This article was written by FORMA Construction, exclusive for The Courier-Herald:
A construction manager’s day usually begins long before dawn.
“I’m usually up by 4 o’clock and out of the house before they wake up,” explained Rob Gunderson, referring to his kids. An Enumclaw High School parent and lifelong resident, Gunderson has made a career for himself in the construction industry. Contractors drive to wherever the work is, sometimes commuting 90 minutes or more to reach jobsites around the region.
But for the first time in more than 20 years, Gunderson, a project engineer for FORMA Construction, has managed to secure a five-minute commute – for nearly four years.
“Now I get to see them before I leave most days, in the morning. It’s easy to get to their sporting events. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t bump into them on campus,” he said, referring to his twins – son Fulton and daughter Piper – who are juniors at Enumclaw High.
FORMA is the general contractor leading the expansion of Enumclaw High School. As an Enumclaw alum, working on this project holds a lot of significance for Gunderson and his community seems to feel the same way.
“I get grilled when I come into town. People know me. Whenever I walk in somewhere, especially in this garb, they want to know what’s going on and I’ll get questions,” he said, gesturing to his branded construction gear and hardhat. “It’s nice to know that people care.”
Designed by NAC Architecture, the multi-phased, $45 million project is the most thorough modernization of EHS since its construction in 1961. Phase 1 has already included upgrades to both the main and auxiliary gyms, boys and girls locker rooms and athletic storage; as well as a new 112,000-square-foot classroom wing.
Gunderson graduated from the school in 1985 and notes some dramatic changes.
“There’s been three renovations that I know of, prior to FORMA coming on board here,” he explained.
After Phase 1 wraps up in October of this year – more than two months ahead of schedule – NAC and FORMA will start on Phase 2, including construction of new music and health classrooms, wrestling facilities and a remodel of the agriculture program building. The entire project is slated to finish in April 2020.
“It’s going to be a huge technological upgrade,” Gunderson said. “As a parent, that’s a good thing. The new science classrooms will be ready for their junior year,” Gunderson said, referring to his twins. “Anatomy, chemistry – they’re going to get a lot of use out of that wing.”
Wandering through common areas and into a spacious new library, “This is the part of the school that people are going to love the most,” Gunderson predicted. “The open library, the natural lighting. When the courtyard is done outside you’ll have your picnic tables and planters. A view of Mount Rainier. This is where everyone is going to want to be.”
Asked if having his dad working around him for his entire high school career has directed his future interests, Fulton admitted, “I’m taking a class in what he does.”
“I’ve been dragging him to job sites his whole life. I was never purposely trying to drive him that direction, but it’s all around him,” his dad said.
Thinking ahead, Gunderson is excited for what a modern learning space will mean for his kids’ school community.
“What will be really nice is that just like in college, you have common areas with couches and hangout spaces, which this campus has never had,” he said. “The kids don’t even realize it and I think they’re going to love it.”
While enjoying a completely renovated high school, tomorrow’s students won’t lose their attachment to yesterday. The importance of the school’s history hit home for Gunderson early in Phase 1 of the project.
“Going into something like this, you’re thinking about what this school is going to be for the next generation and for your kids. You’re not thinking about all the memories that are going to come flooding back,” he admitted.
Commemorative plaques dedicated by past graduating classes dotted the existing EHS campus. They were carefully removed by FORMA and will be reinstalled once the new school is complete.
“The second dedication plaque that I helped remove was for my best friend in high school, who passed away the morning after our homecoming dance,” Gunderson said. “Now his plaque is back there, bubble wrapped and saved. Before I wrapped it up I took a picture of the plaque and put it up on Facebook and just got inundated with comments.”
Among the Facebook commenters were his classmates’ parents.
“His folks reached out when they saw it. They were happy and excited that someone who’s connected to him was taking care of it. It’s 30 years later, but it’s still very real,” Gunderson said.
As Phase 1 construction comes to a close, what is Piper most looking forward to? “Definitely not having to walk to the portables in the rain,” she said.
Fulton says his favorite part of the project has been seeing the construction process up close. But when asked if he is excited about the new spaces, he’s cautious. “I won’t know until I’m in there, and see the final product,” he replied.
For their dad, the emotional connection to this project had made all the difference.
“It’s kind of cool to be an Enumclaw guy doing this,” Gunderson said. “Living here all my life, going to school here, raising my kids here – being ingrained in this community – and being a part of this project. It surprised me how much I relish that feeling. I wasn’t expecting that.”
For project updates, follow FORMA’s dedicated Instagram page @forma_ehs. Or, visit the Enumclaw School District website (www.enumclaw.wednet.edu) and click on the “Capital Projects and Construction Updates” link.