Digging In



By Mark S. Kuhar

By any account, getting a greenfield operation up and running can be a daunting task. For Prairie Materials, it took 10 years from the time the company entered into an agreement with landowner Larry Workman to mine a 160-acre piece of property in Lowell, Ind., to finally breaking ground in 2013. The site was actually identified as ripe for aggregates production long before that, in 1969.

Prairie Material was founded by the Oremus family in 1948 with its main office located in Bridgeview, Ill., according to company Lands Manager – Aggregate Theron Tobolski. “Prairie acquired its first quarry operation in Plainfield, Ill., in 1984,” he said. “In 2008, Prairie became a member company of Votorantim Cement North America (VCNA), an international group of materials suppliers with locations in the southeastern United States and Canada.”

Prairie entered into an agreement to mine the Lowell site with a long-range outlook on the rapidly growing Lake County area of Northwest Indiana. The area is expanding and growing as businesses and homeowners are relocating from other areas based on a positive business climate and lower cost of living.

“In addition this site provides a strong marketing position and good proximity to our Flagship limestone quarry in Manteno, Ill., and is within a 30 minute drive time,” said Jeff Radack, sales manager for the aggregates group.

From left to right, Margaret A. Tyburski, people and management director; Theron Tobolski, lands manager, aggregate; Mike Pratt, general manager, aggregates; Brad Powell, operations manager, Indiana; Rob VanDerwall, regional aggregates operation manager.
Getting Permits

You cannot start a quarry operation without permits. One of the keys to getting those permits is community outreach, and Prairie did well in that regard. The company went above and beyond the call of duty to engage neighbors prior to breaking ground. Some neighbors are located very close the quarry site, which always presents an additional logistical challenge.

“We foster local dialogue and relationships with communities to perpetuate the Votorantim legacy,” said Michael Pratt, general manager, aggregates. “Our property’s and environmental leaders met with several third-party consultants to ensure compliance with state and local authorities. We held open-houses to inform our neighbors and openly discuss issues that needed to be addressed on a timely basis. We promote eco-efficiency through the use of innovative products, practices and solutions – this is lead by a North American-wide initiative to be a trustworthy and ethical steward of the land.”

Scratching the Surface

FT-PM-EXCAVATOR400With the land for the quarry secure and permits in hand, Prairie began the daunting task of clearing overburden and preparing the site not only for production, but for future expansion.

According to Rob VanDerWall, regional aggregates operation manager, VCNA Prairie broke ground at the site in June 2013. The company is still in the process of expanding the deposit both deeper and wider to set the stage for full-scale production.

Drilling and blasting at the site is contracted out to Ludwig Explosives. The explosives used are emulsion slurry.

At this point in the quarry’s development, a Volvo excavator works a top bench for stripping in the pit via loading several Caterpillar 40-ton articulated trucks.

Shotrock is transferred into the production cycle using two Caterpillar 988s, according to VanDerWall.

The job of processing material at the site is contracted out to one of Prairie’s top aggregate customers, Missouri-based Fred Weber Inc., which operates material-processing operations at the Lowell site.

“Working with reputable and reliable contractors to perform several functions is the key to delivering on the promises to our shareholders,” Pratt said. “We contracted the earthworks, and overburden removal to start the project. We also contracted the road improvements required by the local department of transportation.FT-PM-CONVEYOR400

“Furthermore, to assist in getting the operation started in a responsible way, it was decided to pursue production with a contractor known for delivery performance in a cost-conscious fashion,” Pratt said. “We have also invested our own assets and personnel in assisting with this start-up. We evaluate the benefits on an annual or bi-annual basis pending demand and performance of our contractor base.“

Fred Weber utilizes KPI-JCI equipment at the site, specifically a Fast Pack 8203 portable plant. The processing plant consists of a primary jaw, secondary cone and a tertiary vertical-shaft impactor. A BTI secondary breaker is in use at the primary crusher. The plant produces cobblestone, concrete stone, HMA chips, manufactured sand and Agglime.

“We estimate production to be between 3,000-5,000 tpd, Pratt said. “As a start-up operation, in a market-entry position, there are plenty of variables that force us to vary our demand. Seasonal construction variances also contribute to the daily or monthly demand as inventory is required to carry us thru the harshest of winter conditions. Midterm plans are to maintain that stream of production to ensure we support the customer base that is being developed for the long term.”

Depending on the production requirements, between the crushing contractor and Prairie Material, there are typically up to 10 employees at the site manning production and loadout.

Going to Market

Processed material is stockpiled near loadout, and filled trucks head out the gate after passing over a new 70-ft. Rice Lake truck scale.

FT-PM-SCALE400“Our primary marketing focus is within a 45 minute drive time of the city of Lowell and surrounding four counties that make up the Northwest Indiana quadrant,” said Radack. “Our sales are a combination of grading and general contractors with an emphasis on residential, commercial and heavy highway projects.”

Fixed plant operations that consume clean stones such as ready mix concrete and hot mix asphalt are also customers.

“In addition we serve the local city and county municipalities as well as the Indiana Department of Transportation’s aggregate needs,” Radack said. “This operation also produces and stockpiles inventories that cater to the Indiana agricultural and farming communities.”

Looking Ahead

Prairie Material’s Lowell Quarry has barely begun its useful life, but they are already planning for the future.

“We are looking forward to operating the Lowell Quarry for the next 40 years,” Tobolski said.

One part of the quarry site, which does not contain significant reserves underneath, may be used for an on-site ready mix plant in the future.

“We typically try to carry our future plans for the site close to our vest,” Pratt said. “When the time is right that ROI is beneficial to all our stakeholders, the investment will be made to improve our production and cost position. Our consultants, along with our marketing group and property manager are planning for future development within the scope and boundaries of the county’s zoning and special permitted applications. We have a solid footing with the local authorities, a good reputation with the surrounding neighbors and an aggressive and responsive landowner willing to support our plans.”

Prairie Material’s aggregates division operates 15 separate points of sale; quarries, sand and gravel pits, rail depots, CCDD fill operations and river docks combine to form the basis of its construction materials group. There are more than 3,000 acres of either leased or owned property that the company has been granted permits to operate in either Indiana or Illinois.

Prairie is dedicated to providing the highest quality aggregates to its customers. Its Aggregate Quality Control specialists rigorously test all of its material for quality and consistency to make sure that they meet or exceed industry specifications, according to the company.

Prairie Material’s Lowell Quarry may have taken awhile to get off the ground, but now, by any measure it is flying high.

The Prairie Material Story

Prairie Material owns and operates a network of ready-mix concrete plants and aggregate facilities in four Midwest states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. The company offers a full line of ready-mixed, decorative and high-performance concrete, as well as aggregate products.

Founded in 1948 by the Oremus family, Prairie Material has grown along with the communities they have helped build. From its very first yards in Bridgeview, Ill., they have expanded steadily to become the region’s foremost provider of performance concrete, ready mix and aggregate construction materials.

Thoughtful acquisitions of other respected family businesses in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and downstate Illinois have allowed the company to grow without losing its focus on customer satisfaction and the needs of local stakeholders. Today, Prairie employs 1,800 professionals in nearly 100 locations in the four-state area. Prairie’s construction materials form the core of major structures throughout the Midwest, including Trump Tower Chicago, the Milwaukee Art Museum addition and the Indianapolis International Airport.

In 2008, Prairie became a member company of Votorantim Cement North America, an international group of materials suppliers with locations in Canada and the southeastern United States. VCNA is the North American subsidiary of Votorantim Cimentos, a leading international building materials company headquartered in Brazil. St. Marys Cement, CBM – Canada Building Materials, VCNA Prairie Material, Inc., Suwannee America Cement, LLC and VCNA Prestige Concrete Products, Inc. make up the group of companies under VCNA. This association allows Prairie to achieve synergies and economies of scale, strengthening its ability to provide excellent service and top products to builders of all sizes in all our locations.

Then aggregates division recently announced that it has attained seven years without a lost-time accident, which includes:

  • Nearly 10,000 safety audits and action items.
  • More than 1,000 work observations and risk evaluations.
  • More than 150,000 hours worked including our third party contractors.
  • The countless hazards working with and in harsh weather conditions.

“This achievement represents the countless items of prevention that we believe in; your attempts to ensure you and your colleagues are protected from harm’s way,” the company told its employees.