A Concrete Solution in New England The International Concrete Repair Institute

Concrete is the most prevalent building material in existence today, though most people probably don’t notice how widely used the material is until it begins to break up in front of their homes, or falls off of their buildings, roads and bridges. Despite the ubiquity of concrete, the questions of who has the expertise to do repairs on concrete structures and how such repairs should be properly done weren’t being fully addressed even a few decades ago.

To fill that gap in knowledge, and to develop and maintain standards, industry professionals created the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI) in 1988. The group’s mission is to be a leading resource for education and information to improve the quality of repair, restoration and protection of concrete and other structures in accordance with consensus criteria established by industry professionals. A push to build such consensus was another driving force behind the organization’s founding.

The New England Chapter of ICRI has grown to become a thriving group of local engineers, contractors, owners, and suppliers who benefit from the camaraderie, referrals, and professional support that this industry-specific organization provides.

Rocky Start

ICRI’s formation began with an industry-wide outcry in February 1988, when attendees at the annual World of Concrete trade seminar voiced great frustration over the lack of industry standards and guidelines for concrete repair.

Attendees were also concerned with growing numbers of unqualified contractors working in the industry who were not properly trained, and who were underbidding qualified contractors, despite not having proper knowledge of surface preparation, equipment, materials and techniques. Clients were dissatisfied—often paying for multiple repairs that weren’t done correctly the first time.

Of even more concern to reputable contractors were systemic problems in the industry that impacted not just some companies’ bottom line, but also the overall safety of structures being built and repaired nationwide. Lack of standards and a tide of unqualified contractors put unwitting building residents at risk of being hurt or even killed in a catastrophe—and few were even aware of the danger.

Around that time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its own figures estimating that 50 percent of concrete repairs being done would fail, explained Marjorie Lynch, an engineer with New York-based Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. and a past president of the Metro New York chapter of ICRI.

To address these serious concerns and to protect and enhance the reputation of the concrete repair industry, the International Association of Concrete Repair Specialists (IACRS) was formed in Naperville, Illinois, on May 21, 1988. That initial meeting was attended by 66 concrete repair specialists. In 1993, the group changed its name to the International Concrete Repair Institute.

More than a Patch

While the repair of concrete structures might bring to mind patch jobs such as quick fills or replacing a section of buckled sidewalk, those jobs are just a small part of the multi-billion dollar concrete repairs industry. “It’s the most commonly used material in the world,” according to ICRI.

And thanks in part to the help and influence of ICRI, things have drastically changed in the concrete repair industry. Because of ICRI, contractors are generally more qualified, and customers have a higher degree of satisfaction.

Improvements in technology and the ingredients used in concrete repair also have helped to improve safety—and have made doing the job correctly a technical exercise. With fiber-reinforced polymers, chemical applications that help preserve metal reinforcing elements, new coatings to make concrete more resistant to weather and other techniques and materials, contractors can apply space age technology to everyday problems. “The goal is to extend the service life of a structure or facility,” Lynch says.

Chapter Lifeblood

Strong industry standards protect both the contractor and the customer, according to Dan Clark, the president of the ICRI New England chapter. The practice of members sharing knowledge and tips with each other helps too. Many New England area concrete repair industry professionals meet and become acquainted through the ICRI chapters of the organization are now active across the country.

One of the ongoing efforts to enhance the chapter’s viability continues to be recruitment of more members and promoting a strong educational base, according to Clark, who is with A.H. Harris & Sons in Woburn, Massachusetts. The group will hold its annual trade show on March 8, 2012 at the Granite Links Golf Club in Quincy. The event theme will be “Masonry Restoration—Repairing the Past & Preserving the Future.”

Connecticut also has an active ICRI chapter, with eight dinner meetings planned throughout the year, including a joint meeting with the New England chapter, and an annual fishing trip for the membership, according to president Bill McGloin. “I look forward to 2012 being a very educational and productive year for all of us,” he told the membership. “I am a big believer in team work and how much the team (all members of the chapter) benefits from the efforts and input of the individual members.”

While ICRI’s effort to improve standards and practices is at its core, the New England and Connecticut chapters bring together a network of industry professionals who provide materials and services related to concrete repairs, including engineers, contractors and suppliers. That connection of people, companies, services and specialties has enabled ICRI members to provide greater values in the jobs they perform for their clients. Part of that added value also is gained through the knowledge conveyed in the chapter’s technical meetings, which combine technical education seminars with a networking get-together.

Each chapter typically holds between four and six technical and educational meetings per year, during which a speaker talks on a technical topic of some kind, such as how the economy is affecting the industry or on some aspect of the concrete industry. ICRI’s 2012 Spring Convention will be held in Quebec City, Canada, April 18-20. And many of New England’s chapter members are planning to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ICRI, an event that will be held at Tradewinds Islands Resorts in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida.

Other popular events sponsored by ICRI include an annual golf outing and a fishing trip, along with a host of certification and networking events for members and friends. And while some might think of construction or concrete repair as being male-dominated industries, many women in construction belong to ICRI chapters nationwide, including officers in the New England chapters.

Friendly Connections

The group provides the networking among members that enables them to make business connections but it also enables them to know what work is out there and what work is coming in the future.

Also presiding over the New England chapter are John Roberto, vice president, Chapman Waterproofing, Boston; and Elizabeth Hoey, secretary, Gale Associates, Weymouth.

In addition to McGloin, officers in the Connecticut chapter include: John Ryan, vice president, Kenseal Construction, West Haven; Keith Kesner, secretary, Whitlock Dalyrmple Poston & Associates, South Norwalk; and Peter Barlow, treasurer.

ICRI has not only contributed to safer, better-built buildings but has helped to save contractors and clients from wasting money and needless aggravation. Having a professional organization involved with standards and practices has taken the industry to another level. For further information about the association, visit www.icri.org.

Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium and other publications.

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