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March 2008

The Paramount on Lake Eola, Orlando, Fla.
The Paramount on Lake Eola, Orlando, Fla.
Contractor: J.C. Gibson Plastering Co. Inc., Orlando, Fla.

by Robert Spiegel

With a plaster pump and 23 workers, Orlando-based J.C. Gibson Plastering Co. Inc. used portland cement to plaster The Paramount on Lake Eola, a 300,000-square-foot luxury condo building in downtown Orlando's Lake Eola area. The company started the project in June 2007 and completed the project nine months later.

The building features luxury residences with eight pool-deck villas. The complex contains 45,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space that is anchored by a Publix supermarket, as well as 10,000 square feet of office space. Amenities include a five-story parking garage, a 1,500-square-foot athletic club, a 2,500-square-foot indoor/outdoor club room, a 15,000-square-foot resort-style pool deck, and a whirlpool spa.

This project would not have been a lath and plaster project in the past, notes company owner John Gibson. "Years ago, this project would have been an EIFS (synthetic stucco) project," he says. The EIFS market once dominated the plastering industry in certain areas of the country, including Orlando, he notes.

Most of the plastering for the project was plaster over metal. "We did some of the plaster over masonry, but the bulk was over self-furring paperback metal lath over metal studs and DensGlass sheathing as the substrate," says Gibson.

For most companies, the job would have required several dozen workers. But Gibson used highly skilled mechanics and machine-applied the plaster. "What makes this job unique is that the crew consisted of only 23 men," says Gibson. "We employed 16 people on the plaster crew - 10 plasterers, three apprentices, two laborers and a supervisor. We also had five lathers, their supervisor, and a project manager."

Patching a holeGibson identifies the pump and the skill of his mechanics as key factors in keeping the size of his crew small. "Without the use of a pump it would have been 50 to 60 people," he says. "Everything we achieve is by using the pumps and machine-applying the job, and this is what resulted in our total success. We took it straight from the ground to the 16th floor, putting a batch of plaster on the wall every three and a half to four minutes."

He notes that the pump saved workers from having to use the elevator to haul plaster to the high floors. "Without a pump, laborers would have had to use the elevator to carry the plaster up through 16 floors of the building. Running it up the elevator would have taken forever," says Gibson. "So we attached the hose to the scaffold and sent the plaster up the building." In all, Gibson used 600 feet of hose that traveled 170 feet up the building.

"The whole key to the success of any large plaster job is machine application," says Gibson. "If we didn't have a pump, the plasterers would have had to put the plaster on the wall by hand. It's like going out in the woods with an axe instead of a chain saw."

The value of craftsmanship

Gibson points to craftsmanship as critical to his success with plastering. "We teach both lathing and plastering to our apprentices so they can do both," says Gibson. "Becoming a journeyman takes four years."

Craftsmen are hard to find, which limits the size of his company, he says. "The construction industry is in a crisis situation in finding craftsmen. It's hard to find a good plumber or mason. People are not getting into the trades like they did years ago."

In finding raw talent for training, Gibson looks for workers who are interested in becoming a plasterer as a career move. "My company is different. I hire people who want to make the plastering trade their livelihood and make a commitment for their lifetime, so when we teach someone it's not wasted time."

While encouraging his workers, Gibson emphasizes that they can go as far as they want in his trade. "I tell them they can take my job," he says. "The opportunity is always available, and I tell them, 'If you want, go ahead and start your own company someday.' It's all about how hard you want to work."

Besides training his crew in the craft of plastering, he also teaches excellent work habits. "They take pride in their work," he says. "I don't allow anyone to remain on the crew who is going to slop up anything or leave go-backs. That's why we can do a big project like this with so few men."

Cement vs. new materials

In recent decades, cement plaster was pushed aside in favor of synthetic materials such as EIFS. Gibson notes that the dominance of EIFS is beginning to give way to old-as-dirt cement. "Our trade has been kicked around by synthetic products," says Gibson. "Now people are reeducating themselves on the plastering trade. It's been a tough 25 years trying to teach and communicate to people that the old way is still the best way."

Gibson is sold on cement plaster in part because of its durability. "Cement has been proven for thousands of years," he says. "If you get the right man and the right materials and it's put in place the right way, it will last for hundreds of years."

However, he says, cement plaster has not been popular in the eastern United States, except in Florida. "The use of stucco was perfected in California where they got it down to a science in the 1950s, but that didn't carry over to the east side of the Mississippi," he notes. "In Florida a skim coat over block is a typical plaster job."
In any event, Gibson believes his success hinges on a commitment to plastering today. "This is going to be a trend," he says. "Cement plaster (stucco) is back and being rediscovered, and in the trade, it should never have been substituted."

Gibson is very interested in sharing his plaster experience with others in the trade. "It is our duty as plasterers to pass on any tips or information about our craft to our fellow plasterers," he says. "I encourage and welcome anyone who is interested in obtaining any information regarding the plastering trade to e-mail or call me."

J. C. Gibson Plastering Co. Inc.can be reached at (407) 654-1211 or gibsonplaster@earthlink.net.

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