Avon Commons rises


"AVON -- Perched on his Komatsu D38E bulldozer, Ron Gilgenbach is just one of the boys.

Sort of.

Sure, he likes to mingle with his fellow crew members. He jokes around with his nephew, who works alongside him. Gilgenbach thinks of himself as an artist who maneuvers his dozer over mounds of dirt, spreading the dark brown soil so that landscapers can plant rows of bushes and flowers.

But the 66-year-old owner of the R.J. Gilgenbach Co. in Eaton Township will put $9 million into his corporate bank account in December when his 30-member crew wraps up their share of the site work at the $70 million Avon Commons on Detroit Road and SR 83. The 85-acre complex of stores and restaurants is set to open in March.

''Sitting on this bulldozer is relaxation for me,'' said Gilgenbach, who has learned the ins and outs of construction since his first grading job at the BF Goodrich plant in Avon Lake in 1951. ''It gets me away from all the questions, all the paperwork, all the bill paying.''

The Gilgenbach name in construction dates back to World War II when his uncle, Cletus, started his own small company tilling farms in southern Lorain County. When his uncle died in January 1982, Gilgenbach and a partner ran the company until 1986. At that point, the men parted ways and Gilgenbach renamed the company R.J. Gilgenbach ...

[Gilgenbach's nephew, Mick] Tipple leans over page after page of blueprints that detail which construction companies are building which stores on the complex.

''This is Retail K,'' he said, pointing to the blue-inked square in the upper right-hand corner of the page. ''Darden Construction is on that spot where the Target store is going to go. They're also at Retail D to build Kohl's.''

Indeed, the blueprints don't clearly indicate how mammoth the Avon Commons job is. Only the grand tour in Tipple's red Ford pick-up truck reveals the true scope of the project.

''You've got many companies working on this at once,'' he said. ''Illes, Darrell Young, Doss, Gillen Concrete, Kokosing. The list goes on and on. I can't tell you how many workers are here. Hundreds, easily.''

In fact, the First Interstate Corp. of Cleveland, the project's developer, hired 11 general contractors, each of which employs an average 25 subcontractors with between five and 30 workers apiece, the company's site supervisor Richard Carlisle said.

''Everybody knows everyone else,'' said Tipple, who has worked for his uncle for 35 years. ''When you're all doing the same thing, there's common camaraderie. Carpenters, masons, truck drivers, brickies (his slang for 'bricklayer'). If you want to put a rhyme or reason to this, we've been out here from the beginning.''

And it's not just a man's world there.

Lynne Horvath, of Amherst, employee of Kokosing Co. operates a steamroller at the construction site. (Morning Journal/Paul Walsh)

One of a handful of women on the project, Lynn Horvath of Amherst, runs a dozer-like stone roller day after day, compacting the rock on the ground so that blacktop can be poured over it to create the planned nine parking lots with a combined 3,344 spaces.

''Construction is not as bad as I thought it would be,'' she said. ''The money's great and I'll miss this (project) when it's done.''

A 34-year-old mother of an 8-month-old son, Horvath chalks it up to a fluke that she ever landed a job in a male-dominated field.

''For three years, I cleaned offices,'' she said. ''I would vacuum, mop, dust and clean the bathrooms at the Sheffield Asphalt plant (owned by Kokosing Construction of Fredericktown). One day, they needed a loader operator and there I was.'' ...

Horvath said she even plans to spend her some of her days off at Avon Commons.

''I love Target stores. They have nice children's clothes at good prices,'' she said. ''And, although I've never been in them before, I can't wait to go to Marshall's and Kohl's.'' "

Related Stories as of 9-11-00:

Chronoloy of Avon Commons Approvals



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