Scaling Back a Construction Giant

After consolidating operations in the second half of the 20th century, E. Turgeon Construction Corporation began work on the Saint Mary and Saint Mena Coptic Orthodox Church in 2009.

With 116 years of history, E. Turgeon Construction Corporation has touched many lives and many buildings in southeastern New England. Last year, the company received a hammer in the mail with "ETC" stamped in the handle, and with it came a letter from a man who had driven a cement truck on an E. Turgeon project in the 1950s. Someone had left the hammer on his fender, and for years the cement truck driver used it to knock drying concrete from his work boots. “Now in his 70s, the man mailed it back saying ‘I think I should return your hammer,’” vice president Brad Draycott says. Such stories speak to the long and storied history of the firm, which was for a time one of Rhode Island’s largest builders, erecting iconic brick structures that remain as landmarks today. Currently, E. Turgeon is a smaller construction-management, general-contracting, and design-build firm with four partners who take a hands-on approach to each job and with each client. “We have a very good reputation among owners and subcontractors,” Draycott says. “We’re a teamwork kind of builder. Once we get a project, everyone is on the same team.” Recently, Draycott sat down to take American Builders Quarterly through his company's history.

1896: Company is founded

Company founder Evangeliste Turgeon begins building houses, some of which still stand today, in and around Providence, Rhode Island. By 1931 his sons, John, Edward, George, and Henry, join the firm, and it starts to take on larger construction projects, including many schools, hospitals, public buildings, and industrial projects in southeastern New England. “At one time E. Turgeon was one of the largest contractors in the state,” Draycott says. “I drive my kids nuts driving around Providence saying Turgeon did that and Turgeon did that.”

1946: Reaching new heights

Evangeliste Turgeon retires, and the company remains in the control of his sons. By the 1950s E. Turgeon is the largest construction firm in Rhode Island, with hundreds of employees. “It wasn’t like today, when you subcontract work to different companies,” Draycott says. “They owned equipment that rivaled everybody.” E. Turgeon becomes known for large masonry projects with ornate detailing. Its work includes the Veteran’s Hospital and the Nathanial Green School in Providence. “Back when they really built a school to last,” Draycott says. “I’m amazed now at the shape of the bricks used at St. Matthews. All of the brick is in premade shapes to fit into the architecture. The detail and coordination involved without the aid of a computer was quite a high-level skill.”

1973: New face, a new role

In April, Frank Ducharme joins E. Turgeon as a vice president. Turgeon’s sons are of retirement age and don’t have children ready to enter the business, so within a year Ducharme becomes owner and president. He oversees cost controls and sells equipment to scale the firm back to a general-contracting role. E. Turgeon Construction Company focuses on building relationships with clients and participates less in the public bidding process. Over the next decade E. Turgeon develops long-lasting relationships with Providence-based Swarovski Crystal, Cherry Semiconductor, The Catholic Diocese of Providence, and Providence College.

1987: Keeping a tight focus

Brad Draycott, a former senior project manager for Bryant University, joins E. Turgeon as a project manager and later becomes vice president and a partner at the firm. Ducharme’s sons, David and Christopher, join the firm later in 1994. “We’ve managed to stay very close to home with our work and to jump between sectors of commercial, religious, and educational projects,” Draycott says. “Being a small company, we keep our overhead low, and we can ride these tides.”

2009: The Byzantine church

2009

In 2009, E. Turgeon, known for a century for constructing landmark projects, starts work on the Saint Mary and Saint Mena Coptic Orthodox Church. The 24,000-square-foot cathedral includes two 65-foot towers with ornate cupolas and a 35-foot-diameter dome over the main sanctuary, which seats 600. “It’s very unique Byzantine styling with a large gold dome and five domes altogether,” Draycott says. “It’s built on rural farmland, and all of a sudden this structure comes out that’s quite spectacular.” The church includes intricate detailing such as hand-carved wood from Egypt and Canada and a bell, which is also from Egypt. The altar and baptistery are carved from marble from China. “It’s the type of building they aren’t just going to put an addition on in a few years,” Draycott says. “This building is going to stand as it is for the next 100 years.”