The ongoing Quad Commons construction project has been an integral part of campus life at St. Michael’s for the past year. While the paths of students, faculty and staff often crossed with the crew of engineers, architects and builders, many of us have simply watched the transformation from afar.
This was not the case, however, for St. Michael’s student Chris Andreani, ’14. An undergraduate student rarely has the chance to take part in the building of his or her own college, but Andreani did just that. As a mechanical engineering major of the 3+2 dual enrollment program with the University of Vermont, he had the opportunity to intern with PC Construction Company, which managed the project.
“It was my very first professional project and to have the site be at my own college campus was really great,” he said. “It was very close to home for me.”
Andreani said that he first reached out to PC Construction Company early last fall when he heard that it was looking for an intern. Once he gained the position he slowly began to get his foot in the door with the company.
“At first I only worked a few hours a week so that I could get my school work done,” he said. “And also to help me get slowly involved in the project, being that it was the first construction site I had ever worked on.”
“We take summer interns every year,” said Amie Hammer, PC Construction Company project engineer. “But with the younger folks coming in, you get a different perspective. They’re energetic and we’re teaching them new things, letting them kind of find their way.”
Jim Farrington, the college architect, noted that he worked closely with PC Construction Company to find a St. Michael’s student for the internship position.
“I saw him a lot, he’s a sharp kid and he jumped right into it,” he said.
The internship began as a part-time position last October and consisted of a 10-hour commitment each week until Andreani was taken on as a full-time intern this summer.
During the first few months he learned general construction practices, studying transmittals, submittals and requests for inspection. When he voiced that he was more interested in doing fieldwork, according to Hammer, they put him right out there.
“That’s what he wanted to do so we put him out in the field,” she said. “I think it’s important, raising the water and things like that, to try to give him what he wanted in order to further himself along. We give them exposure to construction. Whatever they’re looking for, whatever they want to give, we give them.”
Out in the field, Andreani’s first responsibilities consisted of making and following lists, making sure that everyone was doing what they were supposed to do. As an intern, the task of telling those superior to him what to do was not all that easy.
“It was very difficult at first because I had no idea how to interact with these people,” Andreani said. “They’d been doing construction their whole lives and this was my first site; I had zero years of experience so they kind of ran the show and were the ones helping me out. I learned that you have to build a relationship with them first.”
From Hammer’s perspective, Andreani seemed to make the most out of what he was given and really used it as an opportunity to learn all that he could.
“He really took it and grabbed it and ran with it,” she said. “He loved it.”
Although Farrington was not working directly with Andreani, he also recognized what he gained through the experience.
“They were really working hard to mentor him and bring him along. First he was learning one thing and next thing you know he’s getting out in the field,” he said. “They escalated and I am sure that he learned an awful lot in the year that he worked on this project.”
Tom Davidson of PC Construction Company, who has been on the project for the last several months and worked alongside Andreani, credits the success of the internship program. A recent graduate of UVM, Davidson also began his engineering career as an intern of PC Construction Company. The Quad Commons is now his third major project with the company.
“The internship was great exposure to everything,” he said. “It’s good, it really gets you into the company and teaches you what we’re all about. And also you learn some trades while you’re out there; because you just don’t learn everything in school. That’s all there is to it.”
Gary Benjamin, electrical superintendent of Benoit Electrics who has been with the project from the beginning, agrees that getting interns out on a real site as early as possible is the best way to learn.
“We like to get young guys right out of school. They’re interested in the trade; they’re young and excited. The guys like me are starting to get old,” he joked. “And we need them to keep the trade going.”
The hardest part for Andreani was getting acclimated to the field and comfortable with the other people working on the project.
“Obviously it was tough because I was the 21-year-old intern that nobody wanted to listen to,” he said. “Generally the subcontractors helped me out more than anything because they were so familiar with their field of work.”
However if there was one unique thing that Andreani could bring to the table as a young intern, it was his knowledge of the campus layout.
“I knew where everything was. They would ask me questions about the school and in that sense I would be able to answer them,” he said.
Having a general sense of the design and layout of the old buildings helped smooth the transition into field work and even provided Andreani with an advantage, one that he was able to use to help his fellow team members.
“It was kind of nice because I came on the job after Chris, after he had already been here,” Davidson said. “I’d never been on campus so he was able to show me around the job site and also show me all of the other aspects of campus and what else was going on. I was lost when I got here so he helped a lot with that.”
The project itself, according to those involved, ran relatively smooth given all of the circumstances.
“Occupied areas are a little bit more challenging than just something wide open,” Hammer said. “With the close proximity to occupied buildings it definitely brings in a challenge, but we have had zero problems. Graduation we had a little bit of an issue, but that was it for the entire project. So it’s been absolutely smooth, it’s been nice.”
“It’s fairly normal for us, we work around hospitals and colleges all of the time,” Benjamin added. “We like the big jobs, starting from scratch. We just have to work around students and what they’re doing and where they’re going.”
The sense of teamwork and camaraderie among the crew has seemed to play a key factor in the success of the project. Just by walking through the work site on a day-to-day basis, the sense of a ‘team’ is evident. The cooperation and hard work put forth by each member of the crew was echoed throughout the site.
“You generally fall into the big group, you get to know everybody,” Benjamin said. “And in terms of the crew, most of the people from the different trades know each other from other jobs. Some of these people we’ve worked with for years.”
“We all work together to get the job done,” Davidson agreed. “We’re all a team.”
While Andreani still has two more years of school at UVM, the experience he gained was a great way to kick off his future as an engineer. The biggest take away from the project was his ability to step back and see it from a new perspective.
“When I came here it was all just steel beams and concrete floors. So being a part of it and seeing how it was getting done and the process and how quickly it was actually done, it really changed my perspective on how construction works,” he said. “Now I know why things happen.”
By Claire Martin