The Build: The Final Chapter

It was in 2019 that we began this project.  We spent a lot of time in planning, engineering, and designing, so most of 2019 was paperwork, but the construction began in 2020.  At that time I started this blog series, “The Build”, wherein I set out to document the entire process, from start to finish, sparing no detail for any reader who might be interested in knowing the nuts and bolts of commercial, multi-story construction.  And then I stopped after I wrote four, and here’s why.

Every construction project has its ups and downs.  There’s always stress, something not quite coming out right, and other things that just have to be torn down and redone.  Couple that with, on most projects, having a client to deal with who may or may not be entirely understanding when delays or cost overruns occur.  I went into this thinking that, at the very least, I wouldn’t have to answer to a client, and I was wrong.  I had the worst client ever – myself.  I beat myself up over the next three years more than any other human ever could.

I’ve always enjoyed a personal challenge.  It’s how you grow!  It’s how you become better and learn new things!  Yay!  I’ve built for years, whether single-family homes, duplexes, fourplexes, house additions, and our Killeen office, which was my first commercial project.  Taking on jobs with greater complexity trains you to be a better builder.  I knew going into this that it would be the most complex construction projected I had ever worked on.  Three stories, working with concrete and steel, rising adjacent to two historic buildings (literally inches apart), working on a lot that’s only 21 feet wide, digging into hallowed ground fraught with unmarked utilities, open pits, and fill dirt, installing an elevator, yadda yadda yadda.  I knew I was stepping into a learning experience, and it learned me good.

Now let’s factor in timing. Covid made its way into our lives just after we started this project, which didn’t have much of a direct effect on this in particular, but certainly made life more challenging. Then the real estate market went absolutely berserk. What had been a solid bull market for years suddenly turned into a real estate buying craze that had everyone in the industry working overtime just to keep up, including me. The biggest toll came at the hands of a construction industry that simply could not keep up with demand. To this day, every trade in the state is strained for qualified labor, and that hit our little project pretty hard. While small, this build was complex, which meant we needed high-level subs to do a relatively tiny job. The same people who weld together a Top Golf or build the CMU walls for schools were needed for this job. We got crews and got the job done, but painful delays extended this build torturously.

As the process continued to extend it became personally taxing and made it progressively more difficult to even be on site. Calling subs that had started work only to be told they needed another week, or two, before they could get back. Visiting the site to see little to no activity would do nothing but bring me down. Couple that with friends and family who would all excitedly ask about it, only to continue to have nothing new to report. Whether it was the lengthy timeline, or the fact that my smile didn’t cover what was obvious frustration, at some point everyone around me mercifully stopped asking about it. What was supposed to be this glorious new thing had devolved into mental distress and emotional baggage and there was no way out but straight through it.

So I went straight through it. I got back on site, back on the phone, and started pulling strings and twisting elbows to get to the finish line. More and more trades finished what they had started, and everything started to take shape. As we started seeing daylight we reached the conclusion that our previously-hired interior designer had flaked out on us and we were on our own. We couldn’t find another in time so yours truly made all the interior selections for color, texture, and style. While Priscilla was nervous about it, I was catatonic. I did not make safe choices and I lost sleep wondering if what I chose would work at all.

While wanting to save some cash after all the delays and price increases, we were also not wanting to cut corners or spare any expense on the finishes with what we had already been through.  So we kept writing checks and throwing frugality out the window.  We were going to do this right no matter what.

Throughout the summer of 2022 everything began to come together.  The exterior was complete so we were able to get working on the courtyard, which was never part of the initial plans.  We realized we had this unique space out back that was too small for a parking lot but too big and straight ugly to be ignored.  We hired a talented landscape architect (Urban Landforms) who designed and built an outdoor area that maximizes use of the space and brings a whole different level of beauty to the finished product.  As the dust settled and we headed into fall, the mood started to lift and the grandeur of what we had created began to shine through.  Every day was spent on site now with so much activity and so many trades finishing around the same time.

And then one day we were done. Just like that, it sort of snuck up on us, but out of nowhere we realized we were finished. Ok, technically you’re never really finished with something of this nature, and there’s always tweaking here and there, but final inspections were ordered and passed, the last of the big materials deliveries had occurred, signage went up, and the elevator was even installed and working. Sidebar: I thought for sure that taking that first ride in my own elevator was going to be mind-blowing. It’s not, it’s just an elevator.

During this time, after an exhausting search, we found the perfect Community Manager in Terrisha Harris, who, working under our Director of Operations Jeff Munoz, took the reins of the building operations and began running things in a way we never imagined.  We had a blast furnishing the place with the help of our long-time friend Denise Dobison, and had some pieces built by our partner, Jeremy Stallings (a master woodworker among other things).  Other additions were found locally and online, and shipments were arriving daily.  Countless hours were spent at night and on weekends, mostly by our longstanding anchor and all-around badass Bradd Stever, assembling and placing eclectic pieces in our funky new space.  The blank canvas was filling up, and every day at Level 3 became pure joy.

As a builder you always see the flaws.  In fact, it’s hard to see anything else and you have them on every project.  Having worked on this for years, having slogged up and down ladders and stairs on rainy days for weeks on end, I was all too familiar with what was missed or just not done to my liking.  But now all of that garbage was flying out the windows at light speed.  Nothing had quite the positive impact and has served as a perfect capstone to this project than the responses I got from people who saw the place for the first time.    Friends, business associates, family, or total strangers coming to see if the space would work for their upcoming event.  Without fail, everyone who went through walked seemingly transfixed by what they were looking at, and I don’t think I’ll get tired of the compliments anytime soon.  While the magic had been largely lost on me, it was now back in full swing.

The finish photos are courtesy of my wife, Priscilla, who will never know how grateful I am that she was so patient and understanding through this endeavor.  It took a toll on her as well.  And now, in retrospect, looking at the pictures of what we created together, and what will stand in that spot long after we’re gone, I realize that something this beautiful could never be easy.  It just wouldn’t be as pretty.

I promised a few folks who were following the blog series that I would finish it, and with this I’ve fulfilled my promise.  A special thank you to the City of Belton for being so accommodating and easy to work with, and to everyone who played a role in making this a reality.  

Priscilla, we said “this is gonna be good”, and we were right.  I love you.

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