It's hard for Rick Krischel, construction manager for Cordogan, Clark and Associates, to contain his enthusiasm for the mammoth East Aurora School District renovation he is overseeing.
For one thing, the whole shebang is coming together beautifully. Mother Nature's cooperation these past eight months and a lot of hustling, not to mention teamwork, on the part of everyone involved in this nearly $50 million project at the high school alone has not only kept things on schedule, he says, but a couple of the five phases the project was divided into are even coming in weeks under deadline.
All of this is good news when you're talking about getting 4,000 kids back into classrooms for the upcoming school year and a football team on the brand-spanking-new Roy E. Davis Field for the 2017 season.
"We're going to be able to turn it over to the coach the middle of July so he can get the players on the field as soon as possible," a pleased Krischel noted Wednesday morning as he led a couple of inquisitive reporters on an extended tour of the bustling construction site.
Krischel is no newbie to all of this, having spent his nearly 30-year career as a contractor building schools. But this East Aurora assignment, he said, is not only "one of the best" he's ever undertaken but also "one of the most challenging."
That's because a couple of the renovation phases — including the new cafeteria and library — could not even begin until the students were dismissed for the summer. And with the kids coming back at the end of August, he said, "We have no choice. We have to have all of this ready for them."
Which is why, the Saturday after school let out, Cordogan, Clark and Associates turned 55 men and 13 Bobcats loose in three areas of the school to do nothing but demolition. And Krischel continues to run an aggressive schedule, pulling in 110 workers a day to get this project, which began last November with the new stadium, across the goal line.
Fully aware of the inconvenience this project has caused in the neighborhood, Krischel spent one recent evening knocking on nearby doors and passing out gift cards for 10 car washes at a nearby location, compliments of Cordogan, Clark and Associates.
"With all the mess we are making, the dust and the noise and the general chaos of this project," he said, "we just wanted to do something to say 'thank you for putting up with us.'"
Our tour — which took us inside and out, through new construction and major renovations — provided an up-close look at that beehive of activity: Workers in hard hats were welding; driving backhoes; breaking up and moving concrete; doing masonry, electrical and plumbing work; and even painting and putting in new floor covering.
Having never visited the bowels of a major construction project, I have to say, it was impressive —especially when I realized I was standing in the same building where, only a few weeks prior, I'd attended a faculty talent show.
A whole lot has changed in a very short time, and that was never more obvious than when I stood in the new west-side vestibule of the school with its open-forum floor plan, bench seating and 28-foot ceilings that, to be completed in December, can serve as much as a multipurpose space as a grand entrance.
It's the new football stadium, however, that is the most visible sign of this new day in East Aurora. The venue, costing at least $7 million, replaced the 100-year-old, decrepit but historic stadium and is shaping up to be a state-of-the-art facility that, as Krischel and football coach Kurt Becker both point out, will be used not only for football but also for track, soccer, band, ROTC and physical education classes.
But it's not just the latest in artificial turf or fuel-efficient LED lights that make this sports venue unique. Nor is it the brand new scoreboard, upgraded with help from the Roy E. Davis Foundation, or the 8-foot chrome abstract Tomcat sculpture, also purchased with private donations, that will greet visitors at the entrance of the stadium. Nor the expansive press box with separate rooms for opposing teams or the new concession stands that Becker promises will offer so much more than popcorn and hotdogs.
What will help make this field "a place that draws community together," he insists, will be the Veterans Memorial Plaza on the northeast corner of the complex that, with private donations now starting to come in, will be a "holy ground" — complete with a 90-inch eternal flame — that pays tribute to East Aurora's rich military legacy.
The stadium will also become a "destination field" that can host regional and state events, said Becker, adding, "You can change people's perceptions through bricks and mortar."
Speaking of those bricks and mortar, Krischel's one message he wanted to get out to the public was the emphasis on "value engineering" that went into this project, not only by Cordogan, Clark and Associates but also by the school board and administration. "We know this will be here for a long time," he said, "and we wanted to make sure it lasts."
Krischel insisted that the "blood, sweat and tears" that went into this project have been more than worth it because of the appreciation he has felt while working on this contract.
"This will be such a jewel for the community," he said, "one that everyone can take pride in."
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