More Than Just A Job

MORE THAN 5,000 construction workers firm more than two dozen labor unions came together to build the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, many performing tasks that have never been done before.

There’s enough concrete to build a 92-mile-long, 5-foot-wide sidewalk, nearly four acres of glass, almost a million square feet of painted surface and 2 ½ of handrails. The center holds 14 elevators, 594 doors, and 317,000 masonry blocks, built around 3,700 tons of structural steel with 1,400 tons supporting the glass roof.

But you can’t see the blood, sweat and tears, or the pressure, pride and overtime hours. George Schaeffer, the project manager who has also supervised the five-year Academy of Music renovation, has had his hands full- including handing out lunches to the workers at a Nov. 15 ceremony at the Kimmel Center at Broad and Spruce streets.

Hired back in October 1987, when the eventually abandoned first design was first unveiled, the Philadelphia-born Schaeffer radiates calmness despite the enormous pressure to complete this $265 million project on time.

“I’ve spent a quarter of my life on this project, so just to see it come to life is a thrill,” said Schaeffer. “It was on the drawing board so long that, once we got the money, a lot of creative people wanted to move with guns a-blazing to let Philadelphians see what we have to show them.

“I’m proud that I was given an opportunity to be involved in this, one of the great buildings in the city, perhaps in the world, something that will light little children’s eyes up like saucers. Most people in the trades know it’s a special project, and they’ll return to visit as dads or husbands.”

Another break has been a project executive, Jim Verzella, With a unique insight into the performing arts by being president of a ballet company in Voorhees, N.J. “I’m about to dance Drosselmeyer in ‘The Nutcracker’ for the 11th year,” Verzella laughed.

The construction, a joint venture project between the huge L. F. Driscoll company and the small Germantown firm of Artis B. Ore, has been a beehive for the last few months.

Last week, 600 craftsmen were hard at work to make the deadline, and for many of them, the project wasn’t just an ordinary day on the job. Here’s what they told us.

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