Problems with Contractors

"The trouble with contractors," architects are wont to say, "is that they don't follow specs (specifications); you have to watch them all the time."

"And the trouble with architects," a contractor recently said to the author of this report, "is that they write specs that can't be followed."

Those attitudes likely will never change.

Lew Place, during a taped interview, said, "One time John Sundt (son of M.M. Sundt, who took over his father's construction company) was doing a university building that either Roy or both of us had designed. 1 can't remember which one it was. We had Kneeland Jenkins on the job as clerk-of-the-works. Concrete trucks were coming up to the site and dumping the concrete and Kneeland found rotted wood, just rough pieces of wood in the concrete, so 1 told them to stop pouring.

"I told my dad about it back at the office. Dad called John Sundt and John came to the office and we drove over to see the job. Roy was being real nice to John about it and just taking it easy. 1 climbed up this big pile of gravel that they were using in the mix to put into concrete mixers. I came down with two armloads of wood and I swore and said something about 'the son-of-a-bitch who threw this in.'

"We got into the car and came home and as Roy parked the car, he said, 'Son, I don't ever want you to say anything like that to a contractor again.'

"Architects had to get along with the contractors."

Delores Binns, who is married to contractor Jack Binns, was Roy Place's secretary for many years. She remembers typing page after page of specifications and wondered if the Regents ever read them. (When asked about this, Evelyn Kirmse later said, "I think Bill Mathews read them. He read everything. ")

In the same interview with Mrs. Binns, Warren Moon said, "I knew a lot of them didn't read specs. In one of the specifications, I wrote, 'The first person who reads this, Warren Moon will give one dollar.' And, for once, somebody read it and demanded his dollar." Moon couldn't remember which Regent it was, but it could have been Mathews, he admitted.

Warren went on: "I remember one time with Howard Deming, who worked with Place and Place. Howard wanted to go to the job and talk with the superintendent, who was Jack Binns. Howard found Jack using a jackhammer. 'My God,' Howard said, 'anybody who runs a job can't run a jackhammer!'

"Howard would complain if a supervisor did anything, if he pulled out a rule and measured something."

Delores said, "Howard Deming got mad at somebody on the job one day and hit him. He came back to the office, crying, and said, 'I think I've broken my hand. ' "

Binns, who was present at the taped interview, said, "I was working at the State Deaf and Blind School on Place's job at the time. (Roy and Lew Place designed the State Deaf and Blind School.) John LaRue came over there from St. Mary's where it happened and told me what happened and showed me his hands and said, 'I busted my thumb. 'I said, 'How did you do that, John?' And he said, 'I hit Howard Deming.' I said, 'Who's in trouble now?' And he said, I don't know. I'm going home!'"

Lew Place said, "Howard Deming rushed into the office and said he was going to quit. He said, 'I did the wrong thing. I hit somebody on the job.’” Lew Place talked Deming out of quitting.

Delores Binns mentioned that contractors "hated" Kneeland Jenkins. "Because Kneeland wouldn't talk to them."

Jack Binns reported, "He was highly different from Howard Deming. Kneeland would come out on the job and if he objected to something, he would be extremely quiet about it. Wouldn't raise his voice a bit. He'd just say, 'Take it down.' Howard would jump up and down and raise hell. "

Lew Place said, "You've been talking about Howard Deming. Murray Shiff, a contractor, had a contract to build a gymnasium at Casa Grande, Arizona. Roy and I were the architects. The two end walls were gabled walls and they were up there about two and a half stories high to the top. The bricklayers were all on scaffolds inside laying brick and Howard went up there. I had told Howard when he went to work for us as an inspector that we had specifications and he had to follow them out. The one thing that always got me was that you had to flush the joints between the brick. If he ever found anybody on the job - he had to get up there and look around - who wasn't doing it right, to report to me. These masonry fellows would scrape it real thin across the top so Howard told them to take the top course off of there. Then he took a silver dollar and dropped it down and said, 'Now you take that wall down until you find my dollar.' They had to take off six courses of brick. It went that way all to the bottom. Murray called me and said, 'Good God, get out here and stop this guy. '"

Jack Binns said, "I remember when I was on that Deaf and Blind School classroom and the infirmary at one time. Two jobs. For LaRue. And Howard Deming was understudy to Kneeland at the time. I think that you, Lew, had just put him on. Of course, this is the thing I remember. You mentioned flushing full mortar joints and Howard said, 'Let's see you shove those bricks.' In other words, shove them instead of buttering them. I had heard many stories about Kneeland coming down there with a wire going down between the outside and the inside of the wall with the wire going way on down. He'd say, 'Take it down.'"

Lew Place was asked by the author what was meant by "flushing." Lew replied, "Flushing is where you take the trowel and dump mortar in between the bricks so that it all comes out level. Otherwise, they would just butter the ends of the brick."

Warren Moon said, "The funny thing about it is that they are now talking about that open space having more insulation than the closed." Lew Place then told about a house he designed. There were two, separate four-inch walls. "Every sixth course (rows of brick) we'd lay a lath on it and then fill it. It sure worked. "

Delores Binns said, "It's too bad you have confined this report to the University of Arizona. One time at the construction of Salpointe High School, someone asked the secretary the time. He walked over and opened the cabinet door and there was the clock! Talk about bad contracting!"

Lew Place said, of contractors. "I was working for my dad before I was married. The Public Works Administration gave a loan and a grant to the university and the UA built eleven buildings on it and improved some others. Roy Place designed nine of them. One of them was the Arizona State Museum and the brick-laying superintendent was down in the basement with the brick layers, for contractor Garfield.

I was the inspector for the job. The superintendent saw me looking around those flush joints and he said, 'I want to ask you a question. Do you know why the put those joints flush with the brick?' For a second I didn't know what to answer. So I got my mouth open and I said, 'It forms a bond between the mortar and the brick and when it's full, it's all in one piece.' He said, 'Is that right? I thought it was to keep the bricks apart. ,,,

The author asked Lew Place, "In general, being an architect you deal with the contractor and a lot of subcontractors. Do they try to cut corners?"

Place said, "We deal with the subcontractor, and with the owner and the owner's inspection people. I don't think that the contractors themselves, the individual large contractors like Sundt, or Ashton, or Garfield try to cut corners. I know Sundt didn't. Usually if there is any corner-cutting, usually it is the subcontractor or even the laborer sometimes will do something that he isn't supposed to do, thinking he's helping the boss."

Warren Moon said, "On a big job, the superintendent can't keep track of everything that's going on; he can't see everything. If the job is short or the bid too low, they're not willing to do something that's not in the drawings. That should have been in the drawings. You get all sorts of different reactions."

"And that's how it is with contractors," said architect Place. "And that's how it is with architects," said contractor Jack Binns.

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