JCJ ACE Mentors guide students beyond the construction of Dunkin' Donuts Park / by Sarah Callahan

Amidst the roar of backhoes digging and dump trucks pouring out tons of fill, the sun is bright, and the air is cold. It is a Saturday morning, but the masons are busy laying block, the steel workers are welding, and the carpenters are aligning their lasers to layout the next stretch of framing. They all are contributors in the race to complete Hartford’s new minor league baseball park for the Hartford Yard Goats. And there in the middle of all this activity, only a few feet from what will soon be home plate, a group of high school students stand in awe.

Each year, the ACE Hartford Chapter arranges a construction site tour as part of its program to expose high school students to firsthand experiences with the construction industry.  Despite the pressures of an aggressive schedule, Jason Rudnick, President of Centerplan Development, generously agreed to not only hold the tour of Dunkin’ Donuts Park, but to lead the students through the project himself. ACE Mentors Dante Balassone, Ersa Llakmani, and Dan Thornton of JCJ Architecture and Lewis Pia of RZ Design Associates completed the guide team and provided commentary regarding the various architectural and engineered systems.

Regardless of discipline, there are few experiences as insightful to a construction professional as a visit to an active project site. Understanding how a building truly comes together is essential to good design, engineering, and management. And so the students were immersed into a sea of real world examples; the tour highlighted complex connections in the structural steel, the correct way to frame a metal stud wall, and the differences between precast and poured in place concrete. The students were also able to examine the electrical and HVAC systems before they were enclosed and to puzzle out the workings of a bathroom’s plumbing before the fixtures had been installed. But there was a lot to learn beyond the visible construction.

Throughout the tour, the team discussed the many jobsite responsibilities of the construction manager. Surrounded by activity, the students could easily understand the importance of a well-orchestrated site layout. Logistical concerns including material delivery and storage, crane placement, restrooms for workers, and conferencing space for onsite communication all need their place. The mentors stressed the importance of communication among all members of the team throughout the process and explained how the construction team must coordinate with the design and ownership teams to respond to any changes in scope or unique field conditions as the project progresses. The construction manager’s role in maintaining safety was also highlighted in the tour; in addition to the PPE that we all wore, the students were shown the harnesses and temporary railing used to protect against falls, temporary fire protection measures, and the how egress routes are maintained in an ever changing environment. The group also discussed the added measures required for working in the cold of winter, such as identifying which activities are temperature sensitive, providing temporary heat and insulation, and limiting worker exposure in severe weather. Having walked the entire facility, and starting to feel the February chill, the group headed back to the trailer.

After a few closing comments, the students watched a time-elapse video showing the construction to date. The group was surprised by how much effort went into the site work and the preparations for construction. As with many projects, extensive excavation, ground preparations, and utility work have little visual impact, but once this scope is complete, the building seems to rocket upward. The students marveled at how quickly the steel structure and enclosure came into place once the foundations were ready.  As one student noted, it’s really easy to overlook how much effort goes into a building when it is done… there is so much you can’t see. Hopefully the tour gave these students some small appreciation of the excitement of the construction industry and the incredible amount of talent, coordination, and effort that goes into each project. And with the Yard Goats Home Opener scheduled for May 31st, maybe one will remember what they saw on a cold February morning, and add extra cheer to the roar of the crowd this season.

Daniel Thornton, RA, CDT, LEED AP
Associate

The ACE Mentor Program is a nationally active, industry funded, student driven after-school program in which construction professionals volunteer to mentor and inspire high school students interested in the construction industry.  The program is free to students.  For more information, please visit www.ACEmentor.org