with people from the local union who have a long history working with his or Don’s company.
Although Chris planned to take it easy after graduating from high school, Don felt differently. He says, “The day after I graduated, he asked what I was doing tomorrow. When I said nothing, he told me to be at the shop at 7 a.m. The rest is history.”
The company primarily serves public sector clients, including projects such as schools and colleges, jails and municipal facilities. As a licensed plumbing and heating contractor, Chappelle often provides custom welding and metal fabrication for projects, partnering with clients including the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the College of New Jersey and the Franklin Township Public Schools. The team recently replaced the chilled water piping equipment for the NJDOT headquarters facility in Trenton. “Our clients select us because we have a reputation for always doing things right the first time,” says Chris.
Chris is grateful for the opportunity given to him and the time Don and Pat invested in his career. “I hope I have made them proud by carrying on their legacy of doing it right and standing by my word.”
UA Local 9
Chris perks up when talking about his company’s association with the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 9, a Charter Local Union in the United Association (UA Local 9). His son, Christopher, went through an apprenticeship with the Charter. “After five years, the material he learned was so condensed and consolidated he has the knowledge of someone spending an entire career in this industry,” Chris says. “It’s really incredible.” The apprenticeship is akin to receiving an associate degree. Christopher’s education was broad and varied, including reading plans, understanding big air-handling systems, installing medical gas, welding and administering CPR.
The company relies on the Local 9 to source qualified workers for projects. “The union is a huge employment pool for us. If I land two jobs and don’t have the staff, instead of turning work away I am able to get solid, qualified labor when I need it.”
A recent project for the College of New Jersey was one the company was qualified to bid thanks to Chris’ association with Local 9. The project was a tough job; among schedules, design requirements and maintaining operations, the team faced many obstacles to overcome. However, most pressing was the college’s need to maintain hot water at Brower Student Center during construction.
“We designed a hot water system to ensure the bathrooms and kitchens continued to function,” Chris says. “During renovations, the steam system was removed, leaving the student center without water. Our team designed a special workaround, tying into a natural gas system to create a makeshift boiler room.” The team created the temporary system in box containers and ran lines from it to keep the steam contained. And, according to Chris, the college acknowledged them for their efforts and greatly appreciated the temporary system to allow operations to continue without interruption.
The Principle of Quality Work
The company’s mission is providing quality work and tackling challenges with an understated yet mighty team. When South Hunterdon Regional High School needed a well tank and pump system installed, administrators turned to Chappelle. Chris says, “Although the engineer designed the basic plan, we had to make the design work by fabricating special parts. This huge tank system—like a well on steroids—incorporated prefabricated tanks that had no precut holes for piping. We made our own holes to make use of the system, and it worked beautifully.”
This is one example of Chris’ philosophy to always provide quality work, which requires sometimes going against the grain and challenging a more typical approach, if necessary. He explains, “I don’t just do what I’m told. I tell the client the best way to approach a project because if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right the first time.”
Performing quality work aligns with Chris’ leadership style. “I wouldn’t ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do,” he says. “When I ask my employees to do something, I make sure it’s safe. But, when they are in the field, I encourage them to think independently, and if they have a suggestion or a better approach, I absolutely support them to try it.”
The Chappelle team works on school projects that have many timing and scheduling constraints. Chris recalls a science lab the team designed in Basking Ridge, which required working irregular hours to achieve the deadline. No matter the challenge, Chris guides the team with one guiding principle: No matter what is presented to you, don’t panic. “If a problem develops, I look at the larger picture. If you panic, you may make a bad decision because you are in distress.” And Chris takes this philosophy a step further. “I never panic. Losers try, and winners get it done. And I win every time.” However, a little bit of fun thrown in with hard work never hurts, and Chris is known to host impromptu barbecues at job sites that are more substantial and require longer hours.
No matter if it’s work for Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools, Rutgers University or Somerset County Jail, the Chappelle team cares about the impact its work creates within the local community. Working with Local 9, the company donated its time related to inspection services for a senior living facility for veterans in Manchester Township, New Jersey. The company also donates lower cost HVAC or plumbing services to local low-income families.
Chris remains grateful for the opportunity given to him many years ago. “Don and Pat were awesome teachers. I have immense respect for where I came from and the skills and values they taught me.” He doesn’t keep that feeling of gratitude to himself. He makes a point to express it to his staff often. But of course, the reputation Chris has built for his company exemplifies integrity and quality of work, and he believes that pays homage to his great mentors.