Just up the block from Soul & Smoke and not far from Suds Car Wash and Double Clutch Brewery, Paul and Kimberly Boynton run their thriving concrete business, Kelvin Co., on the first floor of a two-apartment apartment on Ashland Avenue. Their backyard is full of trucks, backhoes, metal rebar and lumber for concrete formwork. They rent the second floor and live elsewhere.
Paul says he’s been in the concrete business since he was 9, if he counts those early years when his contractor father, Bernard (“Bernie”) Boynton, let him come to job sites and roam around. in trucks. Paul learned to do coaching work when he was 12 years old.
“It was manual labor back then,” he said. “No power tools…it was a lot harder to pull down an old driveway by hand than with a Bobcat.”
As a child, Paul was good at math, but he didn’t like to read. Among his summer activities were wrestling and football. He graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1986 and went to work for Freise Construction, a local general contractor. After 12 years there, he worked at Pinel Andrews Construction Corp., another local contractor, for six years.
Get into the concrete
In 2004, Paul had the opportunity to purchase local concrete company Lane & Sons, owned by John Lane, also a resident of Evanston. Lane worked for Paul for a year, then retired and built his family a home in Mississippi. Paul is still in contact with Lane, who is now in her late 80s.
The name “Kelvin” relates to its definition: a kelvin is the main unit of temperature in the international system of units. In the concrete industry, air temperature plays a crucial role in the setting time of concrete. Many customers think Paul’s last name is Kelvin.
The hard facts about concrete
Concrete is everywhere. But most of us aren’t familiar with the complex process of getting it to where we see it as a finished product in our sidewalks, driveways, and basement walls and floors.
Concrete is made up of water, cement, aggregates and additives and is trucked from the batching plant to the job site in a concrete mixer truck. Workers at the concreting site guide the liquid concrete as it pours from the mixer truck into the prepared metal or wooden formwork. Making precise calculations of how much concrete to order and when exactly it should arrive on site takes years of experience.
Growing demand for concrete, supply chain issues due to a global cement shortage and recent labor shortages have affected both large and small concrete companies, Paul said.
In the summer of 2022, a strike by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which represents stone loaders and operators of concrete and asphalt plants, slowed down work throughout the Chicago area, including Evanston street repairs and Kelvin Co. projects. There is now a backlog of demand for concrete on commercial and public projects like highways, and the supply chain is not keeping up , said Paul. Often these projects have a higher priority than smaller projects from a company like Kelvin.
Kelvin’s concrete supplier, Ozinga, recently informed customers that it had to close its factories on Saturdays, and it began taking fewer orders and limiting the amount of concrete per customer. “We have to pump the brakes so that we don’t put ourselves in a position of lack of material in the middle,” said Justin Ozinga.
Manage the business
In this family business, Kim runs the office. She said she learned many of the skills needed to run the business from Janet Freise of Freise Construction.
The hardest parts of running the business, Kim said, are seeing her husband “stressed with work and employee turnover.”
Several Kelvin Co. employees have been with the company for many years. Foreman Hector Garcia has been with Kelvin since 2004 and concrete finisher Ruben Moreno since 2010.
Kelvin’s clients include general contractors, landscapers and homeowners. The company stays busy in the winter with interior concrete projects such as lowering basement floors in older homes, concrete countertops, and other work that is unaffected by outside temperatures. A secondary activity in winter is snow removal – but with climate change there is less snow to clear, Paul said.
To accommodate supply chain issues, Kelvin’s contracts are only valid for 60 days. If concrete prices rise after that, the customer must absorb the additional material
costs. The cost of labor remains the same.
Paul admits his job is stressful, especially during times when material supply chains are tough. “I learned to be patient,” he says. (“He’s working on it,” Kim said.)
Kelvin Co. provides concrete foundations for homes built by Evanston Township High School Geometry in construction courses. Since 2013, these interdisciplinary courses have involved students in all aspects of designing and building affordable 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom homes for families in Evanston. The houses are built at the ETHS then moved to their permanent locations. The City of Evanston and Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) are also partners in this program.
Although the Boyntons went straight to full-time jobs after graduating from ETHS, both support the idea of community college programs that prepare students for trades.
Paul serves on the advisory board of an apprenticeship program at Oakton Community College that connects students as interns to various trades. He said Kelvin Co. is always willing to train a new employee, although it helps if the trainee has some construction experience.