park sculpture

Project: “Common Ground”
Location: Denver, Colorado
Designer: Barbara Grygutis
General Contractor: Rock & Co.
It November of 2000,  Tucson based artist Barbara Grygutis sent a request for proposal to Rock and Co in Brighton, Colorado.  She had won a design competition sponsored by the local Gates Family Foundation to promote public art.  “Common Ground” would be a gift to the City of Denver, the crowning jewell of a new park along the South Platte River.  The centerpiece of the City’s plan to redevelop, and revitalize the Central Platte Valley.

 Value Engineering–  Systematic method used to analyze functions in an effort to improve the ratio of function to cost.  Value can be increased by reducing cost or improving function.

As lead estimator at commercial masonry contractor Rock & Co., the task of submitting a proposal for this park sculpture was mine.  Initially we were asked to price the stone masonry work only, which at the time was specified to be entirely wrapped in granite from Minnisota.  Ms. Grygutis would orchestrate the project acting as a general to the different trades.  We were qualified to build the whole structure, so we submitted a number  for us to perform as general.

Rock & Co. was awarded the entire project, but with a catch.  There was a fixed amount of money to fund the project, our proposal exceeded that sum by a staggering 40%.

I’ll never forget the morning founder of Rock & Co. Bruce Davis slid a set of plans across my desk, mentioning something about an artist.  “I think this one’s right up your alley!” he said with a smirk.  Wasn’t sure what he meant by that, so I unrolled the drawings to reveal a 200 foot long sculpture, clad in stone.  Hey Bruce, “I’m on it!”.

Initially we put together an estimate for the stone work only, the designer intended to act as G.C. and sub-out the different trades.  A granite veneer from out of state was spec’ed,  and our masons would assemble. 

As is often the case in construction estimating, the numbers were higher than expected.  After subsequent months of negotiating, we developed a relationship with Barbara, the designer.  She asked us to not only act as general contractor, but help value engineer the project into budget prior to construction.  We happily obliged.

To bring project cost down we sourced local materials as much as possible.  Instead of hauling cut granite from 800 miles away, a rhyolite quarry 25 miles from Denver provided a light weight, easy to manipulate, natural stone for the veneer material.

Raw material was delivered to the job site in the form of large boulders, 2 to 4 foot in diameter.  The masons then split the boulders into smaller pieces that would fit on the 6″ ledge.  Using different scribing methods, they fit the stones tightly together.  I mean really tight.  Like Machu Picchu tight.  Of course the more precise you are with stone, the more waste you produce.  In this case there was about 300 tons of scrap stone, from the nearly 600 tons delivered.  Fortunately, the scrap was readily hauled locally for use as landscaping material.

One of the more interesting aspects of the project was the excavation.  A stones throw from the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, these banks are layered with a 150 years of the city’s history.  A big flood in 1865 leveled a number of buildings near the confluence, shifting future developement of the city to higher ground, or what is now lower downtown Denver.  According to one of the Denver parks department employee that coordinated the construction of “Commons Park”, the project site had a checkered past. 

For years the site lay vacant, piles of debris had accumulated there during the flood and it became a dump of sorts.  Around the turn of the century, meatpackers filled the site in and built a plant, before the rail yards expanded and ran over it a half century later. 

Because of the soft and variable fill we would be building on and the lengthy nature of the structure, the engineering called for over-excavating 3 feet beyond the bottom of foundation.  The 12 foot wide trench was 8 feet deep in places.  Visible from I-25, the enormous pile of dirt attracted nightly visitors that would scratch the walls of the trench looking for valuable antique bottles.  Our job site office soon became littered with hundred year old bottles.   We also unearthed leather boots, stained glass, and cattle bones, though I didn’t keep any of those.


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