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Opinion: Builders shape community more than realized

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It’s a beautiful winter day in Colorado. You’ve just gotten into your favorite ski lodge, and as you walk in, you are welcomed with warm, light-colored wood floors, vaulted ceilings with timber beams, glossed timber walls, and magnificent windows with mountain views and ample sunlight pouring into the room. When you finally get to your room, you are greeted with a cozy fireplace, modern rustic decor and soft lighting creating a comfortable environment for your relaxing ski trip getaway. Sounds fantastic, right?

Now, imagine that same Colorado vacation, but instead of the warmth of the timber ski lodge, you are going to spend your time in the mountains staying in the cool confines of a hospital. With the need to maintain a sterile environment, the warmth of the ski lodge is replaced with white tile floors, drop-panel ceilings, narrow hallways, fluorescent lights and plain white walls with occasional earth-tone paintings to add a splash of color to an otherwise dreary atmosphere. That would certainly change the temperature of the vacation.

The point of this contrast is to highlight how much the built environment impacts us in ways we may not often consciously think about. How often do we really think about the structures we inhabit every day? If you’re like me, probably not very often.

 Buildings  set the tone for how we feel about our work, homes, schools, shopping and dining experiences, and virtually every part of our lives.

It’s easy to take for granted that these structures were designed and crafted intentionally based on the specific goals of the owner. In the case of the ski lodge or of a restaurant, it may be to augment or even help create the experience of the guest. Other structures may need to be more utilitarian in nature.

Imagine how complicated it would be to maintain and operate a sanitary hospital environment if it had the luxurious design of a ski lodge. Design teams work diligently with their clients to ensure every aspect of a building is focused on the type of project and use.

In addition to creating the right atmosphere or function of a building, the construction industry is focused on creating safe environments. Structures are built on foundations designed for the specific site, sometimes involving challenging soil and rock conditions.

Above ground, the structures are designed around a variety of details, including wind loads on walls, the weight of snow and ice on roofs, and the number of people who will be standing on the second floor of a building when it’s at full capacity.

Being structurally safe is only the beginning. Today’s buildings include increasingly complex electrical, information technology, HVAC, alarm and fire suppression systems to improve efficiency and the safety of inhabitants. What happens if there is a fire? We know what a fire suppression system is, but what does fire stop mean? Buildings are actually designed using methods to slow the spread of a fire throughout a building and create more time for inhabitants to escape.

The built environment includes all the physical aspects of our surroundings, and it has a profound impact on our daily experience. From an idea to the completion of a project, this experience is possible because of the fine professionals of the construction industry – electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, carpenters, welders, architects and engineers to name a few – who are dedicated to working hard and honing their crafts for the benefit or our community.

As our community moves forward with conversations focused on creating quality of place, a built environment that attracts new people to our community and retains the pipeline of existing talented young people  is critical for the future of our community.

So, the next time you find yourself enjoying your favorite restaurant or involved in a conversation about quality of place, remember to look around and appreciate the vision, hard work, dedication, and talent of the fine men and women who created the building and infrastructure that make the experience possible.

The construction industry is filled with noble professionals, and I’m proud to be a part of an industry that, literally, shapes our community one project at a time.

Ty Alexander is the principal of Terracon Consultants Inc. and the president of the Springfield Contractors Association board. He can be reached at ty.alexander@terracon.com.

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