Two Worlds Sharing the Load

rendering of the new junction city high school building.

By David Wild, USD 475 Chief Operations Officer

The four of us walked the jobsite pretentiously unnoticed by the steel workers, welders, plumbers, electricians, masons and concrete crews. We were of a world where success is measured with schooling, neckties, position and the courage to make decisions. Out of place walking through the construction realm as they would be in ours. Theirs being a place of sweat, dirt and hard labor where hierarchy is established by problem solving cleverness, skill, physical courage and strength.

Having worked in the trade world as a welder in my early life, I recognize the mistake made by the white collar world is to assume superior intellect and ability. Little is exchanged socially between these two worlds but when making eye contact with a tradesman, I am often struck by a flash of intellect in the eyes and confidence in posture. The shadow of a mind that quickly adapts notions in drawings to three dimensional reality in construction. It is worthy of deep respect.

I know of the rituals and unwritten rules of the tradesman. Demonstrate the required attributes and an invitation to the inner circle comes stealthily. ‘Hey, some of us take our break over here.’ It leaves the invited to wonder of the balance; do I accept the awkward invitation or continue to show independence. Inner circle inclusion is not complete until a cutting wit with a vicious edge is deftly displayed. A dichotomy of respect being gained through an artful display of feigned disrespect. This is what it means, in part, to be in a man’s world.

Seemingly ignored on the job site, I can feel the eyes on our backs as we pass. The tradesman stops momentarily and looks after the small parade. I can discern the thoughts;

‘Just another bunch of white hats come to gawk and rub their chins. The gray beard might know a thing or two but for the others; no value added.’

I understand and appreciate the assessment because I once did the same. Respect must be earned.

On this particular mild spring day I was joined by Board of Education Construction Committee members David Walker and Jim Schmidt. These men and others walk the jobsite a couple times a month receiving updates from Cody Simon, General Superintendent for Hutton Construction.

District responsibilities for the project rest on me but I reflect on the silent bonds being formed and the support given by a team of experts. Work and its tasks are always on the surface. The topics of discussion with decisions to be made are pressing and many but underneath is the dynamic of relationship. 

Direction for required decisions often come to the forefront by consensus from a multitude of counselors. The architects, engineers, planners, tradesman and inspectors all skillfully facilitated by the Hutton team.

We are now several months into construction and I’ve yet to see Cody Simon show signs of stress. He is a solid young man with a construction science degree from KSU, relevant experience gained from the Fort Riley Middle School project as well as the KSU Alumni building. Cody has an incredible ability to plan, organize and direct action without causing offense to anyone in the process. He has earned respect from both work site worlds. 

Reflecting upon Schmidt and Walker, both bring a valued skillset to help with decisions and both have walked in the two worlds that make up the construction site universe.   

Jim has a pleasant and keen intellect. His energy and enthusiasm is infectious. His questions are probing and insightful. Jim’s sense of humor is dry and delivered in a way that results in momentary delay before outburst of laughter encase the room. ‘Torpedo humor’. He’s an easy man to like and working with him provides insights obtained only by those who call him family or friend. 

Out of respect for his accomplishments, experience and gentle manner, I feel compelled to refer to him as ‘Mr Walker.’ 

The man brings a smile to my face anytime he is present. Walker is a comfort. He sits in our ‘skull sessions’ quiet as he contemplates the facts, risks and the decisions to be made. Most of the time I have to solicit comment from him…, ‘and just what does the Marlboro Man have to say about this matter?’ Making reference to an anecdote that I started when Mr Walker joined the Board of Education. Walker, with his experience and sixth sense regarding risks, has something substantive to add. Quick to smile, he is a gracious gentleman with a proper balance of humility. When offered, his opinion is often galvanizing. 

I want the public to be aware and appreciate the value added by both Schmidt and Walker. Like all Board members, these men willingly serve on the Board and on the high school construction committee without pay. A sense of civic duty being the call and a job well done being the reward.

It takes the men and women of both worlds and community leaders such as Walker and Schmidt to keep us moving forward.