Weather can be both a figurative as well as a literal concept. “Managing” the weather is about managing the impact from external conditions to which we must respond on a project. By external conditions I mean those for which we have absolutely no ability to control. While it seems most of the time the gods favor me with the weather, sometimes I push my luck just a little far. Doing construction projects in Alaska during the off season gives me ample opportunity to challenge my project management chops. But anymore, the weather all over tests our Project Management capabilities.
Why and how I find myself managing a construction project in Alaska in the winter is a uniquely Alaskan story. My construction project of building this yoga and cooking studio for a Cheetah Learning program we call The Happiness Project just happens to be at the phase where it makes for a fantastic winter construction project in Alaska as we are now finishing all the indoor work.
It also coincides with more people being available to help work on the project. Construction work almost comes to a halt in the winter in Alaska. So the talent that was nowhere to be found in the summer months, comes out in droves to offer their services in the winter.
Plus my business slows down around the holidays, so I can be here to weigh in on the critical decisions required for interior finish work.
For this construction project, I made a couple of significant project-defining requirements. I’ve done a number of construction projects in Alaska — but for the most part, I brought in outside talent and shipped everything I needed up from the lower 48.
For this project, I wanted to use off-the-shelf items we could procure here and use local talent. The yoga/cooking studio is a facility I’m building in part for community development within Cheetah’s Alaska Learning Adventure Retreat. It made sense to use what was available in the local community to help build it.
I wanted to acquire all the material in town, but the local hardware store told me that I had to pick up some of my supplies in Juneau at the Home Depot. I had already changed the windows to whatever they had in stock at the Home Depot in Juneau when designing the outside of the building, so I took off to go there again to see what they had to help me finish up the inside of the house. To get everything back here without paying thousands in shipping on the barge, I brought it all back to Haines in a U-Haul on the ferry, easy enough (not really but that is another story).
When I got to Haines with the 22-foot U-Haul, the weather had warmed up to the 40s so the winter blizzard was just a heavy downpour. I had been gone for several days getting the supplies, so I was not aware of what had happened with the gravel road leading up to the property. If it was the blizzard as expected, the packed snow would have been fine. It’s a steep downhill followed by a steep up-hill into the retreat grounds. With all the rain and then freezing weather at night, the previously snow-packed road into the retreat center was a sheet of thick ice.
Fortunately, the U-Haul did not block the entire entrance to this gravel road off the main road. I didn’t go any further as soon as I realized the conditions and the reality that as heavy as that U-Haul was, there was no tow truck in town strong enough to pull it out if it went off the road.
We were able to get my little winter run-around car with the studded snow tires past the U-Haul to get into town and acquire as much snow-and-ice-melt calcium chloride as we could safely carry in a small Honda.
By the time we got back, my neighbor (and the local plow driver) had pulled off getting the truck over the ice sheet to the yoga studio and was well on his way to unloading the thousands of pounds of tiles, cabinets, doors, etc., onto the covered porch. He did placate me and said that with the U-Haul empty it would be a serious challenge getting it out of there — so we did, in fact, need the ice-melt.
The U-Haul is back in Juneau and, hopefully, we’ll have the Yoga/Cooking Studio done in time to host our first tentative cooking event planned in March with the Harbor Tea and Spice company from Juneau (who I met while over there getting the building supplies). We do have a backup plan just in case it’s not ready.