ASU alumni build masterpiece for alma mater
EDITOR’s NOTE: AZRE magazine honored ASU’s College Avenue Commons Feb. 26, 2015 as the state’s top higher education building project. The publication, highlighting Arizona’s commercial real estate industry, annually hosts the Real Estate Development (RED) Awards to recognize the state’s best projects, brokerage teams and companies. The construction team included dozens of ASU alums, covering every phase of the project. The building houses the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, including the Del E. Webb School of Construction, along with the Sun Devil Marketplace and the Sun Devil Welcome Center.
College Avenue Commons was the ultimate final exam for dozens of Sun Devil alumni who worked on the project from site demolition and architectural drawings to framing and concrete finishings.
If you ask the construction faculty whose offices are on the fifth floor, those alumni passed the exam with honors.
“They wanted to build a masterpiece and they succeeded,” said G. Edward Gibson, professor and director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “It makes the story a lot sweeter.”
Tim Goyette (‘99) graduated from ASU’s Del E. Webb School of Construction and is a senior project manager with Okland Construction, the lead contractor on his alma mater’s new home.
He called the experience surreal.
“I felt like, ‘I’m the Del Webb guy. I’m going to make sure everything is right, even if it is not the financially ‘safe’ thing to do,’ ” said Goyette, who frequently ran into faculty on the job site, including Gibson and Allan Chasey, associate professor and program chair of the Del E. Webb School of Construction.
“I still call him Dr. Chasey,” Goyette said. “I still felt like he was my professor. Once someone is your teacher, you always have that level of respect. I felt like, because I’ve benefited in life from being able to go to this school, I owe this guy.”
All of the alumni were excited.
“This was the project everyone wanted,” said Rachel Rasmussen (‘06, ‘09), an associate at Architekton, one of the building project’s two architecture firms, and an adjunct professor in ASU’s architecture program. “The alumni really felt that pride. It is our campus, our home, our legacy.”
It was a little surreal for Chasey, too.
“It was wonderful watching them,” Chasey said. “It is nice to know they’re out there doing a good job. It is part of your legacy, too. Tim was so excited. He was like a little kid. I don’t think he ever thought he’d be able to give back this way. He really bent over backwards for us.”
Building a new home for your alma mater means having a perfectionist attitude.
“There were no sacrifices, no ‘It’s OK, no one will notice,’ ” Rasmussen said. “Everyone was going to notice everything. It was more challenging, but more rewarding.”
John Meredith (‘06, ‘08), an architect in ASU’s Office of the University Architect, said he was happy to see alumni among the architects and the construction company crew.
“All of us wanted to give the students what we wished we had,” Meredith said. “It’s the American dream. You want the next generation to have it better than you, so they can create better work than you’ve done.
“It is why we’re involved in higher education. We wanted alumni on the project because we knew they cared, and they knew it needed to be a showpiece.”
Goyette said he still remembers the day they got the job.
“There’s a psychology of interviewing for a project,” Goyette said. “You put all this energy into the presentation, then you go home, sit there, and think of all the reasons you’re not good enough. Why’d you say that? Why’d you do this? They’re never going to pick you. It is an emotional roller coaster.
“Three weeks after our interview, I was convinced we didn’t get it. I was at a meeting for a project we were doing for Estrella Community College, and my superintendent, who got the email, leaned over and whispered that we got it.
“We were doing high-fives and hugging each other. It was one of those wonderful moments in life that I’ll never forget. I was going to get to build the new home for the school of construction that I attended.”
Goyette said they loaded the job with Del E. Webb grads.
“Because we’re in Tempe, we have a lot of them,” he said. “My best friend, Jess Smith, was the concrete superintendent. I said, ‘I’m getting to build this building, and I’m doing it with my best friend.’ ”
There were alumni in the design team, the construction team and among the subcontractors.
The on-campus building site also meant professors and mentors looking over former students’ shoulders.
“This project was unique because there were a lot of eyes on it,” said Myles Morton, (‘13), who started on the project as an intern for Okland Construction and, after finishing his bachelor’s in construction management in December, joined the company full time. “It was like working in a fishbowl. There were lots of tours for faculty, students and other dignitaries, including ASU President Michael Crow.
“We all had skin in the game.”
The alumni followed different paths that led to ASU and converged at College Avenue Commons.
Goyette is a fourth-generation Arizonan, who grew up in Mesa and graduated from Dobson High School, where his wrestling coach told him to work construction in the summer to get stronger. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go to college, but the tradesmen on the job site told him he was crazy. He tried business classes at Mesa Community College, but didn’t like it and eventually made his way to the construction management program at ASU.
“I felt like I hit the jackpot,” Goyette said. “I loved it, loved building. ISEC (formerly Intermountain School Equipment Company) hired me as a purchasing agent assistant, and I worked on Bank One Ballpark as an intern.”
Meredith grew up in Utah, where his father was a Spanish professor at Brigham Young University. Meredith worked construction in the summer, but always had his sights set on architecture. He took all the drafting classes offered in high school, and stepped in when they needed someone to draft on a hotel project in the Seattle area. He came to ASU because of the highly ranked architecture program, and joined the Office of the University Architect as a staff architect after finishing his bachelor’s degree.
Rasmussen knew from the age of 7 that she wanted to be an architect. She was born in Pittsburgh and her father, an electrician, took her to job sites and showed her blueprints, while she and her mother poured over a “dream cabin” book full of floor plans, cut out pieces of paper representing the different parts and “built” their dream houses. For college, she wanted to be as far away from the bitter winter as possible, and headed for the Arizona desert.
Morton’s father owns ACT Construction in Phoenix, and when Morton graduated from Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, he enrolled in mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona. But he dropped out to spend a year in Flagstaff, snowboarding and working as a welder and in a coffee shop. When he went back to school, it was at ASU in construction management.
On the College Avenue Commons project, Morton helped with paperwork, assisted the superintendent in the field, coordinated subcontractors, and worked on field safety and quality control. He became the project engineer, in charge of checking off the last items on the punch list.
The alumni were joined by current students, like Charlie Jones, a senior in construction management who graduated from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, started working with a construction company the same year, and formed an ad-hoc study group when he got to ASU.
“We walk around the ASU campus looking at buildings and figuring out how they were built, why they chose different materials,” Jones said. “It is the best experience I’ve had, being able to hang around with other construction guys and learn from them.”
Jones has done two internships with MKB Construction, and worked on the College Avenue Commons plans, ordering supplies and doing quality assurance.
Now he’s sharing what he learned with fellow students.
“I’ve gotten to talk to some classes about what we’re doing in the building and why,” Jones said. “It was nice to be the one to teach them about what’s going on in the building.”
The job also included veterans, like Dennis Casey (‘77), a project manager for Kearney Electric, who came to ASU’s construction management program from the U.S. Air Force Academy after trashing his knee playing soccer and learning he was medically unable to fly.
His father worked for Westinghouse, and took Casey to job sites when he was 10 years old. Casey has worked for Howard Electrical and Mechanical, based out of Denver, on major projects, like Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center, and was intrigued with the College Avenue Commons job.
“When I heard it was for the School of Construction, I thought, ‘What a coincidence,’” Casey said. “I’m older than most of the other alumni, but we have common ground. It was a lot of fun.”
Because College Avenue Commons would be the home for the construction school, the idea was to make the building a teaching tool.
“The words ‘special didactic elements’ were thrown around a lot,” Morton said. “They were things that you can’t draw a design for.”
And because the clients are very knowledgeable consumers, it meant particular attention to details like exposed finishes and making sure things aligned perfectly.
The result was a lot of “value-added” effort, like perfect transitions from concrete floor to carpet, sandblasted exposed beams for a smooth finish, and extra attention to the alignment of doors on the cambered concrete deck.
Meredith said there was one very visible square column that was poured, demoed and repoured four times—once because it was out of square, once because the corner edges broke off—until it was architecturally perfect.
“In another building, you’d cover it with drywall, so no one would care,” Meredith said. “But they wanted to show a perfect, as-cast architectural concrete column.”
When Rasmussen walks through College Avenue Commons, she lingers in the light pouring in from all sides and remembers a dark ASU building where she finished her master’s thesis.
“It had zero daylight,” she said. “We all want to hang out here, now. When the wine bar opened, our team came over and had drinks.”
Working on the College Avenue Commons meant more public exposure, more anxiety about the judgment of former professors and fellow grads in the architecture community, and more tension in the team.
“Everybody wanted to be here,” Rasmussen said. “Everyone wanted everything to be perfect. The classrooms were going to be flagship technological spaces, and the building would be a showpiece.”
Casey’s boss, along with the president of Kearney Electric and the president of Okland, visited the building together to see the conduit because it had more detail than anyone had ever seen.
“We put more pressure on ourselves,” Rasmussen said. “We really wanted to produce the best possible building. When there are 100 people who all want the very best, tensions rise. But because we all had the same goal, it was easy to get everyone back on track.”
They loved the idea that the Commons will be the first ASU building many prospective students see.
“It will be the first impression for future Sun Devils,” Rasmussen said. “We want them to feel like, ‘Wow, this is awesome. I want to come here.’ ”
Rasmussen brought her architecture students to see the construction and uses it to teach teamwork.
“You can’t build anything by yourself,” she said. “The earlier they learn that, the better. We had two architecture firms, Okland Construction, landscape designers, interior designers, retail specialists, engineers. It takes a village to raise a building.”
Goyette, whose company also built the ASU Health Services building, said working for ASU is exciting because the university hires the best architects and allows unique construction techniques because of the commitment to sustainability.
He is also a champion of the alumni who worked on the project.
“I watched all the Del E. Webb guys put a little extra into it because of how much it meant to them,” Goyette said. “These guys were very passionate, making sure things were perfect. They knew they had every Monday-morning quarterback looking at it.”
He has particular praise for Morton, the student intern who grew into the project engineer.
“Myles is phenomenal,” Goyette said. “We gave him a lot of responsibility. I’ve never met a young man like him. He was an integral part of our team, which for a guy just finishing school is hard to do. He was up for the challenge. He did the job of a 20-year professional.
“One of the tasks I gave him was giving tours. There were so many, several a week for the entire project. It could have been annoying, but he never once complained. People would get back to me saying, ‘That guy gave us a wonderful tour.’
“He is so polished. I’m so proud of him.”
Goyette said the alumni feel a special sense of ownership in the completed project.
“Because you got to work on it, you feel like it is yours,” he said. “You enjoy going back, getting to see people using it.
“I know the architects and designers wanted the mixing chamber to be a space where faculty, industry and students would come together in impromptu meetings. I walked in a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t believe it. Students were sitting on the steps, professors were walking by, people in industry were walking by.
“Sometimes architects are really smart and the spaces they design function just like they wanted them to. This space is just perfect for Del E. Webb.”
Goyette, whose company recently moved into a new building, said he knows what it can mean.
“Moving into a new building changes your whole demeanor,” he said. “All that natural light gives you hope.
“We wanted this to be a unique, award-winning building that will stand the test of time. Our owners gave us enough room to make things happen that wouldn’t typically happen.”
Gibson said he knew all along it would be a great success, particularly because of the alumni efforts.
“I never worried about the quality,” he said. “I knew it was going to be done right. It was a serious effort. Their approach to the job, the attention to detail, quality and safety was indicative of their excellence.
“I would turn another project over to them any time.”
Written by Judy Nichols
Sharon Keeler, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering