Local contractor’s “learning curb” on street improvement project benefits public

Oroville, Washington
Dave Allen (right) at a project site with SCJ Wenatchee Office Principal Dan Ireland

In their combined 50 years of designing and constructing transportation projects, Dave Allen and Ken Duncan thought they’d seen just about everything. Then they started work on the 16th Avenue Improvements project with the City of Oroville, in North Central Washington state.

At first, it looked like a straightforward affair. The project involved reconstructing 2,700 feet of roadway including stormwater improvements, sanitary sewer upgrades, and adding curbs, gutters, and sidewalks.

A senior project manager in our Wenatchee office, Dave led the SCJ team providing civil engineering and transportation design for the effort. Ken was on the job inspecting the construction. The project area spanned from Main Street (US 97) to Cherry Street on 16th Avenue and included ADA upgrades to the existing corridor sidewalks, pavement marking, and updated signage.

Because Oroville is a small, remote town (Spokane is the nearest large city, 180 miles away), it is very difficult to find contractors to bid public work. That’s where the learning – and teaching – opportunity arose.

Ken Duncan out on a project

Only one contractor’s bid for construction came in near the engineer’s estimate. They arrived on the job with little experience, but had the backing of City staff based on their personal reputation. The company, Burly Products, is a metal fabricator in Post Falls, Idaho, with a general contracting team working in Okanogan County.

“Under professor Ken Duncan’s watchful eye and tutelage, they were able to successfully complete the project on schedule and within budget,” Dave said.

One of the contractor’s first tests came when they discovered a storm drain was running right down the middle of a bunch of telephone cables. Shortly after Ken guided them through that challenge, a thrust block on a 10-inch waterline got nicked while the contractor was putting in a new section of storm drain, causing a major leak.

“The job was full of nasty little things like that, but the foreman – his name was Jake Barker – he never complained. He just picked himself back up and got back to it,” said Ken. “I’ve never seen someone learn so fast. He was a real joy to work with.”

More learning came when it was time to put the curbs in. It was Jake’s first time making curbs. Just before he got started, he learned the machine he had bought from Canada for the job didn’t meet Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) specifications.

Burly Products Foreman Jake Barker tackling construction for the City of Oroville

To get them right, Jake made a shoe for the machine on the fly and attached it to his machine. As the concrete came out of the machine, the new mold shaped it so the curbs matched the contract requirements.

“Once he got that shoe on there, the curbs came out perfect,” said Ken. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Ken was equally impressed with the railing the Post Falls Burly team made for a section of sidewalk near the senior center. It fit perfectly on the first try.

“Jake and his team have since built several other public projects in Okanogan County,” said Dave. “They are providing a great service to a region sorely lacking in available public works contractors.”

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