KCRB: A day in the life of the excavator
The walls and windows of the Knight Cancer Research Building on the South Waterfront are beautifully installed, showing off SRG Partnership's ragged design that allows river views to the southern face.
While it's not quite finished yet — especially on the inside — it's all coming together, more or less as planned. Now, subcontractors are working on the plumbing and electric lines, and the exterior excavating for them. They are readying Meade Street for paving, which will be performed by McDonald Excavating.
The KCRB has a goal of employing 15 percent of its subcontracted work to be done by minority firms and that includes McDonald Excavating, a certified disadvantaged business enterprise and minority-owned enterprise. The project is on track to exceed that percentage by its completion date next summer.
It's a second-generation family-owned business founded in 1980. The family is Native American.
Mike Logan, project manager and estimator at McDonald Excavation, is its lead representative at the KCRB site, and stepped off-duty to show the Business Tribune around.
"The cool thing is how it all started (see sidebar). I don't know a single person who hasn't been affected by someone with cancer," Logan said. "My dad died of cancer. My mom is a survivor. It's personal to a lot of folks."
"In the beginning we got a phone call at the last minute, which is interesting, but because we're a minority contractor, we got a reference from JH Kelly," Logan said. "We had worked with them at the Nike campus. At that time is was a really cool opportunity: myself, our owner and our estimator came out and met with McCarthy-Andersen and OHSU."
And from there, the whole team at the CoLocation was accessible.
"It's teamwork: the way you have access to the engineers and architects and other contractors, I'd say the trust and the openness of this format is awesome," Logan said. "You can get an answer almost right away when there's challenges or problems arise. By having everyone right here, it makes a lot of sense. People have to let their egos down and just kinda be real."
McDonald began their work by first demolishing an existing wall.
"(We then) helped with installing lagging and excavation for the shoring wall, we did the dig-out for the footing and the pile caps, we helped install underground piping, excavated for the plumbers and electricians, we did a lot of contaminated soil removal because this is a contaminated area," Logan said of the scope of the excavator's job here.
Last week they started installing utilities into Meade Street during the nights. Since that road is the only access to the Skourtes Tower, it has to stay open during the daytime.
"Also, which is pretty awesome, we got to work on the Meade Street extension projects — we did the bond remediation project too, for OHSU, and ended up working on two other projects."
The nature of excavation is challenging because you never know what's buried under the ground.
"Most of our challenges had to do with trying to sequence the work in a way everyone could keep working," Logan said. "We didn't want to get every employee trained because it's expensive and have everyone working in contaminated soil."
They removed a laundry list of ship debris and metals from an old shipyard, along with hazardous soil from an old fertilizer plant.
"To phase the work is the biggest challenge for us. In phases, people can work and get rid of contaminated soil, and cap it where it's safe for everyone to work on."
He said ultimately, everything they found was pretty non-dangerous. "If you wear protective gear and wash up after, you're going to be OK."
McDonald will keep working until the end of the project.
"When it comes time to do the final grading for concrete and final grading for paver installation, we're going to be up there doing that work," Logan said.
They'll help get Meade Street ready for paving — as is, there's a whole block toward the east that's not at the right elevation.
"We did have some issues recently that hurt our schedule to do Meade Street utilities," Logan said. "We did have some struggles getting some permit things ironed out with the City."
McDonald had seven workers on the night shift, which will continue for a month before moving back to daytime. Then, the crew will become five people building Meade Street. The crew size varies from three to five people up to 15 on site at a time.
"We're in the Union, you can always get help, a workforce," Logan said. "But the challenge is there are a lot of requirements on projects like this: they require you have a certain amount of apprentices, a certain amount of people of color, a certain amount of females. In excavation there's not a lot of female operators, for instance."
It's challenging to find enough qualified people to hire.
"We have a pretty diverse crew going up there at night right now, but sometimes when you do contaminated soil handling you have to have an apprentice with the proper training, which a lot don't."
Between training people who end up not clicking with company culture, and others headed off to college instead of skilled trades, it's hard to reach the proper percentages of trained crews.
"I think in our country, folks will be surprised if they got into the trades they could earn a good living," Logan said. "It's always challenging to find good, quality people. We've been fortunate that way though, and our site superintendent is good at working with all types of people and good at pulling together a team."
"I grew up on the East Coast, moved here in 1995 and never went home because it's so nice here," Logan said.
Logan has worked with McDonald for five and a half years. It's now owned by Ryan McDonald, son of founder Mike McDonald, who retired two years ago.
"Ryan has a cool story. He grew up in construction, then he went off to college to get a construction management degree at WSU and did very well with it when he came out — he went to work with bigger companies to get a pretty broad-based learning of the company, then went back to work with his dad with the intent to learn and eventually take over the business," Logan said.
Logan also grew up in the construction industry, and has a bachelor's degree in political science from Syracuse University.
"When I got out of school I tried some other business for awhile, but ended up getting back in construction — at the time, it just made sense. I could make a lot better money," Logan said. "I came to find out, construction was suited to my personality really well."
He started as a laborer, became a foreman, worked up to a superintendent and is now a project manager.
"I also mentor for other project managers for our company. I appreciate that role because I've been able to do a lot of different things," Logan said. "I know how things are built, I also learn about the business, I interact with people, I get to do that a lot — and that's what's cool about this (KCRB) project, it's an exciting environment down here."
Logan has been to this South Waterfront site before, contributing to four other projects:
"I've worked with OHSU in the past on this campus actually: we built that parking lot there, put utilities and an underground storage pipe here for the City of Portland through OHSU and the City, an underground storm pipe here, and we also did some capping of this, also," Logan said, pointing around what will someday be the fulfilled South Waterfront District plan.
"Ryan's dad (Mike McDonald) always had good foresight. He grew up Native American and being in the construction industry, he could see where things were headed," Logan said. "I think at the time he was thinking we might end up working in Seattle, might end up working down here, but we mostly just work inside the Portland metro area."
They also worked on Tilikum Crossing, the Milwaukie Light rail, and with the Slayden-Sundt joint venture on the Sellwood Bridge.
"We've done a lot of really cool work. The fun thing about being a minority contractor in some ways, there's a need for it: people are trying to hire folks for the diversity end of it, but it gives us the opportunity to learn and develop, too," Logan said. "Since I've worked here, we've grown significantly."
Teaming up with the drill contractors, plumbers and electricians helped keep the work simple as long as the schedule is moving.
"Between our association with some of the bigger companies, we've been able to develop and learn, so I think that's just great," Logan said. "You've got to be open-minded about taking opportunities to learn and being willing to learn, but I think we've done that well, and this association with McCarthy-Andersen has just been awesome."
He said the joint venture team is a surprisingly smooth combo.
"They've done a really good job working with us, I've never felt like we didn't belong, they've given us every opportunity to continue to learn and they have even helped us get more work with OHSU, and that's awesome," Logan said. "It's interesting, the combination of two different companies sometimes doesn't always work out, but it seems to work really well here."
The KCRB is on schedule to be completed summer 2018.
By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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