GARDINER — If you ask Peter Prescott what his title is, he is likely to say helper.

Talk to him long enough and you’ll see that he paints a better picture than chief executive officer, the title that appears on his business card.

He’s helped build and expand the business his father started on Central Street in Gardiner in 1955 into one of the largest privately-owned U.S. distributors of waterworks products. He’s helped train the people he needs to work at the company, which now employs 300 people in 28 locations in nine states. He’s helped his city and his region build and expand programs for children and facilities for everyone.

And he’s helped boost economic development in the city where he grew up.

None of it would be possible if his parents, Everett J. and Barbara Prescott, had not settled in Gardiner in the mid-1950s to open up shop distributing waterworks and sewerage supplies. None of it would be possible without the team approach that’s integral to the business.

And none of it is slowing down simply because the company has celebrated its 60th year in business.

INNOVATION, EXPANSION

Sitting in the third-floor conference room of the EJP headquarters in the Libby Hill Business Park in the southwest corner of Gardiner, Prescott, his son Steven, who is the company president, and Stanley McCurdy, chief operating officer, outlined what they see coming for the company.

The key will be water.

“Water has been too cheap for too long,” Prescott said. “People have been saying that water is free, but the transportation is pretty expensive. Pretty soon, the transportation is going to be free and the water will cost more than you can imagine.”

The reason is that although water is plentiful, only about 1 percent of it is available for use by humans, and pressure on fresh water supplies is growing. The Government Accountability Office has found that water managers in 40 of the 50 states expect water shortages to affect parts of their states under average conditions over the next decade or so.

In Maine, those shortages are expected to be local, a pattern that is expected to repeat itself across the Northeast, the same territory that EJP and the companies under its umbrella covers.

The sewer and water infrastructure that underlies U.S. communities is aging and in need of repair or replacement, and nowhere is that infrastructure as old as it is in the Northeast.

“A lot of our work is expansion of existing systems and repair and maintenance of existing systems for the majority of our nine states,” Steven Prescott said.

To better serve the territory, the company will continue to add locations in existing states and move into new markets like Pennsylvania, filling the gaps in EJP’s territory, which currently stretches from Maine to Ohio.

“A significant portion of our products and services are leading-edge,” Steven Prescott said. “We have these things typically years before anyone else.”

The challenge the company faces is that while the need for municipal water and sewer system upgrades is great, the budgets available for that work are not equally great.

“The money needed to fix the infrastructure is in the trillions,” McCurdy said. “There are pipes in the ground that are 100 years old.”

The senior Prescott sees changes coming beyond the scope of systems to individual homes that will require a dual waterline system. One will be for treated water for consumption and the other for water for other needs like washing.

“They already exist, but the second line isn’t hooked up to anything yet,” he said.

Innovation, which has been the hallmark of the company since its start in 1955, is likely to continue, he said.

Under Everett Prescott’s supervision came the first gas-powered ditch pump, the first truck with a crane, the first factory-direct distribution of cast iron pipe and innovations in service and expansion into New Hampshire and Vermont.

Peter Prescott, who with his brothers-in-law McCurdy and Jim Grooten bought the business in 1978 from Everett Prescott, has either started or acquired a number of companies, including Team P.E.P. Transportation, which carries goods across the United States and into Canada, and Team Red Hed Supply and Manufacturing, which manufactures a complete line of brass products.

Steven Prescott has added Plastic Pipe Fabrication to the corporate portfolio, created the EJP Reference Manual and expanded the scope of the service department.

The drive for innovation extends to education.

The company has created the University of Prescott, believed to be the only waterworks apprenticeship program of its kind. Because the waterworks workforce is aging, EJP is training apprentices to qualify for jobs in the industry. While graduates are filling his own workforce needs, Peter Prescott said he foresees being able to train people to work in the industry at large.

At the same time, the company is educating its clients — engineers, government officials, contractors and water works employees — on the complexities of advanced waterworks systems today through special seminars.

COMING FULL CIRCLE

For all the impact that EJP has had in the waterworks industry, it’s clear the company and the Prescotts have had an impact in Gardiner.

“We wouldn’t have the Libby Hill Business Park without EJP,” Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli said.

For the first five decades of its existence, EJP operated out of the old farmhouse on Central Street that Everett and Barbara bought when they moved to Gardiner from Massachusetts. When the company was considering consolidating its headquarters and local operations, it looked to the Libby Hill Business Park.

“If we were going to relocate, Springfield, Massachusetts, was the location that would make sense because it’s more central,” Peter Prescott said. “But we would have lost a lot of the people if we had.”

At the time, advances in telecommunications were shortening the distance between the company and its customers, so a centralized location was not a priority.

EJP was the first occupant in the park, opening its light- and art-filled headquarters a little over a decade ago. At the entrance to the property stands a sculpture of a moose. Inside the lobby is a two-story mural painted by Jane Burke depicting Mount Katahdin and species of animals native to Maine. The collection of toy cars on display reflects the Prescotts’ interest in cars and racing. Pep Classic Cars on Griffin Street in Gardiner is another Prescott enterprise, as is Team EJP Racing with its 20 years of involvement in the world of NASCAR and more recent support of motocross, a passion of Patrick Prescott.

Business is only part of the history of EJP. The company and its chief executive officer have been mainstays of support for a variety of organizations in Gardiner and across the Kennebec Valley for years including the YMCA and MaineGeneral Health, and he has been honored by organizations such as the Gardiner Board of Trade and Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Prescott is full of praise for the efforts that Gardiner is making to add to its economy, but it’s clear that his passion and joy lies with programs for kids in the way talking about them animates him.

“We help out the Boys and Girls Club every way we can because of the amount of students they take care of,” he said. “They do a great job with the day care. It helps out all the businesses.”

Ingrid Stanchfield, chief professional officer at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Gardiner, said both Peter and his wife, Sandra, have served on boards and committees at the Boys and Girls Club since it started in 1999, and they have supported it in large and small ways ever since.

“I look to him as a mentor,” she said. “If you talk to any youth-serving organization, you will find Peter and Sandra.”

That includes youth sports, the ice rink in Hallowell and its replacement after it collapsed under the weight of winter snow in 2011, and helping to relocate a playground to the Boys and Girls Club.

They have funded scholarships for girls to attend the Julia Clukey Camp for Girls. They have hosted events bringing club members to see Carrie Underwood in concert in Portland and to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.

“He understands the beauty of building community,” she said. “The more partners you have at the table, the stronger the community will be.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ