An Amazing Decade
By: Kerry O’Connell; Mortenson Construction
One of the facts of life when working in construction is that every 18 months you move to a new site and work with new people. Stapleton is a very nice exception to this rule. Mortenson was selected to build Stapleton in September of 2000, back when Bill Clinton was president and our economy was booming. We moved on site in April of 2001 and started construction on the first neighborhood and Quebec Square.
We closed out 2001 laying sod at the Visitors Center the week before Christmas in a snow storm and connecting sewer lines underneath Quebec Street on Christmas Eve. We watched in awe as the homebuilders began building the first homes on our brand-new, very frozen streets. Weather would become one of our greatest challenges at Stapleton over the next decade of construction. The summer of 2002 brought a huge August downpour that filled up our brand new 36″ sewer interceptor with sticky mud. Workers crawled inside and shoveled mud into wagons for weeks.
The following winter we would be hit with the famous, four-foot March blizzard – it took us a week to dig out our trailers. We snow-shoed in two miles to our big loaders, and then dug our way back to Quebec Street. Mother Nature was relentless that year. In September (historically our driest month), I removed all of the asphalt on Montview Blvd. The next day, we were hammered by a two-inch rainstorm that turned what was once a street into two feet of mud.
On July 11 of last year, I watched the big clouds roll in with great excitement. We now had the majority of our large waterways built. I grabbed a rain coat and my digital camera and drove out into the heart of the record downpour. The water in Westerly Creek was higher than I had ever seen it, but the streets were all passable. Our decade of storm drainage work was working as intended. The next morning, I drove the site again and was amazed at how little damage the massive amount of water had done. There would be no mud to dig out this year.
The only thing more fun than playing with mud and water is building bridges to get over mud and water. Stapleton is home to the most beautiful bridges in Denver.
Building the Central Park Boulevard Bridge over Sand Creek last fall was a tremendous treat for my staff. RMS cranes brought in a brand-new, 500-ton-capacity crane from Germany to set the girders. Having the biggest, newest toy in Colorado is every builder’s dream come true. There are three big goals when you’re building bridges: Don’t hurt anyone; don’t drop anything; and don’t let any mud get into the waterway. Ames Construction Company performed exceptionally well on all three.
We will pave the new bridge connecting south Stapleton to the Central Park Boulevard interchange by this May, creating a new way to get to I-70 and the Shops at Northfield Stapleton and relieving congestion on Quebec and Havana streets.
It is hard to believe that after 12 years, we are still only half way completed with Stapleton. I remind my new engineers, fresh out of college, that they were only 10 years old when I began this project. The future of construction at Stapleton looks very bright. This year, we are finishing half a dozen of the last puzzle pieces in south Stapleton and launching the first residential filing in north Stapleton. Over the years, my staff has varied from 4 to 40 construction professionals. More than 135 different men and women have worked here supervising roads and park projects. I must be pretty hard to work for.
Two years ago, I gave a friend from New Zealand a tour of Stapleton. He felt our little community was completely surreal – far more perfect and pretty than any place he had ever been. I had never seen it that way – builders are cursed with an eye for the blemishes that we could have done a little bit better.
Of all the things we have built at Stapleton, my favorites by far are the parks. The hundreds of people I see using Westerly Creek and Central Park while I work out at the Stapleton Recreation Center makes 12 years of problem-solving all very worthwhile. I am astounded at how at the beginning of the new millennium we created a new way to live in the paradise we call Colorado.