Weather, pandemic slow ATEC completion


TORRINGTON, Wyo. – Inclement weather in the early days of the project have pushed the anticipated finishing date for the Agricultural Technology Education Center back to mid-July at Eastern Wyoming College.

“The project has gone pretty good so far,” said Keith Jarvis, project superintendent and physical plant director at EWC.

“We had some weather delays early on,” he said. “When the wind is blowing or it’s snowing, it’s very difficult to be working with rolls of insulation or sheeting that goes on the building You just can’t do that work, so that slowed things down.”

The ongoing novel coronavirus, too, led to a few delays with deliveries, Jarvis said. But it was nothing insurmountable and the project is now proceeding apace.

“There’ve been some delays in materials, but not a huge amount,” heh said. “And we’ve had some labor issues, because of the restriction – if you’re feeling sick, don’t come in at all.

“There’s been some of that,” he said. “Some labor shortages where I think (without the COVID restrictions), people would have just worked through.”

There haven’t been any “major surprises” on the project. But, there have been the typical issues that will plague any project of this magnitude, Jarvis said.

Some of those date back to before the first shovel-full of dirt was ever turned, he said. The first set of plans were quashed by the EWC Board of Trustees in 2018 after bids came in significantly greater than initial construction estimates. Architects went back to their drawing boards and redesigned the facility, which led to some compromises and, specifically, a change in the orientation of at least one classroom – and issues that emerged during the build.

“When they rearranged the building from the original design, some of the walls didn’t work out right,” Jarvis said. “So we had to change some of those to make everything fit right.”

It meant moving some plumbing connections and a few other, overall-small changes, he said. 

“Most of the wall changes were minor, but when you move wall locations, that can mean the plumbing won’t work right and then we have to move plumbing,” Jarvis said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect set of plans. Some are better than others, but nothing’s perfect.”

The first goal of the project was to “dry in” the building – completion of the superstructure and exterior walls to close out the elements. Once that’s accomplished, subcontractors can move inside and the work of building interior walls and more can begin.

“That was our challenge early on,” Jarvis said. “There’s just a lot of stuff you can’t do until you have the shell up.”

A number of the subcontractors – from electricians and carpenters to tile and plumbing installers – are local firms. That meant that, once the dry-in was completed, they could begin to swarm over the building like an army of ants at a picnic.

“We have a lot of local subs, they know each other, and they work well together,” Jarvis said. “They coordinated and worked together; they didn’t get in each other’s way so we were able to keep things moving really fast.”

The ATEC project is scheduled for “substantial completion” – moving from the all-out construction phase to the clean-up and touch-up phase of the project – about July 13. Right now, sub-contractors are in the building, painting walls, installing tile and all the other finishing work that needs to be done.

The next step will be installing cabinets and flooring, then Jarvis and EWC officials will walk through the building, looking for small things that need to be addressed – a ding on a wall that needs to be repainted, light fixtures that don’t work as anticipated – before the project can be called done.

Most of those small items are being addressed during weekly tours of the building Jarvis takes with the general contractor. But there are always small issues, he said.

Then, after furniture is delivered and set up, Jarvis and his crew will take over, moving offices, paperwork, books and more for instructors in the EWC agriculture department.

“My people won’t hit until the mid-August time frame,” he said. “That’s when we’re taking people’s office stuff – saying ‘come box your office up’ – then moving things over here and setting up in their office.”

Moving into ATEC should go easier than when they moved equipment and offices in the Career and Technical Education Center across the road. Programs taught in the CTEC facility – specifically welding and cosmetology – meant a significant amount of equipment had to be moved from what were two separate facilities into the program’s new homes.

“We had to first take it out of the old buildings and hide it, then had to move it into the new building to populate it,” Jarvis said. “With this building, we don’t have a lot of that. We didn’t have a dedicated place for agriculture, so it’s really just a lot of office moving and they’re going to have to purchase new stuff to populate the labs.”

The ATEC will be shared by both agriculture and veterinary technician programs, but not to the extent the two programs shared space in the past. Animal labs, large-animal surgery areas and the current livestock barn on the north campus adjacent to the new ATEC will also remain.

When it came right down to it, those unanticipated bids that came in well over estimates may have been at least somewhat advantageous to the overall project, Jarvis said. While the redesign and rebid process did push the project back at least a year, once it got rolling, the extra time let Jarvis set things up to the best advantage.

“I’d say the project has been pretty close to normal – I haven’t had what you call the ‘nightmare construction project,’” he said. “I’ve had those in the past, where things just don’t go right and you’re not ready when the hammer drops.

“I think what made this project easier is we had a lucrative schedule. When the building didn’t go the first time, we were left with a long schedule,” Jarvis said. “If we’d been on a very tight schedule to begin with, there would have been some heartaches.

“And there’s a lot of excitement building now for the opening. There always is.”

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