Perspective | by Thomas J. Finan, Publisher | 02/26/2009
Part of the annual Christmas ritual for my family is a game of “Rob Your Neighbor”. The object of the game is to stick someone else with a particularly unattractive item that has been darkening a corner of your closet. My six siblings, our many kids, and grandkids all get into the spirit. I once unloaded a plaster copy of Michelangelo’s nude statue “David” – only to have it reappear for the next five years dressed in increasingly bizarre outfits.
This year was different for me: I actually WANTED the item I wound up getting. My youngest brother had brought an old hard hat. But it was a hard hat fraught with meaning for me. It has a Day-Glo orange band, an old PRIDE logo in the same orange hue, and – Scotch-taped to the side – the original logo for St. Louis CNR. It was my Dad’s hard hat, the same one that he wore for many years in the “Perspective” column that he wrote for CNR.
The hard hat then, as now, had symbolic value beyond its role as protective gear. The hard hat represents the risk, hard work, and uncertainty that are an inherent part of the construction industry. Ours is an industry that gets things done. At New York’s Center for Architecture the current exhibit is called “Make It Work: Engineering Possibilities.” The exhibit examines new technologies, materials, and building designs that will shape the future. “Make It Work” might be the mission statement for our construction industry.
When we discussing the theme for this month’s CNR cover, Art Director Scott Tripp came up with the idea for the “stimulus drink” that appears in the photo illustration. Originally the idea was to have the model wearing a hard hat holding the can.
I’m glad that the final image focuses only on the can and that there’s no hard hat in sight. Because our industry’s role is not to create the environment in which things are built. The Stimulus Package is not something we have created – it just part of the environment in which we operate. The role of our construction industry is to take the conditions and resources as they come and to “make it work.” Making it work is the kind of job that requires rolling up your sleeves and putting on a hard hat.
Freeing the chokehold that financial institutions have on cash for projects will make a difference. The infusion of federal dollars – at no small cost to the future – for shovel-ready stimulus projects will also make a difference.
But our industry can a BIG difference by fearlessly championing new ideas and technologies, by stretching resources to the breaking point. This month Dan Galvin, public information manager, Gateway Constructors and the public face of “The New I-64”, spoke before the Midwest Council, American Subcontractors Association. Galvin pointed out the daring thinking that allowed MoDot and its contractors to shave four years off the project schedule. Their faith that it could be done – and their ability to get the public to embrace that idea – has created a model that is being studied for other projects around the country.
At the Society for Marketing of Professional Services (SMPS) meeting in February, Emily Andrews, executive director, U.S. Green Building Council - St. Louis Regional Chapter, moderated a “sustainability panel”comprised of Mathew Malten, MEM, LEED AP, assistant vice chancellor for sustainability, Washington University in St. Louis; Grant Lanham, LEED AP/operations specialist, Vertegy Consultants; and Christopher Hulse, LEED AP, vice president, Green Street Properties.
Malten told how the university’s desire to “do the right thing,” coupled with the construction expertise of its own facilities management team and outside construction experts was creating a steady stream of projects at Wash U. with incredibly quick ROI.
Lanham stressed the need to “be more sophisticated. We need to be really careful in how we market what it is to be sustainable. Don’t just push the idea of ‘green’.”
Hulse said that Green Street, a developer focusing on sustainable projects, is experiencing strong interest even in these times because owners are recognizing the difference that an environmentally healthy building can make in worker productivity.
This March/April of CNR addresses some of the ways in which various segments of our industry are making a difference in current economic times. One article takes a measured look at green/sustainable construction and what it means in the future. In another, we examine at the ways in which the area’s equipment dealers are sharing the pain of their cash-strapped contractor customers. Electrical contractors are applying more and more of their engineering expertise to help customers save energy and expedite installations, as yet another feature explains.
The construction industry doesn’t dictate the state of the economy or the mood of public sentiment… and we certainly don’t control the whims of government. Our job, whatever the situation, is to roll up our sleeves, put on our thinking caps (hard hats) and “make it work”.