Sherwood student Grace Gary building her own alma mater
Grace Gary doesn't have to imagine what it would be like to work on a construction project. The 17-year-old Sherwood High School student already knows.
Gary, who enters her senior year next week, spent eight weeks as a summer intern with Skanska USA Building. Her office was the 73-acre site along Southwest Elwert Road where the contracting company is overseeing construction of a new high school for the Sherwood School District.
Skanska often offers students opportunities to work as summer interns on the company's projects. The Sherwood High School project seemed like the perfect opportunity to extend the experience to a local student, Sean Walker, a senior project manager with Skanska, said.
Gary had been considering a career in accounting or teaching, but she also had wondered what a career in civil engineering or construction might be like. So, she applied, and was selected, for the internship.
Eight weeks later, her experience has given her a new insight into — and appreciation for — what it takes to construct a building. The internship also has led her to add a few more items to her list of possible careers.
"It's just making the decision harder now," she said, with a laugh.
The right stuff
This is the second year that Skanska has tapped a student from Sherwood High School to serve as an intern on the new school project.
Gary applied for the internship last year, which the school sent out an email about the opportunity shortly before the project broke ground in mid-June. When she wasn't selected, she decided to try again this year.
In setting up the internship, Sherwood High School administrators identified some requirements, such as identifying a minimum grade point average for students applying. Skanska also has its own description for the internship position along with certain ground rules, including teacher recommendations and parental support.
This year, like last year, the school did the first filtering of applicants, coming up with a list of eight finalists that included Gary. A couple of Skanska team members and representatives from the school district then sat down and conducted half-hour interviews with each finalist.
"It was actually pretty unanimous to hire Grace," Walker said.
While her title was "intern," Gary was treated like a member of the staff, including handling a workday that ran from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The hardest part of her summer job, she said, was having to rise and get ready for work while most of her friends were still asleep. But she enjoyed the boost her college fund received from a steady 80-hour paycheck every two weeks at a rate of pay higher than what her classmates were earning.
"Most of my friends either have normal minimum wage jobs like restaurants or a couple work at the movie theater. Nothing super-exciting," Gary said.
Her summer job, on the other hand, came with real-world responsibilities — the type anyone starting out on a project site might be expected to handle.
Sherwood High School project summer interns aren't given busywork. Instead, the general contractor makes sure intern responsibilities provide each student a sense of having played an integral part in the project.
"Obviously we're trying to get someone to work for us," Walker said. "But we're also trying to get an experience that they're going to enjoy because we want them to come into our industry."
Gary's internship duties, for example, ranged from helping organize a recent team picnic — one of the best picnics Walker said he's ever attended — to conducting quality control checks to make sure plugs were in the right places and case work was ready to go before sheet rock went up on walls. For the latter task, Gary learned to use the company's newest technology, 360 cameras.
"Grace is actually more adept with (that technology) than I am at this point," Walker said.
A growth spurt
It's been 50 years since Sherwood has built a new high school.
In the late 1960s, faced with overcrowding, Sherwood School District built a new school along Meinecke Road. By 2016, another swell in population forced the district and the community to begin looking at options that included expanding the existing school or building a new one.
The district, with the assistance of a student advisory committee, eventually settled on a new building that would be able to easily handle the approximately 1,700 students the high school now serves. But district officials also wanted a school that could handle the future growth the city anticipates, so the new school was designed to be big enough to handle a future enrollment of 2,400 students.
"Sherwood wanted to be a one-high-school town," said Walker.
The high school project also is the start of a chain effect of future projects for the district, all supported with a voter-approved construction bond.
Once the new high school is open, the existing high school building will be renovated and used as a middle school, effectively merging Laurel Ridge and Edy Ridge middle schools. Hopkins Elementary School will move into the current middle school, and its existing building will be renovated as office space for the Sherwood School District.
Skanska has already has been selected to handle two of those future projects, work that will start next year in late spring and early summer, Walker said.
Work on the 352,000-square-foot high school building just passed the halfway point, with the number of workers on site close to peak at between 260 to 280, Walker said.
A four-story classroom wing is ready for case work and interior finishes. while the roof and exterior wall and skin envelope are being finalized for the athletic wing. When completed, the sports wing will feature a main gym with an elevated track along the walls, an auxiliary gym, a wrestling room and locker rooms.
Work also is progressing on a performing arts wing, which will feature a 600-seat auditorium that will be double the space available in the current high school. Another wing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and career and technical education (CTE) classes, from welding to engineering, will feature rolling doors along an outside wall to allow students to work on large projects outside.
One a west side exterior wall, two patterns of brick veneer are already in place. Most of the panels of glass in a skywalk that will connect two sections of a third level of the school also are in place. The few that are missing will be custom cut to ensure a precise fit, Walker said.
Crews are working on a stadium for football games and track events with a canopied grandstand with a 2,000-person capacity. Additional seating will accommodate an additional 500 more sports fans. The project also calls for the construction of two baseball fields, two softball fields and two multi-use fields.
On another side of the building, a parking lot for teachers and other school staff is planned that will be outfitted with a card-accessible security gate. Another parking lot will have spots for visitor and students. Two other lots will serve students exclusively.
Ups and one down
Unlike many projects in the Portland metro area, the high school project didn't feel the pinch of a shortage of skilled workers. Skanska, in general, has started to get subcontractors involved in the early stages of planning on projects, which helps boost buy-in and loyalty. The Sherwood High School project was no exception.
"There have been a few instances (where labor has been tight), but they've been fairly minor in the grand scheme of the current market conditions," Walker said. "We wanted to make it an attractive project for both bidding and suppliers, and I think that has really helped in making sure the manpower filled our needs."
A steady flow of workers has helped keep the project on track while keeping costs in line. With construction costs coming in under budget at $156 million, the school district was able to add some extras to the project, including synthetic turf, a running track and polished concrete floors to many of the classrooms, Walker said.
That doesn't mean the project hasn't been without challenges. One of the biggest hurdles occurred this past winter when heavy storms hit. Because the project is on a hillside, crews had to deal with result of the runoff of rain from the 73 acres of the site — an amount Walker estimated at 1.9 million gallons per inch of rain.
"It all ran into one spot on the site," he said.
Landscaping and storm water systems are expected to be in place before the winter rains hit, which should eliminate the problem this year, Walker said.
During her years at Sherwood High School, Gary has been able to feed her growing interest in a possible career in the building industry by taking several engineering classes. For her upcoming senior year, she's looking at possibly adding some architecture classes.
Offering a range of opportunities that allow students to examine possible future work paths is something Sherwood High School has excelled at, Gary said.
A new high school building currently under construction, for example, will feature 3-D art rooms where students will be able to learn how to throw pottery. Students studying photography will have the opportunity to learn to print in a full darkroom. The school's CTE program will be located in a part of the building that will feature rolling doors and a generous patio area to allow students to work on large projects in an outdoor environment.
"My school just offers a lot of really good programs," Gary said.
She also gives the school high marks for providing students with internship opportunities, like the one she recently completed with Skanska. But she suggests more schools might want to consider introducing students to programs like Girls Inc., which offers a five-year apprenticeship program that girls participate in from eighth grade all the way through high school.
As part of her internship with Skanska, Gary served as a member of a panel of people working in the building that met with students in the Girls Inc. program for a Day of Discovery event.
"Finding more ways to get high schoolers into internships. I think that would help," Gary said.
Since Gary is set to graduate next spring, she'll more than likely never attend class at the school she's helping to build. But each time she passes by the new high school in the future, she'll see herself in it all the same.
"I learned a ton," she said. "It's surprising how many little steps it takes to get one thing done (on a project). There has to be a ton of approvals before they can sheet rock or before they can change a plan."
Gary also left her eight-week stint with Skanska with an offer the company extends to students who have excelled as interns. Last year, for example, Kenneth Yohe was the first Sherwood High School student to serve as a summer intern for Skanska on the new high school. This year, he was offered the chance to work on another project for the contractor.
Gary's outstanding work this summer has earned her a similar invitation, according to Walker.
"If Grace wants to come back, she's always welcome," Walker said. "We've already told her."
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