Most Union professors come to work dressed in business-casual clothes—often bowties for the gentlemen—and armed with equipment to do their jobs well: red pens, books, PowerPoint slides and lectures.
But what about those who build the buildings? For 15 months now, an average of 90 construction workers have come to work at the new library site dressed in steel toed boots and bright orange safety vests, armed with different equipment to do their jobs equally well: hard hats, safety goggles and building plans.
Instead of books, notes, tests and papers, their days consist of steel, concrete, wires and pipes.
Ken Finley, project supervisor, said the job takes an incredible amount of focus.
“Once you get inside the fence, you’re focused on one thing and one thing only—getting the job done and being safe,” he said.
The skeletal library structure is home to many hazards that make even simple tasks like navigating from the first floor to the third a potentially tricky journey. Finley’s job as supervisor is to do what he can to mitigate those risks for his men. For instance, he knows he has to remind his men of safety hazards on Friday afternoons more than any other days, because the approaching weekend tends to shift their focus.
Some jobs on the site call for men who are daredevils as much as they are construction workers. Finley said that by far the most dangerous work is done by those who hang off the roof from retractable lines. While the men are used to their jobs and there have been no major injuries, Finley said dangling from the half-finished roof is “a young man’s work.”
It’s his 44th year working for H&M Construction. Salt and pepper hair and crow’s lines speak to his years on the job, which he began after a week and a half of college taught him he belonged working with his hands instead of with his nose in books. Construction is somewhat of a family legacy for Finley, who grew up visiting his father, also a field superintendent, at construction sites.
He sees construction as more than just a clock-in, clock-out job to earn a paycheck. The buildings he works on all across the country are his legacies.
“Everybody wants to leave their mark, and I’m leaving mine in buildings,” he said. “It’s very satisfying to see projects like the library come together.”
David Thayer, project manager for McCoy’s Heating and Air, is equally excited for Union’s newest edifice to be complete.
“I’ve been part of many projects over the last 19 years, but this one’s going to take the cake,” he said.
He and his men have been on the job site for months working to ensure the new library will stay cool in the summers and warm in the winters.
Though the job site is in the middle of campus, the construction workers have been largely isolated from campus life due to the fenced off perimeter. Even the fence can’t keep out all the Union hospitality though: Finley said one student brought brownies for him and his men shortly after they laid the foundation.
Finley and Thayer said students aren’t the only ones with their eyes on the library project. Channel 7 news regularly shows footage of the construction, the site can be seen from I-40 and their family and friends often ask them questions about the building’s progress. The publicity has kept their workers on their toes.
“With this being such a high profile project, I think every man has stepped it up. They really want everything to be perfect,” Finley said.
The Union community has watched Finely and his men take the land beside Jennings from a barren, grassy clearing to an impressive, towering building so tall that, on a sunny day, all of Miller Tower is reflected in the front glass.
Soon the fence around the construction site will disappear, and the doors will open for students to come study, grab coffee and research topics. The project is moving into its final stages, and will open to the public on Nov. 6.
Finley and Thayer don’t anticipate any major problems delaying the opening and said they hope students and faculty are pleased by the look and feel of the building. Between H&M Construction and McCoy Heating and Air, this will be the fourth time they’ve helped improve campus. H&M Construction also built White Hall and Providence Hall, and McCoy Heating and Air worked on the Quads.
Though the project has been enjoyable for Thayer so far, there’s one part of wrapping up the library he’s relieved his company isn’t responsible for.
“I’ve been staring at all those empty bookshelves for a while now. I feel sorry for the poor souls that have to move all those books,” he said.