Credit: Alegra Zuchowicz | Mustang News

When the construction management department chair asked Nathan Horst and Steven Zheng to overhaul the College of Architectural and Environmental Design (CAED) support shop at the beginning of summer, Horst’s first thought was: “Wow, that is a big project to take on.”  

A majority of construction management senior projects are research-based, meaning a written paper about a construction related topic.

The CAED support shop sits behind a rusted fence, surrounded by nothing but gravel and uneven dirt between the construction management building and the architecture studios. The run-down shop is full of tools, machines, and resources such as laser cutters, CNC machines and 3D printers and is home to many classes at Cal Poly. Rainy days caused flooding, so trucks couldn’t access the shop or storage bays due to elevation difference between the gravel and existing slab. Students with disabilities couldn’t access the building at all. 

With help from a handful of American General Contractors (AGC) students, Horst and Zheng worked on the shop throughout the summer and it opened to students at the beginning of fall quarter. The students built the necessary schedule, designed the updates and constructed the concrete slab to address the needs of the CAED shop. 

According to Horst, the experience of watching construction like concrete pour is something most construction management majors only get during summer internships.

“To be able to actually do this first hand, with our boots in the concrete, alongside CalPortland, was the greatest experience. It was a feeling I hadn’t had previous to this senior project. It’s nice that now students who are in wheelchairs have access to such an awesome resource on campus,” Horst said. “It’s just a way safer space now for everyone.” 

Nathan Horst & Alegra Zuchowicz | Mustang News
Before and after of construction management senior project      

Mustang News reporter Kyla Miller spoke with Horst and Zheng about their time working on the shop.

Why did you decide to take this project on?  

Horst: At the beginning of this project, the area surrounding the cathedral of the CAED support shop was all gravel and dirt. The issue with that was that people in wheelchairs could not access the workshop whatsoever and the amount of usable work space was limited in general. Additionally, this area was having recurring drainage issues. It would literally just start to flood.  

What did you construct? Why not take the easier route? 

Horst: Our senior project is best described as the design and construction of a concrete slab for the CAED support shop with installation of underground utilities including electrical conduits and storm drains. Our department head reached out to me at the beginning of summer about this opportunity to help do something that the CAED shop has wanted to do for about five to six years now. I knew Steven was going to be a great asset to the project. 

What challenges did you face over the duration of the project? 

Zheng: There was already a ton of existing concrete in the storage bays and the cathedral itself. So not only did we have to tie into that, we had to maintain a 2% slope all the way around. While we were excavating for our concrete pour, there were tons of unmarked underground utilities that we did actually hit, pushing back our construction. 

How did that impact the overall completion of the project? 

Zheng: Luckily, in our schedule, we built in a ton of float, meaning we had room for error so it all worked out perfectly. But there were definitely moments when we both doubted our ability to complete the project on schedule, which just made for some really, really long days. 

Was the schedule you put together based on the project deadline? 

Zheng: This project was on campus, so we had very firm deadlines we had to hit just because students were required to have access when the school year began. I’ll also add that both Nathan and I were working at full-time internships throughout the entire duration of our senior project, so the majority of the construction took place at night time from about 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. every night. 

How did you go about getting funding and materials? Was it donated? 

Horst: When [construction management department chair] Dr. Woo reached out to us, CalPortland had already offered to donate all of the materials and a couple of labor workers to help us out. We also had reached out to Wallace Group and they donated their time to help guide us through the design process, which was nice. Obviously there were a ton of miscellaneous smaller items, like daily trailer rentals and catch basins, that we would have to call companies on the spot to explain the project and ask if they’d like to donate. 

And you were successful? 

Horst: Yes yes, everything was entirely donated, especially when explaining that this would benefit the entire Cal Poly community, especially those with a disability. 

Did anyone else from Cal Poly or the construction management department help you out along the way? 

Horst: We also had the support of AGC, which is the American General Contractors club, within the Associated Students Construction Management overarching club. They came out and assisted in tying rebar, as well as placing the concrete during our pours. It was great for us and gave those students the true learn-by-doing experience.

How do you feel being done with the project and seeing the support shop being used now? 

Horst: It’s nice that now students who are in wheelchairs have access to such an awesome resource on campus. It’s just a way safer space now for everyone. I feel super grateful to even have been given this opportunity. Seeing how everything eventually came together just how we imagined it reassured me in all that I am capable of. 

Zheng: You take everything you learn in class and labs and bring it out to the field. It’s a completely different experience, one that I wouldn’t take back for anything.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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