Building Marquette

by Kristi Evans and Rebecca Tavernini ’11 MA


Heidi Blanck and students

Heidi Blanck '99, '00, '13 onsite with construction management students

Massive construction cranes protrude from several points along the Marquette skyline, a symbol of the building boom that is dramatically altering the cityscape. Several major projects are under way or recently completed. 

More than 20 NMU alumni and current students are represented on the management teams and installation crews working to deliver these facilities on time and on budget. It is a testament to the strength and solid reputation of Northern’s construction management program, led by coordinator Heidi Blanck '99, '00, '13 and professor Mike Andary '06.

“We are extremely proud to be so well-represented on the construction projects within the Marquette community, the Upper Peninsula and throughout the country,” Blanck said. “Our program consistently has a 90 percent or higher placement rate for graduates in all sectors of the industry. Our alumni routinely recruit the future generation of construction professionals from their alma mater because they know they will hire graduates who are well-trained for success.”

Here are the stories of some of those individuals with NMU ties working on the Marquette projects...

Jim Johnson

U.P. Health System - Marquette 

Jim Johnson’s ’07 BS dad was a neurologist, setting an example for his family of how rewarding a caring and hardworking career can be. Johnson inherited his dad’s work ethic, but chose to pursue a career in construction, a field that fascinated him since building with Legos as a kid. As part of the team building a new hospital complex that will benefit local doctors, Johnson is no doubt making his dad proud.

Artist's rendition of new hospitalU.P. Health System-Marquette (formerly Marquette General Hospital) will move next year from its College Avenue location to a new facility off Baraga Avenue, near the US-41 corridor. The complex features an eight-story hospital with 243 beds, a medical office building and a parking garage. Johnson is a project manager with Closner Construction of Marquette. His company and the multinational Skanska are in a joint venture as construction managers on the project. 

“The new hospital is smaller in square footage, but more efficient and functional,” he said during a walking tour of the site. “It’s really hard for some people to find their way around the current hospital. This one will be clearly marked and organized, with central elevators. The patient tower, floors 4-8, will be what’s called a racetrack setup, with nursing stations in the center of each floor and patient beds along the perimeter.”

Johnson collaborates with the owner and architect and has general oversight of 17 subcontractors and related documentation. He also project manages work ranging from doors and hardware to bath accessories. Johnson visits the site for about an hour each day.

“Most of my time is spent at my desk,” he said. “I’m either answering the phone and hearing, ‘Jim, we have a problem,’ or reading emails about issues that come up. A big part of my job is figuring out how to solve problems and get them documented.”

After graduating from NMU, Johnson worked on large-scale projects in Chicago, including a 60-story highrise and a hospital. But the Kingsford native was eager to return to the U.P. when Closner called. 

“It’s rewarding to have a hand in building a new hospital that will help the community and know that my family and I will be able to see it for a long time.”

Caity Tefft

U.P. Health System - Marquette 

Caity Tefft ’17 BS wanted a hands-on career after helping her parents flip houses while growing up in Iron Mountain. The thought of swinging a hammer all day did not appeal to her, but the flexible career options afforded by Northern’s construction management program did. Tefft recently completed an internship with H.J. Martin & Son, the ceiling and drywall subcontractor for the UPHS-Marquette hospital complex. Now she is at the company’s Green Bay office, doing interior design for residential and commercial projects.

“I would have been more limited with just an interior design degree,” Tefft said. “Northern’s program gave me knowledge and skills in different areas. I got experience in the field being onsite. I didn’t think I wanted that when I started the program, but ended up liking it. If I don’t want to keep working in design helping families and businesses pick out materials for their buildings, I can go back to the construction side and work my way up to project manager, which is another goal of mine.”

Construction continues to be a male-dominated career. Tefft said NMU professor and program coordinator Heidi Blanck has demonstrated that women have great potential to succeed in the field.

“Heidi has been awesome this entire journey; it’s nice to have someone who understands your perspective. Mike [Andary] has been great as well. Both of them hold students to a high standard and prepare you well. They hold a career fair in the fall with multiple companies. Every one of us had a job by December.”

On the hospital project, Tefft worked in the job trailer alongside the project manager and safety coordinator. She saw the plans and estimates and handled employee training files and applications. She also filed Requests for Information, which are proposed changes to the original design in response to issues that arise that must be approved by the architect.

The $300 million complex is projected to be completed in fall 2018.

Matt Boonstra

NMU Residence Halls 

NMU’s construction management program is benefiting from rare learning and internship opportunities associated with the new student housing complex being built on campus. The university, private developer EdR, contractor Walbridge and architectural firm Neumann/Smith signed a collaborative educational agreement that gives students access to a “living laboratory” for the duration of the two-year project.

Construction Workers

Walbridge had previously hired Matt Boonstra ’17 BS after his sophomore year for an internship on a campus housing project in lower Michigan. The company later re-hired him in a similar capacity to work on the new NMU residence halls. As a project engineer, he processed submittals and Requests for Information, coordinated meetings, took photos and tracked progress. 

“You learn what you’re going to be doing in class, but you learn how to do it through internships,” Boonstra said. “Some things can’t be taught; you need to get in the field. I feel more prepared than a lot of my friends who’ve graduated from other programs. I’m excited to see Northern’s housing when it’s done. It will be such an upgrade.”

The new NMU complex, named The Woods, will be delivered in three phases. The first two buildings will open this fall. Two more will open in January 2018 and the remaining two buildings will be completed for fall 2018. The former Wildcat linebacker joked that some of his football teammates were hoping his connection to the project might help them score rooms in the facility.

Boonstra signed a full-time offer with Walbridge last fall and is beginning his first project as a full-time professional: the Joyce Center renovation at the University of Notre Dame.

Brian Anderson

NMU Residence Halls 

A great feeling of nostalgia sweeps over Associated Constructors COO Brian Anderson ’95 BS, standing next to a sidewalk he poured, on a parking lot he paved, aside the looming new residence halls replacing his freshman dorm, Payne Hall.

"In 1991 when I lived on the second floor of Payne, I would never have thought I’d be doing this—it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Back then he was a non-stellar environmental conservation major. In talking to his resident advisor about his struggles in school, his RA expressed surprise that he wasn’t a construction management major. “I didn’t even realize that was a degree. I met with professor Jim Jarvis, got credit for my experiences in the field, and I never looked back. I graduated on the Dean’s List.”

Today, in the former parking lot lined with construction trailers, he’s in charge of the site work, foundations and utilities for the new halls. Everywhere he looks he sees two sets of memories: 

> Going to class in Jamrich Hall.
Building the new one.
> Walking across campus in the snow.
Building the tunnels and walkways.
> Playing softball at Tourist Park.
Building the new dam.
> Preparing for the spaghetti bridge challenge in Bob Marlor’s class by getting ideas beneath the Forestville bridge.
Building the new bridge, while Marlor stops by on his motorcycle to chat.

“It feels good to drive around and leave a legacy. It’s all because of the Northern experience.”

Thomas Wahlstrom

Intern with Gundlach Champion

The Marquette Municipal Service Center’s former Baraga Street location was razed to clear room for the hospital complex, so a new facility has been erected on Wright Street, across from Hunt Hall. NMU student and Marquette native Thomas Wahlstrom has been an intern on the project since May 2016 with Gundlach Champion.

Man operating heavy machinery“To go from a parking lot to a big, beautiful service garage in a year’s time
is amazing to see from the ground up,” he said. “I’ll always be able to drive by that project and say it was the first I ever worked on. It’s been nice for me to get my foot in the door with a U.P. company. After we turn it over in early June, we’ll move on to building a new salt barn on the lot next door.

I’m also hoping to spend time this summer in Gundlach Champion’s Iron Mountain office because everything that happens in the field stems from there. It’s nice to be exposed to the administrative side, too.”

Wahlstrom assists the onsite superintendent or foreman with daily reports and safety audits. He also serves as a mediator between the company and subcontractors and spends much time in the field talking to trades workers.

“Mike [Andary] always says we’re not learning to be carpenters or masons, but to respect that work in order to better manage it. He’ll say, ‘Remember in concrete class and how long it took to lay 40 blocks and you’re asking someone to lay 400 in a day? It’s not as easy as it looks.’ Everything in the classes is challenging, but it applies exactly to how it is in the field. The professors throw curve balls at you so you’re ready for challenges and problem-solving on the job.”

Wahlstrom will graduate in May 2018. In addition to his work on the Marquette Municipal Service Center project, he is assisting the company with construction of a condominium/parking garage near the lakeshore. 

Kyle Root

BLP Marquette Energy Center
Industrial Columns

NMU student Kyle Root is a project coordinator intern with Appleton-based AZCO Inc. The company is doing all of the process piping for the Board of Light and Power’s new Marquette Energy Center at the intersection of Wright Street and Ontario Avenue. The center consists of three environmentally clean reciprocating internal combustion engines that will burn natural gas as the primary source and switch over to fuel oil when necessary. This will reduce the dependence on coal and provide more reliable power.

Root does everything from materials ordering and quality control to project control.

“Project control gives you a ratio, like how many feet of pipe were installed by the amount of manpower, and determines whether or not you did well that day,” he said. “Maybe it’s a matter of switching teams around because some people work better with others. I also do installation checks, where I take the drawings and specs out and see if we’re doing what we’re supposed to. If not, I’ll talk to the foreman about whether it’s a material issue or maybe incorrect installation and we’ll decide what needs to be done as a team.

“The biggest challenge is making a decision and being confident in it, especially when you’re an intern and telling people who’ve been working 30 or more years that something’s not up to specs. You need to gain their respect even if you’re correcting what they’re doing.”

The Sault Ste. Marie native was originally assigned last fall to the new hospital project, where AZCO is doing structural steel work. He was transferred a short time later to the BLP project because more help was needed there. Root is scheduled to graduate in December. 

“When I first started the program, the professors would say I didn’t have much excitement for construction. But as with anything, you get out of it what you put into it. The past two years, I’ve really pushed myself and the professors are there to help. I couldn’t be happier with the program.”

Joe Supa

Grandview Marquette (former orphanage) 

“I saw it when I was in college and thought it was going to sit forever,” said Joe Supa ’09 AAS, ’11 BS of the old Holy Family Orphanage, the massive red brick and sandstone building south of downtown Marquette that’s been vacant since 1981. 

“I heard through Aoy at Rice Paddy about the project when I came back here. I thought it would be a really cool building to bring back to life. I reached out to the general contractor and sent my resumé.” 

Crane and buildingWolverine Building Group is that general contractor, and Supa is the lead superintendent of the $15.8 million project. He’s in charge of the day-to-day operations, overseeing all the subcontractors and keeping up on all of the documentation. The renovation of the 102-year-old building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is led by Home Renewal Systems (HRS) of Farmington Hills in partnership with Community Action Alger Marquette in order to create 56 affordable rental apartments. 

“It’s amazing, bringing a building back of this size, magnitude and age,” he said on site, as bulldozers tore up old cement to make room for an accessible ramp and plumbing contractors hauled in fixtures. “I get to polish something up and make something new out of something old.”

Keeping as much of the old as possible has been a priority. But first they had to get rid of 30-foot trees growing out of the roof, 275 dumpsters worth of debris and 75 semi truck loads of concrete and metal. “And the pigeons. Oh my god, the pigeons. It took some persuading to get them to leave,” he laughed.

However, the original structure is very much intact, with updates made to mechanical, plumbing, electrical and a non-functioning elevator. The ornate old elevator doors will serve as artwork. The trees shadowing the building’s three-story, arched sandstone porches were milled and incorporated as decorative trim wood. Any exterior replacement bricks that were needed have been reused from the hand chipped brick to match the originals. All of the new windows look just like the old ones, but with modern materials. 

“Some of the architecture is really neat,” Supa said. “The old balcony where people used to sing is going to be someone’s apartment. A round stage where kids had plays will become bedrooms and a bath. All of the original terrazzo floors remain in the main corridors, and they’re really beautiful.” The old chapel will become a common area for everyday gatherings or special events.

“I put 95 percent of my education from NMU to work every day,” said Supa, who attended NMU after he had worked in the field for 18 years, in nearly every trade, in 22 states. “I would be on a job and think ‘I want that guy’s job.’” So he got a variety of degrees and training: in building technology, construction management, business, industrial maintenance and alternative energies. 

“Daryl Kobie '02, '06, Daryl DeLongchamp '90, '07 and Mike Andary '06take it above and beyond, and as someone who already knew the field, it was great to see how they brought it all together. Not all colleges do this.” 

He pointed out a green NMU Alumni coffee mug displayed proudly next to a neat row of binders in the Wolverine Trailer. “When you live and breathe construction, it goes with you wherever you go.”

Liberty Way

MBank and Staybridge SuitesAnother startling change to the Marquette landscape is the replacement of the old Bunny Bread/Taystee Bakery building on the corner of Washington and Lincoln streets. Now stands an impressive trio of buildings with a new Staybridge Suites as the centerpiece, framed by the Upper Peninsula Health Plan headquarters and regional headquarters of MBank, with additional office space. 

The $42 million project was undertaken by Marquette-based Veridea Group with design by Myefski Architects, headed by John Myefski ’82. Veridea Group, whose founder and president is NMU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Bob Mahaney, is powered by numerous NMU alumni, including Director of Finance and Accounting Mark Paupore ‘94 BS, Director of Commerical Real Estate Michele D. Thomas ‘94 BS, Executive Assistant Peggy Dewitt ‘91 BS, Hospitality Procurement Manager Katie Kauppila ‘10 BS, Senior Management Team member Justin Blubaugh '06 BS, and Senior Accountant Stephen Luty ‘15 BS. Mahaney says they have 15 NMU grads in all throughout the company in management and higher positions. "They are the secret to our success!"

Next up for the company is a residential development on the site of the former Tiroler Hof/Nordic Bay Lodge at the city’s south entrance, with sweeping views of Lake Superior and trails leading up to Mount Marquette.
And yes, the little chapel will stay.

Others Building Marquette

Full timers

Paul Bentley '01 BS (paving for many of the projects - project manager/estimator with Payne and Dolan)

Eric Brandt '16 BS (BLP – field engineer, Miron Construction)

Andy Engstrom '02 BS (many/most projects – Marquette County Building Codes Department)

Matthew Gamalski '07 BS (hospital – field engineer, Skanska-Closner)

Evan Huhta '16 AS (Associated Constructors)

Ken Kasten '07 BS (residence halls and municipal building – project manager, Gundlach Champion) 

Shawn Krueger '09 AS (residence halls –  superintendent, Associated Constructors)

Matt Leon '15 BS (Associated Constructors)

Luke Oberdorfer '10 AAS, '11 BS, '14 MBA (hospital and BLP – project manager, Miron)

Max Watrous '16 BS (hospital – project engineer, Skanska-Closner)


Cody Berg (residence halls, Gundlach Champion)

Evan Huhta (residence halls, Associated Constructors)

Daniel Hunter (residence halls, Walbridge)

Zach Lange (Payne and Dolan)

Trevor Smith (orphanage, Premeau Construction)

Jared Swajanen (hospital, Skanska-Closner)

Noah Talentino (municipal building, Gundlach Champion)

Cam Verigin (hospital, Skanska-Closner)

Apologies if we missed someone! Please let us know and we will include you online.