The hands that built the Hancock

The gnarled knuckles and thick calluses tell a story of their own: conditioned from years of hard work -- the hauling of machinery, laying of stones and the installation of innumerable wires -- they are a colorful geography decorating the hands of those who, piece by piece, have crafted the Ellen M. Hancock Technology Center. These are the hands that laid the foundation, hauled tons of organic material and constructed the steel beams. With these hands, thousands of pounds of cement were poured and tons of stones were placed onto the building's facade. Two summers have passed since the project kicked off, and the second winter of construction looms close. But now, in a few short weeks, the project will wrap. After a long wait, the Hancock Center will open its doors for operation, hosting a slew of new offices, classrooms, a trading floor, and a Starbucks café. And, in a quiet, unceremonious fashion, those who have worked on the sight for the past 18 months will pack up one more time and make their exit.

Hanging up their hard hats will be a bittersweet affair come January.

"It's a great feeling," said John Tabler, a concrete specialist of J. Mullen & Sons out of Saugerties. "This is one of the nicest jobs that I've been on. I'm proud to be a part of it."

In keeping with the college's vision of community support, all of the helping hands were of the local variety: hailing from across the Hudson Valley, many of the craftsmen and craftswomen have worked on Marist's projects before.

"It's been a pleasure to work here," Tabler said, whose company was involved in bringing the architectural visions of the James Cannavino Library, the McCann Center and Fontaine Hall to fruition. For this one, he said, they "pulled out all the stops."

"It's just gorgeous," he said.

The building's shell is quickly filling out. Enclosing the quad, the center stands a majestic three stories of towering, sloping archways, turrets and broad windows. The walls on the inside are wood paneled, each piece painstakingly cut, crafted, and laid. As I walked through, the stonework in the hallways floors was settling in a fresh blanket of thickening cement. Dust had no chance to settle: the hallways were abuzz with activity as gloved hands, cement-plastered hands and the meticulous hands all deftly worked on wiring, spackling and measurements of all kinds.

John Monahan, also of J. Mullins & Sons, remembers when the Hancock sight was "a hole in the ground and a bunch of blown up rocks." For 40 years, he has made a career out of laying cement; for over half of that time, he has proudly shaped the Marist landscape into what it is today. He enjoyed the challenge that constructing the Hancock Center posed. It was different than any previous project he had been tasked.

"It was special because we were in such a small site," he said. "It was like building a three-story building on a matchbook." His hands, speckled with nicks and cracks, pawed at his sandwich as we spoke during his lunch break. It was a brisk 35 degrees out as he took a rest in his truck.

Jerry Walker, the project superintendent who works under Kirchhoff-Consigli Construction Management, has also been involved in the chemistry lab renovations as well as "Phase 4," the newest set of Lower Fulton Townhouses. Some days, there are as many as 120 people working on the sight, he said, but these days, the numbers are down to about 60. Donning a hardhat, he guided us through the nearly finished hallways, up and down the parallel staircases and out onto the green roof.

Standing at a back window overlooking the river, it was easy to see how Marist has evolved into one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. How? All I needed to do was turn around and witness the hard work of the busy men and women bustling all around.

[Originally published December 9, 2010]