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The Big Finish
An Extensive Installation Shows Value of Collaboration
(Even if You're BrightView)


Over the course of one year, BrightView Landscape Development, the construction division of BrightView Landscapes, LLC, installed all of the horizontal hardscapes at the new Four Seasons, Orlando, which sits on 36 acres within the Walt Disney World Resort property. Ron Claassen, the Orlando branch manager for BrightView, says that his company had been hearing speculation about the project for a long time, underlining the importance that industry networking plays in a company's success. Once the bidding started, it took about a year to get their's within the desired budget and finally secure the contract.

Did you hear the one about the Canadian math teacher who moved to Florida and became a branch manager for the largest landscaping company in the U.S.?

I don't have a punch line for that because it is a true story - one that resonates with the opportunities this industry presents, the rewards that can be gained by taking risks and working with top-skilled people, and the importance of, no matter how big your employer might be, cultivating good working relationships with other companies.

The person in question is Ron Claassen, who taught math in Calgary, Alberta, for 15 years; some of them as the head of a department of 18 teachers. Even though education was his initial chosen field, as the son of a construction company owner he had some experience directly related to his second calling. Claassen was also the brother of a ValleyCrest staffer residing over 2,000 air miles away. But that distance did not prevent Claassen from considering big moves in career and locale when a prospect to do so was presented. To help seal the deal, he received a "healthy push" from his wife, and they and their three children relocated to Orlando.

"Probably not the typical route, but I had an opportunity and I think the background that I had growing up really helped me adapt to landscape construction," Claassen says.

He started in project management for ValleyCrest, but in time found that his experience with numbers might better serve the company in another role.

"It wasn't long after I got here that they saw I might be a good fit for estimating," Claassen remembers. Eventually he became the overseer of about 10 people who did all the estimating for much of the Southeast and the Caribbean. Claassen now supervises the Orlando branch of BrightView Landscape Development; managing over 200 field workers and about 20 in the office.

He was just transitioning from chief estimator to his new job when a big opportunity presented itself to the company. For the first time ever, the Walt Disney Company sold land inside the gates of Walt Disney World where a world class resort was planned: the Four Seasons Orlando. BrightView was one of the bidders.

As Clasassen recalls, "Like most projects, the initial estimate came in higher than the owners' budget."


According to BrightView project manager Craig Smith, heavy soils that were poorly draining played havoc with the polymeric sand joint material, which has to be wetted to set up, then needs to dry to harden. But in certain areas, the high water table never allowed the sand to dry, causing pieces to fall out. To solve the problem, Techniseal came up with a special mix with a higher polymer content that "ended up working quite a bit better."


There are three swimming pools at the resort, all installed by Weller Pools. Effective cooperation between subcontractors was a big key to finishing in time for the scheduled opening, which could not be changed. For this pool, known as the Ruinous Mansion, the deck, curbing and coping are precast pavers from a local supplier. Claassen described the installation as a random ashlar pattern: an intricate layout of pavers in various sizes. The base for the field was 6" of aggregate and 1" of concrete fines - a byproduct of concrete demolition that is similar to sand. However, the edge pavers, which are all 12"x12", are mortar-set on a concrete curb to lock the field pavers in place.

His team, which included project manager Craig Smith and superintendent Brian Frank, along with the architectural team, came up with "value-engineering ideas to minimize costs while maintaining the critical elements of the design. It was likely a year's timeframe from the start of the budgeting process to the point where we landed the contract within budget."

Then over the course of a year, Claassen's

team installed all of the horizontal hardscapes, and much more, at the newly-built resort. "I hadn't experienced a project quite like that before because it involved so many scopes of work for us," Smith says. "Probably everything we offer as a service was in that one project: pavers, hardscape, irrigation, trees and shrubs, grade work, drain work and precast work."

The personnel lineup also consisted of an engineer, a landscaping crew of about 15, an irrigation crew about the same size, a hardscape crew of around 25 and a crew to grade the site ahead of the others. Staffing got beefed up as it got closer to the deadline. In the beginning, Claassen was on site once a week.

"Later on as it got more critical, I was there twice, maybe even three times a week for whatever length of time that was needed. Sometimes just to oversee progress and other times to be part of the problem-solving team." As for the challenges, Claassen admits, "There were many. Like most construction projects, the schedule posed a significant challenge. And since landscaping is at the end of the project, there is usually not that much time left in the schedule and that's when there seems to be a lot of urgency."


Besides the requirement of proficient coordination by the various entities, such as happened here where the concrete seatwalls were poured in place by one company, and then precast cladding was applied to them by BrightView workers with the help of another company, Claassen stressed the importance of continually developing working relationships. They had not collaborated with the general contractor, Turner Construction, before, but based on the strength of this experience the two companies have since worked together on another high-profile project. BrightView installed these walkways themselves using random-cut flagstone on a poured concrete sub-slab. Mortar was used to attach them to the slab and to level the stones, which were uneven heights, and then grout was put between them. The edging was rectangular-cut flagstone.


The driveway of the front entrance area has 4"-thick, vehicular Oldcastle pavers in a random-cut pattern. The precast curbing, which sits about 6" above grade, has a chiseled finish to emulate granite. In the top right corner of this photo, the pathway is white Portland concrete, which is more expensive than gray Portland concrete but allows for a truer, brighter color when combined with dyes, as was the mix used here. It was then given a rock salt finish, in which the concrete is poured and flowed, and allowed to set up a little bit. Then rock salt in various sizes of granularities is tamped with trowels into its surface. In two to three days the salt dissolves, which creates voids. Claassen describes it as a "fairly inexpensive way of making standard concrete look more architectural." Bands and larger areas of pavers in between the concrete portions were meant to give the walkways more formality. The island in the middle of the driveway with jeweled date palms has natural turf intersected with precast pavers.

"We had to have real tight coordination with the other trades," says Smith. "Down to almost the hour, we made sure that everyone knew what the others were doing so we didn't miss any opportunities. There were instances where four or five trades would touch a single piece."

Brightview actually had the landscape architect, Rob Hutcheson from EDSA Inc., take up residence in their construction trailer and that helped them solve a lot of problems because there was a very easy flow of info back and forth.

"We were looking at the same sets of plans; he was hearing the same conversations," Smith remembers. "It was a real good partnership - pulling in the same direction because you are housed together. I would love to do it again in the future."

The soil was heavy and didn't drain well so it needed mitigation. They initially talked of doing a whole sand cap but it was extremely expensive. Instead, sandy soil was brought in to backfill certain beds. And a special mix of polymeric sand had to be used in some hardscaped areas because the standard mix was just not getting dry enough to set up due to of the high water table.

The Cypress trees had to be acclimatized, as they are prone to mites and different diseases because of the humidity in Florida. About 200 were brought to an area nursery a year ahead of time. They lost some but the ones that survived are doing well.


Around this reflecting pool are more of the flagstones, which once again had varying depths because they were quarried. This created the challenge of getting these areas to be ADA compliant yet still aesthetically pleasing. To install them, the workers select the smoothest side of a stone, then secure them with 1/2 " to 1 1/2 " of wet mortar; a process referred to as "more of a masonry application as opposed to a paver application."


The general contractor did the initial grading but BrightView did the finish grading with a full-time crew using a John Deere compact track loader and a wheel loader to continuously get the ground ready ahead of the hardscaping crew. The braces for the palms, known as baton kits, are for establishment purposes. They stay on about a year. It is not a state regulation but rather a standard practice in the area though cables with turnbuckles are also starting to be used.


In addition to the hardscapes, BrightView also installed the irrigation system, natural and artificial turf, and plantings, which included relocating trees from other areas of the property to give the development instant maturity. The heavy soils also required imported sandy backfill for the trees and certain beds. These Italian cypress trees were part of the almost 200 that, due to being prone to mites and different diseases because of the area's humidity, had to be brought to a nursery there a year ahead of time to be acclimatized.

Even though Claassen's company has a general contractor's license, the G.C. on this project was Turner Construction.

"That connection was a new one," he states. "And we got to develop it through this project and to this day I have a great relationship with a number of folks at Turner Construction and with Turner as a company." Claassen says he continues to get calls from managers at Turner. And following the Four Seasons project, worked on the Citrus Bowl renovation with the same team.

The connection with Weller Pools was not new. Smith explained that they had worked on a number of projects together. "They have contracted us and we have contracted them. We get along great."

Claassen's advice to working with other contractors: "You are constantly trying to help them solve problems. No construction project ever goes off without issues. You try to be a partner - come with solutions." Networking is also very important.

"We never take a relationship for granted," says Claassen. "There's always the ability to strengthen them. So even though we have a lot of name recognition and we are usually included in the bid solicitations, we spend a lot of time trying to foster relationships, and that is something I would continue to advocate for." Obviously thriving and seemingly satisfied with where he's at, Claassen was asked if he ever misses his first career.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say there were times that I do miss it. I enjoyed the opportunity to teach. I still have that passion and I use it in this job when we have mentoring opportunities and teachable moments."

As Seen in the August 2017 Issue of Landscape Contractor Magazine

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October 19, 2018, 6:04 pm PDT

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