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RJS moves closer to marine projects in Superior

RJS Construction Group's excavating equipment sits near the lakers John J. Boland and Kaye E. Barker at Fraser Shipyard in Superior. The company's marine division was preparing to install large water bubbler systems at the shipyard to lessen the ice around the two ships. (Clint Austin / / 7
An excavator, working with a materials barge, tug and skid loader, all from RJS Construction Group, shore up part of the industrial waterfront in Superior at the end of the 2013 construction season. RJS is expanding its marine division to meet the increasing marine re-construction needs in the Twin Ports area. (Photo courtesy of Rob Karwath)2 / 7
A conference room at the new Capstan building in Superior overlooks big lakers docked at Fraser Shipyard. The new building houses offices for RJS Construction Group, Lake Assault Boats and Fraser Shipyard. (Clint Austin / / 7
The new 16,000-square-foot Capstan building at Fraser Shipyard in Superior houses the offices of RJS Construction Group, Fraser Shipyard and Lake Assault Boats. All are owned by Capstan Corp. (Clint Austin / / 7
A row of excavators sits on the equipment lot of RJS Construction Group in Superior. (Clint Austin / / 7
RJS Construction Group's marine division installed specially coated steel sheet piling in 2013 to shore up the east side of the CN ore dock in Duluth that had become corroded. The project is one of many sheet piling reinforcement and replacement efforts underway in the harbor. The new piling at the CN dock is coated with a white protective material designed to preserve the useful life of the steel. (Photo courtesy of Rob Karwath)6 / 7
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Big lakers loom large outside the new spacious offices of RJS Construction Group at Fraser Shipyard in Superior.

From the line of windows in the conference room, staff members have a striking, up-close view of the Great Republic, a 634-foot ore boat in dry dock for heavy winter maintenance and the Kaye E. Barker undergoing repairs behind it.

"It's interesting," RJS President Pete Weidman said. "We're right on top of the boats."

Quite a change from RJS's longtime offices on the other side of Superior.

But why Fraser Shipyard?

It's all in the family.

Fraser Shipyard is a sister company of RJS. So is Lake Assault Boats. All three now share offices in the just completed three-story, 16,000-square-foot building owned by parent company Capstan Corp. Shipping agents and the U.S. Coast Guard also have space in the building.

The move puts RJS closer to where it sees its biggest growth in the next decade -- harbor work.

With a construction company in the family, Capstan didn't have to look far to find a builder. Not only did RJS build the pre-cast concrete building, but RJS senior project manager Todd Koneczny and Capstan CEO Todd Johnson designed it. The result is modern offices in an industrial setting that fits the companies it houses.

The new site puts RJS centrally located for the work they do in Duluth-Superior and St. Louis and Douglas counties, Weidman said.

"And it's wonderful to be in a brand-new building we built and which showcases what we can do," he said

The building, just off the Blatnik Bridge at 1 Clough Ave., cost more than $2 million to build, Johnson said.

The new building replaces several old structures near the site that had housed offices for Fraser Shipyard as well as required space for shipping agents and the Coast Guard.

For RJS, the new location means offices closer to clients, job sites and its inventory of heavy equipment -- including excavators, dump trucks and bulldozers -- that are kept at the shipyards. It's also big enough to allow for the company's growth.

The new site eliminates staff members' daily, time-consuming drives back and forth between the old offices on Stinson Avenue and the shipyards, said David Shepersky, the company's equipment and personnel dispatcher.

"It's a big step up," he said. "It's clean and new, right down to the new desks. For me, it's been a very positive move."

But there's another reason for the re-location.

"It puts us close to our growing marine division," Weidman said.

For while family-owned RJS has constructed buildings in the Twin Ports area since the mid-1950s and does heavy road, bridge and utility work, its marine division is poised for the biggest growth.

That's because the infrastructure of the Duluth-Superior harbor is deteriorating fast. Corrosion of steel pilings and other metal structures along the industrial shoreline has been accelerated -- it is believed -- by a water-borne microorganism.

"There is an awful lot of work to be done," Weidman said.

Efforts to replace or reinforce the corroded pilings already are underway.

RJS does that kind of work, which must be done from the water using barges. It also does dredging and dock replacement.

"We want to be one of the bigger players," said Brook Benes, who's in charge of RJS's marine division, which already has replaced some of the corroded steel at the CN ore dock and the General Mills dock.

But there's a lot more to do.

To that end, RJS has purchased three barges to boost its fleet to five barges. The fleet also includes two "push boats" that move the barges around and a crane barge from Viant Crane. Viant Crane also is owned by Capstan.