Coming Full Circle with Continental Cut Stone
Note: This article is part of a series about American quarries. If you work for a quarry that’s a member of the Natural Stone Institute and you’d like your quarry to be featured here, contact Karin Kirk. Thank you!
From quarry customer to quarry owner
Rob Teel didn’t set out to be a quarry owner. “I got kind of painted into a corner by a quarry operation that told me halfway through a project I couldn’t get any more stone for about six months,” he recalls. “I just wondered how I was supposed to run a business or finish a project.”
He pondered his options for local limestone. “There were only a handful of sources out there. One of the sources was very expensive. One didn’t have good quality. One of the other guys wasn’t interested in selling blocks,” he says.
Sometimes the best way forward is to tackle obstacles head-on, so Rob decided to buy his own quarry. He describes the new direction as, “get in or be at the mercy of others.”
After being a stone dealer and fabricator for 12 years, Continental Cut Stone entered a new chapter as a quarrier. More than twenty years later, they’ve never looked back.
Started off simple, but…
The quarry is in Lueders—a small rural community in central Texas where outcrops of pale limestone jut out along the banks of the Brazos River. Within those humble ledges is a world-class building stone, the Lueders Limestone. Rob’s initial intent was to keep the operation simple. “We opened the quarry just to supply this one ledge block that we’d been buying from other people,” he says. But it didn’t stay that way for long.
Rob recalls the progression of the quarry. “We added a saw to utilize some of these other ledges, and then we added a chopper. When we added a chopper, we added another saw. Then we added another saw and a chopper. We put another saw in and we added a truck scale and another saw, and before you know it, it’s a lot more moving parts.”
But progress didn’t stop there, and Continental Cut Stone continued to expand. In 2009, the company added another limestone quarry to its stable when they re-opened a quarry near Liberty Hill, TX, that had been idled. The quarry produces Cordova Cream and Cordova Shell, the latter featuring crisp imprints of shell fossils.
Today Continental Cut Stone employs 60 people in the two quarries and a fabrication shop in Florence, Texas. The diverse operations of the company are run by husband-wife team Rob and Katherine Teel.
The added complexity is a business risk, but Katherine explains the upside, “Unlike other providers of limestone, Continental Cut Stone has our own quarries and produces the limestone elements in our fabrication mills. So, that helps with cost effectiveness and also control over the product.”
“The ability to control the source is absolutely a benefit to our customer,” Rob says. “We get to choose the best material.”
Developing the sustainability process, then going through it
The Teel’s journey from quarry customers to quarry owners is one of several times the company has been on different sides of the same street.
The Natural Stone Sustainability Standard is another example. When the standard was first adopted by the Natural Stone Council in 2014, Rob was one of the early proponents. “I’ve been part of the [sustainability standard] since the beginning,” he says. The company officially earned certification to the standard in summer 2021.
Kristin Cannon is the Project Coordinator at Continental Cut Stone, a position that demands a keen ability to balance many projects at once, all while learning on the fly. Among her many duties, Kristin has been responsible for shepherding the company through the process of attaining the Natural Stone Institute’s Sustainability Standard for their Cordova quarry and their fabrication mill.
“Limestone is a very sustainable product in general,” Kristin says. “We make a conscious effort to practice as sustainably as we can.” This is doubly true for the Cordova quarry, which is a leased property. Among many small-footprint practices, the Cordova quarry uses reclaimed water that settles in a small lake on the property, and is pumped back to the quarry for reuse. “You don’t want to leave a major impact on somebody else’s property, or on the earth in general,” Kristin says.
The sustainability certification process involves measuring and documenting energy use, water use, waste output, land management, and community engagement. “We just had our onsite audit a few weeks ago,” says Kristin. The audit verifies the information submitted during the application process, and helps find ways to further lower the operational footprint. In this case, “coming up with a couple of different options of ways we could potentially reduce energy here at the mill,” Kristin says. “It’s been a very interesting process.”
“This certification will allow us to have that extra stamp of approval.” Kristin says they can advise masons and architects that “not only is our product sustainable, but we manufacture it in a sustainable way.”
While Kristin manages the nitty gritty of the sustainability certification, Rob and Katherine aim to grow the program across the stone industry. Rob hopes the sustainability program gets a wider following, because the more options there are for architects to specify certified stone, the more likely they’ll do so.
In that vein, Katherine is pushing to build awareness about how sustainable natural stone can earn credits through certifications like the Living Building Challenge and LEED. Using material certified to the Natural Stone Sustainability Standard is among the many ways to earn points within the LEED rating system. Katherine has the energy and drive to build bridges between different groups within the larger sustainability arena. “I get real passionate about it because I think it’s a great program,” she says. “I’m trying to build it as we go.”
From women as outliers to women as leaders
Katherine has formed strong networks with allied associations within the architecture and masonry communities. In much of her work in the industry, she’s been the sole woman on various committees. “They are all very male dominated,” she says.
She recalls being “so excited” about the Women in Stone program, which strives to “recruit, retain, and advance women in this industry,” Katherine says. She jumped into the program with both feet, joined the steering committee and eventually became chair of the mentorship program. “Kathy Spanier started that and then handed the reins to me, which was awesome because she had done so much work,” says Katherine enthusiastically. (Read more about Kathy’s pioneering work in sustainability and mentorship.)
Katherine notes that similar professional development programs are popping up in related fields: “Women in architecture, women in masonry, women in stone,” she explains that these professional associations “create that bond and that camaraderie” that may be lacking when you’re the only woman at the conference room table.
Naturally, Katherine guided Kristin to the Women in Stone mentoring program, and Aaron Hicken (from Delta Stone in Utah) mentored Kristin at the start of her career. “Getting a chance to learn from those people and having confidence knowing what I am talking about– that helps in dealing with outside customers, masons, whoever that may be,” she says. “Even in the short 5 years that I have been here, it has made a huge difference in having the confidence to work in the industry.”
Building a business, then building the industry
Texas does things in a big way, and their stone industry is no exception. As the state’s population grows, so too does the demand for building materials. In the Lueders area, when Rob opened his first quarry, “there were eight or nine operations,” he says, “and now there’s close to twenty.”
“I’m happy to be part of an economy that’s soaring right now,” Rob says. “It’s truly rewarding and challenging at the same time. I love what I do.”
Rob and Katherine’s interests go farther than their own company, and yet again they find themselves coming full circle. “We hope to be one of those companies that tries to give back to the industry,” says Rob.
Katherine is on the Natural Stone Institute’s Sustainability Committee and has been on the board of the Central Texas Masonry Contractors Association, in addition to her leadership role in the Women in Stone program.
Rob served on the Natural Stone Council board for over 12 years including a stint as Chairman of the Board. Previous to that he was President of the Building Stone Institute. “We put a lot of effort and time into national initiatives, and I think being involved is important for all of us.”
Katherine acknowledges that time spent on industry-wide efforts takes time away from their own business. “We’re just super honored and privileged to be as active as we are,” she says. “But, it’s for everybody. It’s for the industry.”
Sea level rises, sea level falls
Continental Cut Stone’s two quarries both contain limestones, but they come from completely different times in Earth’s history. The Lueders quarry contains smooth, uniform, fine-grained limestone that ranges from pale grey to warm tan. These rocks are from the early Permian Period, around 280 million years ago. The landscape at that time was a low-lying coastal area that was a mixture of rivers, deltas, and inland seas. The limestone ledges within the Lueders Formation formed during periods when shallow water covered the landscape. Not long after that, seas departed from Texas and a more arid environment took shape. At this same time, all of the world’s continents managed to collide into each other, forming one colossal landmass called Pangea. Texas became landlocked within the supercontinent and red desert sands swept over the limestone layers.
Fast forward 150 million years to the Cretaceous Period, when the Cordova Cream and Cordova Shell limestones were formed. The Cretaceous Period, as any 9 year old will tell you, is when dinosaurs were around. Sure enough, the layers just below the Cordova limestones are famous for their dinosaur tracks, as the beasts wandered around muddy tidal flats, leaving deep footprints behind. Then sea level crept higher once again, and rich marine life populated the seas. Cordova Cream has faint patterns from undersea currents, and is made of ooids, which are small, sand-like pellets of lime. Cordova Shell is an aptly named stone, teeming with coiled gastropods and ridged clamshells. The stone is literally full of life, requiring no imagination to envision the bustling marine environment that inhabited central Texas at that time.
Through all the restless pulses and cycles of the Earth, rocks are left behind as testament to past events. For some, stone is a documentation of the twists and turn in our planet’s history. To others, it’s a ready-made building material. But a stone like Cordova Shell can satisfy either audience; it’s a building stone that showcases our planet’s history while also serving as a wall, a bench, or a classical Tuscan column. Natural stone truly is the best of both worlds.