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Thursday October 5, 2000

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New construction supervisor working to get union ahead of schedule

Headline Photo


Swinerton and Walberg Builders supervisor Bob Bertolini (center), superintendent Jake Horn (left) and secretary Alvina Moreno refer to blueprints yesterday at the new Student Union construction site. Swinerton and Walberg are trying to complete Phase I of construction ahead to schedule.

By Blake Smith

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Bertolini uses optimism to boost teamwork and efficiency

Each day Bob Bertolini arrives at the student union construction site before most people are out of bed.

The Swinerton and Walberg Builders senior project superintendent starts his workday around 5 a.m., coming in nearly 45 minutes before his crew.

This is not new for Bertolini. He's been on that schedule for nearly 20 years, all without the help of an alarm clock.

"That's what they pay me for," he said. "But the difference is I love it."

About a month ago, Bertolini moved from the Evo A. DeConcini Courthouse and Federal Building project downtown to the Memorial Student Union endeavor, in an effort keep the project on target.

"I came on to give it a little boost," he added.

Now he oversees nearly 200 workers at the site and he is optimistic about the progress of the project.

His goal is to have the entire union completed two or three months ahead of the projected final completion date of April 2002, which could be quite difficult, he added.

A normal home needs 1,000 pounds of steel and 100 yards of concrete, Bertolini said.

The new student union will use 8 million pounds of steel and nearly 18,000 yards of concrete.

To ensure the union is completed on schedule, Bertolini has better organized the construction process and sometimes has his crew work overtime.

But the turnaround in the project cannot be completely attributed to his efforts, Bertolini added.

Teamwork has played a major role in putting the project ahead of schedule.

"All I am is an orchestra leader," he said.

Bertolini might be the maestro, but without his workers, he knows there would be no music.

"It's the people here that make the job," he added.

Doug Huie, student union senior project manager, said Bertolini is the right person for the job.

"Bob is a great addition," Huie said. "He's very dynamic and a team player."

However, if Bertolini did not know what needed to be accomplished, teamwork would be useless.

From wiring to dry wall to pouring concrete, the project superintendent must understand the intimate workings of every aspect of the construction project.

"You have to be able to read the plans and be a person of all trades," Bertolini said.

A superintendent has to be a motivator, a pusher, and a psychologist, all qualities that Bertolini possesses, Huie said.

Having a positive attitude and genuine enjoyment in one's job goes a long way as well.

"I'm very enthusiastic about my work," he added. "And it's catching. I believe in being upbeat and positive."

Besides his lively personality and obvious passion for his work, Bertolini understands that keeping the project on track is the top priority.

"This is kind of like a war room," he said, while pointing at the blue prints spread out in his office. "From a logistics standpoint, this is one of the toughest projects to work on."

The main reason for the difficulty might be the tight space that crews have to work in and that union services must remain open during construction. The combination of the two present a major safety concern for the superintendent.

"I'll shut the job down before risking a life or poking an eye out," he said.

During his 37 years in the business, Bertolini has witnessed two deaths on construction sites and many other accidents.

"I don't want to have to go to someone's wife and tell her that because of my negligence her husband isn't coming home," he added.

Many Swinerton and Walberg Builders hard hats have the saying "Make Safety a Habit" embedded in them, something that Bertolini strongly believes in.

The superintendent takes pride in the fact that the construction site has recorded 158,500 man hours without any accidents.

Each day Bertolini walks about six miles making sure the site is free from safety hazards and that the process continues moving smoothly.

When he isn't in the field, he can be found in meetings with company executives or on the phone making sure materials arrive on time.

Bertolini's busy life doesn't end when he hangs his hard hat up for the day though.

"His talents go well beyond being a superintendent," Huie said.

Besides working 12-hour days regularly, Bertolini finds time to teach various construction-related courses at Pima Community College.

"I enjoy doing it," he said. "It is kind of a break from here."

He is also working on a book - "So you think you want to be a construction superintendent" - that he hopes to get published in about a year.