Gavilon building rises, bone by bone

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Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2013 12:00 am

There's something about a building when its bones are connected and the skin isn't on yet.

We, the downtown workers who pass by the block bounded by Capitol Avenue and 13th, 14th and Dodge Streets, have had a chance over the past several months to see those bones assembled into a new $44 million,131,225-square-foot glass office building that’s scheduled to be ready in December.

Gavilon, the Omaha grain storage and trading company, hired Opus Group of Minneapolis to construct its new headquarters. Already, most of the building is covered by glass and panels, but some of the superstructure is still exposed, and those of us watching the daily progress know where those bones are.

Giant drills dug holes for the foundation pillars, and concrete with reinforcing bar soon extended past the first floor. Bolts on top attach to vertical I-beams, straightened to exactly vertical, with more concrete anchoring the joint between the steel and the pillars.

As the cranes lifted beams and columns into place, steelworkers wearing safety harnesses walked nonchalantly from place to place. Soon it looked like a life-sized Tinker Toy project, only with dark red steel in place instead of wooden dowels.

This is the building's honest phase. You can see the heights and widths of the floors, without ceilings and lights hanging down. There are no cubicles or office walls chopping up the space or obscuring the view. The office workers haven't showed up yet; the closets, when they are installed, will have no skeletons.

The building is still open to the weather, good or bad, and if you're on the construction job, you'd best have the right outfit.

If a tornado comes by someday and peels off the walls, you already know what it will look like afterward. And you can tell where the safe areas of the building will be, away from the windows, in case of a storm.

Today, construction workers in fluorescent yellow or orange T-shirts and hard hats are still at work, fastening the walls in place, smoothing out the concrete floors, bolting the roof panels together, tightening fasteners on the metal framework that will hold the windows.

Tomorrow, about 400 office workers in “business casual” will work in the same floors, tapping computers, hustling from office to office, handling paperwork, making money for the company and for themselves.

They won't much care about what happened on that property between June 1948 to January 2007, when The World-Herald occupied that block, just as we didn't care much about the shops and businesses that were located there previously.

With the sides of the building open, you can see an interior ramp connecting its two levels of indoor parking.

Heating, air conditioning, plumbing and other mechanical systems soon will be hidden within the building, but not before we sidewalk watchers see some of the pieces installed deep within the framework, to be hidden and out of mind until something goes wrong.

This building has a huge room, a block-long span on the third floor that is more than a half-block wide. Massive trusses hold the newly installed roof over the room, leaving a single open space, two stories high, with no columns to obstruct the views.

The room, nearly as big as for two football fields, will house Gavilon's main grain trading floor.

From the sidewalk, we see some sights that soon will be covered, possibly the next 100 years or so. Then, just as the former World-Herald building was torn down on that block in 2008, the Gavilon building will go, too.

The old bones will reappear, still anchored to the concrete pillars drilled into the soil. And no doubt some new bones will arise, with new passersby to watch them connected, beams and pillars, concrete and steel.

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