C.H. Nickerson & Company

CH NickersonC.H. Nickerson & Company celebrates its 80th anniversary.

By Kat Zeman, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media

What started as a small general contracting firm has grown into a multimillion-dollar company with industry-leading expertise in environmental construction. Founded in 1939, C.H. Nickerson & Company is a self-performing general contractor that has built and rehabilitated more than 200 water and wastewater treatment facilities in New England and the Northeast since its inception. 

The Torrington, Conn.-based company celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. C.H. Nickerson prides itself on having established a reputation for project quality, safety, technical innovation and on-time and on-budget performance. CH Nickerson info box

On average, the company completes between $80 and $100 million in environmental construction projects on an annual basis – and those numbers are likely to increase. 

“We expect to grow,” President Jonathan H. Miller says. “We’re working to diversify into other project delivery systems such as design/build and design/build/operate in the environmental arena and finding strategic partners to deliver these alternative delivery systems.” 

Aside from performing upgrades to existing water and wastewater treatment facilities, the company is considering expansion into other types of work that could include foundation engineering, pipeline work and hazardous material removal, Miller adds. 

Since 2003, C.H. Nickerson has made Engineering News-Record’s list of the top 25 environmental firms in the nation twice, and it consistently ranks within the top 100 contractors overall.

Self-Performing

Over the decades, C.H. Nickerson has been known to tackle a variety of institutional, commercial and industrial projects. From wastewater treatment facilities to schools and power plants, the company has focused on employing the latest technology and innovations in order to meet evolving market demands.

“We have a number of engineers on staff and we self-perform about 60 percent of the work we do,” Miller says. “That means we perform with our own employees, our own equipment and do a lot of concrete, piping and other site work. It’s not rare, but many of our competitors in our market subcontract all that work.” 

C.H. Nickerson’s market includes Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware and eastern New York. Its projects range from a $500,000 pump station to a $100 million wastewater treatment facility. 

The company is currently renovating the city of Torrington, Conn.’s wastewater treatment plant for the fourth time in 80 years. “The typical plant needs a renovation every 20 years or so due to new laws and regulations, technology improvements and population changes that can drive capacity issues,” Miller says. 

The Torrington Water Pollution Control Facility, which was built in 1939 and expanded in the 1960s, was facing a number of issues to meet the increasing needs of its community. To identify these needs, the Torrington Water Pollution Control Authority conducted a wastewater facilities planning study. 

It recommended a number of upgrades to the facility that included nitrogen removal, phosphorus removal and upgrades to its aging equipment and systems, as well as a number of energy efficiency improvements and flood-control measures.

Award-Winning

One of C.H. Nickerson’s largest and best-recognized projects is a $93 million renovation of the Mattabassett District’s Water Pollution Control Facility in Cromwell, Conn. The facility serves roughly 170,000 users in New Britain, Cromwell, Rocky Hill, Farmington, Newington and Middletown.

The award-winning project, which broke ground in June 2012 and was completed in 2016, involved facility upgrades for nitrogen removal. C.H. Nickerson enhanced the facility’s ability to remove nitrogen from water being discharged from the plant.

The existing nitrogen tanks underwent upgrades and a new nitrogen tank was installed. These tanks are designed to prevent dangerous nitrogen from being released into the Long Island Sound each year, reducing algae growth and damaging aquatic life. 

The upgrades included replacing aging equipment and process systems, new buildings and site paving. They also included instrumentation and control, mechanical, plumbing and electrical work. C.H. Nickerson provided programming service and the demolition of an existing sewage sludge incinerator and replacing it with a new one. 

“We basically replaced all equipment in the plant and added a new incinerator,” Miller says. “It was a difficult and comprehensive upgrade.” C.H. Nickerson completed the upgrades while the plant remained fully operational.

The project won the company the Best Large Project of the Year award in 2016 from the Associated General Contractors of Connecticut, which is the building division of the Connecticut Construction Industry Association. 

The organization represents 150 commercial, industrial and institutional construction contractors, as well as subcontractors, material suppliers and professionals serving the Connecticut construction industry. “I think it was the complexity of the project and that it was finished on time and under budget,” Miller says. 

Challenging Projects

C.H. Nickerson doesn’t shy away from challenging and complex projects. Another recent three-year project that required elaborate and complicated maneuvering was a $79 million project at the Metropolitan District Commission in Hartford, Conn.

“It was a very complex project that involved a large odor-control system for the entire plant,” Miller says. “It had very deep excavations and cofferdams up to 50 feet deep.” 

The work consisted of adding a new influent pump station, headworks facilities and odor-control facilities. It required modifications to the influent sewers, mechanical bar racks, dry pit submersible influent pumps, mechanical fine screens, vortex-type grit removal tanks, screenings transport and dewatering equipment.

“This was a huge project that was part of a multibillion-dollar upgrade to add 100 million gallons per day to the entire facility,” Miller says, adding that it almost doubled the facility’s capacity. 

The project also involved modifications and improvements to grit pumping and dewatering equipment, 2,500-kilowatt engine generators as well as odor control fans and a biofilter system, buried infrastructure, sitework and support equipment.

“The exhaust fans drive the tainted air through a type of an odor-control system and scrub it,” Miller says. “This is done by introducing a type of media, like wood chips, that chemically reacts to the odor and either causes it to be filtered, precipitated or adsorbed by the media.”

Although technically finished in October 2017, C.H. Nickerson is still working on change-orders that were included as a part of the project’s warranty period. 

C.H. Nickerson is in the midst of another relatively large project in Farmington, Conn. The company is nearing completion on a $57 million upgrade to the Farmington Water Pollution Control Facility.

The 36-month project includes the construction of new structures and buildings, renovation of existing structures and buildings, site piping, process equipment, instrumentation, mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, and completing site work improvements and the demolition of existing equipment, structures and systems.

“It’s a major renovation throughout the plant,” Miller says. “The biggest challenge was to keep the existing plant running while we were making the upgrades. We had to sequence the job so they could maintain their process. The challenge was in the magnitude of the project and the number of places we had to go to do it.” 

Design/Build

Another relatively large project consisted of a $62 million Dual Water Treatment Plant replacement at the Newport Water Treatment Plant in Newport, R.I. In partnership with the AECOM Technical Services design/build team, C.H. Nickerson replaced the Lawton Valley Water Treatment plant and renovated the Station No. 1 plant. 

Each facility treated roughly 7 million gallons of water a day, supplying water to Newport and the greater area, which hosts a large population, along with a U.S. Naval Air Station. 

Both facilities were designed to use advanced carbon-filtration technology, significantly reducing the level of organic compounds found in the water and lowering the amount of chlorine needed in the disinfection process.

By reducing chlorine emissions and other harsh chemicals, C.H. Nickerson’s projects provide cleaner drinking water and are inherently green solutions. 

The Associated General Contractors of America awarded the projects its AGC Build CT Award for Large Renovation. 

Green Practices

C.H. Nickerson is a company that values green practices and initiatives. Examples of the company’s commitment to “green” practices and preserving natural resources can be found throughout its engineering and construction work – from the rehabilitation of wastewater treatment facilities to the construction of new water plants that provide cleaner drinking water. 

By regularly installing advanced filtration and disinfection systems in both water and wastewater treatment facilities, the company helps decrease, and in some cases eliminate, the use of harsh chemicals such as chlorine.  Its goal is to ensure a legacy of cleaner, healthier lakes and rivers for future generations to enjoy. 

C.H. Nickerson prides itself on continuously seeking new ways to reduce or recycle construction waste and incorporate resource-saving and emissions-reducing processes into the construction of new facilities when possible.  

Many of its recent projects have included installing “green roofs,” which naturally mitigate stormwater runoff, as well as geothermal HVAC systems that can use up to 50 percent less electricity than traditional HVAC systems.  

Wherever practical, the company endeavors to advance its knowledge of and experience with new and better environmental practices and technologies.

C.H. Nickerson also places a heavy emphasis on safety. “At Nickerson, ensuring worker safety is a company-wide, never ending mission of the utmost importance,” states the company’s website. 

The company employs two full-time safety experts, a vice president of safety and a safety director, who work with management and field staff alike to continuously enhance and implement comprehensive safety training and hazard identification programs.

Training spans general construction safety practices to job site-specific training and evacuation drills conducted by OSHA-trained field supervisors. All new employees are required to participate in the programs prior to being allowed on a job site. 

In addition, refresher safety courses are required for all current employees and site managers. C.H. Nickerson also performs random drug and alcohol testing to ensure workers are able to safely perform their jobs.

A Family Affair 

After being in business for nearly eight decades, C.H. Nickerson is still a family run and operated business. The company, founded by Clarence and Charles Nickerson in 1939, currently operates under Brian Nickerson, who serves as its chairman. 

Nickerson is third generation, leading a family business that maintains a track record of success as one of the most well-known contractors in New England. The fourth generation is not far behind with Jason Nickerson, who is currently involved in the company’s marketing, advertising and web development.

Brian Nickerson’s grandfather Clarence Nickerson and his father, Charles Nickerson, founded the company. His grandfather was a professional engineer and surveyor, while his father had in-depth construction knowledge. 

With these combined skills the Nickerson family began working as a general contractor in the public arena on schools and office buildings. 

Since the 1950s the company has specialized in environmental construction throughout New England – mainly the construction of water and wastewater treatment facilities.

However, the firm’s experience is both extensive and diverse. It has covered a wide range of markets: municipal, commercial, institutional and industrial. 

In the 1970s, when the cost of oil and electricity were skyrocketing, many municipal wastewater facilities elected to install anaerobic digesters to collect methane gas from sewage being processed at the plant. 

These stores of methane were then used to heat the plant’s operational buildings and/or power a reciprocating (cogeneration) engine to provide electricity to the facility and the grid.  

Since Nickerson began to specialize in water and wastewater plant work in the 1950s and 1960s, the transition into energy projects was a natural segue for the company. Today, energy is once again a critical topic and the nation is focused on energy independence, the environment and the reduction of greenhouse gases. C.H. Nickerson is poised to construct the next generation of alternative energy and combined heat and power facilities.

“In the 1980s, 50 percent of our projects were commercial and 50 percent were environmental,” Miller says. “In the ’90s, we moved away from commercial and now environmental is 95 percent of our work. Most of the commercial work in our market moved into construction management and we were not interested in being a construction manager.”  

Miller, who has been with the company since 1995, helps lead a company that has grown to employ roughly 300 employees during the peak summer season and around 175 employees during the off-season. 

Typically, C.H. Nickerson self-performs the majority of its projects and provides all site work – concrete, masonry, carpentry, equipment installation and process piping – with its own forces.

C.H. Nickerson’s projects include pump stations, plant upgrades, package plant installations and service work for existing environmental, commercial building, institutional, municipal and industrial facilities. 

Although the company tackles a lot of large projects, it has a team that specializes in smaller projects. “We don’t want to turn away that work,” Miller says. “It’s a part of our success.”  

C.H. Nickerson created a  Special Projects group to service clients for small, short duration projects which require alternative project management approaches and specialized craft strategies.

Project costs for the majority of these jobs are typically less than $5 million. These projects include pump stations, small plant upgrades, package plant installations and service work for existing environmental, municipal and industrial facilities.

“Small projects work is a great training ground for our young managers,” Miller says. “As we continue to grow, we have put a lot of effort into brining up young managers and engineers and training them.” 

Since its founding, C.H. Nickerson has been a respected industry leader and employer throughout New England, a welcome neighbor in the communities of northwestern Connecticut and a generous supporter of chartable initiatives at the local, state and national level.

The National Association of Women in Construction recently awarded the company with its Leadership Award in recognition of significant impact on increasing access to opportunities for women in the construction industry. 

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