Faces of campus construction: the people and passion under the hard hats

Faces of campus construction: the people and passion under the hard hats

Faces of campus construction: the people and passion under the hard hats
September 27
00:38 2018

Wires hang from the ceiling in Wooten Hall, detours pop up and paths to class are blocked by construction work each day on campus. To many, the work being done is only seen as a frustration in their daily routine.

But behind every inconvenience is a person with a larger goal and passion. Every project, every worker and every task is focused on creating a sturdy, lasting project.

The Lot 80 project next to Victory Hall is one of these projects. It was started as a response to the university’s need for more parking. The first phase of the project was to build a 500-space parking lot for incoming freshman. Now, the second phase of the job is focused on building a restroom facility.

Underneath the dust and the drilling, construction workers are key to providing services students will utilize each day for years to come.

A tangible process 

Putting on her hard hat and bright orange vest, Helen Bailey steps onto the dirt of the Lot 80 construction site. She looks at the small bathroom structure the workers are building and takes notes.

Bailey is the project manager for Lot 80 and oversees the entire process from start to finish to make sure it aligns with the university’s vision. She has been managing projects as Director of Planning, Design and Construction at UNT for the past 17 years.

“I enjoy watching things come from nothing,” Bailey said. “You start out with a blank piece of paper and you end up with a brick and mortar structure in front of you — it’s very tangible.”

Becoming a project manager was not the direction Bailey thought she would go when she graduated college. Her plan was to be an architect, but she realized she enjoyed being a part of the action in the field where she could get her boots muddy.

“Working for the place that you’re always building in, you can interact with that all the time,” Bailey said. “You always get to see how things are made. It’s happening right here in your own backyard, and I love that.”

At the end of the day, Bailey believes in the greater purpose the projects will serve in the future on the campus she cares about.

“There’s this sense of reward — you feel like you’re giving back to a community that then gives back to you,” Bailey said. “You get that satisfaction of not only designing something and building something but then seeing it used forever.”

Satisfaction of a job well done

Opening the gate to the Lot 80 project site at 7 a.m., Jason Watts gets ready to start another day. Overlooking the half-finished bathroom structure that is in progress, he knows the day will be full of phone calls, questions from the crew and necessary paperwork.

It’s all a part of his job as the construction superintendent, a job he enjoys and walks away from at the end of each day feeling satisfied. As the construction superintendent for Vaughn Construction on the Lot 80 project, Watts’ main job is to maintain the safety of the job site and make sure the job gets done properly.

“At the end of the day you can see what you’ve accomplished,” Watts said. “Even though I’m not 100 percent elbow-to-elbow with the guys working, I still play an intricate role in making sure the project gets done.”

He has been steadily working in construction for the past 22 years but considers it to be something he has grown up in.

“My father was a carpenter, my grandfather was a carpenter on both sides of the family,” Watt said. “In my family that’s what you do.”

Watts turned to the profession he knew well after realizing school was not the right path for him. He joined the Carpenters Local Union at 18 years old and earned his GED.

Since then , Watts said he enjoys the work he accomplishes each day with his team and hopes the work his crew is doing helps provide more for the students’ future.

“I hope that it is here to serve them and help them out along their way, whether it was a convenient place to use the bathroom or a lab that they learned to treat a virus in,” Watts said. “Whatever the purpose may be, lesser or greater, I hope it’s useful to the people whenever we get done.”

A lifetime of hard work

Leaning against the chain-link fence surrounding phase two of the Lot 80 project, 65-year-old Curtis Wade looks out at the campus he has helped build since 1976. Thinking back to a certain project he laid brick for in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, he grins. He remembers what it was before it became what it is today.

“I put a lot of stuff in it –— a lot of hard work — and after it’s all over you walk away saying [you’ve] done it,” Wade said. “Sometimes you ride around and you may have forgotten some of the things you did. You look and you say, ‘Hey! I did that building.’”

Wade has been a bricklayer with Vaughn Construction for 45 years. His original goal was to learn aeronautics in 1969 but changed his plans when his family could not afford it.

“I went home to get the money for the manual — the manual cost $35.” Wade said. “My mama told me, ‘Go back up there and get into something else because we ain’t got $35.’ So I went back to school, and bricklaying was $12.50 for a manual, and that’s how I got into it.”

The job quickly became work he enjoyed because of the feeling it gave him at the end of the day and the way it allowed him to provide for his family.

“I like building stuff, I like using my hands and seeing what I can do,” Wade said. “How it turns out gives me great joy.”

Wade said he knows the work he is doing to build functional structures goes beyond his own job of bricklaying — it impacts the futures of those who will use them one day.

“The buildings that you start and finish, you know one day that somebody’s going to go to work in there,” Wade said. “It gives jobs while it’s being built and then a job after it’s built for years to come.”

Being eight months away from retirement, Wade is proud of the work he has produced and is fulfilled to know he has contributed to the community in a tangible way.

“It makes me feel good because I know one day I’m not going to be here, and I know I left something behind,” Wade said.

Featured Image: Denton construction worker Curtis Wade leans against the fence at Lot 80. Wade has helped construct projects across campus since 1976. Trevor Seibert

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Rachel Linch

Rachel Linch

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