By Elisabeth B. Wall
More than 100 craft workers looked upward, many with visible pride, as the final steel beam was lifted by crane to the top of Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS) facility June 8. The building is slated to open in August 2018.
The “topping ceremony” is a centuries old tradition in building. On hand for the ceremony were leadership from Appalachian and health care partner Wake Forest University; representatives from LS3P Associates, the building architects; craft workers; sub-contractors; and stakeholders from the Appalachian community.
The ceremony and a barbecue lunch were hosted by Rodgers Builders Inc. (RBI), the lead contractor for the project. In introductory remarks, RBI Senior Vice President of Construction Operations Andy Cyr explained, “Legend has it that centuries ago, builders would hoist an evergreen tree to the topmost point of a structure to signal that a celebration was about to begin. Today we mark our celebration by placing a beam into position bearing an evergreen tree along with an American flag.” An Appalachian State University banner also hung from the beam that earlier had been signed by the workers and other attendees.
It has been little more than one year since the groundbreaking and the project is on schedule. “Today’s event celebrates a milestone toward a major achievement for Appalachian and the High Country region,” Appalachian’s Chancellor Sheri N. Everts said. “For generations, Appalachian has worked to increase access to quality health care in Western North Carolina. With great progress in the construction of this facility, we are closer to realizing an exciting new level of health care education and access for the region.”
The property on Deerfield Road is adjacent to the Watauga Medical Center and was donated by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
Senior Vice President of LS3P Associates Ltd. Paul Boney told the audience while the architects get to create the plans the workers are what make it happen.
“We get to draw it, but you all are the ones that have brought this dream to reality,” Boney said. “No one single person makes a deal like this happen. It takes everybody working together as a team.” He asked the craft workers “to imagine the discoveries, the great things that are going to happen here over the next 100 years because of you.”
Dr. Fred Whitt, the founding dean of the college that opened in 2010, has been instrumental in visioning, planning and directing the design of the facility. “When I look at this construction, I know exactly where every person and every office will be. I can see them working and learning inside. This is the most comprehensive building of this type in the state. It will bring 14 of the 16 programs into one building for the first time, and will foster what we call an inter-professional experience. No other medical college houses that many departments under one roof.”
Nearly 20 percent of Appalachian’s students are taught by Beaver College of Health Sciences faculty. Including nursing, there are six departments and 16 undergraduate and graduate degrees offered in the college, from disciplines including communication sciences and disorders, and nutrition and health care management.
Currently, the departments are located in a number of buildings on campus.
Three Mountaineers have been employed by Rodgers Builders and are currently working on the BCHS project.
Intern Will Allen ’19 is studying construction management and building science at Appalachian. He attended a Student Builders Association meeting where Rodgers was presenting and talking about the project. “I introduced myself, passed out some business cards and got the information I needed about applying for a job. I must have emailed them five times following up on my application. I pretty much annoyed them ’til they hired me.”
Allen said the technology such a large firm affords is impressive. “All interns get a phone, iPad and a computer with great software,” he said. One application in particular allows him to load in all the building specifications. “Before we do anything,” he said, “we can build a model that allows me to fly through the building and find just exactly what I need. It really brings it to life.”
A Charlotte native, Allen transferred to Appalachian specifically for the construction management program and said he “couldn’t be happier.” He recognized Practioner-in-Residence John Clark from his program for helping him and the other students land internships and jobs.
Ben Rickard ’17 will graduate with a degree in construction management in December and has been a full-time student while working for Rodgers for the past year. He said it has been hard to juggle a 60-hour workweek but through smart scheduling, taking one online course and writing a proposal that allowed him to earn credit for a building convention he attended, he has managed.
As one of the project managers, the High Point native said he had the opportunity to “do it all – from metal frames and sheeting to waterproofing and framing lintels; managing weekly safety meetings, site clean-up, inspections and quality control.” He said he was “proud of the work and I am looking forward to homecoming games to see what I’ve given back.” Rickard has a brother enrolled at the university now, and his sister will attend Appalachian this fall.
Chris Wagner ’16 will have worked for Rodgers for one year this August. He signed on as an intern after his freshman year, then was hired full time after graduation. From Fayetteville, Wagner said he felt his studies at Appalachian prepared him for both the field and office side of the work. “I wanted to show my co-workers I could do the work, could get my hands dirty. I can’t thank them enough for their leadership. These guys have been doing this all their lives,” he said.
Wagner was proud the crew had been able to keep to the schedule and get the work done. “We had some serious wind this winter and the way the schedule worked out we actually had a couple of cold-weather pours [for concrete.] We were checking the walls [for integrity] hour-by-hour throughout the night in 5-degree weather. It was a cool experience. I'll be able to talk about this for the rest of my life.”
He said he liked the work most because no matter how pressed the workers are by the schedule, they know how to have a good time, make it easy to make a joke and help one another — a work ethic he said embodies what Appalachian is all about. “You get a top quality education and get to be around the best professors, but all the while you’re in the world enjoying life on the mountain. App sent me out into the world with a brain full of knowledge and a heart full of courage.”
A former student, craftsworker and a relocated and retired construction superintendent weigh in on the project.
Caitlin Flatley ’17 is a graduate of the nutrition and foods program at Appalachian and has been working as an undergraduate research assistant with Dr. Martin Root, associate professor and director of the graduate program in nutrition. She said the new facility, “with one collective area, will encourage more multi-disciplinary collaborations and open more research opportunities for students.” Flatley of Indianapolis said, “Although I personally will not be able to benefit or use the space the new college will offer… I am excited and thrilled for the increased opportunities the new BCHS building represents and will mean for future students and for current and future opportunities for research.”
Ronnie Hicks wore a big smile as he ate his barbecue chicken and pork plate. He said he is proud to be building something for the university because his father Keith Hicks has worked in the key shop for 21 years. “I was here when we poured the footings, here for the first beam and the last,” and he hopes to be around when the building is finished. He is employed through a temporary placement agency.
Retiree Terry Reigel has been watching the progress of the building on the webcam for the past year. A former superintendent for major construction in San Francisco and New York City, he said he was “dazzled” by the sophistication of the work and said it “was most impressive and innovative.” He was particularly impressed with the precision of the pre-hung straps for the heating and air conditioning ducts made possible by computer imaging. He and his wife Nancy relocated to Boone 20 years ago from New Jersey because Boone was a university town with an interest and passion for sustainability.
On site during the ceremony but watching from the sidelines was Allison Kemp-Sullivan, the BCHS project manager in Appalachian’s Planning Design and Construction Department. “Project managers are a humble group,” her supervisor, Associate Director of Planning Design and Construction W. Steve Martin, said. “She enjoyed the attention the project was getting,” he said, but chose to stay behind the scenes. “I can tell you,” he continued, “the ultimate reason why the BCHS project has remained on schedule and has witnessed the success it has thus far is because of Allison.”
The topping ceremony was just one such successful milestone, Martin remarked. “Allison has brought her focus to bear on this project for well over a year now, including the selection and managing of the professional design team and construction management team, along with meeting with the faculty and staff of the College of Health Sciences to ensure their expectations are met," he said.
In her duties, Kemp-Sullivan meets with each constituent weekly (if not daily) to discuss and coordinate schedules, budgets and issues that arise. “She is very diligent and dedicated to the success of this project,” Martin said, “and although she is too humble to say it, Allison is the primary reason the largest capital improvement project in the history of Appalachian State University is such a resounding success.”
400 craft workers completed on-site safety programs
Around 125 workers on site each workday
9,500 cubic yards of concrete installed
9,000 (more than 1,500 tons) pieces of structural steel placed
239 solar panels
40,000 cubic yards of dirt moved