Hard labor under the hot sun

Published 8:26 pm Friday, June 25, 2010

Visitors to the Suffolk News-Herald’s S. Saratoga Street office will have noticed a major change across the street, as construction workers have been busily erecting framing and other parts to what will be an almost entirely new building on the site where I’m told there used to be an A&P supermarket. Currently, one exterior, non-load-bearing wall is all that can be seen of the old structure, but the new components have us neighbors fidgety with anticipation.

When the Western Tidewater Community Services Board moves into the new space — which is expected to be complete before next spring — employees will have much to be proud of in the handsome new building. Perhaps there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony or an open house or some other such celebratory event to mark the official opening of the new offices.

If there is such a ceremony, it’s a good bet that WTCSB officials, architects, the city and even the contractor will all get some degree of praise for their parts in the transformation of the dreary old building into a hopeful new icon of Saratoga Street. But the folks giving the speeches would do well to think about what things were like on Thursday when they’re remembering all the people to thank for their hard work.

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Standing inside the air-conditioned space of the Suffolk News-Herald office — and holding onto a nice cold drink — I watched on Thursday as a crew of construction workers bustled around the site, putting up framing, hauling lumber and generally finding absolutely no relief from the 100-degree heat. Their pace, however, seemed unaffected — as is often the case at this point in construction — the progress they’d made by the end of the day was evident and surprising.

Having grown up in the construction industry and having poured my share of concrete sidewalks and slabs during the summer, I know a thing or two about laboring on a Southeast Virginia construction site in June and July. First, the heat and humidity drain your energy so completely that by the end of the day there’s an overwhelming temptation to grab the jobsite cooler and pretend you’re celebrating a Super Bowl victory. Second, on the sunniest, hottest days, it always seems that the jobsite superintendent wants to pour concrete.

Watch a good concrete crew for a while and you come to realize something that might seem counterintuitive: When the weather is at its harshest — and most folks are looking for a way to take it easy — these guys work the hardest. Concrete, of course, sets faster in the heat, so a good crew will work faster than ever when the risk of heat stroke is at its highest.

I loved that kind of work so much that I’m a newspaper editor now. Things have a way of working out, don’t they?