A New Crew in Town
By Elisa Otter ’10
Orange extension cords run throughout the skeletal remains of 114 Cabin Hill. They plug into power tools, air compressors and speakers blasting the background rock and roll. Wearing safety glasses and a tool belt equipped with a hammer, measuring tape and speed square, Amelia McCallister ’12 pulls the trigger to roar up a saw. The board she cuts will support the new flooring for a faculty home on campus. McCallister is one of thirteen students on the newly-formed Rentals and Renovations Work Crew on campus.
Crew supervisor Paul Bobbitt rolls into the driveway in Eggplant, the crew’s purple minivan. He’s coming from the office where he has been placing supply orders, communicating with college staff , documenting purchases and everything in between. The students quiet as their boss approaches. The door swings open. “What’s happenin’?” Bobbitt says with a contagious smile on his face. “Hey Paul!” the crew hollers back. Bobbitt circles the room answering questions students may have. Taking his time, he explains thoroughly how to adjust a tool to best cut an angle or gives tips to make a process more efficient. Crew member Biz Hope lets out a grunt of frustration when she makes the wrong cut on a floor piece. Hearing the sound from the other room, Bobbitt calmly comes over to crouch down next to her. “The way I see this is, you made a mistake, you are aware of the mistake, next time you know more from the mistake.” With those words, Hope lets out her breath and drops her tensed shoulders.
Cabin Hill 114 was chosen as the first renovation for the crew because of the health problems experienced by the current tenant, Annie Wright, including a drop in her energy level and respiratory problems. “When the weather got cold last year we closed the house up,” said husband, Charlie Wright. “That’s when [Annie] really went over the edge and was struggling ever since.” When inspected, an infestation of mold was discovered. In the past, it was thought that leaving holes in the flooring to the crawl space and around light fixtures gave the house room to breathe. While the circulation of air is indeed important, it is not healthy if the air in the living room is fed from a wet crawl space. Bobbitt and his crew will be ripping out old, moldy insulation and replacing it with new, sealing up all the holes and making the home as air tight as possible. They will install a mechanical air exchange that replaces inside air with fresh air from the outside. “I appreciate the willingness to push the envelop,” said Wright. “This is the standard we need instead of doing a slip-shot job. This is taking care of faculty on a fundamental level.”
In the past, faculty housing maintenance fell under the responsibility of the College’s Carpentry Crew. But overloaded with general campus work orders, faculty housing had become neglected over the years. In response, the College formed the Rentals and Renovations (R&R) Crew, whose focus is to maintain and improve camps faculty housing.
At 6′ 5″, bright blue eyes, and full blond beard, R&R Crew supervisor Paul Bobbitt is hard to miss. Before he came to the College, he worked for Home Energy Partners, a start -up home efficiency company. This was Bobbitt’s first professional experience as a carpenter, although growing up he “always tinkered around with hammers, nails and wood.” He also worked for Eco Builder’s, a local green building company. Bobbitt moved up to head carpenter and finally project manager, overseeing up to ten sites at a time. With the fall-out of the economy last year, Eco Builders closed and Bobbitt became self-employed.
“We hired the right guy,” says Paul Brease, Facilities Maintenance and Technical Support director. “We were looking for someone who casts a wide net of skills, can manage construction projects, sees time-lines and knows the green building world.” For Bobbitt, the position, “combines best of both worlds. It allows me to pursue my passion for teaching while remaining in the construction world.” Since being at the College, Bobbitt has rapidly been making a name for himself through his strong leadership, charisma and productivity.
R&R, Electric, and Plumbing Crews are converting 114 Cabin Hill into a LEED Gold certified home. It may be the first double-wide in the nation to be retrofitted to LEED standards. The project puts into action the President’s Climate Commitment, signed three years ago by WWC President Sandy Pfeiffer. “Under the Commitment, we have agreed to reduce our green house gases by 80% by 2020. This project feeds into that,” said Pfeiffer. The College strives to make any new or existing buildings LEED certified. The EcoDorm, Village complex, and Orr Cottage are three buildings that already hold LEED status on campus.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a third-party green building certification system. “In the end, LEED is about human beings. The result will provide spiritual and physical well-being for the homeowner,” explained Braese. The decision to retrofit an existing building instead of building a new one was the first big environmental and economical step toward savings. It will cost about $50 a square foot to renovate the existing as compared to at least $75 a square foot to build from scratch. The wood that once served as a porch will be recycled as deadwood for sheet rock and floor support. Red oak for flooring will be cut and milled by the Forestry Crew.
“This is such an amazing opportunity. A bunch of untrained college students get to work on this type of project with nice tools and learn from such an experienced man,” said Dasan Shantidas of the R&R Crew.
Bobbitt has deep knowledge of building science and the ability to clearly explain processes and materials. Leading by example, Bobbitt is passing down a strong work ethic. “When you are around Paul, you want to do good work,” said crew member Alton Henry. He is instilling a notion for students to take ownership and pride in their work. “My goal,” said Bobbitt, “is to have students accept responsibility, to bring effort and attention to their work.” In return he has “gained the crew’s respect,” said crew member Kit James. “He leads through respect.”
The crew has been a great success in its first year. Six new students will join the crew next semester as interest for the work and productivity R&R demonstrates increases. Students who spend time on the crew will walk away with a solid, marketable skill set and know-how in building construction and science.
Through the R&R Crew, students are improving the living spaces and well being of employees, while employees work to serve students. This work exchange enhances the relationships between teacher and student, forming a strong, interdependent College community. With projects like 114 Cabin Hill, students leave a legacy — a solid contribution to the College.
When Amelia McCallister ’12 pulls the trigger of the saw, she is not only doing her job; she is helping the environment and forming community.