Just five days before the scheduled dedication, it looked like the new Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center could not be ready in time. But that didn’t stop a small army from trying.
Five days. On Monday, June 18, crews had just five days to complete the construction, landscaping, furnishing, and cleaning of the 83,000-square-foot Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center.
On Saturday—only 120 hours away—dedication ceremonies featuring the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were scheduled to be broadcast live from the building’s assembly hall. But on Monday the assembly hall was still a hard-hat zone.
“It was impossible,” recalls Kent Naylor (MBA ’00), project manager for Okland Construction, which teamed with Span Construction to erect the newest structure on BYU campus. At the job site that day, Naylor found a daunting to-do list: The wood floor in the assembly hall was unfinished, pending the completion of electrical work, ceiling installation, and painting in the room. The front yard lacked sod and shrubs and a sprinkler system. The grand staircase needed woodwork and tile. The brick semicircular driveway was still dirt. And the second- and third-floor lights were at the factory—in Canada.
When ground was broken for the building on President Gordon B. Hinckley’s 96th birthday, the plan included a 15-month schedule. In the project’s early days, however, it began to appear that the right effort, coordination, and weather could move completion up three months, allowing the dedication ceremonies to take place on the prophet’s 97th birthday. The new 12-month plan resonated with administrators, contractors, and donors.
But as Naylor surveyed the still unfinished building that Monday in June, after his crews had worked long hours and extra days for more than 50 weeks, he was keenly aware that Saturday was coming fast—too fast. Craig Lybbert, BYU’s construction project coordinator, came to the same conclusion. Then a thought came to him: “It can’t be a miracle unless it’s impossible.”
A Flurry of Activity
On Tuesday, 96 hours before the dedication, two handwoven Persian rugs were laid in the Hinckley Center’s family room, while Julie J. McHood (BFA ’96), the building’s interior designer, cringed. The space where the rugs were to go was cumbered by equipment and stairway railings, so workers moved things out of the way. Then, says McHood, “the custodians came and mopped the floor, we put the rugs down, we covered them with plastic, and everyone put their things back.”
Placing a Persian rug, created by six people working simultaneously for more than a year, next to buckets of paint in the middle of an active construction site isn’t the way McHood usually does things. But the project schedule demanded that subcontractors step over each other’s work instead of following one another in sequence, as is typical.
“You would think that every craftsman in the valley was present,” says Roy S. Peterman (BS ’72), BYU director of grounds. At mid-week—72 hours before dedication—Peterman’s team was laying sod while furniture movers carried tables and an inspector finished his work on the elevators. “It was a beehive, and everybody was working in and about and around each other.”
Veteran construction managers were gratified by the unusual flexibility and cooperation displayed by the subcontractors. The tile contractors, for instance, who couldn’t lay tile with so many people walking on the floors, adjusted their schedule and came in at night. Don Breneman, construction superintendent for Span Construction, says, “Everybody’s aim was to get the building completed, not just to get their job completed.”
The cooperation was driven, at least in part, by a vision for the project, says Jacob E. Jensen (BS ’01), an Okland superintendent whom Breneman calls the orchestra conductor who brought order to the chaos. “A lot of these guys are members of the Church,” he says. Those workers understood the value of honoring President Hinckley, who has been an energetic ambassador for the Church, with a building that will welcome visitors to campus and tell the story of BYU. “Even those who are not members have a great respect for what this building represents, and so they’re willing to give a little to work on top of each other and deal with it.”
They had also committed themselves to the goal of completing the building in time for President Hinckley’s fast-approaching birthday. No one, says Breneman, wanted to be the one who had to say, “I didn’t get my doors hung, so we couldn’t have the dedication on the prophet’s birthday.”
Becoming a Home
“For me,” says John C. Lewis (BA ’77), associate advancement vice president for alumni and external relations, “it was Thursday.” On that day—48 hours before the dedication—the commitment and dedication of workers was particularly evident, he says, and the finishing touches began appearing throughout the building.
Thursday morning the long-awaited lights for the second and third floors arrived from Canada and the two crews of electricians—one per floor—challenged each other to a race to install them. Grounds crews carried endless buckets of mulch to just-planted shrubs. The contractors moved their last trailer out of the parking lot east of the building. Moving crews delivered 100 chair-filled boxes. And Thursday afternoon the doors to the assembly hall closed as workers began sanding and finishing the wood floor on which all those chairs would be placed for the dedication.
The pianos also came on Thursday. Linda M. Palmer (BS ’71), executive director of the Alumni Association, arrived in the building at about 5 p.m. and was greeted by a great cacophony of activity. “All of a sudden,” she recalls, “amidst all of these people arose this wonderful classical piece from one of those pianos, and the notes tinkled and glittered through the family room and through the assembly hall—through everything.”
Lewis remembers that moment as well. For him, that was when the building began to feel like a home. The notes of a piano, echoing through the still-unfinished structure, brought a similar realization to Palmer—this dusty work in progress would actually become the longed-for gathering place, a campus home for alumni and alumni programs.
But much work remained. The piano tuners—two students from BYU’s piano shop—thought the finish on the two new Yamaha grand pianos was a bit dull. So 24 hours before the dedication, with Lewis’ blessing, they began dismantling the pianos and polishing them. Their work continued all day Friday, as did the work of many other crews. Woodwork on the staircase progressed. Touch-up painters worked throughout the building. Blinds were installed. Windows were washed. Lewis made a trip to Salt Lake City to retrieve a painting of the reconstructed Nauvoo Temple, which had been commissioned for the building and completed just in time. The paint was still wet when it was hung in the family room Friday evening.
As the sun set on Friday, June 22, custodial crews from across campus mopped and wiped and vacuumed. Furniture movers did not leave until about 9 p.m. Those working on the displays were adjusting lights and placing books and pictures past midnight. The tile contractor set the last floor tile at about 4 a.m.
Okland project manager Naylor was amazed at the workers’ stamina as contractors moved earth—and some would say heaven—to complete the building on time. “We didn’t have angels hauling materials in,” he says, “but we had guys hauling it in who should have been beyond their physical limits.”
Span’s Breneman, who lives in Florida, was visited in Provo by his wife a couple of weeks before the dedication. When she returned for the dedication, she was amazed by the transformation of the building. “There is no way you got it done by yourselves,” she told her husband. “You had to have had help.”
“We did,” he responded. Reflecting on the final weeks of construction, the veteran project manager, who is not a Latter-day Saint, acknowledges the role of prayer and “help from above” in making the building come together. “Just speaking about it, I get a few tears in my eyes,” he says. “It makes me feel that way.”
A Tribute to a Prophet
When Lewis came back to the Hinckley Center at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday—five and a half hours before the dedication—contractors were just leaving the site. Set-up crews, who were asked to stay off of the drying assembly hall floor until 5 a.m., were walking around with protective white booties over their shoes, carefully placing chairs, risers, and lights in preparation for the ceremony.
By the time the members of the First Presidency stepped out of their cars on the brick driveway in front of the building—at about 10:40 a.m. Saturday—the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center showed little evidence that it had been a lively job site only hours earlier. Ladders and tool belts were gone. Orange traffic cones and wheelbarrows had been removed. Only a few subtle signs of construction remained: a faint odor of fresh paint lingered here and there, and a forgotten drill bit lay in the grass by the gazebo.
But as President Hinckley walked around the building, pushing buttons on kiosks and inspecting display cases and photographs, everything appeared to be in perfect order, as if it had been so for weeks and had been tested a dozen times.
Soon, guests began to arrive for the ceremonies. Among them were many who worked on the building. One construction worker bought a suit and got a haircut to attend the dedication. Some brought their spouses. None wore hard hats.
The chairs in the assembly hall filled quickly, and guests spilled out into the family room and onto the back lawn. The afternoon sun was hot, but the guests were undeterred. And they were not disappointed. The inaugural event in the new building went off smoothly, and President Hinckley was in good form, sharing humor, offering historical perspective, and expressing sincere gratitude—to construction workers, to the building’s 70,000 donors, to family members, and to God. “My life has been one of many interesting facets, with family, friends, and associates,” he said. “What more could one ask for? ‘Nothing’ is my reply.”
President Hinckley’s brief remarks preceded the dedicatory prayer, offered by his son Elder Richard G. Hinckley, a member of the First Quorum of Seventy. President Hinckley’s other four children, together with dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, also attended the ceremony, which doubled as a birthday celebration. BYU presented the prophet with a birthday cake, and as the 900 guests sang “Happy Birthday,” President Hinckley waved his cane as if leading the music.
During the ceremonies President Hinckley and BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson each acknowledged the sacrifices and gifts of the donors as well as of the construction workers, especially noting the project’s timetable. “What happened here is breathtaking,” remarked President Samuelson at the luncheon. “Those who have been working on it can attest to that.”
And they do. “I am amazed,” says Mark Wilson, of FFKR Architects. “I think what the contractors did is nothing short of miraculous. Two months ago I was saying there is no way this can be done. And in the past two months—and especially in the last two weeks—they’ve done unbelievable things.”
That remarkable pace is perhaps fitting for a building that honors the man who declared that the Church would build more than 30 temples in only two years—and then provided the leadership to make it happen. During the Hinckley Center dedication ceremony, President Thomas S. Monson (MBA ’74), First Counselor in the First Presidency, recollected his years of association with the prophet. “President Hinckley is a man of optimism,” he said. “I cannot count the times I have heard him say, in essence, ‘It can be done. Let’s get at it.’”
The prophet’s optimism was reflected in the ambitious construction goal, and near the building’s large stone hearth, a stately bookcase displays some of his books, pictures, and awards. Against a pillar stands his shovel from home, a trusted tool he used for the building’s groundbreaking and gave to the university on his 96th birthday.
On his 97th, President Hinckley gave the university another present: a hammer. By way of explanation during the dedication ceremony, he listed the contents of his tool arsenal and said, “These have occupied my time on those Saturdays when I was free, so one of my hammers, a small one, will be placed in the time capsule.”
Construction began on a Friday with a tool marked GBH. It ended on a Saturday with another tool bearing President Hinckley’s brand. And in the 12 months between, many other tools were plied in many other hands—often on Saturdays—to pay tribute to the owner of a shovel, a hammer, and a legacy of building.
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What’s in the Box?
A list of the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center’s time capsule contents.
President Hinckley’s hammer
President Hinckley’s cuff links
Signed copy of Way to Be!
Letter to the future from Pres. & Sis. Samuelson
2005 & 2006 Christmas cards from the Samuelsons
President’s Council picture with Pres. Hinckley
President’s Report (special issue)
Messages from PLC & Alumni Board
Diploma and tassel
BYU pin collection
2006 Homecoming Spectacular program
Hike the Y 100th Anniversary pamphlet
Aspen Grove brochure
Brigham Young Academy brick
Alumni House brick & pictures
Alumni Board picture & patch
Alumni Chapter list (domestic & international)
2006 Alumni Association Christmas card
Current Visitors Center and tour cart picture
Groundbreaking invitation & programs
Dedication invitation & programs
“I beam” sample from new construction
Daily Universe & Daily Herald coverage
BYU Magazine special Hinckley issue
Commemorative thank you note
Messages from students on scrolls
Testing Center pencil
BYU rubber wristbands
BYU/Utah Food Drive “Y Mark”
Graduate and undergraduate catalogs
Spring 2006 Commencement program
University Honor Code
Signed team pictures
“Cougar Craze” ice cream container
BYU/Utah football tickets 11/25/06, 33-31
BYU/Utah rivalry T-shirt
2006-07 Conference championship list
2006 Las Vegas Bowl program & media guide
1984 National Championship pen
Video of student interviews
I Believe in BYU
BYUSA Unforum 4/17/07
BYU Athletics sampling
BYU Performing Groups sampling
BYU animation film sampling
BYU Life Science sampling
BYU promotional spots
ORCA grant list
Current list of BYU recognitions
BYU landscaping awards
Cost list of daily purchases
University logo sheet
BYU cartoon map
Various college literature
BYU Beanie Baby
BYU Magazine: 24 Hours at BYU
Deseret Morning News
SLC downtown redevelopment (City Creek)
General Authority poster