Forty-plus years of creative paving work
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
John Reynolds and his wife, Leslie, are the owners of S.T. Paving Inc., dba Vermont Tennis Courts, in Waterbury. The company does state and local highway paving plus residential and commercial work and tennis court surfaces. Roxy is their black Lab.
5/27/2016 CORRECTION: We mistakenly implied in the story that Dave Therrien, Joanna Therrien-Conti’s father, was no longer living. Joanna assures us that he is alive and well and living with his wife of 60 years, Joyce, in Florida. Our apologies to Dave and Joanna.
About four years ago, John Reynolds got to thinking about how expensive it was for the state’s Transportation Agency to have to resurface entire roadways to repair ruts that appear only on the right side. These ruts fill with water and cause a danger of hydroplaning for motorcycles, bicycles, and cars. “I thought there might be a better way,” he says.
He came up with the idea of a rut-repair process that involves milling and filling that right-hand rut, thus extending the life of the pavement and, in the process, saving money for the state.
He took his idea to the state, which gave him about 20 miles of ruts to repair as a test. “They liked it so much, they incorporated it into the VTrans program,” he says. “So we developed our own paver to fill the rut — the milled area — and you can see them all over the state now.” He’s applied for a patent on the paver design and continues to bid on those projects.
Reynolds is the co-owner and president of S.T. Paving Inc., a full-service paving company on Mason Drive in Waterbury, which he launched with his wife, Leslie, in 1970. The Rut Program, as he calls it, is only one example of his creative approach to business, which includes a specialty in tennis court construction and paving.
A native of Skaneateles, New York, Reynolds was an avid skier from age 4. His forte was math, and having worked construction jobs when he was in high school, he decided to study engineering at a college near a ski area. His high school advisor, a Harvard alum, offered to help him get accepted there. “But I said, ‘Ya know? I’m picking one school — the University of Vermont — and that’s where I’m going to go.’” It was 1962.
Reynolds laughs as he describes his progress at UVM. “It was a pretty good party school in those days as well, and I had a little trouble with the grades and had to take a little time off after a year and a half.”
He found a job doing highway work — running equipment and surveying for D.W. Winkelman Construction Co., a large Syracuse, New York, firm. Along the way, he earned his Canadian certification for ski instruction and taught at Greek Peak in Cortland, New York.
Back at UVM in 1966, Reynolds switched his major to business, and graduated in ’69. But not before taking a break in the Bahamas in 1968, where he met Leslie Flagg. Leslie, a Weston, Massachusetts, native, was studying liberal arts at Vermont College in Montpelier. They married eight months later.
Out of school, Reynolds went to work building and selling ski lifts and demonstrating and selling snowcats for the late Jack Murphy, one of the founders of Sugarbush.
Murphy retired a couple of years later, and Reynolds took over the snowcat business. For summer work, he started a landscaping service he named Sno-Turf. The service included cutting stumps and trees on ski hills for Murphy, who had stayed connected to Sugarbush.
In the early 1970s, the snowcat business came to a sharp halt when the German company that manufactured them went bankrupt. “We didn’t get any warning at all,” says Reynolds, “so I sold my inventory to customers and that was that.”
He had already considered adding paving to his landscaping services, and this seemed like a perfect time. But a name change was required. “The landscaping more or less went down the tubes; I thought the paving was more important. We didn’t think Sno-Turf Paving was a good name,” he says with a chuckle, “so we took the ‘S.T.’ and added ‘Paving.’
By then, he and Leslie had moved from Burlington to Waterbury. He was keeping equipment at various locations, and the paving business grew. One of those locations was the yard at Pike Industries, where he became friends with Dave Therrien. Therrien’s daughter, Joanna Therrien-Conti, now parks the school bus she drives for Waterbury schools in S.T. Paving’s yard.
“My dad had our own business, Dave & Son, and then he worked for Pike,” says Therrien-Conti. I worked for him when he started his business, and I worked for him till he went out of business.”
She has been driving the school bus for about 10 years, and six years ago, approached Reynolds about parking it on his company’s property. “He’s quite an amazing man,” she says. “And I think he’s dead honest.”
As the company grew, Reynolds realized he could use the grading experience from his days with Winkelman. “I knew how to grade to a very close tolerance. A close friend of mine, Alan Rossi, was working at St. Johnsbury Academy. He was a sealcoater — C&R Coating — out of Barre in the summertime. Since he was coating and I was paving, we thought we’d give tennis a crack.”
They launched Vermont Tennis Courts, which became, for years, more important than the residential and commercial asphalt paving, Reynolds says.
They worked with the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association, helping with specifications for courts, and became tennis players (“We really got into it,” he says, laughing).
Rossi eventually went on his own as Vermont Tennis Court Surfacing in St. Johnsbury, and Reynolds created Vermont Tennis Courts, a dba of S.T. Paving Inc. Rossi died a few years ago, but the company was bought by Craig Racenet, who continues the working relationship.
Vermont Tennis Courts built projects all over New England, including for the Volvo at Stratton, all the courts at Topnotch in Stowe, and the Ken Rosewall Center at Sugarbush Inn, which is now gone. A strong supporter of Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a few years ago the company donated a tennis court, and subsequently a basketball court to the camp.
But as tennis has matured, says Reynolds, the need has turned to rebuilding courts. “We do a lot of maintenance and reconditioning of all kinds of tennis courts: clay, Har-Tru, fast-dry, all-weather courts, with cushions and all kinds of exotic surfaces on them. It’s pretty much all of New England and the Adirondacks of New York.” Tennis is now about 10 to 15 percent of the company’s business.
As his tennis court construction business declined, Reynolds had to figure out what to do with all the sophisticated equipment he had amassed for building them. “We started to emphasize paving,” he says, “and became a medium-size paving company. We go from big state highways to small highways to district paving. We do residential, commercial, work for developers and general contractors, and are sometimes a prime contractor on certain work.”
The company’s original home was in the village of Waterbury where Keurig Green Mountain is now. “I owned the property Green Mountain has its plant on in Waterbury,” he says. “Steve Van Esen [a local real estate investor] bought my property over the years, starting way, way back. He was very influential in getting Green Mountain Coffee Roasters here in Waterbury.”
“The reason he’s out there where he is,” says Van Esen, referring to the Mason Drive location, “is because we owned the property and needed to get him out of Pilgrim Park so we could expand it. So we made him a sweetheart deal on the property he’s now on. It’s best described in Monopoly terms,” he quips.
“The initial piece was his old office, which we tore down and allowed him to build a new office across the street. The last piece we bought from him was the ‘new’ office, which was deconstructed and put up someplace else.”
S.T. Paving has six full-time employees, a number that jumps to near 20 in the summertime. “Most of these guys have been here 10 to 40 years,” Reynolds says. That’s why, when winter comes around, he and Leslie can comfortably spend a couple of months in Utah, where their daughter Whitney lives with her family.
Daughter Gwynne lives with her family in Waterbury, and does the company’s payroll two days a week. Leslie oversees the books and works with the accountants.
Asked what his typical day is like, he jokes, “Get up, go skiing, come back, have a beer, get a tan.” The real answer is that he arrives around 5:30 or 6 a.m. and meets with employees to talk about work schedules.
“We balance our equipment maintenance schedule, and do a lot of bidding during wintertime. On April Fool’s Day, we start with our tennis court reconditioning business, then move into paving in May. Paving is pretty intense for about eight months.”
That’s not to say there’s no time for play. He skis (water and snow), and Leslie paints (watercolor and oils). “I’m a late bloomer in the art world,” she says. “I’ve been painting watercolors about nine years, and in summer I do plein air oil painting.” She’s a self-confessed “big gardener,” but by far, her favorite activity is fly-fishing. “We belong to the Lake Mansfield Trout Club, but mostly I fish in Lake Champlain.”
Reynolds is recovering from a foot injury, so skiing was limited this winter. They own an Infinity ski boat and a J/24 sailboat that winters in the company’s yard, and have a camp on Malletts Bay. “I was on the original board of the Lake Champlain Sailing Center and raced J/24s all over everywhere for over 30 years.” His enthusiasm for work and play is contagious. •