Jay Eckert Construction is a family owned and operated Design/Build Company based in Western New York & Pennsylvania. We identify ourselves as artists and craftsmen, and we strive to make honest, efficient and emotionally engaging buildings that are uniquely tailored to the individual personalities and circumstances of our clients. We believe our integrated approach and the close knit nature of our company gives us the overall vision, flexibility and hands on experience essential for achieving this. As a design/build company, we are engaged in the entire building process and endeavor to make it as clear and transparent for our clients as possible.
“Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans” is certainly descriptive of my career in contracting. As a boy I was always tinkering around with building things, and of course, with taking things apart. By way of example, at the tender age of seven, I organized all the neighborhood children and began construction of an underground fort in the middle of the upper horse pasture. Eventually the project took on such proportions, that it had to be fenced off as a hazard and filled in with a bulldozer. Hay-forts, tree houses, clubhouses, and elaborate models of every description dot my early resume. I suppose you could say I came by all this naturally, since my paternal Grandfather was a carpenter in the Kingston ship yards, and my Father built our first house, and remodeled every house we lived in thereafter. However, my fate as a future builder was probably sealed during my senior year of high school when my parents bought a large split level house as an unfinished shell. I spent much of my free time over the next three years discovering, mostly on my own, how to do such things as hang and finish drywall; hand nail, sand, and finish hardwood floor; cut molding in a homemade mitre box; and solve the wiring and plumbing mistakes made by the previous owner.
But become a building contractor? Not in my wildest dreams. I was headed off to Cornell University to be a biologist. Of course, the best way to earn money during the summer was to start a painting and home repair business with my future wife, and in looking back, my distribution credits at Cornell did all seem to have something to do with construction or engineering, but a career as a builder?
The job market for someone with a BS in biology was nothing short of dismal in the spring of 1978, and since Joanne still had a year left to finish her four year degree in nursing from the University of Buffalo before we would marry, I did the most practical thing I could think of: Start my own contracting business. The rest of the story is all about life “happening”: Marriage, kids, building a house, attending church, and making a living were the things that became important. All of which would not have been possible without the help and support of my wife, Joanne, who has always been not just my life partner, but my business partner as well. I think the thing which surprised me most back then, was how much satisfaction I derived from seeing a pile of materials turn into a finished building. I was always willing to tackle any project someone would entrust to me, and as it turned out, two of the most important things I learned over my four years at Cornell, were how to conduct research and how to apply what I had learned in solving the next set of problems. Being primarily a “self taught” contractor has proven to be an advantage I would not have anticipated. It has allowed me to question the conventional way of doing things and to think outside the box. I firmly believe that there is usually a better way of doing things, and that craftsmanship is as much about re-invention as it is about practice and experience.
In a similar sense, I've never identified myself as just a general contractor. I have always retained a passion for natural history and a love of the outdoors, and someday when the boys were out of college, I imagined going back for a Masters, with a thought to teaching. Imagine my shock when my son Josh, just a month from graduating college and with plans already made for graduate school, called up to say he was getting married and wanted to move back to Frewsburg and work in the family business. I was even more shocked three years later, when Adam discovered he had an aptitude and passion for designing buildings, and decided to put off his own graduate school plans to accept the challenge of designing the “Forest House” for one of our good customers.
It has been a privilege to own my own business and to make a living doing something I love, and for Joanne and I to be able to share that with our two sons in such a tangible way is a blessing I never looked for. I also feel very fortuante to be able to work with a group of gifted employees in meeting the day to day challenges of providing the very best in service and craftsmanship. Their unique and varied abilities are a vital part of the formula that makes us who we are as a company.
And as for the future? I have no particular expectations that any of the grandkids will want to be a part the family business…….?
Building is part of who I am – its in my blood.
Although, like my father I never planned for a career in construction, it is certainly what I was meant to do. I have always liked to build things but more than that I like to manage how things are built; the why, what, how, who and when of the construction process. I like to create a plan and see that plan become a unique and tangible creation. I like to resolve problems, overcome difficulties, and find solutions to the challenges that come with every construction project. But most of all I like the satisfaction that comes from creation. I like being able to point to something and say “I built that!”
Being the son of a contractor I have always known the world of construction. My childhood memories are peppered with experiences of riding along on customer estimates and material pickups and drop offs. When I was 12 I stated working summers picking up garbage, sweeping floors, and organizing tools. Digging holes, framing walls, and general masonry followed and by the time I was 17 I was trying my hand at crown moldings, electrical wiring, and plumbing. I never felt pushed to be a part of the business and my father never demanded it, but what he did demand and what I took away from my early work experience is that “if you are going to do something – do it well and know why you are doing it. The end is important but the means by which you get there determine the quality of your work.”
I continued to work summers for the company through college and in the spring of 2003 I found myself facing a fork in the road. I had a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and had been accepted to a graduate program that would lead me to a doctorate. I was also going to get married and start a family. The choice came down to the “quality” of my life to come. Did I want to spend my life thinking and writing, or did I want to pursue a more active career in construction where thought and theory could be tangibly realized through the labor of my own two hands. What was most important? And what means would be needed to achieve it? Two days before graduation I called my father and asked him if I could join the family business – construction it seemed to me offered the best opportunity to build a quality life for me and my family.
I have been building ever since. In the busy years that followed my wife and I have become the proud parents of four beautiful children. We live in a 1924 craftsman style house that I have been patiently restoring and updating in my home town. I am proud of the life we have built and I look forward to the days when I can ride out on customer estimates and material pickups with my own children and share with them the philosophy of building. After all – it’s in their blood.
“So this is construction” I thought. I took another measurement of the wall we had been framing that morning. Placing my tape measure back into my belt, I yelled across to Kelly: “Yep, the header follows the plan: 8 feet long with a 30 degree plumb cut.” He nodded and after a few minutes a circular saw roared to life, adding its voice to the rest of the jobsite cacophony. Stepping back, I took a second and looked around. Most of the framing was complete. 2x6 walls, plywood, steel beams, and trusses formed an outline that roughly hinted at what the building would become. The crew was busy working to complete the remaining open areas and sounds of the compressor, pneumatic air nailers and impact drivers echoed across the hillside. Kelly and I were focused on framing part of the central great room; one of the last large spaces left to be enclosed before we would be able to get out of the weather: which would be great, considering the cold. Following a gust of wind, I watched as a slew of snowflakes drifted through the open space. Winter had been unusually mild this year, but our luck had finally run out and it was actually beginning to feel like January. That morning we had spent over an hour shoveling snow and melting ice with propane torches. I had several layers of clothing on, coveralls, tool-belt and safety gear, and it was difficult to even move, let alone work. But despite the weather, I couldn’t help feeling upbeat. The building I had spent so much time drawing, re-drawing, modeling and discussing was actually being built. Heck, I was ecstatic really. True, it still had a long ways to go (it would end up being close to another year and a half before we were done) but the dimensions and proportions I had agonized over, were finally taking on a physical form; the space was coming alive.
In hindsight, building and construction have always been a part of my life. Most of my early childhood memories are somehow related to construction. As my brother would say, “it’s in my blood”. The house I grew up in was one my father and grandfather designed and built. I can remember hanging my feet off the open balcony and watching as my father and uncle assembled the cherry railing that currently encloses the space; driving down dirt roads hunting butterflies from the back of my father’s modified dump truck (he is something of a biology nerd after all); and building spaceships in the basement from left over cardboard and construction materials. As I grew older I took a more active role; helping to build the family garage and working summers on the crew with my brother and father. I suppose that construction was so much a part of my life that I took it for granted and never really considered it as a career choice.
If building and construction form the backdrop of my childhood, the great big picture questions of physics, religion and philosophy have often resided in the foreground. For one I had an older brother to keep up with. But more important than that, I’m fascinated by the intersection of life and theory, big abstract ideas and the human, organic and often chance experiences of daily life. Following high school, I attended the University of Rochester and graduated with a BA in comparative religion. I like to think that one of the more important lessons that I took away from my education is the ability to think critically and independently. The summer after college, I returned to work in construction while I began the process of applying to law school.
And then everything changed. I was given an opportunity to design a new house for one of the construction company’s long time customers. And I loved it. It seems obvious now, but in many ways design provided the perfect synthesis. It allowed me to apply my interest in big ideas to practical and specific problems; weave the often complex circumstances of a client’s needs and site into a unified and functional aesthetic; and apply my hands on experience to the logistics of construction. I feel fortunate to be able to work so closely with my brother and father and I like to think that the combination of our common ideals with our different skill sets and personalities creates a strong yet flexible center. There are few things I enjoy more than the challenge of developing creative solutions to complex problems and I delight in watching a good plan rise from its foundations to become a living space.
We are dedicated to our employees and sub-contractors and look to maintain enduring relationships with them. When they succeed, we succeed. We strive to provide an open, flexible and healthy work environment.