When Angelo Del Russo ’82 says that he “always wanted to be a builder,” he is not exaggerating. By his early teens, the young enthusiast of masonry, concrete, roofing and carpentry already had a toehold in the industry, regularly working after school and on weekends with local home remodelers in the construction business.
“It was mostly laborious work – raking gravel, pushing wheelbarrows full of concrete – but I loved it. To see the end product – that completed patio or set of stairs – was always so satisfying,” he recounts. “And as a teenager, I was making money.”
But his parents, especially his father, had other ambitions for him. In a word: college, possibly followed by law school. In 1974, Del Russo made good on his promise to his dad before he died, beginning a B.S. in engineering technology – his field of choice. He was also true to his own aspirations, as well as the needs of his young family, and started a company, Del-Sano Contracting Corp., just a year later in 1975. He balanced those two challenging goals by pursuing his degree at night over eight years.
“Dr. Walter Konon, one of my engineering professors, remarked one time: ‘Del Russo, you walk in exactly when the class starts and run out the minute after.’ I told him I was running a business and had a baby daughter at home!”
The outcome: The creation of a truly comprehensive construction company with a deep and diverse skillset, clients throughout the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors and accolades from peers throughout the industry. Del-Sano is consistently rated as a “Top Contractor in New Jersey” by Engineering News-Record New York. In 2010, the firm won a “Masonry Trowel Award” and “Project of the Year” for its work on St. Mary’s Senior Residence, a 49-unit affordable housing community in Dumont, N.J., from the publication, Masonry Construction.
The company was also part of a team that won the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council’s “Beyond Green” award for a Hoboken condo project, the Garden Street Lofts. The building qualified as adaptive re-use structurally and included elements ranging from a green turf and a planted roof, to sustainable construction materials, with a zinc rain screen façade, energy-efficient windows, water-saving features and indoor air quality enhancements in heating and cooling. Del-Sano recycled nearly 90 percent of the construction debris. Today, the company is an active participant of the U.S. Green Building Council® with LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credentialed staff on board.
In 2011, the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly passed a joint legislative resolution honoring Del-Sano after the company was named “General Contractor of the Year” by the New Jersey Subcontractors Association.
Along the way, Del Russo found that the education he received at NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering (NCE) was not just a means to an end. It was intellectually interesting, while also giving him an early advantage, including critical knowledge of industry standards such as surveying, soil mechanics and structural steel detailing and construction-drawing interpretation. In those early years, just learning how to understand and quickly assess a geotechnical report was key to both competence and confidence.
“The building business had always intrigued me and now I was learning about resources and materials, and how they were affected by conditions at the site,” he recalled, adding, “And ‘Doc’ (Herman) Estrin, my English professor, insisted we take writing seriously – so that the technical terms we used would be understood. We had to get an article published – and I did. I was so proud the article, “Technical Writing Can be Understood,” and more importantly, I met the challenge given by Doc Estrin on the first day of class. He helped me gain ability, as well as confidence, in my writing, and I’ve been a prolific writer since then.”
And Del Russo will always remember the first people who gave him a chance in the industry.
“Early on, I was doing a lot of masonry work for another business and the boss wanted me to join the company’s management team, but I told him I preferred to be out in the field. He said he’d subcontract those jobs to me, because it would still be my work,” he recounts. Along with those first few projects, “my first real foray into the building business was a renovation and addition for Roots Clothier in Summit, N.J. The owner wanted to meet me and the architects in New York City. I was awestruck by the experience. We had a handshake agreement. After that, the company really started to grow.”
He has spent many years giving back, helping to launch young engineers’ careers through a variety of avenues, including serving on the NCE Board of Visitors. For his efforts, he was recently named an NCE Outstanding Alumnus at the College’s annual Salute to Engineering Excellence.
Forty-five years into the business, Del-Sano is still enthusiastically notching milestones. Last June, for example, the company built its biggest structure to date, a nearly 200,000-sq.-ft. new “Motherhouse” for the Sisters of Christian Charity in Mendham, N.J. The facility will be the home of 120 of the Sisters, prayer gardens, a chapel, social and dining spaces, and most importantly of all, the new spiritual home for Sisters entering the Mallinckrodt Convent.
“This never grows old for me,” he says. “I cannot wait to wake up tomorrow and do it again.”