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A Road to Success – Women In Construction Week

We’re continuing our support of Women In Construction Week with a story that has little to do with our organization. Rather, we hope this blog inspires women to keep lifting each other up and making new connections. You never know when one story will relate to another considering a career in the trades.

While Sonia Shepard stands just 5’ 3” tall, her petite frame radiates positive energy and strength. Her life story is filled with exceptional highs and unsettling lows, nonetheless, Sonia has never stopped trying to pursue a better life.

At the age of 15, Sonia recognized that working with her hands made herself and others happy. In middle and high school, Sonia excelled in athletics and preferred woodworking and shop classes over home economics.

“Ask anyone that knows me, and they’ll tell you I can’t cook,” said Sonia. “But what I have always been good at is paying attention to detail and building things.”

Sonia Shepard graduated from Hawk College’s Highway Construction Careers Training Program
Sonia Shepard is a graduate of Black Hawk College’s Highway Construction Careers Training Program and a part of our #WICWeek2020 celebration.

Building Confidence

Having worked various jobs across industries, Sonia found her calling when she found out about Black Hawk College’s Highway Construction Careers Training Program (HCCTP).

“I felt this program was an opportunity of a lifetime for me,” explained Sonia. “All of a sudden it clicked. I knew I would be able to pair my attention to detail skills with my love of building things.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation created the HCCTP to increase the number of minorities, women and disadvantaged persons working on IDOT projects. According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), women make up just 9.9% of the construction industry in the United States.

“Women think we can’t get jobs in this field, and I’m here to tell you we can. No matter if you want to be an electrician, carpenter or plumber, females can do these jobs and opportunities are available,” said Sonia.

During HCCTP’s full-time, 13-week course, Sonia learned about:

  • Construction Math
  • Job/Life Skills
  • Construction Blueprint Reading
  • 10-hour OSHA
  • First-Aid/CPR/AED
  • Fork Truck Safety/ Scissor Lift/Aerial Lift
  • IA/IL Flagger
  • Stick Welding
  • Construction equipment operation
  • Hands-on projects within the community
  • Field trips to the Trades

The end result of HCCTP is to prepare folks to work in the field of construction and to create a strong pipeline of applicants who will be accepted as an Apprentice in a DOL-approved Building Trade. HCCTP representatives work closely with the Building Trades in the Quad Cities and have a great relationship. The program relies on input from the Building Trades and the Contractors to ensure that what is being taught is what is needed. There is a closed Facebook page for all graduates, who frequently post information regarding applications, job openings, etc. Most graduates post updates on their work status, Journeyman completion and to send positive messages to other graduates.

Remaining Positive

After graduating from the program in November 2015, Sonia knew she wanted to find work as a heavy highway carpenter. However, given the time of year, it was a struggle to find a job. To keep herself busy and from being too discouraged, Sonia began painting.  One day, Sonia received a call from a GC located in Wisconsin notifying her of their interest to add a woman to their team. Three days later, Sonia was on a jobsite and has never looked back.

Julie Gelaude, HCCTP Director and a NAWIC Quad Cities Chapter member, said, “Sonia is exactly the kind of person this program was built for. She was offered the opportunity, she listened, she learned, and she applied herself. She didn’t give up when something was hard, she pushed through. The opportunity is one side of the coin. The other side is grit, attitude and perseverance. Sonia had that in her when she started and HCCTP made it come alive in all aspects of her life, her focus, her drive and her pride. Her work speaks for itself. You can’t help but cheer her on! She has been and will continue to be surrounded by a strong support system. The Building Trades and contractors have been instrumental in the success of HCCTP. They take our graduates and are changing lives like Sonia’s and providing them with a career.”

Paul Fessler, HCCTP Program Manager, added, “Sonia makes a point of visiting HCCTP classes to tell her story. Her message is that you can do it, too.  She truly inspires others!”

Excelling in the Field

One of the best tips Sonia received was to find a colleague she wanted to learn from and “follow them” around to absorb any information she could. As a result, Sonia has picked up tips and tricks from foremen that enable her to be better and faster at her job.

Sonia explained that her experience working in a male-dominated field has been one where “the guys respect you as a woman and don’t want you to get hurt. Though as a woman working in construction, you have to do the work to earn the respect.”

It’s no surprise to her colleagues that Sonia can carry a 16-foot 4’x4’ herself. She’s not only demonstrated feats of physical strength, she’s highly intelligent and genuinely cares for her colleagues. Regardless of any challenges taking place on the jobsite, Sonia said, “We all have to go home in one piece, and safety is always my first concern.”

Sonia’s stand-up character and hard work ethic are being recognized off the jobsite too. She just received the John Hass Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to a graduate of the HCCTP currently enrolled in an apprenticeship program to purchase needed tools.  Sonia received $500 worth of tools she needs on the jobsite.

Today, Sonia is a member of Carpenter Local Union 4 and will receive her Journeyman card in May 2020. Because she went straight into heavy highway, Sonia receives full Union benefits. “I never thought in my entire life I would have a retirement account, let alone that’s already up to six figures.” Sonia also shared that with her total benefits package, she will make up to $80 per/hour.

“They pay me to get dirty, they pay me to have fun. How can it get any better than that?”

For more information about the Highway Construction Careers Training Program, visit

To learn about career opportunities at McCarthy-Bush, click here.

What is Contingency and How Does it Benefit Construction Management?

The word “contingency” has many different meanings, depending on the industry you serve or your point of view. In construction, contingency refers to a percentage of money reserved to cover unanticipated project costs. A contractor, an owner, or a design professional (aka architect, engineer, etc.) all likely feel that the proper use of contingency within a project stems from different, but justifiable causes.

Design professionals

For instance, a designer undoubtedly assumes responsibility for planning and designing a building that complies with all building codes and regulations. However, to draft a complete project that indicates every possible section or detail, and also encompasses every possible combination of material, model, or manufacturer is inconceivable. Therefore, in the designer’s eyes, it may be perfectly acceptable during the construction phase to use contingency spend to accommodate variations or updates that need to be made to the “as-bid” plan set.


In contrast, if an owner is fortunate enough to have any contingent funds left in their budget, they are likely to prefer that they are used on project betterments. Perhaps to add items to the project that had been eliminated during design or value engineering, or maybe just to incorporate items from their wish list that hadn’t made it into the project initially. It is conceivable to see the justification for this case as well.


Lastly, a contractor may take the stand that the use of contingent funds is reserved for unforeseen or differing conditions than those outlined in the plans and specifications from which they based their bid on. For example, old foundations or utility piping buried on a project site that wasn’t documented on the as-builts (record drawings) of a particular property. The contractor had no way of knowing the subsurface conditions of the entire project site and therefore should be entitled to additional compensation, drawn from the project contingency. It seems fair to me…I may, however, be biased.

Whatever your viewpoint, one thing is clear. Every project should have some measure of contingency included and its acceptable uses defined and agreed upon at the onset, you’re going to need it!


Author: Rob Davis | Vice President of Operations | Bush Construction

The post What is Contingency and How Does it Benefit Construction Management? appeared first on Bush Construction.

School Bond Referendums: 6 Essential Success Factors

More than ever, communities must produce smarter tactics to promote school bond referendums. Failing to do so will result in a lack of voter support and an unsuccessful bond initiative. While there are no guarantees, a positive outcome is much more likely to occur when an organized, thoughtful approach is in place.

6 Essential Success Factors to Garner More “Yes” Votes

  1. Build trust – The relationship between the community, board of education, administration, faculty, and staff is crucial. The connection must be sincere and built up over time. As we know, the existence of trust does not promise success but the absence of it might indicate defeat. Without trust, the chance of a vote failure is high, no matter what other action takes place.
  2. Listen to stakeholders – Understand the needs of every stakeholder group and include them in the planning process. Appropriately involve them as the initiative advances and keep in mind two-way communication is critical. Consider launching regular surveys to understand the goals of community members and act on the feedback when you get it. After all, investing time to collaborate with the community will pay off.
  3. Personalize the message – You will need to do some selling to gain support. First, learn about the different groups that make up your district. Then, understand what they need to know about the school bond referendum based on their goals, priorities, and interests. Thus, it will be easier to develop specific messages that appeal to their interests and priorities. Reflect on the unique needs of each group you are trying to reach.
  4. Use numerous styles of communication – Ignoring critical channels of communication could potentially make or break the campaign. Present your message on local news media outlets, direct mail, social media, and face-to-face to influence all stakeholders. Answering people’s questions, addressing their concerns, and keeping them informed throughout the process is key.
  5. Community groups – Often, it’s small community groups that do the most effective selling. They represent the stakeholder groups. The individuals who live amongst and regularly engage with voters have the best chance of connecting with people in a personal way. Contemplate capitalizing on these community groups and encourage them to host neighborhood meetings. Intimate Q&A sessions are a proven way to build community understanding and support.
  6. Public information meeting – Consider holding a public information meeting at the school. Think about organizing the event with each table representing a specific facet that may interest stakeholders; education, finance, building, superintendent, the board of education and PTA. This way community members can walk around and pursue targeted information. The individuals at the tables must be effective in leading one-on-one conversations. This added touch carries a sense that every question is important and will contribute to overall voter turnout.

Securing School Funding Requests

A successful school bond referendum campaign is not the result of the final push. To be effective, you must start from day one crafting the message and fostering support. It’s all about the way you communicate. Trusted relationships and an informed community are keys to a winning outcome.


Author: Jerod Engler | Vice President of Construction | Bush Construction

The post School Bond Referendums: 6 Essential Success Factors appeared first on Bush Construction.

10 Reasons Why You Need BIM on your Next Project

Michael Johnson | Director of Integrated Design + Technology | Bush Construction

BIM (Building Information Modeling) is a 3-D modeling technology. It allows contractors and owners the opportunity to virtually build, visualize, coordinate and troubleshoot before a shovel ever hits the ground.

  1. BIM provides a facility that was built virtually before it was built physically.
  2. BIM will point out any conflicts between structural components and architectural items.
  3. BIM eliminates problems—no more accidentally slamming through plumbing pipe.
  4. BIM provides all parties involved with a high level of confidence that what is being built will work.
  5. BIM means less re-work.
  6. BIM significantly reduces waste. Construction creates 53.4 million pounds of waste per year, not including demolition.
  7. BIM assures greater efficiency.
  8. BIM provides owners with a more in-depth understanding of their building.
  9. BIM opens doors to using more advanced technologies, such as virtual reality and laser scanning.
  10. BIM expands documentation. It provides the opportunity to communicate and make quicker, more informed decisions

BIM utilizes the latest technology to merge physical and digital, allowing Bush Construction the ability to provide our clients with the best construction experience possible.

Cement Soil Stabilization

Location: Lujack’s HiLine – Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen

Kevin Mericle | Superintendent | Bush Construction

Why Cement Stabilization?

Cement stabilization is required when the soil on a construction site needs to be amended. This process allows the installation of the building pad on site before the cold temperatures and ground freezing of winter sets in.

At one of our new construction sites, Lujack Hiline – a high-end car dealership in Davenport, Iowa, a geotechnical engineer recommended we proceed with cement stabilization. It was no surprise – we could not drive our vehicles on the site without sinking. We were aware, after a very wet September, that we were going to be facing poor soil conditions. Unfortunately, there was no way for the soil to self-correct on this site since as we would not have been able to get the soil to compact before winter began. The ground just wasn’t hard enough.

While this predicament is fairly common for this portion of Scott County, we don’t have to use this method often. In this area, we generally hit moisture at 6-7 feet down. On many job sites, we may hit pockets of poor soil, but on the Lujack’s site, the entire 4-5 acres was moist. The site was much too large to core out and fill with rock like we can on smaller jobs. Together with the owner, we made the decision to move forward with cement stabilization over the Thanksgiving weekend.

What is Cement Stabilization?

Soil stabilization can sometimes be done with lime, but since the temperatures were not warm enough for a long enough duration, this was not an option for this situation. Cement would need to be the cure.

Cement stabilization is the improvement of a soil material through the addition of a cement binder. The goal of stabilization is to improve soil for construction purposes. The most common method involves incorporation of small quantities of binders (cement) to the aggregate.

On the St. Vincent Athletic Complex football field project, we ran into a similar situation and were able to amend with lime. Lime is laid layer by layer and you can see the difference in color. We rototilled the lime in and then rolled it over. The process took two days for each football field. The lime was brought in from our sister company, Linwood Mining; truck after truck. Just like at Lujack’s, the ground wasn’t stable, and we couldn’t guarantee the fields without stabilizing the soil.

At Lujack’s we chose the cement process as it was recommended by the geotechnical engineer, it was weather appropriate and it was the most cost-effective option. Cement stabilization requires only one layer, but air temperature is key. The temperature must be 40 degrees or higher for the stabilization to set appropriately.

How does Cement Stabilization Work?

Since we do not have a local company that performs cement stabilization, we hired McCleary from Decatur, Illinois. They set 200 lbs. of cement every three feet. The machine itself costs $800,000. Also, on site was a tiller and two trucks. The two trucks each weighed over 15,000 lbs. McCleary remediated 170,000 SF in two 12-hour days. If we had decided to core out and fill the site with rock, it would have taken at least two weeks and we would have needed to find a place for 1,000 truckloads of spoils.

The cost to stabilize the soil ran approximately $200,000. If we had filled with rock, the cost would have been around $300,000. A savings of nearly 33%.

The cement stabilization was a success and construction is in full-swing.

The post Cement Soil Stabilization appeared first on Bush Construction.

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