“C’mon guys! Dig in with that rake, keep pulling it out boys, somebody drag out that high!” hollered Steve Hagelgantz to the 15 Fort Hays State students learning how to spread wet concrete.
They are the Site Preparation and Foundations class of Kris Munsch, assistant professor in the FHSU Center for Applied Technology. The students’ classroom Tuesday morning was the Hays Fire Department’s fire and rescue training yard off General Custer Road and Old Highway 40. Their assignment, to pour the concrete slab for a 40-foot by 40-foot classroom building for the HFD.
“This is the biggest pour we’ve ever done; it’s about a 30-yard pour,” said Munsch. “In the real world, that’s actually a small pour, but for a class, that’s a big pour. They’re students, most of them have zero experience.”
A big boom truck pumping in the mix roared in the background as the students, most of them construction management majors, stood in what looked like a big sandbox with steel rebar running through it, their boots ankle deep in wet concrete. The weather, chilly enough to make the concrete harden a little faster, accelerated the sense of urgency.
Hagelgantz, owner of Gemini Concrete Pumping LLC and Steve’s Construction, 1105 E. 41st, kept up a steady cadence of shouted instructions above the noisy motor.
“Let’s get some more mud up there! Somebody fix the holes, you’re already low!” he called out to the students. “You don’t need that much mud in there, you got twice what you need, you’re gonna have a hump. We need to get this screed out or we’re going to have a mess, it’s going to get dry and you guys are going to be chipping it out.”
Munsch, with more than 30 years of building and renovation experience himself, watched progress, also wielding a rake.
“I’ve been up since 2:30,” he said. “Stress, worry. It’s one thing to go build a little wall for somebody. Concrete is concrete, it’s going to set up, you gotta do it right. And this is for somebody else, this is a project we’re doing for the city and the fire department, we want it to be right, we want to do a good job.”
Slated for completion in the spring, the $45,000 project is a wood-frame, metal-siding building that will include a classroom, an office and two bathrooms. Funded by a grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, of Logan, it’s being built top-to-bottom by students from Fort Hays and NCK-Tech, all of them enrolled in classes to learn construction, plumbing and electrical installation.
Hays City Commissioners at a recent meeting approved the project and praised the effort to give students hands-on experience.
So far this year, the students prepped the site for the slab, calculated the concrete, and put in the footings and rebar. Then a couple weeks ago, they helped pour 37 yards of concrete for the footings, said Kortni Pabst, Spearville, a Fort Hays senior graduating in December with a degree in construction management. She starts work in January as a project manager for IEA, doing wind-farm construction in Texas.
“Wind turbines have massive foundations, so learning a little bit about concrete here I think will help me out in the field,” Pabst said.
Hays Fire Department Chief Ryan Hagans, on hand Tuesday morning, watched progress on the building.
“The teamwork has been very impressive,” said Hagans. “This is hard work, it’s labor intensive, and the students don’t shy away. Fort Hays wants to provide real-world experience. They come out two times a week for a couple hours a day and they just get in and go to work. It’s fun to come out and watch them work together.”
With more concrete pouring in, the students hustled to rake and smooth it.
“Get it out of there, rakers!” Hagelgantz shouted. “C’mon, you’re going to kill your screeders.”
He paused momentarily to give his impression.
“I’ve only done this for 35 years, before they were a gleam in their daddy’s eyes,” he said, then nodded toward the students. “They’re doing good. Concrete don’t wait on nobody, it has a mind of it’s own. Get it down, get it right, get it flat and get it finished. Either you win or it wins, and if it wins you go home with blisters. You don’t want to tear out concrete, it’s expensive.”
He surveyed the scene, and said, “That kid in the red is a worker.”
That’s Sam Witte, of Great Bend, a junior in construction management. Witte wants to be a foreman on a job site, either building or remodeling houses. On Tuesday morning, he’d done various jobs on the pour.
Getting the concrete spread and managed before it sets up is one of the hard parts, Witte said.
“It’s a little challenging, just being bent over the whole time,” he said. “But it’s an essential part of the concrete process, getting out all the air bubbles and getting it flat so it looks good.”
He’s spread concrete once before on another project, smaller than this one, earlier in the year.
“It’s going a lot quicker than the driveway we did at the beginning of the semester,” Witte said. “I think we’re all a little bit more experienced and know what’s going on.”
Brett Brewer, of Sterling, Colo., a junior in construction management, also works for Commercial Builders, 2717 Canal Blvd. He hopes to be a construction manager.
“I do a lot of concrete work,” Brewer said, citing aprons, sidewalks and concrete pads. “I think it’s going pretty well.”
It’s harder than it looks, he said, citing the urgency of staying on top of it.
“We’ve had a few hiccups, some of my classmates haven’t worked too much with concrete,” Brewer said. “In the finishing stages, to make it look nice, you have to be gentle with it, you just can’t be completely rough with it, or it’s not going to look as good, like when you’re floating. You can dig holes if you’re not conscious about it.”
The motor of the boom truck went silent, followed by a hydraulic hiss. Isaiah Blackmon, Hays, a senior in construction management, paused from raking.
“As the day develops we’re definitely getting the hang of things, and it’s going a lot smoother than it did at the start,” Blackmon said. “One thing we didn’t do before on our last project was a floor drain, so it was cool to see how to manually float that, and get the concave where the water will flow into it.”
One of the challenges, said Blackmon, has probably been the complexity.
“We’re kind of doing this pour in sections and working our way down, as well as using a belt truck to pump it in, so there’s just a lot of moving parts to get used to,” he said. “As soon as we get everything in unison we should be flying through this … It should be ready to go for the spring class to come build it.”
An hour into the pour, Munsch mentioned that one difference between the students and a commercial contractor is speed.
“It’d be done,” he said. “But I’m even a student, to be honest with you, I’ve never poured 30 yards at one time. I’m learning from Steve too. Concrete’s going to be stressful, it’s always going to be stressful until it’s dry and you’re walking away. It’s just hard work.”
From the pour, Hagelgantz hollered, “C’mon rake! Let’s go!”
Munsch expressed his satisfaction with the students, “He’s hollering at them, and they’re all staying there working.”
His voice rising above the motor, Hagelgantz shouted, “Mud doesn’t wait on anybody! Hey! We got holes out here, somebody fix ‘em!”